Experimental psychologist Steven Pinker is the best-selling author of How the Mind Works, The Language Instinct, and The Blank Slate. His new book, The Stuff of Thought, was published last month by Viking.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Prestwick, $5). This is one of three novels I cited at the end of The Blank Slate because each exemplifies one or more of the great themes of human nature in a way that resonates with modern studies from the biological and cognitive sciences. Successive scenes in Huck Finn illustrate the “culture of honor” that leads men to cycles of violence. The first scene occurs among lowlifes, where the conflict ends in bluster and face-saving, the next among the aristocracy, where it ends in horrific tragedy.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (New American Classics, $8). I cited Orwell’s 1949 novel for its defense of truth, realism, and science, and for the way it anticipated the dangerous implications of postmodern relativism.
Enemies: A Love Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15). In Singer’s novel about a Holocaust survivor who ends up with three wives, every scene is a gold mine of insight about human nature.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (Dover, $5). I just finished reading Moby-Dick. Not only was the prose ravishing but the nerd in me enjoyed learning all those facts about whales and whaling.
The Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein (Penguin, $15). Rebecca Goldstein’s hilarious and poignant novel features a witty young philosopher who grapples with the mind-body problem both as a research topic and in her own attractions to the cerebral and the carnal.
The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins (Norton, $16). The Blind Watchmaker is perhaps the best display of expository scientific prose of the 20th century. It has had a strong influence on my own writing.