Non-Fiction & Popular Science
How the Mind Works – Stephen Pinker
is a professor of linguistics at MIT and a devotee of evolutionary biology. In
his book he tries to give an account of how every aspect of human nature from
our ability to fall in love to our sense of beauty could have developed as the
result of evolution by means of natural selection. Although a science book
Pinker’s writing makes the subjects accessible and interesting and it is full
of useful examples that could be worked into an essay or presentation. His
other books: The Language Instinct and The Blank Slate are good but this one is
the one essential read for TOK!
The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins
professor of Zoology and for public awareness of science at
The Pig that Wants to be Eaten – Julian Baggini
it right to eat a pig that wants to be eaten? Thought experiments are short
scenarios that pose a moral or philosophical problem in a vivid and concrete
way. In this book Julian Bargain
presents 100 of the most intriguing thought experiments from the history of
philosophy and ideas.
Man is the Measure – Rueben Abel
excellent and accessible introduction to most of the central questions in
philosophy, this book is not specifically aimed at TOK students but it has
separate chapters devoted to most of the central areas covered in TOK,
especially the AOKs. Abel’s position is basically humanistic believing that
there is an irreducibly human element to our knowledge.
50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Ought to Know – Ben Dupre
great introduction to 50 of the most interesting issues in current philosophy
with clear, concise explanations of each problem. This is part of a series of
excellent books that also explore the 50 Mathematical and 50 Physics ideas that
you really need to know.
A Complete History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
Bryson’s challenge is to take subjects that normally bore the pants off most of
us, like geology, chemistry and particle physics, and see if there isn’t some
way to render them comprehensible to people who have never thought they could
be interested in science. It’s not so
much what we know, as how we know what we know.
How do we know what is in the centre of the earth, or what a black hole
is, or where the continents were 600 million years ago? How did anyone figure these things out?
The Doors to Perception – Aldous Huxley
own account of his experiments with mescaline, a drug derived from peyote and
used by Native Americans in
Fermat’s Last Theorem – Simon Singh
perfect antidote to the view that maths is simply a subject of dry formulae and
boring equations. Singh’s account of the 300 year hunt for the solution to a
problem scribbled in the margin of one of Fermat’s notebooks reveals the
passion, energy, enthusiasm and excitement that mathematics can evoke as well
as giving a good overview of some of the greatest minds in mathematics.
The Seven Daughters of Eve – Bryan Sykes
Seven Daughters of Eve is the fascinating account of Professor Bryan Sykes
attempts to use DNA evidence to discover the maternal ancestors of the human
race. Sykes has found that almost all Europeans can trace their ancestry back
to one of seven women, women whom he has named Ursula,
is this thing called Science? – A.F. Chalmers
book is the perfect jargon-free introduction to contemporary theories of
science. He challenges the reader’s naïve impressions about how science works
and discusses a variety of different positions on the subject, including the
views of Karl Popper and Thomas Khun. The revelation that even science is built
on a set of assumptions that we just have to take for granted and that there is
more to the subject than experiments and theorems helps the really understand
what’s going on in our most rapidly developing Area of Knowledge.
The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sachs
is a psychologist whose books catalogue some of the strangest disorders and
psychological conditions imaginable. Perhaps the only thing more fascinating
than how the brain works is how the brain breaks down and just one of the
intriguing cases that Sachs discuss is the one which inspired the title: an
unfortunate person who has lost the ability to recognise people visually but
who retains the ability to recognise objects visually and can still recognised
people once they speak or he touches them. It appears that we have a visual
system specifically designed for recognising faces and that, in the case of
this patient, that system has broken down.
A History of Western Philosophy
– Betrand Russell
Russell’s book gives a clear, concise account of
every major philosopher and philosophical position since Plato. A great
reference book once you know what you are looking for but not one to read
through cover to cover.
Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder
in her mailbox one day, a fourteen-year-old Norwegian schoolgirl called Sophie
Amundsen finds two surprising pieces of paper.
On them are written the questions: ‘Who are you?’ and ‘Where does the
world come from?’ The writer is an
enigmatic philosopher called Alberto Knox, and his two teasing questions are
the beginning of an extraordinary tour through the history of Western
Philosophy from the pre-Socratics to Sartre.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
M. Pirsig’s account of the gradual dissolution of the mind of a professor of
philosophy. Woven into the narrative, gripping in its own right, is an account
of the professor’s struggle with various philosophical concepts, in particular
the concept of quality or good-ness, and his views on how these questions apply
to problems in modern life. A more challenging read than Sophie’s World but
worth the extra effort.
Flatland – Edwin A. Abbott
perfect book for anyone who has trouble conceiving of what scientists mean when
they talk about a world that has more than three dimensions. Flatland is the
story of ‘Square’, a narrator who lives in a two dimensional (flat) world where
everything has length and breadth but no depth. Square begins his narration
with an account of the nature of space and society in Flatland fully confident
that his guide to life will leave nothing out. However, his confidence is
dashed when he meets a sphere who begins to explain to him that there are other
dimensions out there that Square has not even begun to consider yet.
The Republic - Plato
In the beginning there was the big three: Socrates, Plato
and Aristotle ... but Socrates only exists in Plato’s writings and Aristotle
was Plato’s student so, really, in the beginning there was Plato. The Republic
is one of his most famous books in which he lays out his model of an ideal
The Meditations on First Philosophy – Descartes
Where it starts to get interesting! Descartes, the first of
the modern philosophers, believed that we could learn philosophical truths
purely by thinking about them, i.e. purely through the exercise of reason, a
position called Rationalism. In this book Descartes kicked off many of the
central problems in philosophy that we are still struggling with today
including the nature of knowledge, what it is to be a human being and whether
God exists in a surprisingly straightforward text broken down into six clear
steps or meditations.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding – Locke
The Principles of Human Knowledge –
A Treatise of Human Nature - Hume
In opposition to Descartes’ Rationalism, these three British
philosophers founded the Empirical school of thought which holds that we can
only know the world through direct sensory experience. The results of this
seemingly simple position turn out to be quite unexpected with Berkeley denying
the existence of anything other than ideas and God while Hume undermined the
existence of causality, induction and therefore eventually science.
The Critique of Pure Reason - Kant
In an attempt to find a compromise between the Rationalist
and Empirical positions outlined above Kant ended up writing one of the densest
and most complicated books in philosophy. Only for the very brave!
Utilitarianism - Mill
A great introductory text to ethical philosophy, Mill’s book
outlines his philosophy of Utilitarianism which defines good actions as those
that cause the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.
A book that, like Descartes’, has sparked centuries of debate over what is
right and what is wrong.
Mind - Searle
A truly modern philosopher, in the sense that he is still
alive even now, John Searle has a straightforward and down to earth approach to
philosophical problems and in his book he attempts to solve some of the issues
that have been plaguing us since Descartes by pointing out that the problem
essentially lies in the mistaken assumptions that we made when setting up the
problems in the first place.
Theory of Knowledge – Nicholas Alchin
introductory framework that looks at how to approach questions such as: What is
good art? Can I trust my senses? Will science tell us everything? How did the Universe start? Is there life after death? The text is designed to encourage critical
thinking and stimulate discussion.
Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma – Richard van de
book guides helps students to explore the fundamental question in Theory of
Knowledge: ‘How do you know?’ The book
consists of three main parts and a conclusion.
Part 1, Knowers and knowing; part two, Ways of knowing; part three,
Areas of knowledge and investigates questions of an interdisciplinary nature.
A Guide Through the Theory of Knowledge Third Edition – Adam
little or no philosophical knowledge, it guides beginning students through the
landmarks in epistemology, covering historically important topics as well as
current issues and debates.
Geography of Thought
Germs and Steel
Language: Chomsky’s Classic Works
Fire and Dangerous Things
Intelligence & Working with Emotional Intelligence
Feelings: the Intelligence of the Unconscious
Things that Don’t Make Sense
Structure of Scientific Revolutions
and the New Physics / The Mind of God
Gribbin In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat / Science:
a history 1543 – 2001
in Western Culture
and the Search for Knowledge
Poverty of Historicism
and the Man: a short introduction to aesthetics