The Ascent of Man

is an excellent book by Jacob Bronowski (isbn 0-7088-2035-2)
As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages.

Evolution is the climbing of a ladder from the simple to the complex by steps, each of which is stable in itself.
The turning point to the spread of agriculture in the Old World was almost certainly the occurrence of two forms of what with a large, full head of seeds. Before 800 BC wheat was not the luxuriant plant it is today. It was merely one of many wild grasses that spread throughout the Middle East. By some genetic accident, the wild wheat crossed with a natural goat grass and formed a fertile hybrid. ... Now we have a beautiful ear of wheat, but one which will never spread in the wind because the ear is too tight to break up.
The Principle of Uncertainty is a bad name. In science or outside it, we are not uncertain, our knowledge is merely confined within a certain tolerance. We should call it the Principle of Tolerance.
When to copper you add an even softer metal, tin, you make an alloy which is harder and more durable than either - bronze. ... Almost any pure material is weak, and many impurities will do to make is stronger.
The making of the sword, like all ancient metallurgy, is surrounded with ritual, and that is for a clear reason. When you have no written language, when you have nothing that can be called a chemical formula, then you must have a precise ceremonial which fixes the sequence of operations so that they are exact and memorable.
To us gold is precious because it is scarce; but to the alchemists, all over the world, gold was precious because it was incorruptible. ... every medicine to fight old age contained gold, metallic gold, as an essential ingredient, and the alchemists urged their patrons to drink from gold cups to prolong life.
We still use for the female the alchemical symbol for copper, that is, what is soft: Venus. And we use for the male the alchemical sign for iron, that is, what is hard: Mars.
When the Bible says three wise men followed a star to Bethlehem, there sounds in the story the echo of an age when wise men were stargazers.
Three thousand years after they were made, the village women of Khuzistan still draw their water ration from the qanats.
The Greeks when they saw the Scythian riders believed the horse and the rider to be one; that is how they invented the legend of the centaur.
Galileo is the creator of the modern scientific method... he really did for the first time what we think of as practical science: build the apparatus, do the experiment, publish the results.
Relativity is the understanding of the world not as events but as relations.
He [Einstein] hated war, and cruelty, and hypocrisy, and above all he hated dogma.
It was because [James] Brindley could not spell the world 'navigator' that workmen who dig trenches or canals are still called 'navvies'.
Always [Leo] Szilard wanted the [atom] bomb to be tested openly before the Japanese and an international audience, so that the Japanese should know its power and should surrender before people died.

What is Life?

is an excellent book by Paul Nurse (isbn 978-1-788451-40-6)
As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages.

Cells repair these mutations, but they are not completely successful. If they were, all individuals of a species would be identical and evolution would stop. This means the error rate itself is subject to natural selection. If that error rate is too high the information stored by the genome will degenerate and become meaningless, and if errors are too rare, the possibility for evolutionary change is reduced. Over the long term, the most successful species will be those that can maintain the right balance between constancy and change.
Humanity should care about the entire biosphere; all the different life forms that share our planet are our relatives.
Once microbes evolved the ability to photosynthesize, they multiplied, over the millenia, to such an extent that the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere spiked. What followed, between 2 and 2.4 billion years ago, is called the Great Oxygen Catastrophe. All organisms that existed at that time were microbes, either bacteria or archaea, but some researchers think most of them were wiped out by the appearance of all that oxygen. It is ironic that life created conditions that nearly ended life as a whole.
To fuel all of the chemical reactions needed to support your body's trillions of cells, your mitochondria together produce, amazingly, the equivalent of your entire bodyweight in ATP every day!
The life forms that survive natural selection persist because they work, not necessarily because they do things in the most efficient or straightforward way possible. ... This can disturb some physicists who turn their attentions to biology. Physicists tend to be attracted to elegant, simple solutions, and can be less comfortable with the messy and less-than-perfect reality of living systems.
Even plants rely on bacteria found in or near their roots that capture nitrogen from the atmosphere. ... In fact, this is something that, as far as we know, no eukaryote can do for itself. That means there is not a single known species of animal, plant or fungus that can generate its own cellular chemistry entirely from scratch.
Life on Earth belongs to a single, vastly interconnected ecosystem, which incorporates all living organisms.
Biology shows us that all the living organisms we know of are related and closely interacting. We are bound by a deep connectedness to all other life.

Sapiens. A Brief History of Human Kind

is an excellent book by Yuval Noah Harari (isbn 978-0-099-59008-8)
As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages.

Whereas chimpanzees spend five hours a day chewing raw food, a single hour suffices for people eating cooked food.
Since long intestines and large brains are both massive energy consumers, it's hard to have both. By shortening the intestines and decreasing their energy consumption, cooking inadvertently opened the way to the jumbo brains of Neanderthals and Sapiens.
Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths.
There is some evidence that the size of the average Sapiens brain has actually decreased since the age of foraging. Survival in that era required superb mental abilities from everyone.
What characterises all these acts of communication is that the entities being addressed are local beings. They are not universal gods, but rather a particular deer, a particular tree, a particular stream, a particular ghost.
The extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites.
The new agricultural tasks demanded so much time that people were forced to settle permanently next to their wheat fields.
This is the essence of the Agricultural Revolution: the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions.
One of history's few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.
Evolution is based on difference, not on equality.
There is not a single organ in the human body that only does the job its prototype did when it first appeared hundreds of millions of years ago.
The mere fact that Mediterranean people believed in gold would cause Indians to start believing in it as well. Even if Indians still had no real use for gold, the fact that Mediterranean people wanted it would be enough to make the Indians value it.
The first religious effect of the Agricultural Revolution was to turn plants and animals from equal members of a spiritual round table into property.
The monotheist religions expelled the gods through the front door with a lot of fanfare, only to take them back in through the side window. Christianity, for example, developed its own pantheon of saints, whose cults differed little from those of the polytheistic gods.
Level two chaos is chaos that reacts to predictions about it, and therefore can never be predicted accurately.
In many societies, more people are in danger of dying from obesity than from starvation.
Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world.
Throughout history, the upper classes always claimed to be smarter, stronger and generally better than the underclasses... With the help of new medical capabilities, the pretensions of the upper classes might soon become an objective reality.

The Culture Code

is an excellent book by Daniel Coyle (isbn 978-1-847-94127-5)
As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages.

Much of the connection happens around the dinner table, as Popovich is obsessed with food and wine.
One misconception about highly successful cultures is that they are happy, lighthearted places. This is mostly not the case. They are energized and engaged, but at their core their members are oriented less around achieving happiness than around solving hard problems together.
Allen could find none that played a meaningful role in cohesion. Except for one. The distance between their desks.
For the vast majority of human history, sustained proximity has been an indicator of belonging.
It's important to avoid interruptions. The smoothness of turn taking, as we've seen, is a powerful indicator of cohesive group performance.
The groups I studied had extremely low tolerance for bad apple behaviour.
The groups I visited were uniformly obsessed with design as a lever for cohesion and interaction.
He also had the company buy nicer coffee machines and install them in more convenient gathering places.
Merely replacing four-person tables with ten-person tables has boosted productivity by 10 percent.
Kauffman decreed that every aspect of training be team-based.
It's very hard to be empathic when you're talking.
The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled.
We should have made the hallways wider. We should have made the cafe bigger.

Life, the Universe and Everything

is an excellent book by Douglas Adams (isbn 978-0-330-49120-4). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages.

He would insult the universe. That is, he would insult everybody in it. Individually, personally, one by one, and (this was the thing that he really decided to grit his teeth over) in alphabetical order.
'Eddies,' said Ford, 'in the space-time continuum.'
'Ah, nodded Arthur, 'is he? Is he?'
It was a charming and delightful day at Lord's as Ford and Arthur tumbled haphazardly out of a space-time anomaly and the immaculate turf rather hard.
'A what?' he said.
'An SEP.'
'An S...?'
'And what's that?'
'Somebody Else's Problem,' said Ford.
The second non-absolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one those most bizarre of concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive.
'Tell me it was a coincidence, Dent' it said. 'I dare you to tell me it was a coincidence!' 'It was a coincidence,' said Arthur quickly.
It was the Cathedral of Hate.
It was the product of a min that was not merely twisted, but actually sprained.
It was huge. It was horrific.
It had a Statue in it.
We will come to the Statue in a moment.
'I got yanked involuntarily back into the physical word,' pursued Agrajag, 'as a bunch of petunias. In, I might add, a bowl.'
Strictly speaking, all editors since Lig Lury Jr have therefore been designated Acting Editors, and Lig's desk is still preserved the way he left it, with the addition of a small sign which says 'Lig Lury Jr, Editor, Missing, presumed Fed'.
The longest and most destructive party ever held is now into its fourth generation and still no one shows any signs of leaving.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

is an excellent book by Douglas Adams (isbn 978-0-330-49121-1). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This had made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
The motto stands - or rather stood - in three-mile high illuminated letters near the Complaints Department spaceport on Eadraz. Unfortunately its weight was such that shortly after it was erected, the ground beneath the letters caved in and they dropped for nearly half their length through the offices of many talented young complaints executives - now deceased.
Quite how Zaphod Bebblebrox arrived at the idea of holding a seance at this point is something he was never quite clear on.
'Listen, three eyes,' he said', 'don't you try to outweird me, I get stranger things than you free with my breakfast cereal.'
Marvin was forced to say something which came very hard to him. 'I don't know,' he said.
'I go up,' said the elevator, 'or down.'
'Good,' said Zaphod. 'We're going up.'
'Or down,' the elevator reminded him.
And the worse they were to wear, the more people had to buy to keep themselves shod, and the more the shops poliferated, until the whole economy of the place passed what I believe is termed the Shoe Event Horizon, and it became no longer economically possible to build anything other than shoe shops.
'Transtellar Cruise Lines would like to apologize to passengers for the continuing delay to this flight. We are currently awaiting the loading of our complement of small lemon-soaked napkins for your comfort, refreshment and hygiene during the journey. Meanwhile we thank you for your patience.'
In it, guests take (willan on-take) their places at table and eat (willan on-eat) sumptuous meals whilst watching (willing watchen) the whole of creation explode around them.
'You've never heard of Disaster Area?'
'It says "Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet, Ship B, Hold Seven, Telephone Sanitizer Second Class" - and a serial number.'
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
Their track suits were now all dirty and even torn, but they all had immaculately styled hair.

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

is an excellent book by Douglas Adams (isbn 978-0-330-49119-8). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages.

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.
The Guide also tells you on which planets the best Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters are mixed, how much you can expect to pay for one and what voluntary organizations exist to help you rehabilitate afterwards.
People of Earth, your attention please. This is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council...
The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.
The prisoners sat in the Poetry Appreciation chars - strapped in.
'Space', it says, 'is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space. Listen...' and so on.
The principle of generating small amounts of finite improbability by simply hooking the logic circuits of a Bambleweeny 57 Sub-Meson Brain to an atomic vector plotter suspended in a strong Brownian Motion producer (say a nice hot cup of tea) were of course well understood.
Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? Cos I don't.
For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch sensitive - you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot muscular expenditure of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same programme.
'Oh God,' said Zaphod. He hadn't worked with this computer for long but had already learned to loathe it.
'Computer!' shouted Zaphod. 'Rotate angle of vision through one-eighty degrees and don't talk about it!'
Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor - at least no one worth speaking of.
'Hi there! This is Eddie your shipboard computer, and I'm feeling just great, guys, and I know I'm just going to get a bundle of kicks out of any program you care to run through me.'
'You just let the machines get on with the adding up,' warned Majikthise, 'and we'll take care of the eternal verities, thank you very much. You want to check your legal position you do, mate. Under the law the Quest for the Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers.'
'I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is.'
R is a velocity measure, defined as a reasonable speed of travel that is consistent with health, mental wellbeing and not being more than say five minutes late.