ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Five Nonfiction Books Everyone Should Read

Updated on February 18, 2016

My bookcase

From the distant past to the far future

I'm a firm believer that in order to understand where we're headed, you have to be able to understand where we've been. As a result, I've included two books with a heavy dose of history, along with two books about futurology (the study of possible future outcomes) and one about the present. I love trying to step back and see the big picture with things, and these books have helped me to realize that everything works together, and nothing is truly isolated. Physics and history are related, just as social science is intimately interwoven with technology and economics. Here, I'm going to recommend books that will help us prepare for the coming years.

Without further ado, here are the five books, what they're about, and why you should read them now.

Stephen Pinker



  • The Better Angels of Our Nature by Stephen Pinker.
    What: Angels takes a hard look at the pervasive notion that things are getting worse in the world with regard to how humans treat one another, especially with regard to violence. Pinker's startling conclusion: things are not getting worse. In fact, things are getting so much better that violence has declined exponentially since early human times, a trend Pinker and his team hammer home over the course of 832 pages (and 37 hours in audiobook format).
    Why: In conjunction with some of the other "big picture" books about the past and future, this book really restored my faith in humanity, and- especially- in the direction in which we are heading, which is a much more civilized world. Anarcho-primitivists will argue against this concept, but they are utterly wrong, according to all of the data (and believe me, there is an absolute mountain of data Pinker is glad to present).

Years of data gives the big picture



The Age of Intelligent Machines by Ray Kurzweil.

What: Kurzweil is well known as the leading futurist in the world, having predicted the demise of the Soviet Union, the rise of the internet, and many other landmark concepts that sounded foreign to us years ago but are commonplace now. Written in 1989, Intelligent Machines makes really accurate predictions about the future course of humanity, like the aforementioned fall of communism in Russia, Deep Blue beating Kasparov, and wireless internet systems. But what makes Machines so good is the three sections in which it's laid out: past, present, and future. The past portion is absolute gold, with a thorough history of computing and artificial intelligence, going all the way back to Greek automata (2300 years ago), and starting an intensive study around the time of the 1890 census, where we can measure the efficiency and "price-performance" of computers smoothly since then, charting the trajectory of Moore's Law and four other paradigms Kurzweil famously discusses in his much more popular The Singularity is Near.

Why: In order to really understand how it might be possible to have nanotechnology inside our bodies within the next 30 years, instant connectivity to the internet (and vastly more intelligence as a direct result) inside of our brains themselves, and regenerative medicine, we have to start by examining how we got to where we are now. What do these long term trends really say, and can they be used to predict the future? Kurzweil makes a thorough case for what is likely to happen, and he wrote this over a quarter of a century ago.

Origins, a total score from the used book store for 2 bucks



Origins by Hubert Reeves, Joel de Rosnay, Yves Coppens, and Dominique Simonnet.

What: Origins breaks up its contents into three sections: the universe as a whole, life, and mankind. There are marked similarities in the beginnings and development of all three studies, and each brings different branches of science to bear in explaining in very plain, easy to understand terms, what has happened so far. Where we're heading from here is speculated upon only briefly, but the reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions.

Why: Taking a look at the way the origin of man is inextricably tied to both the origins of the earth and of the universe itself is a very important study for us to make, especially as we head forward into the future (and, very tentatively, into colonizing space and other worlds). Further, are humans evolving into an entirely new species based on our technology? Are we creating a superhuman artificial intelligence that will be a new species in and of itself? Looking at where we came from will help us understand where we're headed.

Five really, really long ages


Five Ages

The Five Ages of the Universe by Fred Adams and Greg Laughlin.

What: Talk about big picture stuff. This book takes a look at vast expanses of time, all the way back to the beginnings of the universe itself 13.7 billion years ago (or ten "cosmological decades" in the past, a very convenient unit of measurement used throughout the book in order to help a novice understand super duper big numbers), and then forward so very far that the length of time the universe has existed so far looks like less than the blink of an eye compared to the amount of time the universe has been around. Prepare to have your mind blown, in other words.

Why: In order to really understand humanity's destiny, we have to examine what time really means, and how long the universe is likely to be around in a manner in which we comprehend it as such. Universe gives a really easy way to understand these mind-boggling concepts, and paints a beautiful picture of the far, far, far future.

Jaron Lanier on his book, "Who Owns the Future"


Who Owns the Future by Jaron Lanier.

What: A very insightful look into the fairly near future of economics. Sound super boring? Surprisingly, not at all. Lanier breaks down the current fallacies of our "siren server" based system of getting everything for free- and, consequently, not being paid for any of our own information. information is fast becoming the only important thing we have, in an age where material goods are becoming ubiquitous and virtually free.

Why: This potentially dystopian future is right around the corner, but we have the ability to shape the way things are happening. What we need to do is raise awareness that there is, in fact, another alternative to everyone either being super poor or super rich, and getting our information for free may not be all it's cracked up to be. This one very recently made me rethink how the next 20 years are going to go down.


Which of these books have you read?

See results

Do you agree?

Have you read any of the five books above? Do you plan to in the near future? Did this article help you figure out what to read next? If so, please vote in the poll and leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • goatfury profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Billy, what did you think of "The Age of Intelligent Machines"? Very cool that you read those first three!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I've actually read the first three...guess I'll have to order the other two so I can at least be close to "cool." :) Thanks for the recommendations.

    • goatfury profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Thanks, kalinin1158! I agree completely. Our lives are really good right now, and we should take a moment from time to time to reflect upon that. Doesn't mean we shouldn't seek to make things better, of course!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 

      4 years ago from California

      Fascinating collection! As a futurist myself, I'm always interested in the big picture stuff. #1 is especially intriguing, I think I've seen the author on Colbert... I really like the message of the book. I guess if you look at the entire human history, our times don't seem so bad, at least in terms of wars and violence and human rights in general but...tell it to the Palestinians in Gaza or to Somali refugees in Dadaab or to Indian child brides ... :-0 Voted up!

    • goatfury profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Thanks, Jaye! Let me know what you think as soon as you get a chance to read any of them. I'd love to discuss what you thought.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      While I haven't read any of these books yet, your short reviews make each one seem interesting in a way I would enjoy. I'll be checking at my local library for them. Thanks for the recommendations.

      Voted Up++



    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)