School is starting again, and whether you're a student in college or a student of life, you need to boot up your brain with some good inspiration. Here is a book list to get you thinking about the world in a new way — and help you make the transition back into study mode.
We've focused here on titles related to science and cultural analysis. Because this is io9.
First, Get Some Philosophical Perspective
If you're wondering what your place is in the universe, there's nothing like Carl Sagan's classic Cosmos to help you ponder the big picture.
What does it mean to be human, in a world where we evolved from Homo erectus and are likely to evolve into something else over the next 100 thousand years? In Stephen Jay Gould's terrific book of essays about Charles Darwin's evolutionary theories, Ever Since Darwin, you'll learn about evolution and its implications for humanity.
And if you're wondering about the human side of science, Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will take you deep behind the scenes, into the story of a woman whose cancer cells transformed medicine.
Have You Just Moved to an Unfamiliar City?
Then get situated and learn about your environment by reading Jane Jacobs' book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, whose insights about urban life are still fascinating 50 years after it was published.
Do You Miss Your Pets?
Nothing will change your perspective on the natural world more than science journalist Carl Zimmer's freaky book about parasites, Parasite Rex. Read it with the lights on.
And if you're wondering what will happen to your fuzzy friends in the future, Emily Anthes' recent book Frankenstein's Cat explains how biotech is transforming the animal kingdom in ways you never realized.
Are You Thinking of Changing Your Major?
Maybe It's Time for a Career in Evil
Education could lead you to the dark side, which is why you need to read Deborah Blum's The Poisoner's Handbook, a riveting story of murder — and how chemistry became part of the detective's toolkit at the turn of the twentieth century. Learn to poison, or learn to stop poisoners! Up to you.
Are You Dubious When People Tell You, "It's Just Entertainment, So Stop Analyzing It"?
Pop culture is serious business. In Douglas Wolk's Eisner-winning book Reading Comics, you'll find out how to analyze the art and storylines in comic books. Yes, it's more than meets the eye.
Brilliant novelist Jonathan Lethem shows how to dig down into deep cultural analysis with his longread called simply They Live (yes, it's about the 1980s film).
What's the political subtext in all those horror movies you love to watch after midnight? Film critic Carol Clover lays it out for you in her smart and surprising book Men, Women and Chainsaws.
Time for a Study Break
When you're not reading, you should be reading manga. And leave it to longtime manga critic (and comic book writer) Jason Thompson to lay it out for you in his Manga: The Complete Guide.
People have been goofing off in college for over a century. Find out how they did it back then in Lynn Peril's delightful pop history College Girls.
How Will You Cope If There Is a Zombie Pandemic, a Robot Uprising, or a Giant Clone Army Attack?
These are crucial questions for every college student. Luckily, a gang of scientists have your back. In astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell's The Knowledge, you'll learn how basic scientific knowledge will help you rebuild civilization from the ruins of abandoned cities.
Former roboticist (now bestselling novelist) Daniel Wilson explains the fundamentals robotics in How to Build a Robot Army, his entertaining guide to fighting robots by understanding how they work.
And you'll need to learn about the fundamentals of genetics and molecular biology to deal with clones, which is why you need the hilarious and brainy guide How to Defeat Your Own Clone, by biologists Terry Johnson and Kyle Kurpinsky.
Seriously, What the Hell, Are We All Doomed?
Epidemiology reporter Maryn McKenna's Superbug, about the rise in antibiotic resistance, suggests that yes — yes we are doomed. Read it and live in (educated) fear.
Or you can just get used to the idea that accidents happen a lot in a high tech society with engineer Charles Perrow's book Normal Accidents. This book explains how to assess risk realistically, when you're surrounded by many dangerous kinds of technology.
Why Does Everybody Keep Talking About Racism?
That's a good question, and one that you can easily answer by reading some excellent books. In Eugene Genovese's classic work, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, you can learn about the history of slavery in the United States and how it continues to affect us to this day.
If you love classic literature, nothing is better than Nobel winning author Toni Morrison's essays in her collection Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. She reveals how racial identity has been a subtext in many works of art.
In Charles Mann's fascinating and informative history 1491, the journalist explains new discoveries that show the size and sophistication of Indian civilizations in the Americas before colonization were far greater than most Europeans have been willing to admit.
Why Is Everybody Having Sex But Me?
Maybe a better question is how are they doing it. In science journalist Olivia Judson's Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, you'll be introduced to the wild diversity of animal life in the most amusing way possible: by learning about many species' weird sex lives.
Possibly the problem is that you've bought into the whole "paleo" thing and keep waiting for caveman sex? In Marlene Zuk's terrific book Paleofantasy, the evolutionary biologist debunks everything from the paleo diet to paleo theories of male/female relationships.
How about if you stop worrying about how much sex you're getting, and just read about the amazing and bizarre world of sex research in Mary Roach's hilarious book Bonk? That should put things in perspective for you.