What I love about this collection of thought provoking books is that they span fiction and nonfiction. When reading fiction, we may draw parallels or similarities to real life, knowing all along that the story is, in fact, made up. But compared with the books on this list rooted in science, fact, and actual events, the fiction may seem more plausible.
Reflecting on the conditions that lead one event to another is an endlessly intriguing topic. These books are like kindling to the ever-burning curiosity of why people do the things they do.
Though one may draw conclusions from these stories about the state of humanity for better or worse, the real value of these stories comes from how they inform our thinking and shift our perspectives. They may even inspire us to do things differently in our own lives moving forward.
Thought Provoking Books: 10 Top Picks
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Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert offers an entertaining and enlightening exploration of the science of happiness. Through a series of experiments, stories, and theories, the author tackles why it is so difficult to predict what will make us happy in the future. Gilbert reveals that much of our difficulty lies in our natural bias toward overestimating our ability to predict our future feelings and circumstances.
By exploring topics such as memory, emotion, forecasting, imagination, and even cognitive illusions, Stumbling on Happiness offers an insightful look at why it’s so hard for people to accurately gauge their potential for future happiness—and what steps they can take to improve their chances of finding it. With its entertaining writing style and thought-provoking ideas, this book has something for everyone looking to find greater fulfillment and joy in life. We all stumble on happiness—and this book helps to show the way.
Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan explores the intricate relationship between plants and humans. Through four different stories, Pollan reveals how plants have adapted to meet our needs for sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control. Not only does he examine the importance of these “desires” in human history, but he also provides insight into our human nature.
By delving into topics such as genetic engineering, agricultural policy, and even evolutionary theory, Pollan paints a thoughtful picture of how we have shaped—and been shaped by—the natural world around us. Botany of Desire offers a unique perspective on how plants and humans are intertwined in this shared journey to survive and thrive. It is an enlightening read for anyone looking to better understand our relationship with the natural world.
Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt
Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt examines the hidden side of everyday life through the lens of economics. Drawing on various topics, from urban crime to parenting, Levitt and Dubner explore the incentives that drive people’s decisions.
They challenge conventional wisdom by pointing out how irrational behaviors produce surprisingly rational results. With its creative approach to understanding the intricacies of human behavior, Freakonomics provides an eye-opening look into the hidden forces that shape our lives.
Whether exploring why cheating is endemic in certain professions or uncovering the truth behind real estate agents, this book offers a fascinating insight into how economics affects us all. It’s a best-selling page-turner packed with dozens of quick-read stories designed to push the boundaries of our comfort and contemplation.
Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities in the World’s Museums by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino
Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities in the World’s Museums by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino is a riveting exposé of the illegal trafficking of ancient artifacts. Exploring the underbelly of the antiquities market, Felch and Frammolino investigate an illicit network that stretches from Greece to Germany, Italy to China, and beyond.
Through their detailed investigation, they uncover how museum curators, art dealers, smugglers, and looters have been conspiring for decades to access—and profit from—the world’s most valuable artifacts. With its thrilling narrative style and compelling case studies, Chasing Aphrodite offers an illuminating look into one of history’s most fascinating tales of greed, intrigue, and international crime.
It’s an essential read for anyone interested in the art world and the antiquity trade.
As a longtime museum-goer and lover of art and history, this story had me rapt. With our museums and the attempted preservation of these artifacts, we can enjoy the beauty of our collective history. However, learning how many pieces come into possession by these institutions makes you wonder if it’s worth the cost. Chasing Aphrodite is a fascinating read filled with suspense, intrigue, and much to reflect on.
If you ever find yourself in LA with free time, I highly recommend seeing the places and pieces that inspired this book by visiting the Villa and Getty museums. Be sure to visit the museum website beforehand to reserve parking and tickets. The architecture and gardens alone of the Getty are worth making a day, taking in some sun and relaxing. What’s better is enjoying a break from the heat and being surrounded by beautiful art and antiquities. Some of my favorite pieces were 17th-century French furniture donated from the estate of John P Getty himself. It makes one wonder what other exceptional artifacts may be hidden away in the lavish estates of the super-wealthy.
Inferno by Dan Brown
Inferno by Dan Brown takes readers on a thrilling journey through modern-day Italy. An adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s famed poem, the novel follows former Harvard professor Robert Langdon as he tries to solve an ancient riddle and prevent a global catastrophe.
With only a few hours to spare, Langdon must decipher hidden codes and discover the secrets protected within an intricate web of conspiracies to save humanity from destruction. He is embroiled in dark dealings with powerful individuals who will stop at nothing to achieve their sinister goals.
Filled with vivid descriptions of the Italian landscape, dizzying plot twists, murder, and mystery, you won’t want to put this book down. Inferno is an exciting adventure that keeps readers on the edge of their seats until its explosive conclusion.
Paris by Edward Rutherfurd
Edward Rutherfurd’s Paris is a sweeping and captivating historical fiction epic that takes readers across the centuries of France’s capital city. This novel spans eight centuries, following five generations of families through significant events such as the French Revolution and World War II. Exploring the lives of everyday individuals amidst these influential moments in history, Rutherfurd brings an immersive portrait of Paris’ past to life.
With thrilling plotlines, an engaging cast of characters, and stunning depictions of the ‘City Of Lights,’ Paris is an absorbing journey into one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Rich with romance, drama, and suspenseful intrigue, it’s sure to leave readers enthralled until its riveting final chapter.
Your next trip to Paris certainly won’t be like the last after reading this book. Your trip will take on a greater richness as you recount passages of the book throughout your stay. You’ll have fresh eyes and a new view of the small details of the monuments and landmarks discussed throughout the story.
A Column of Fire by Ken Follett
A gripping tale of love, war, and espionage set during the turbulent 16th century in Europe sets the stage for Follet’s third book in the Kingsbridge Series. Follow the adventures of Ned Willard and Margery Fitzgerald as they struggle against religious persecution and political machinations while navigating their own forbidden romance. Though part of a series, A Column of Fire stands alone like each book, but together, they paint a broad canvas with references and tie-ins to each story if you choose to read the whole series.
Ken Follett is an internationally renowned author who prides himself on the historical accuracy detailed in his stories. To research this book, Follett visited many countries to gain insight into life during this period. From England to Belgium and Germany to France, he met with historians, studied artifacts from the era, and consulted archives full of rare documents.
Thanks to his dedication and thorough research, there is much to capture the imagination. Historical fiction stories like these are great for showing us how much has changed in cultural norms and everyday living while also pointing out the aspects of humanity that remain almost unchanged.
Liars Poker by Michael Lewis
Author Michael Lewis, best known for riveting stories with blockbuster renditions like Money Ball and The Blindside, is a fascinating character in his own right. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Lewis would go on to earn a bachelor’s in Art History from Princeton, followed by a Masters in Economics from the London School of Economics.
In a society so fascinated by wealth, privilege, and excess, Michael was uniquely poised to tell the story of life and the dealings of Wall Street in the ’80s.
In this entertaining and informative book, Liars Poker takes us inside the inner workings of a major investment firm as Lewis navigates his way through the cutthroat culture and “rip-off” mentality that permeated this era.
From tales of insider trades and shady deals to accounts of interoffice rivalry and backstabbing, Lewis offers a candid look at an era of life on Wall Street. With its combination of humor, insight, and candor, Liars Poker is both an amusing read and an important historical document highlighting some of the excesses that led to the financial crisis.
Liars Poker is Michael Lewis’ first of twenty and counting novels on finance, economics, and beyond. Lewis’s work can also be found in publications like The New York Times and Vanity Fair, where he has been a frequent contributor. If reading about wealth, power, and the hands that shape much of our world has any appeal, Michael Lewis is the one to tell a riveting and memorable story on the matter.
Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss is an author, investor, and entrepreneur renowned for his game-changing approach to productivity and self-improvement. His foray into the bookshelf came with The 4-Hour Workweek in 2007, a title that became one of the bestselling business books in history.
In 2016, Tim released Tools of Titans, a compilation of interviews he had conducted over the years with some of the most successful people in the world, from CEOs to professional athletes, investors to authors, entrepreneurs to scientists. Through these conversations, Ferriss provides readers with invaluable insights regarding top performance in all areas of life – from health and wellness to career success and beyond.
The book’s content combines strategies, habits, and approaches used by many of the world’s top achievers to help readers identify their potential and maximize the potential of their lives. From the importance of sleep to managing stress and prioritizing effectively, Tools of Titans offers real-life examples and strategies that answer questions shared by many striving to achieve more.
I appreciate the framework and structure Ferriss brought to this work and the wide variety of guests featured throughout. However, readers may find parts of the book feel out of touch and irrelevant to anyone outside the 1-percenters club. Rather than sharing applicable insights from their early success, many guests shared their thoughts on habits or routines that keep them on their game as part of the high-achieving elite.
Ferriss acknowledges this fact multiple times throughout the book to help readers remain grounded and focused on finding a few kernels of advice that are most applicable to their situation. But when read with an impartial and slightly analytical mindset, it’s equally fascinating to hear the ‘extreme’ lengths some of these high achievers will go to in order to reach their optimal ‘flow state’ or peak performance.
The experiences many guests recount offer a great demonstration of the old adage and mentality, ‘What got you there won’t keep you there.’ Each titan continuously reevaluated, experimented, and altered their routine for peak performance. If we ever find ourselves on the cusp of reaching an elite status in any realm of our lives, we’ll have some insights and an idea of what it may take to maintain that status.
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist, best-selling author, and professor at Duke University. His books have been translated into over 30 languages, and his TED talks have over 20 million views. In Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Ariely tackles the often overlooked topic of decision-making in life and business.
Ariely’s book highlights fundamental flaws most people possess when it comes to making decisions – he dubs this ‘The Power of Emotion.’ He demonstrates how our emotional attachment to things can lead us to irrationality by avoiding making difficult decisions and instead relying on default settings or rules of thumb to guide us.
However, Ariely’s story takes an optimistic turn by proposing a method for better decision-making. He suggests that with the proper understanding of our psychology, we can begin to make more rational decisions that better fit our goals and those of the wider society.
Predictably Irrational provides a structure for understanding how we think and why, supported by evidence from recent experiments conducted by Ariely and others. He explores common pitfalls in decision-making, such as sunk costs and anchoring effects, helping readers recognize where their biases might get in the way of successful outcomes. With its unique blend of humor, insight, and science, Predictably Irrational is a must-read for anyone looking to understand how our minds work and optimize their path ahead.
Closing on Our List of Thought Provoking Books
No matter your reading taste, there are many unique books to explore. From sweeping historical epics and thrilling mysteries to entertaining accounts of life on Wall Street, these titles offer a wealth of knowledge and perspectives that will help inform your thinking and open up new possibilities.
Pick up one of these engaging reads today and let yourself be transported into the exciting world of these characters whose lives sometimes coexist alongside our own.
Marly is a lifestyle writer and creator of simplylivinghappy.com, a site dedicated to helping readers improve their health, wealth, mindset, and overall happiness. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her listening to audiobooks while gardening, visiting with family, or traveling.