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25 Best Books for Intellectuals to Get Your Mind Moving

Discover our expert guide with books for intellectuals that will prompt you to ponder important questions and start looking for deeper meaning in your life.

Searching for the meaning of life? Questioning your religion and how the world got its start? Curious about how others manage the many moral dilemmas we find ourselves in throughout our lives? The best books for intellectuals listed here will introduce new ideas, help you think about tough questions, and show you new ways of thinking. Be warned: these are not light reads; you’ll want to set aside some time to read and reflect. If you’re interested in this topic, you’ll also love our round-up of the best books for twenty somethings.

Best Books For Intellectuals

1. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson provides answers to tough questions

A Short History of Nearly Everything follows author Bill Bryson’s quest to find the answers to life’s hardest questions, from how the universe started to how humans managed to form functioning civilizations. In addition to digging into the research independently, Bryson also worked with mathematicians, anthropologists, archeologists, and other experts to help shape his answers to seemingly unanswerable queries. Bryson is praised by many for his ability to write about complex topics with extreme clarity while also keeping readers entertained and excited for more.

“If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here-and by ‘we’ I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course: We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp.”

Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
A Short History of Nearly Everything

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10/17/2023 03:27 am GMT

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is a time-tested favorite

Known for her timeless novels, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice forces readers to consider tough topics, including human nature, character, and whether people can change. Set in the English countryside, Pride and Prejudice follows the five Bennet sisters as they search for love and meaning. Fans of the novel find themselves especially invested in the journey of Elizabeth and her suitor, Mr. Darcy, as they work their way through a will-they-or-won’t-they storyline. Spoiler alert: the unlikely pair eventually find their way to one another and realize their sometimes clashing personalities are a perfect match.

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! – When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice

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10/17/2023 03:10 am GMT

3. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Art of War by Sun Tzu offers lessons that hold true today

The Art of War details the inner workings of the Chinese military in the 5th century B.C. Tzu’s teachings on leadership, discipline, and a winning mindset remain true today. The author’s philosophies were controversial initially, as Tzu moved away from the spiritual aspect of war that was accepted at the time in favor of a more tactical approach. Tzu also emphasized that war should be an absolute last resort and discussed the benefits of using diplomacy to avoid violence whenever possible. 

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The Art of War

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10/17/2023 03:12 am GMT

4. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

In Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, readers are introduced to two thinking systems

Thinking, Fast and Slow asks readers to consider the two ways we think. Kahneman states that the brain functions with two different cognitive systems. System 1 is fast and emotional, relying on intuition to make decisions. System 2 functions more logically, taking its time to think through options. The author uses real-world examples to explain when it makes sense to rely on System 1 – and when we need to slow down and utilize System 2. 

“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow
Thinking, Fast and Slow

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10/17/2023 01:00 pm GMT

5. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy provides an interesting critique of class, war, and history

War and Peace blends real events and a fictional story to take readers on a journey through the era of Napoleon Bonaparte. Set in Russia, War and Peace transports readers to the French invasion while following the journeys of five elite families. Considered Tolstoy’s highest literary accomplishment, the author was hesitant to classify War and Peace as a novel, as he famously stated the work was “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle.” While the work includes more than 500 characters, less than half existed in reality, allowing Tolstoy to expertly blend fact and fiction.

“We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
War And Peace

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10/17/2023 03:18 am GMT

6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking answers big questions in a way anyone can understand

From black holes to quarks to quantum mechanics, Stephen Hawking takes readers on an unforgettable journey in A Brief History of Time. The bestseller has sold more than 25 million copies to date. Before publication, Hawking’s book had countless equations, and his publisher warned him that such complicated math would cut his readership. Hawking kept his explanations but ditched the equations, resulting in a more readable way to get answers to big questions. 

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”

Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
A Brief History of Time

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10/17/2023 03:21 am GMT

7. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is perfect for fans of dystopian novels and films

Atlas Shrugged is a dystopian novel set in the United States, where author Ayn Rand ventures into a mishmash of genres, including romance, mystery, and science fiction. The book follows female executive Dagny Taggart and steel tycoon Hank Rearden as they fight against looters working to benefit from their work. Workers begin to collectively strike in a stand against heavy government regulations–a concept developed by Rand when she pondered what would happen if the creatives of the world went on strike. 

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.”

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Atlas Shrugged

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10/17/2023 03:39 am GMT

8. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Coming-of-age story The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger has stood the test of time and continues to be relatable to young people today

The Catcher in the Rye is a coming-of-age novel that follows the story of protagonist Holden Caulfield. While the book was originally intended for an adult audience, it has become a generation-spanning symbol of teenage angst. It can take some time to get used to the first-person point of view narration, but readers quickly pick up on Salinger’s unique style, as it provides unmatched insight into the character’s personality. 

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye

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10/17/2023 03:41 am GMT

9. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky is heavy but well worth the read for those struggling to find meaning in life

Dostoevsky’s sophomore novel, Crime and Punishment, follows Rodion Raskolnikov, a poor law school dropout in Saint Petersburg. Using logic gymnastics, Raskolnikov decides that he has the right to murder an elderly pawnbroker and ends up murdering her half-sister as well. Struggling under his conscience, Raskolnikov eventually turns himself in and is sentenced to nearly a decade of hard labor. Over years of suffering through his sentence in Siberia, he realizes he’s worthy of love and happiness. 

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment (Translated by Constance Garnett with an Introduction by Nathan B. Fagin)

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10/17/2023 03:42 am GMT

10. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

The self-help book How to Win Friends & Influence People is used to help people feel comfortable in social settings

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide since it first hit the market in 1936. The book’s basic principles, being genuine in your communications with others, sincerely working to make others feel important, and working to stay positive in all interactions, have held up over the years. Known as one of the first books in the self-help genre, many self-improvement and self-help authors today borrow principles from Carnegie to set the stage for their strategies.

“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends & Influence People
How to Win Friends and Influence People

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10/17/2023 03:43 am GMT

11. Trust by Hernan Diaz

Trust by Hernan Diaz takes a unique story-within-a-story approach

Winner of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Trust starts in the 1920s in New York City and follows Benjamin and Helen Rask as they flaunt their way through a highly wealthy lifestyle. In 1937, the novel, Bonds, was released and focused on unraveling exactly how the Rask family acquired their seemingly impossible wealth. Diaz perfectly melds historical fiction, mystery, and a story-within-a-story to keep readers on their toes, constantly working to separate the truth from lies.

“Each time we find a way to minimize our effort and increase our gain we are making a business deal, even if it is with ourselves. These negotiations are so ingrained in our routine that they are barely noticeable. But the truth is our existence revolves around profit.”

Hernan Diaz, Trust
Trust (Pulitzer Prize Winner)

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10/17/2023 03:45 am GMT

12. Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Cosmos by Carl Sagan was initially created as supplemental material for Cosmos, a CBS miniseries

Cosmos was published by astronomer Carl Sagan in conjunction with his CBS miniseries Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Throughout the 13-chapter novel, Sagan delves into topics including the inner workings of DNA, the potential implications of nuclear war, and the nature of the universe. One of Sagan’s goals in writing Cosmos was to help anyone interested in space and other complex scientific topics further their understanding. The book’s conversational tone, easygoing style, and presentation of issues that previously seemed out of reach to many helped the book spend more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list.

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

Carl Sagan, Cosmos

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10/17/2023 01:06 pm GMT

13. 1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell provides a glimpse into what can happen when power goes unchecked

If you haven’t picked up 1984 as required reading at some point in your education, the 1949 George Orwell novel is worth reading. The novel follows Winston Smith as he moves through a futuristic world led by Big Brother, a leader created by the Thought Police and a dictatorship that rules Airstrip One, formerly Great Britain. Orwell’s 1984 World has characteristics of both Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany and serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen when power runs unchecked. 

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

George Orwell, 1984

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10/17/2023 03:48 am GMT

14. The Stranger by Albert Camus

This post first appeared on Become A Writer Today – A Blog About Writing, please read the originial post: here

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25 Best Books for Intellectuals to Get Your Mind Moving


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