11 Books TED Talk Alums Really Want You To Read

Nothing can move or motivate us quite like a good TED Talk. As part of their mission to spread knowledge and all points of view, TED has asked some of their most distinguished speakers to share the books that have impacted them the most.



Sit back, relax, and learn, baby! 



  1. LoveStar by Andri Snaer Magnason

Recommended by: Thordis Elva (TED Talk: Our story of rape and reconciliation)




Elva, known for delivering a controversial TED talk with her rapist, Tom Stranger, recommends this futuristic work by a fellow Icelander. A disturbing tale of love in the time of algorithms, LoveStar is “a suspenseful and inspiring novel about man vs. machine, the imperfections that make us human, and what it is that really matters in life.”



     2. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Recommended by: Caitlin Doughty (TED Talk: A burial practice that nourishes the planet)




Doughty, the proprietor of a natural funeral home in Los Angeles and creator of the popular YouTube blog “Ask A Mortician,” goes for a predictably death-positive pick with this YA fantasy. David, newly bereft of his mother, must go on an intense odyssey filled with corpses, monsters, and mysterious rulers.


     3. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell     


Recommended by: Robb Willer (TED Talk: How to have better political conversations)




UC Berkley Sociology professor Arlie Russell Hochschild left her liberal town behind to interview and live among residents of the Louisiana bayou—the ordinary Americans who helped fuel the current rise of populist conservatism. Confronting those who oppose some of her strongest held beliefs, Hochschild comes to understand just what motivates some to embrace conservative politics, as well as the ties that bind those on the opposite ends of the political spectrum together.


  1. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Recommended by: Sofia Jawed-Wessel (TED Talk: The lies we tell pregnant women)




Woolf wrote A Room of One’s Own for women writers like herself, but Jawed-Wessel argues that it’s “just as relevant to social scientists or anyone looking to examine patriarchal culture.” It’s a classic that never loses its power to transform our understanding of the water we’re swimming in.


  1. Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah

Recommended by: Hugh Evans (TED Talk: What does it mean to be a citizen of the world?)




Pandemic, written by another TED alum, explores how global pandemics start, how they spread, and what our public health officials are doing to contain the next threat to our health and safety.


  1. Cornelia Parker by Iwona Blazwick, with foreword by Yoko Ono

Recommended by: Emily Parsons-Lord (TED Talk: Art made of the air we breathe)




A little different than the other books on this list, Cornelia Parker has no intricate plot or serious social subject to tackle. Rather, it is one real life artist’s unaffected exploration of her process and the work that comes out of it. If you ever wanted to get inside of the head of an artist, read  Cornelia Parker.


  1. A Human Being Died That Night: Confronting Apartheid’s Chief Killer by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela

Recommended by: Robert Sapolsky (TED Talk: The biology of our best and worst selves)




It is fitting that Sapolsky, a scientist dedicated to studying the light and dark of human behavior, would choose this nonfiction account of one South African’s relationship with a man who helped make their country a violent hell for decades. Former death-squad leader Eugene de Kok may be responsible for the deaths of scores of innocents, but he is also a man as fully human as anyone.


  1. Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra

Recommended by: Jonathan Marks (TED Talk: In praise of conflict)




“Latin America’s new literary star” (New Yorker) brings us inside his narrative, inviting us to build the story as we go along, re-inventing the very meaning of language in the process. Some books serve as an escape. This book serves as a refuge.


  1. The Ordering of Love: The New & Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle by Madeleine L’Engle                                                                                                                                Recommended by: Amy Green (TED Talk: A video game to cope with grief)                        




Madeleine L’Engle is, for generations of readers, the beloved creator of Meg, Charles Wallace and the world of A Wrinkle In Time. But she went beyond fiction, writing many poems over her lifetime. As with her best-known work, L’Engle tackles the big questions—faith, love, history—head-on with signature eloquence and patience.


  1. Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush by Geoff Dyer

Recommended by: Mary Norris (TED Talk: The nit-picking glory of The New Yorker’s Comma Queen)




Norris, a copywriter for the New Yorker and scribe of humorous grammar-based columns, gravitates toward this true tale of an Englishman aboard an American aircraft carrier. Dwyer spends a week on the floating behemoth, interviewing everyone from dentists to pilots in order to get a taste of how rigid discipline changes communities and individuals.


  1. Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano

Recommended by: Eduardo Briceño (TED Talk: How to get better at the things you care about)




Laurie Fabiano dips into her own family history to craft this historical fiction account of a young Italian immigrant, Giovanna, struggling against the more vicious side of turn-of-the-century New York, including a brutal crime collective.


Featured image courtesy of Cornerstone Marketplace.