Chris Castig Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.

8 Essential Books to Raise the Level of Human Consciousness

6 min read

Human consciousness means being aware. It means listening to that voice in your head. Raising consciousness means knowing when to question whether that voice in your head is on autopilot, or whether you’re awake and thinking critically about the world around you.

One of the first times I remember questioning reality was when I heard the new media theorist Marshall McLuhan say,

“I don’t know who discovered water, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fish.”

Until then I hadn’t considered the idea that fish may not know they are in water. After all, if water is all you know then how can you know anything else? Years later David Foster Wallace would go on to write an essay building on this idea called “This is Water” where he added,

“The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about,”

Last year I read (or reread) over 40 books. At first, it wasn’t clear to me, but by the end of the year I noticed that I’ve been reading around a theme: I want to see the water.

I want to be more conscious of my health, my government, my spirituality — where I’m going, and where I’ve been. I believe that books (more than fast-food mediums like blogs, news, and television) have the power to raise our level of consciousness. Here are eight books that may help you see the water around you.

1. Sapiens

by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens tells the history of humankind. The big idea of the book is that our ability to tell stories — over the past 200,000 years — is what has created humankind’s wealth, prosperity, and is truly what defines our dominance on the planet. Sapiens deconstructs Christianity, Democracy, currency, and modern brands like Google to illustrate how each of these is nothing more than a collective illusion, stories we tell ourselves.

“How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined.”

“You could never convince a monkey [as you could a human] to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.”

“Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in a common myth. Today [Peugeot the car company] employs about 200,000 people world-wide, most of whom are complete strangers to each other.”

2. How Not to Die

By Dr. Michael Greger

You will live a healthier life after reading this book! In How Not to Die Dr. Greger has boiled down research from over 1000 peer-reviewed medical studies into one friendly book. He cites the science, challenges the status quo, and lets you decide for yourself.

The book is divided into two parts:

Part one is ordered by the top 15 causes of premature death in America. For each Dr. Greger gives food advice to decreases your likelihood of falling prey to these deadly diseases. (hint: lots of veggies, avoid milk, meat, and sugar).

Part two is ordered by food. The big takeaway here is Dr. Greger’s “Daily Dozen Checklist.” You can learn more about the Daily Dozen Checklist when you read the book or by visiting

Some highlights:

  • Turmeric taken daily can dramatically reduce DNA damage in your blood.
  • Hibiscus tea works better than drugs for high blood pressure.
  • Exercise 40 minutes a day every day for (not just three times a week as the government tells us is enough)

3. The Internet of Money

by Andreas Antonopoulos

Bitcoin is the future. This book will tell you everything you need to know. The book is a quick read at only 150 pages, and in that time it covers the basics starting with “What is Bitcoin?” and taking you through the long-term vision of why the smartest people in Silicon Valley think Bitcoin will change the world.

For example, did you know there are 7.6 billion in the world of which 4 billion (almost half) don’t have access to stable banks? With Bitcoin, if you own a cell phone you can instantly be your own bank.

As a leading educator in the space, Antonopoulos is the #1 guy you want to learn teaching you Bitcoin.

“Saying Bitcoin is like digital money is like saying the Internet is just a fancy telephone.”

4. Slow Death by Rubber Duck

by Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie

“Even the most clean living among us are polluted,” writes Smith. Newborn babies in America are being born with over 200 chemicals already flowing through their bloodstream: heavy metals, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), phthalates, PBDEs, MEP, DEHP, the list goes on and on. Pollution has changed dramatically in the past few decades:

  1. Pollution is global rather than local
  2. It’s moved from being highly visible to being invisible
  3. In many cases, its effects are now chronic and long-term, rather than acute and immediate.

In Slow Death by Rubber Duck, the two authors run experiments to test their blood for dangerous chemicals (think: Tim Ferris, or the movie Super Size Me). In each chapter, they expose themselves toxic products and foods such as canned tuna, non-stick Teflon frying pans, antibacterial soap, and plastic baby toys (e.g., Rubber Ducks).

Slow Death by Rubber Duck shook me awake. I now have a much better understanding product lifecycle, many of the common ways toxins leach into our bodies, and how to get them out.

5. Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

When speaking about American Slavery and reparations I often hear the defensive response, “I didn’t own slaves, why should I be responsible?”

No, you’re not responsible for the slavery, but yes you are responsible, as a citizen of America for educating yourself so that this never happens again. And that education begins with Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Between the World and Me isn’t about slavery. But it’s about what happens to a country that chooses to ignore traditional of destroying black bodies. It’s what happens 150 years after to a divided country left unresolved on its heritage.

The book is written as a letter from Coates to his son. It begins,

“Son, Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far west side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak.”

6. The Clock Of The Long Now

by Stewart Brand

The Long Now Foundation was established by Stewart Brand to foster long-term thinking and responsibility. This book is his guide to understanding long-term thinking, problem-solving, and humanity itself. How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare? Read this short 208-page book and learn it all!

“Nobody can save the world, but any of us can help set in motion a self-saving world.” — Stewart Brand

“‘The greatest good for the greatest number’ means the longest good, because the majority of people affected is always yet to come.” — Stewart Brand

“There are problems that are impossible if you think about them in two year terms — which everyone does — but they’re easy if you think in 50 year terms.” — Danny Hillis

7. A New Earth

by Eckhart Tolle

The most spiritual of all the books on this list — A New Earth is a guide for building a better planet. Seeing the future of humanity through Eckhart Tolle’s eyes is beautiful, and once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.

“As the consciousness of human beings developed, flowers were most likely the first thing they came to value that had no utilitarian purpose for them, that is to say, was not linked to some way to survival. […] Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken humans, however briefly, to the beauty that is an essential part of their own innermost being, their true nature.” — Eckhart Tolle

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” — Eckhart Tolle

“At the core of all utopian visions lies one of the main cultural dysfunctions of the old consciousness: looking to the future for salvation.” — Eckhart Tolle

“A wake-up call for the entire planet . . . [A New Earth] helps us to stop creating our own suffering and obsessing over the past and what the future might be, and to put ourselves in the now.” — Oprah Winfrey

8. 1984

by George Orwell

You’ve probably heard of 1984. But have you read it?

1984 is a captivating novel about what happens when the government controls the flow of information. Written after World War II, but decades before the Internet, 1984 cautions us against an imagined world where books are banned, negative words are removed from the dictionary, and the truth is debatable.

In 2005 Time Magazine named the novel among their Top 100 English-language novels of the past century. And last year the NY Times named it the “must-read” book of the year.

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” — 1984

“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.” — 1984

“And when memory failed and written records were falsified — when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested.” — 1984

“The dystopia described in George Orwell’s nearly 70-year-old novel ‘1984’ suddenly feels all too familiar. A world in which Big Brother (or maybe the National Security Agency) is always listening in, and high-tech devices can eavesdrop in people’s homes. (Hey, Alexa, what’s up?)… A world in which the government insists that reality is not ‘something objective, external, existing in its own right’ — but rather, ‘whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth.’” — NY TIMES

8 Essential Books to Raise the Level of Human Consciousness in 2018

* Originally published on Medium.

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Chris Castig Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.