THE BOOK LIST
This curated list is why this site exists. Books are sorted by challenge level. This is where you might find a book that can change your life and sharpen your mind.
Author: Preston Challenge Level: Easy Topic: Ebola Why Read It: This is listed first because it is a good starting place to begin tackling this list. It surprises the reader by teaching them that a non-fiction book can be just as much a page-turner as a great novel.
Author: Diamandis & Kotler Challenge Level: Easy Topic: Coming Innovations and Convergence Why Read It: Students will be able to get a glimpse of the future that will enable them to make more informed decisions about their college majors and career choices.
Author: Krakauer Challenge Level: Easy Topic: Everest Why Read It: This is another book that is a good first foray into engaging non-fiction. It's a true story full of ethical dilemmas about an Everest expedition gone bad written by a member of the expedition.
Author: Hetherington & Weiler Challenge Level: Easy Topic: Politics Why Read It: Written by political science professors at UNC, this attempts to explain the cognitive differences between Americans that have led members of opposing political parties to have a difficult time finding common ground.
Author: Wallace-Wells Challenge Level: Easy Topic: Climate Change Why Read It: This is a VERY controversial book, mainly because reviewers have failed to understand what the author was attempting to do. Rather than present a balanced portrait of different climate change models, Wallace-Wells sets out to show what would happen to the Earth if the most dire forecasts come true, which predictably results in a hellscape that makes this book as much a horror story as a book on climate. You may want to avoid this if you struggle with anxiety or depression.
Author: Demick Challenge Level: Easy Topic: North Korea Why Read It: Students in western democracies have a hard time understanding how bad things can be for people with the misfortune of being born in a cult of personality dictatorship. Read this to better appreciate and learn to protect our own democracy.
Author: Card Challenge Level: Easy Topic: Science Fiction Why Read It: Specifically, read Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. Both are great books that are packed with deep ethical questions. The second book is so completely different from the first that it is almost as if the two are unrelated.
Author: Gladwell Challenge Level: Easy Topic: Grit Why Read It: This is cited often and is on tons of best-of lists. It is of particular importance to gifted students because it will teach them that without putting in time and effort, they will eventually be surpassed by slightly less intelligent people with a better work ethic.
Author: Pearce Challenge Level: Easy Topic: Water Scarcity Why Read It: After reading this you will no longer take water for granted. This briefly made me want to change careers and become a hydrologist. It also made me irritated that people build cities in the desert.
Author: O'Connor Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: Nazi Art Theft Why Read It: This is an epic story about Gustav Klimt's masterpiece painting "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer." It spans pre-war Vienna, the Nazi theft of the painting (and others), the Holocaust, and the modern effort to recover a family's prized possession.
Author: Brown Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: Cultural Genocide Why Read It: This is the history of America's westward expansion from the Native American point of view. A breath of fresh air after getting a whitewashed version of American history in school.
Author: Brannen Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: Earth Mass Extinctions and Climate Why Read It: This is possibly my favorite book of all time. I will never look at sedimentary rocks again without picturing them as the floors of ancient oceans full of now-extinct creatures. Learn about the extreme cycles of climate change that our planet has endured, and will endure, over hundreds of millions of years and how humans are just a spec of dust in the scale of geologic time.
Author: Chang Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: Chinese History Why Read It: Chang manages to tell an almost 100-year history of China through the real life stories of the females in her family. It is an entertaining way to better understand China prior to its emergence as a world power.
Author: Anderson Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: Mind-bending Physics Why Read It: A fictional work about a space journey that you will never forget. The writing and plot are marginal at best, but the plot is just an excuse to showcase the wonders of astrophysics and the relativity of time. The physics is a little out of date now, but not enough to worry about. Important: This is the only text on this list with some mild sexual content, so it would be better for older students.
Author: Coll Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: Middle Eastern Diplomacy Why Read It: Mostly a study of the diplomatic dance between Pakistan and the USA after 9/11, this is a fantastic book for high school students who are interested in majoring in International Relations. It is a classic study of what happens when a nation with a short-term focus comes into diplomatic conflict with a nation playing the long game.
Author: Weir Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: British History Why Read It: This book was one of the inspirations for Martin's A Game of Thrones, with as many real-life plot twists as the novel. You will be shocked that this is a work of non-fiction since it reads like an epic novel.
Author: Thornton Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: Behind the Art Scene Why Read It: A rare behind the scenes glimpse of the modern art world and the one-percenters that participate in it. Is it something to admire or a world built on a foundation of bullshit? You decide.
Author: Glenny Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: Global Organized Crime Why Read It: We often think of organized crime in the past tense, but this work illustrates that it is very much alive and thrives on opportunities created by short-sighted policies and political upheaval. I'd like to see an updated edition in the next few years.
Author: Kaplan Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: Emerging Asian Powers Why Read It: Asia will dominate the 21st Century, and schools mostly overlook Asian history and politics. This gives a strong foundation for understanding the emerging countries of East Asia and their tenuous relationship with China. Another great work for future History, Political Science, or International Relations majors.
Author: Snyder Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: Totalitarianism Why Read It: From the destructive policies of Stalin in the 1930's, the hell unleashed by Hitler in the 1940's, and postwar purging again by Stalin, eastern Europe became a Venn diagram of death between two of history's greatest monsters. A dark book of the suffering of the common man brought on by totalitarianism, zealous ideology, and war. Another to possibly avoid for those who struggle with anxiety or depression, but important when assessing the limits of humanity's cruelty.
Author: Sagan Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: Astrophysics Why Read It: An unquestioned classic and a good start for budding physicists.
Author: Remarque Challenge Level: Moderate Topic: World War I Why Read It: A classic novel written by Remarque after World War I as an attempt to show the public what war is really like so that they will never engage in it again. Sadly, not enough people learned its lesson.
Author: Bostrom Challenge Level: Hard Topic: Artificial Intelligence Why Read It: Widely cited and a favorite of tech CEOs, it is a robust overview of the benefits, challenges, and perils of the emergence of highly-developed artificial intelligence.
Author: Solzhenitzyn Challenge Level: High Topic: Oppression Why Read It: An overview of what Solzhenitzyn learned about humanity during his time in the Soviet Gulags. His section on ideology is profound.
Author: Taleb Challenge Level: High Topic: Complex Systems Why Read It: A widely cited work that will teach the reader about the benefits of a long-term strategic focus over a reliance on short-term goals, as well as introduce them to concepts such as "Black Swan Events." Not a particularly easy read, so better for older students.
Author: Greene Challenge Level: Very High Topic: String Theory Why Read It: Read a little, ponder a lot, and repeat. This might take a few tries to get through. If you enjoy this and have an IQ that is high even among gifted peers, consider majoring in Theoretical Physics. Don't feel bad if you can't make it past chapter 6. Many don't, but the beginning of the book is so rich and accessible it is still worth it.