Some books require a lot of uninterrupted attention.As I wrote recently in my review of Leonard Susskind Quantum Mechanics: Theoretical Minimum, which would be an ideal book if you were exiled to a desert island. After a few years of careful reading and re-reading, you will become a master of quantum mathematics. It will make you a better person.
But suppose you had mastered quantum mechanics (or maybe knew quantum mechanics was the reason you were banished) before you were banished. You’ll want to pack a different hard book. Of course, not all books that require serious and sustained attention are worth the effort, so you need to choose carefully. Or pack more books. (Ideally, you’d be able to load them onto the e-reader once Amazon starts selling the solar-powered versions.)
Regardless, I’ve compiled my favorite desert island reading list. They’re not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, but they all offer decent intellectual rewards if you pay attention to them without competition from TV or Twitter.
10. joy of x (Strogatz, 2012)
It’s not hard to read at all, but it’s the best overview of basic ideas in mathematics, and a great preparation for reading more technical stuff. 306 pages.
9. Mathematical principles of natural philosophy (Newton, 1687)
This is one of the hardest books to read in history, but you have to remember that it may not be easy to write either. I’ve never been exiled to a desert island, so far I’ve just read articles everywhere. However, even if you can’t read the whole thing, you should make sure to read the “Rules of Philosophical Reasoning” in Volume Three. 626 pages.
8. Quantum Mechanics: Theoretical Minimum (Susskind and Friedman, 2014)
Actually, you should watch the prequels too. Theoretical minimum (Susskind and Hrabovsky) Bridging the gap between Newton and quantum mechanics. 351 pages.
7. Game Theory and Economic Behavior (von Neumann and Morgenstern, 1944)
Game theory was designed for economics, but has also invaded most other fields of science, and most people have no idea how it works.especially if they’ve seen the movie beautiful mind, which changed John Nash’s mathematics beyond recognition. That’s why if you want to learn about science, you’re better off reading books than movies. 632 pages.
6. gravitational (Misner, Thorne, Wheeler, 1973)
It’s enjoyable but comprehensive. You should have an idea of general relativity and how it makes sense for gravity. I will finish reading it one day. 1,219 pages.
5. the science of conjecture (Franklin, 2001)
Less famous, but well worth reading – a comprehensive history of human struggles to understand the nature of evidence (until the origins of probability theory in the 17th century). Lesson: As evidence, the P-value is better than torture, but not by much. 486 pages.
4. Origin of Species (Darwin, 1859)
Readable, but rich. A superb demonstration of observation-based reasoning. Darwin knew how to evaluate evidence. 460 pages.
3. The structure of evolution (Gould, 2002)
An underrated book that keenly analyzes Darwin’s evolution and shows how the theory itself evolved. Long-winded, but full of insight into the tricky nuances involved in analyzing extremely complex systems (i.e. life). 1,343 pages.
2. road to reality (Penrose, 2004)
A very deep, very difficult, highly technical study of the relationship between mathematical concepts and the physical world. Despite some eccentric tendencies to deny some aspects of conventional physics wisdom, Penrose dissects common layers of popular explanations and approximations to gain insight into how mathematics works and what it means. I’ve been working on this for eight years and am now halfway through. It might be faster to go on a desert island. 1,049 pages.
1. plain (Abbott, 1884)
It’s a breeze to read, but with the necessary caveat that everything else you’ve read may not be what it seems. Abbott’s protagonist realizes the fallacies of the Flatman version of reality and dares to expose them. They didn’t banish him to a desert island, but they did (spoiler) put him in jail. 155 pages.
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