Top 10 Books You Should Read According to Ben Snyder

Top 10 Books You Should Read According to Ben Snyder

By Ben Snyder

A photo of the author’s bookshelf organized by genre, including several of his picks for 10 books that he thinks everyone should read. Photo by the author.

A photo of the author’s bookshelf organized by genre, including several of his picks for 10 books that he thinks everyone should read. Photo by the author.

I would consider myself an avid bookworm. I have found reading to be not only a fun source of entertainment, but also a great way to learn about the world. In fact, it seems highly likely that the development of writing proved essential to the rise of human civilization.


The books I have selected here are not necessarily my ten favorite books, even though many feature at the top of my list (see this link to my list of top 20 books). Each one of these books either contains some idea that I think everyone should be exposed to, is exceptionally well written and impossible to put down, or has become a pop-culture phenomenon that is important to know unless you live under a rock.


10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

It seems like everyone has already read this book at some point, but I still think it deserves a spot on this list. Lee tackles difficult issues like class, race, and social norms in a meaningful way without creating a downbeat and dark book. The overall effect is both moving and charming at the same time.


9. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

While there are some history/social science books that are more fun to read, Diamond’s comprehensive hypothesis about how Europe came to dominate the modern world based on geographical principles is truly fascinating and essential to understanding current geopolitics.


8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A classic English novel, and my second favorite book of all time, Jane Eyre is a wonderful examination of feminism and love that remains highly relevant in today’s world.


7. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Hillenbrand proves her knack for storytelling once again (her first book Seabiscuit became a popular movie) with this unbelievable and inspirational tale of a world-class runner and World War Two fighter pilot, Louis Zamperini. His survival through one unbearable hardship after another demonstrates the incredible limits of human endurance.


6. Physics for Future Presidents by Richard Mueller

This book may seem a bit science-y and daunting at first (especially if you get the textbook version), but it is a must read for pretty much everyone. A professor of physics at Berkeley, Mueller brings wit and clarity to basic and exciting questions like how nuclear weapons actually work that are important for making decisions in the 21st century.


5. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Yes, the songs and endless travelling can be a bit of a drag, but this book defined the modern fantasy genre. The detailed and immersive world that Tolkien creates, populated by the likes of orcs, wizards, dwarves, and elves, along with its cast of memorable characters creates an epic masterpiece unrivaled in scale (except, I am told, perhaps Game of Thrones).


4. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

If you have often wrung your hands about how political debates seem to run in circles with each side refusing to compromise, this book is a required read. Haidt gives a scientific account of why people have certain beliefs and why they hold on to them so strongly. This book completely changed my understanding of morality and its role in society.

3. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

A true cultural phenomenon and a great series to read. Rowling is a master at manipulating plot and creates a charming world of magic that everyone should visit at least once. If you like Harry Potter and you are interested in science, I would highly recommend checking out a fanfiction written by an AI researcher, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

2. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This book is an eye-opening book about why humans think the way they do and what systematic mistakes hamper people’s choices. Written by the Nobel Prize winning scientist who practically founded the field of behavioral economics, Thinking Fast and Slow represents the work of decades of groundbreaking research and reveals much about what actually goes on inside of your head when you make a decision.

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

I feel a bit guilty handing my favorite book the top spot, but Ender’s Game is both thought provoking and fun to read. It provides a great examination of leadership, intelligence, and the moral questions confronting interstellar humans. Card creates a powerful, suspenseful, and occasionally unsettling narrative that ultimately shows a profound optimism and faith in humanity.

I hope that everyone can find something of interest in this list, and, from my bookshelf to yours, happy reading!



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