Brain Pickings

Carl Sagan’s Reading List

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Reverse-engineering one of the greatest minds of all time by his information diet.

“Success,” concluded this 1942 anatomy of inspiration, “depends on sufficient knowledge of the special subject, and a variety of extraneous knowledge to produce new and original combinations of ideas.” Few are the heroes of modern history more “successful” and inspired than the great Carl Sagan, and his 1954 reading list, part of his papers recently acquired by the Library of Congress, speaks to precisely this blend of wide-angle, cross-disciplinary curiosity and focused, in-field expertise — and is balanced with a healthy approach to reading and “non-reading”, with some books read “in whole” and others “in part.” (Sagan, as we know, was an avid advocate of books.)

Besides books immediately relevant to Sagan’s work as a scientist and educator in cosmology and astrophysics, he took great care to also touch on history, philosophy, religion, the arts, social science, and psychology. A small but revealing sample, fodder for your own cognitive bookshelf:

Wash down with Alan Turing’s reading list.

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