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message 1: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments I thought this would be an interesting question. I realize that most of the people who are members of this group are likely to have gone to college, but what about those who haven't? More people *don't* go to college in the United States than do. Why don't we make a list of the books that you think would give you the equivalent of a decent college education? I wouldn't worry too much about what degree, what university, possible masters/doctorate after the baccalaureate, just what books do we think would give a person a good, well-rounded education?


message 2: by Melissa (last edited Aug 17, 2010 06:05PM) (new)

Melissa (mjkirkland) Excellent idea!

I'll start the list with:

A Sand County Almanac

message 3: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Brilliant. How about A Brief History of Time?


message 4: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments How about Mathematics for the Nonmathematicianfor math? Nice over-view, and it will teach you how to solve some problems...


message 5: by Emily (last edited Aug 17, 2010 06:44PM) (new)

Emily Brown (talulahgosh) | 8 comments March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen this book is my advanced microbiology class. how sad that i paid so much tuition for this knowledge.

message 6: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments I've heard great things about this book, Emily. I'm actually in the process of placing an order and am going to include it. It looks like a fascinating read. Thanks for the suggestion. Does anyone have a good zoology book?


message 7: by Paul (new)

Paul | 9 comments Great idea. How about these? The structure of scientific revolution by Thomas Kuhn. A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson. Krakatoa by Simon Winchester.

message 8: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Krakatoa is good, Paul? I'd neve heard of the book. I'm off to find out!


message 9: by Sam (new)

Sam (ecowitch) | 23 comments I've read Krakatoa and found it a very good book, easy to follow and enjoyable to read, it explains what happened how and why without drowning the reader in terminology and scientific jargon.

Would also recommend Ecology: The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance: Hands-On Field Package by Charles J. Krebs, which was and still is my ecological bible

message 10: by Coqueline (last edited Aug 18, 2010 03:58AM) (new)

Coqueline I would recommend Genome The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley.

message 11: by Paul (new)

Paul | 9 comments Kristopher wrote: "Krakatoa is good, Paul? I'd neve heard of the book. I'm off to find out!


Yes, it was a very good book. It explains the entire social ecology and history of Indonesia as well as the geology and plate tectonics of the area. All of Simon Winchesters books are great.

message 12: by Sandra (new)

Sandra (slortiz) | 60 comments Kristopher wrote: "I thought this would be an interesting question. I realize that most of the people who are members of this group are likely to have gone to college, but what about those who haven't? More people *..."
With regards to history, I would recommend any and all of the books by Barbara Tuchman, especially the one with "Folly" in the title, which should be mandatory reading for all high school seniors.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley

A good read if the idea of capitalism doesn't make you nauseous. :>)

message 14: by Kristopher (last edited Aug 18, 2010 01:50PM) (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments That sounds like a great read, Chas. Even though I live in the people's republic of Massachusetts, I still think Capitalism is a lovely thing and Socialism is somewhat suspect. :) Speaking of different ideas...what about philosophy? I'm eyeballing The Story of Philosophy as a good over-view. Anyone else have any ideas?


Edit to fix a couple of dumb mistakes

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Hi Kris,

I went on a philosophy thing late last year. The classical philosophers kinda made my head hurt. The last of that genre was a contemporary Englishman that just could not accept the idea that he must die. However, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker, who calls himself an evolutionary psychologist is a good read, as I see psychology as a first cousin to philosophy.

I am going to sit in on a 1st. year core course for engineers and other science majors at my old college this fall semester: "The Philosophy Of Knowledge" just for the fun of it if there is room in the class.

message 16: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments The philosophy of knowledge? That sounds like a really interesting class. You'll have to keep us posted on how it goes. I will confess to signing up for an intro to philosophy class and then dropping it during the break of the first day. The first hour was one of the most pretensious displays of ego I've ever had the misfortune to sit through. I might give it another shot at this school.


message 17: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 87 comments The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen would be a terrific book for a study of island evolution and species extinction.

I'd say any college education should include knowledge of climate change, so I'd recommend Eaarth by Bill McKinnen. (And it is spelled with two As.)

message 18: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Eaarth looks very interesting, Jimmy. How about "Collapse: how societies choose to succeed or fail" by Jared Diamond? (hope the title is right…I'm writing this on my phone) a little sociology is great for everyone.
On a side note:
I found a copy of Krakatoa for $3 today at a used bookstore. I was very excited.


message 19: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 87 comments Jared Diamond books are all must reads:

Guns, Germs, and Steel
The Third Chimpanzee
Why Is Sex Fun?
and there are others.

I loved reading the first three, and I want to read the fourth title before I get too old.

message 20: by Paul (new)

Paul | 9 comments Kristopher wrote: "Eaarth looks very interesting, Jimmy. How about "Collapse: how societies choose to succeed or fail" by Jared Diamond? (hope the title is right…I'm writing this on my phone) a little sociology is gr..."

You'll love it, Christopher. I atually listened to it and the reader read it with an English accent. It was spectacular because, in the book, Winchester uses very vivid language to describe the environment. He also describe the social network at the time. I didn't remember that the Dutch controlled the islands and were particularly brutal to the indigenous population

message 22: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Jimmy,

I've read guns germs and steel and collapse. They were both very interesting.


I'm exited about Krakatoa. It'll be a little bit, but I'll get around to reading it.

I started reading "The World's Religions" by Huston Smith tonight. He's such a good author. I don't know why I haven't read this before. It's very enjoyable.


message 23: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Bryan,

You must have posted while I was writing my response. Brilliant suggestions! I've added the incomplete education one to my amazon wishlist.


message 24: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 87 comments May I share a quick story about Bill McKibben. I heard him speak at Gibson's Bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire. He spoke for an hour and signed books for another hour. I was at the end of the line. I always ask authors a question, so as not to just get a boring signature. I asked him, What are your thoughts about the earth now? He wrote down, "With hope for this tired, sweet old planet." His love for the earth shows in that quote.

On 10/10/10 Mr. McKibben is planning a worldwide event to enlighten people about the dangers of climate change. Check out his website at A part of any self-educated person's reading list.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson started the environmental movement. McKibben's The End of Nature is the next great environmental book.

message 25: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments That's a great story, Jimmy. I'm assuming from the location you saw him at that you're not that far away from me. I live on the north shore in Massachusetts.


message 26: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 87 comments I live just outside Concord NH in the small town of Chichester. Howdy, neighbor.

message 27: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Howdy, sir. :)

message 28: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Now for the fun stuff, math and economics:

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

Mathematics for the Nonmathematician

Does anyone have any more advaned math books?


message 29: by Alex (last edited Aug 30, 2010 08:46AM) (new)

Alex I followed Kristopher here because this topic looks like so much fun. It's exactly what I've been spending the last couple years doing; I did, technically, go to college, but it's not like I learned anything there. (Who does that?) Now that I'm old enough that there's nothing fun or cool left to do anyway, I thought I might as well catch up on knowing stuff about things.

Nice to see Guns, Germs & Steel and Collapse, Song of the Dodo, and Brief History of Time here. Wonderful books, all.

I'll second A Short History of Nearly Everything as well, although it's sorta more high school than college. Surprisingly good book though.

For physics, I enjoyed The Elegant Universe and even sortof understood what he was talking about for the first ten pages or so.

I've just started John Gribbins' The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors. If it does what its title says (and it's off to a good start), it'll be a good one.

I wish I knew some math books, but I'm going to be taking notes during this part. I'll chime back in whenever we get around to history.

message 30: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Hey, Alex! Good to see you here! I've actually got a copy of "The Scientists" on the way to me. I stumbled across a copy at B&N and ordered it that night. I'm kind of doing some self-education at the moment as well. I'm enrolled in college, but lets just say that I'm not as thrilled about what the professors are teaching as I could be. I'd be glad to hear about any history books you'd like to recommend to me/us.



message 31: by Alex (new)

Alex Cool, Kristopher! It'll be great to compare notes.

Where are you going to college? Sorry to hear they're not holding up their end of the bargain.

My go-to history recommendations:
- 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann covers all native American cultures and explodes much (if not most) of the b.s. I learned in high school; it's carefully researched and a blast to read. Do not confuse with 1434 by Gavin Menzies, which is the opposite of everything I just wrote.

- Roger Osborne's Civilization: A New History of the Western World does a remarkable job of covering all of Western civilization, from prehistory to today, in just 500 pages. Really an astonishing achievement.

And I think Guns, Germs and Steel brings up some questions that are good to keep in mind as one reads about history. Whether it answers them is another matter.

No overview book does an adequate job of covering anything, so this is a hairy subject, but those three books are far better than most. For books about specific eras, I'm an okay resource and Susanna, whom I saw around here, is an incredible one. That woman has read everything and remembers all of it.

message 32: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments I'm going to Salem State. I think that the biggest problem I've encountered there is that most of the professors I have are adjunct and have been there for 50 years. They know that there are no consequences to not doing a good job, so they don't bother to try. I've read "Guns, Germs and Steel" and have "1491" on my TBR pile. I'll add "Civilization." If you're interested in medicine at all, I highly, highly reccomend A Brief History of Medicine: From Hippocrates' Four Humours to Crick and Watson's Double Helix. Strathern is an awesome author, who manages to cover several thousand years of medicine in a few hundred pages and keep it really interesting the whole time. Where did you go to school?


message 33: by Alex (new)

Alex I went to a place called Colgate, which was founded by a guy with a toothpaste company. It's way out in the woods in upstate New York, and while I was there it had the highest per capita beer consumption of any school in the country. We were very proud. I think I took a number of courses about things, but who can really say? Like you, I was an English major. And I'm now in IT, because it turns out that there's really no reason to pay English majors to do things. Not to discourage you or anything.

Medicine is a huge gap for me; I don't even know enough to guess the answers on a medicine related Jeopardy category, so that's pretty bad. I'll check out Brief History; that sounds like exactly the kind of thing I could use.

message 34: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Alex,

I've definitely heard of Colgate. The people I've met from there seemed to major in premature liver failure…lol. I'm at the point now where I'll do almost anything to get away from working in IT…at least away from the people I currently work with.
You'll like "A Brief history" it's well-written and a really interesting read.


message 35: by Alex (last edited Aug 30, 2010 08:29PM) (new)

Alex be honest, I'd like to get away too. I'm considering a career change. Never seems like quite the right time, but that's how life is, I guess. I was thinking about teaching high school, because I enjoy not getting respect or money. I need to hold on where I am for at least another six months or so due to coordination with my wife's career, so it's been a slow decision.

Always surprising and lovely when people have heard of my school - and of course, I know Salem State too. I have a lot of respect for you, taking the leap to go back to school. Something I've been talking about for ages but haven't even come close to actually doing. It's very hard. (Not like I'd know. It sounds hard.)

I'm not sure which organ my liver is, but I'm sure it's, like, totally fine.

message 36: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Hemming Maths books: I don't know if it's any good, but I think it was New Scientist where I got this to add to my 'to read' list

The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey through Everyday Life by Marcus du Sautoy

Marcus du Sautoy is a maths prof from Oxford University (UK) (I think it's Oxford, might be Cambridge). He's doing a series on The Story of Maths for the BBC at the moment. I watched an episode last night and it was great - very accessible.

Might be a start?


message 37: by Kristopher (new)

Kristopher | 35 comments Alex,

Your liver is that organ that sticks out right below your rib probably felt like a board immediately after college, and has settled down a little bit in the years since. My Fiancee was a high school teacher for about 7 years and listening to her and her friends talk about it is enough to keep me away. It seems like HS teachers fall into pretty much the same categories as professors at college. You're either young and determined to make a difference, in which case you wind up working 18 hours a day during the school year trying to change peoples lives (which I totally admire..I think that it's fantastic that there are people who are willing to do that) or you're a hardened old harness-mule who uses the same lesson plan that you've used for 20 years and rest secure in that fact that once you've got tenure you're essentially immune to being fired. I've had a lot of people ask me if I'm going to teach when I finish my degree. I guess that's always a fall-back plan, but not my number one goal.
Going back to school has been hard, but it's not the end of the world. I'm originally from Tennessee and before I moved up here I usually worked one full time job and two part-time jobs. This works out basically the same....I work full time and going to school feels like having a couple of part-time jobs. I've got an end in sight now which is always encouraging.

"The Number Mysteries" looks like an interesting book. I looked on the website and it seems to only be available for the Kindle at this time. I don't purchase too many Kindle books as I've only got the Iphone app, which isn't condusive to easy reading. I saw that it's available in hardcover from the website, with a paper back very due out early next year. Hopefully it'll be available in the states sometime after that.


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