If you are looking for books that will make you smarter, skip the textbooks and instead try these easy to read books that make you smarter while holding your interest at the same time.
Does reading make you smarter?
Of course, I answer with an emphatic YES! And not just because I’m a book person. Reading makes you smarter because it increases the connectivity in your brain, forging new pathways to make your brain even stronger.
While I think all reading has its benefits, if you are looking for books that will make you smarter, these easy-to-read nonfiction books are a great starting point.
From books on science to intellectual books about the universe or just books that make you think differently, I’ve compiled my list of the best books to make you smarter.
Books to Expand Your Knowledge
If you are looking for books that make you smarter, your first stop should be Bill Bryson’s easy-to-read tome covering … well, nearly everything. In his quest to expand his knowledge, Bryson sets out to interview and study with some of the greatest minds. Covering the big bang theory, the rise of civilization, and everything in between, Bryson’s humorous adventures into the depths of human knowledge is one not to miss.
Considered one of the greatest minds of our time, Stephen Hawking was working on a final project when he died: answers to all the “big” questions in life. Giving his thoughts on the biggest challenges facing mankind, Hawking uses his dry wit to give the reader a basic understanding of complex topics.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson carefully labeled his book as Astrophysics for People in a Hurry instead of “Astrophysics explained to the ignorant layman,” which is what I would have called it. Just so you are aware, even though this book is tiny, it is not a quick read. Although Tyson does an excellent job bringing the topic down to a beginner’s level, the concepts are so deep that it takes some thought to wrap your head around everything. A great primer on a fascinating subject, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is one of the best books that will make you smarter and a must-read for all the science lovers out there.
What if your cells suddenly stopped dividing? What if everyone only had one soulmate? Randall Munroe, the creator of the comic xkcd, answers all the not-so-important questions in life, using humor and a whole lot of science. An enjoyable read, What If? is a book that will make you smarter … but not necessarily wiser.
In 2004, Ken Jennings won 74 consecutive games of the trivia show Jeopardy!, a record that still stands today. In Brainiac, Jennings shares his journey to becoming trivia king as well as his explorations into the world of trivia buffs. From college quiz bowls to Boston pubs, Jennings parses out what makes trivia so much more than just meaningless facts.
How to Make Your Brain Smarter and Faster
Do you want to make smarter decisions quicker? Journalist Charles Duhigg focuses on eight key productivity concepts that will help you become smarter and illustrates them with fascinating anecdotes and interesting statistics. You’ll learn how to find motivation, set goals, make decisions, and manage others in his bestselling book.
If you really want to study books which make you smarter, you can’t go wrong learning how the mind works. In his groundbreaking work, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel winner in economics, explains the two systems your mind uses. He shows the advantages and pitfalls of thinking fast, with emotion and intuition, versus thinking slow, with deliberation and logic. Learning to balance these two systems will help you improve your decision-making process.
In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell dives into those choices we make without thinking – the split-second decisions that can have lasting consequences. With fascinating anecdotes, such as experts who can spot a fake in a glance and why New Coke was such a failure, Gladwell will make you rethink how you think.
When looking for books to read to get smarter, why not try a book that will help you read faster? Kam Knight explains the tools and tricks you need to begin speed reading. With short chapters and practice exercises, Knight teaches you how to retrain your brain to read faster without sacrificing your reading comprehension.
One trick to becoming “smarter” is to establish solid habits that increase your knowledge. In Atomic Habits, Clear outlines in detail the steps you can take to build good habits and break bad ones. With excellent insights and workable tips, Clear’s methodology will allow you to design your habits to improve your life.
If you were to list the most intelligent books ever written, you’d have to include a book that has endured for over 2,500 years. This classic book of military strategy from Chinese warfare, accredited to Sun Tzu, still holds power today, whether you are facing your enemies on the battlefield, in a board room, or even online.
How did the universe begin? What makes time possible? In his landmark book, printed in 1988 and then updated 10 years later, Stephen Hawking explains how the universe works. From quarks to black holes, Hawking delves into the theoretical, the unexpected, and the astounding ways our world is the way it is.
Ibram X. Kendi
On top of teaching you how to be an antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi has written the top book on the history of racism in America that will cause you to think differently about American history. Covering the Puritans and the Founding Fathers all the way to the civil rights movement and modern-day activists, Kendi shows that racist ideas and discriminatory practices have permeated American history since its inception.
Caroline Criado Perez
Caroline Criado Perez shows that we live in a world designed for men that systemically discriminates against women. With overwhelming statistics, Perez exposes the prevalent gender-data gap in countless fields, including medicine, technology, and urban planning. The staggering evidence will blow your mind and make you rethink everything you thought you knew. If you have a chance, Perez’s audiobook narration is spectacular, catching every hint of sarcasm, disbelief, and anger in the author’s voice.
Jared Diamond won a Pulitzer Prize for this book about how civilization has been shaped by geography and environment. Diamond’s theory is that the development of civilization was aided by the similar weather in east-west migrations and hindered by the vast differences of north to south climate. Though his analysis of the evolution of human societies is solid and thought-provoking, the repetition of the topic does get a bit old.
Books To Make You More Intelligent
Neuroscientist Lisa Genova explains why we remember some things and why we forget others. Genova presents a basic primer of how memories work, what you can reasonably expect from your memory as you age, and how to help protect your memory. While extremely informative and easy to understand, Remember isn’t a particularly captivating book on intelligence. Genova does a great job explaining how memory works but I suggest that discussing the real-life implications of these topics with others will make this book stand out.
After covering the US memory championships, journalist Joshua Foer decided to embark on a quest to see if he could also become a memory specialist. Drawing on cutting-edge research and expert knowledge, Foer learned all the memory tips and tricks to become the US Memory Champion. Foer bounces between his training, the history of memory, the science of how our brains work, and the techniques used to retain massive amounts of information quickly.
It all starts with a joke about a panda bear and a misplaced comma. With an acerbic sense of humor, Lynne Truss tackles the said state of proper punctuation in the world today. One of the most fun books that make you smarter that you can read, Eats, Shoots & Leaves will have you laughing at the peculiarities of English grammar while teaching you how to use them correctly.
For years, society has idolized extroverts, overlooking the many benefits of introversion. Well-researched and thought-provoking, Cain not only shows the power of introverts but also addresses the struggles introverts face and how to overcome them. Whether you are introverted or extroverted, this will make you see people in a different light.
Science Books That Make You Smarter
With the successful completion of the mapping of the human genome, science has a better understanding of genetics than ever before. Matt Ridley breaks down each of the 23 pairs of chromosomes, explaining how each one affects our bodies. Told in an easily understandable fashion, Genome is one of the best books that make you smarter about biology for non-science people to read.
Yuval Noah Harari
Narrowing down the best science books of the decade to one choice wasn’t easy, and I might have chosen wrong. Yet there is something enduring about Harari’s look at the history of humans. How did our species survive so long and what does that mean for us today? Taking discoveries from numerous scientific fields, Harari has whittled down 100,000 years of human history into an insightful 500-page book.
Similar to his bestselling A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson uses his brilliant writing to enlighten readers on human anatomy. In his newest work, Bryson explores the human body – the amazing physical and neurological functions that make us who we are. A great read for science lovers or anyone wanting books that make you smarter, Bryson is sure to entertain just as much as he educates.
Though the title is basically the book equivalent of click-bait, the book itself was extremely interesting. The subtitle, “The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by Trauma, Madness, and Recovery,” would be more appropriate, though much less catchy. Sam Kean teaches about the various parts of the brain using compelling true stories that temper down the science-heavy segments to make the book more relatable for the general reader. He expertly weaves the storytelling while not skimping on the science, giving you a fairly in-depth basic primer on the science and history of neuroscience.
Books That Make You Think
One of the hottest topics of the last decade has been habits – how they form and how we can use them to become smarter. The New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg takes an in-depth look at the power habits have in our lives. Explaining the science of habits with fascinating real-life stories, Duhigg’s style is much like Malcolm Gladwell’s.
Grant reminds us that just like we refresh our wardrobe from time to time, we need to routinely reexamine our beliefs and ways of thinking. Often our beliefs become habits, and Grant argues that being too attached to one identity and thought process can kill our creativity. Instead, we need to start spending as much time rethinking as we do thinking. Grant is an excellent writer and he does a superb job keeping you engaged as he discusses thought-provoking concepts.
If you have an insane amount of money (say from creating Microsoft) how do you use it to change the world? Over a lifetime, Melinda Gates, co-founder of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has discovered that the key to alleviating poverty, decreasing childhood death and even increasing food production all comes back to empowering women. The statistics throughout the book are staggering, and Gates makes a strong argument for how empowering women affects so much more than you would think.
Why do most predictions, even those from experts, fail? From earthquakes to poker to political elections, statistician Nate Silver uses interesting case studies to explain probability and uncertainty and to demonstrate why predictions are often wrong. Though the book is numbers-heavy and a little too long, Silver does a great job simplifying the information for the average reader.
Business Books to Read to Become Smarter
What turns good companies into great businesses? Through an exhaustive study of businesses in the 1990s, Jim Collins shows what it takes to transform a mediocre business into something built to last. Collins delves into the types of leadership needed to succeed, the culture that will aid a company, and the changes that aren’t certain to spell doom.
Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein
Good behavioral psychology books that will make you smarter can be hard to find but lots of fun to read. Every day we make choices big and small, and often we choose poorly. Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler and Harvard professor Cass Sunstein explain that no choice is presented neutrally. By understanding the tendency to bias, you can learn how to make better decisions for yourself, and how to nudge others to make the decisions you want.
Published in 1936, Dale Carnegie’s guide to winning people over is rather timeless. With tips to get people to like you, convince people of your point of view, and transform people without building resentment, Carnegie teaches the interpersonal tactics to smooth out your professional life.
Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Why do some ideas stick – no matter how true – while others go in one ear and out the other? Chip and Dan Heath break down the elements that made ideas memorable and teach you how to create stickier messaging. Similar to Malcolm Gladwell or Charles Duhigg, the Heath brothers use interesting anecdotes to illustrate the concepts of stickiness in an informative and entertaining manner.
Books That Will Make You Smarter
Former rocket scientist turned law professor, Ozan Varol shares his habits and strategies to make the impossible actually doable. With fascinating anecdotes from the history of science and NASA, Varol makes keen observations about how you can change your mindset and approach problems in new ways. Despite the shameless self-promotion, the insights from the book still make it a great book that will make you smarter.
What makes extremely successful people different from others? Is it talent, intelligence or hard work? Gladwell uses statistics and interesting real-life examples to show how closely success is tied to not only natural ability and hard work but also opportunity and timing. It’s one of those books that get you thinking about how much culture, upbringing, and just plain luck play into your life.
Steven D. Leavitt & Stephen J. Dubner
Economists Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner have made it their mission to show you the hidden side of just about everything. While their bestseller Freakanomics certainly qualifies among the books that make you smarter, if you want a book that will help you rethink how you think, you’ll want to read Think Like a Freak. Levitt and Dubner show the exact steps you need to take to retrain your brain to think more creatively.
Did you know that intelligence is not a very accurate predictor of success? Psychologist Angela Duckworth puts forth an insightful new predictor for success: grit. That perseverance through obstacles and sheer determination to get ahead. With numerous studies and interesting anecdotes, Duckworth has written one of those books that make you think about where you fall on the scale. How gritty are you? And since grit isn’t fixed, you’ll find in yourself a desire not only to develop it in yourself but also to encourage it in your children.
Do You Read Books That Make You Smarter?
What do you think? Do you think books that make you smarter are a good investment or a waste of money? As always, let me know in the comments!
More Nonfiction Books to Read: