Steven Pinker: TOP TEN BOOKS

Photo of Steven Pinker courtesy of Rose Lincoln

Steven Pinker is an author, psychologist, linguist and professor in Harvard University’s Department of Psychology, as well as Bill Gates favorite writer. His ten books to date include “The Language Instinct,” “How the Mind Works,” “The Blank Slate,” “The Stuff of Thought,” “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” and “The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, as well as his latest tome, “Enlightenment Now,” which The Guardian described as “a bold, wonderfully expansive and occasionally irate defense of scientific rationality and liberal humanism.” Here he reflects on the books that mean the most to him, as well as the books that have influenced his own writing.

Below are Steven Pinker’s favorite books, available to purchase individually or as a set.


One, Two, Three, Infinity

George Gamow
A delightful introduction to number theory, Einstein’s theory of relativity, higher dimensions, and other mathematical and scientific topics. I read it as a young adult, but it’s informative for old adults too.
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The Blind Watchmaker

Richard Dawkins
Perhaps the best display of expository scientific prose of the twentieth century. It gave me the idea to try my hand at the genre in “The Language Instinct,” and had a strong influence on my own writing.
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The Evolution of Human Sexuality

Donald Symons
The founding document of evolutionary psychology, filled with insights about sex and the sexes, and more relevant than ever with #metoo. A major inspiration for the discussions of evolution and sexuality in my own “How the Mind Works.”
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The Nurture Assumption

Judith Rich Harris
A grandmother from New Jersey uses genetics, ethnography, and child psychology to refute the dogma that parents shape their children's intelligence and personality. A major influence on my own book “The Blank Slate.”
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36 Arguments for the Existence of God

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
A moving, hilarious, and intellectually deep novel about religion and atheism. Disclosure: I like this author’s fiction so much that I married her.
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Enemies: A Love Story

Isaac Bashevis Singer
Perhaps my favorite contemporary novel by someone I’m not married to. It’s about a holocaust survivor who ends up with three wives. Every scene is a goldmine of insight about human nature.
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Matthew White
This chronicle of history’s hundred deadliest wars and massacres, including death tolls, is a good way to settle bets (who was worse, Genghis Khan or Hitler?), brush up your history, and marvel at the cruelty and stupidity of our species. It was a useful source when I wrote “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.”
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Clear and Simple as the Truth

Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner
Perhaps the best analysis of writing style, and a major inspiration for my own “The Sense of Style.”
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The Beginning of Infinity

David Deutsch
This 21st-century statement of the ideals of the Enlightenment offers fresh insight on a vast number of topics, including the workings of human cognition, the ways of science, and the drivers of progress. A major inspiration for “Enlightenment Now.”
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Whole Earth Discipline

Stewart Brand
No, the environment is not hopelessly despoiled and depauperate, says eco-modernist Stewart Brand. Children of the 1970s will appreciate the title, an allusion to Brand’s groundbreaking “Whole Earth Catalog,” which merged technology with the counterculture and encouraged global consciousness with the breathtaking earthrise photograph on the cover.
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