Recommended Reading

A reading list compiled by Dr. Geoff Balme
(books once categorized are in no particular order)
While a PhD student at NCState I managed to impress my advisers (one of the few times!) with my reading habits. At one point a fellow graduate student blurted at me “But you read that Stephen J. Gould stuff!” and shook his head in a kind of mock awe. While he was teasing me there was also a sense of accomplishment that was unexpected in the students, and I was quite surprised by this. Whenever one of my advisers, the fellow who ran the genetics lab I was using to do my research, held up a book in a meeting or a seminar—I bought it and read it. I didn’t know at the time that it wasn’t the normal behavior. So here is a list of reading I’ve loved, it’ll not be hard to see my philosophical underpinnings outlined as you roll down the list. There’s a great deal more, but these stand out.


Jan Pechenik Biology of the Invertebrates (it’s a textbook, but so well written I read it like a popular science book)

Abraham and Shaw Dynamics The Geometry of Behavior (if I had money I’d give everyone a copy of this book, it’s just beautiful)

Menno Schilthuizen Frogs, Flies, and Dandelions: Speciation The Evolution of New Species

Lucretius On the Nature of Things

Leonard Mlodinow The Drunkard’s Walk

Stephen J. Gould Mismeasure of Man
Wonderful Life
any of his Natural History Magazine essay collections

Carl Sagan Cosmos, Demon Haunted World
Pale Blue Dot

Charles Darwin The Origin of Species
The Ascent of Man
The Voyage of the Beagle.

Richard Dawkins Climbing Mount Improbable

E.O. Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth

P.W. Atkins Creation Revisited

Sean Carroll and Jennifer Greneir From DNA to Diversity

Daniel Gardner The Science of Fear

Ernst Mayr One Long Argument

James Randi The Faith Healers

Michael Shermer Why People Believe Weird Things

Charles Darwin On the Origin of the Species (while it is rare to actually read this work (even among scientists!), I highly recommend it as Darwin’s style and thoroughness are fascinating and loaded with humility.)
Joel Bourne The End of Plenty

Lewis Thomas The Lives of a Cell

Perry Hinton Understanding Statistics

Criticism / Essays / Popular Culture

Neil Postman Technopoly

Viktor Frankl Man’s Search For Meaning

Gore Vidal The Selected Essays of

Yann Martel What is Stephen Harper Reading?

George S. Trow Within the Context of No Context
The Harvard Black Rock Forest

Wallace Stegner American Places

Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves to Death, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century

Kurt Vonnegut Fates Worse than Death
Palm Sunday
A Man Without A Country
and at least the Playboy interview from Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons.
Letters (Edited by Dan Wakefield)
Henry Miller The Air-conditioned Nightmare
The Books In My Life

Jim Harrison Just Before Dark

Eric Schlosser Reefer Madness
Fast Food Nation
Command and Control

Richard Dawkins The God Delusion

Christopher Hitchens God is Not Great

Jon Ronson The Psychopath Test

Freud Civilization and It’s Discontents

Dan Wakefield New York City in the 50s

Edward Abbey Abbey’s Road, Desert Solitaire


Charles Darwin The Voyage of the Beagle
Bart Ehrman Jesus Interrupted, Misquoting Jesus (it’s easy to get addicted to Ehrman’s efforts to put the New Testament into correct context)

Herodotus The Histories (trans. Tom Holland)

Polybius Histories (trans. Robin Waterfield)

Evan S. Connell Son of the Morning Star (I’ve never read any of his other works but my feeling is they’d be excellent.)

Tom Holland Rubicon, Persian Fire

Mary Beard SPQR

Jared Diamond Guns Germs and Steel

Michael Herr’s Dispatches

William Manchester A World Lit Only By Fire
The Glory and the Dream (America to the early 70’s)
The Last Lion trilogy of Churchill.

Barbara Tuchman A Distant Mirror, The Guns of August

Greil Marcus Lipstick Traces

Eric Hobsbawm (any)

Mark Kurlansky Cod
The Big Oyster, 1968

Simon Reynolds Retromania

Peter Vansittart Voices From the Great War

Loree Rackstraw Love As Always, Kurt (love correspondence with Vonnegut)

How To

Esther Perel Mating In Captivity

Kendrick Bryce The Fifth Kingdom (a guide to the life of fungi)

Angier Bradford How to Stay Alive in the Woods


Salinger Franny and Zoey,
Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters and Seymour

Gogol Dead Souls

Flannery O’Connor Everything That Rises Must Converge

Jorge Luis Borges Collected Fictions

Frank Herbert Dune (and sequels)

Isaac Asimov The Foundation Trilogy

Dave Sim Cerebus (a huge graphic novel production of 10,000 pages)

Edward Abbey The Monkey Wrench Gang

Rabelais Gargantua and Pantagruel

Mary Karr The Liar’s Club

David Sedaris Me Talk Pretty One Day

Voltaire Candide

Kurt Vonnegut Siren’s of Titan
Cat’s Cradle

Karel Ĉapek War with the Newts.

Philip Roth Portnoy’s Complaint
Goodbye Columbus
American Pastoral.

Thomas Pynchon Gravity’s Rainbow
Mason and Dixon

Fyodor Dostoevsky Crime and Punishment
Notes From Underground.

Lebov Tolstoy Anna Karenina

George Saunders Pastoralia

Maxim Gorky short story: Creatures Who Once Were Men

Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities

Saul Bellow Herzog

Henry Miller Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, Sexus, Plexus, Nexus.

Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale
Oryx and Crake

Joseph Heller Catch-22

William Faulkner The Sound and the Fury
As I Lay Dying

Norman Mailer The Naked and the Dead
The Armies of the Night

JD Salinger Catcher In the Rye and short story collections

Lord Byron Don Juan

Edward Dorin Gunslinger

Stanislaw Lem Cyberiad
Star Diaries
Tales of Pirx the Pilot.

George Orwell Animal Farm
Road to Wigan Pier
Homage to Caledonia
Down and Out In Paris and London

Thomas Berger Little Big Man
Erich Maria Remarque All Quiet On the Western Front
The Black Obelisk.
Garrison Keillor Lake Woebegon Summer 1956

Sir Walter Scott Ivanhoe

Alexander Dumas The Count of Monte Cristo

Hunter S. Thompson Fear and Loathing
Great Shark Hunt

Flaubert Madame Bovary
Sentimental Education

D.H. Lawrence Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Albert Camus Myth of Sisyphus
The Fall
The Plague
The Stranger

Walker Percy The Moviegoer

John Kennedy Toole A Confederacy of Dunces

Herman Hesse Siddartha

Dan Wakefield’s Going All the Way

Halldor Laxness Under the Glacier,
Iceland’s Bell,
Independent People

Robert Coover The Origin of the Brunists

Jack Butler Jujitsu For Christ

John Steinbeck Cannery Row

Jim Harrison The Road Home, The River Swimmer, The Shape of the Journey

Nabokov Lolita


H.D. Thoreau Walden

Lao Tzu The Tao Te Ching

Homer The Iliad
The Odyssey

Plato The Republic

Walter T. Stace The Teachings of the Mystics

Clyde Kluckhohn Navaho Witchcraft

Chaung Tzu Basic Writings

Shinkichi Takahashi Afterimages

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