In December of 2011, Neil deGrasse Tyson,  champion of science, celebrator of the cosmic perspective, master of the soundbite, participated in Reddit’s Ask Me Anything series of public questions and answers.

One reader posed the following question: “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?” Adding to history’s notable reading lists including those by Leo Tolstoy, Alan Turing, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Stewart Brand, and Carl Sagan.

 Tyson offers the following eight essentials, each followed by a short, and sometimes wry, statement about “how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world”:
  1. The Bible (public library; free ebook), to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself
  2. The System of the World (public library; free ebook) by Isaac Newton, to learn that the universe is a knowable place
  3. On the Origin of Species (public library; free ebook) by Charles Darwin, to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth
  4. Gulliver’s Travels (public library; free ebook) by Jonathan Swift, to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos
  5. The Age of Reason (public library; free ebook) by Thomas Paine, to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world
  6. The Wealth of Nations (public library; free ebook) by Adam Smith, to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself
  7. The Art of War (public library; free ebook) by Sun Tzu, to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art
  8. The Prince (public library; free ebook) by Machiavelli, to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it
Tyson adds:
"If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world."

(What has driven it, evidently, is also the systematic exclusion of the female perspective. The prototypical “intelligent person” would be remiss not to also read, at the very least, Margaret Fuller’s foundational text Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which is even available as a free ebook, and Betty Friedan’sThe Feminine Mystique. But, of course, the question of diversity is an infinite one and any list is bound to be pathologically unrepresentative of all of humanity — a challenge I’ve addressed elsewhere — so Tyson’s selections remain indispensable despite their chromosomal lopsidedness. My hope, meanwhile, is that we’ll begin to see more such reading lists by prominent female scientists, philosophers, artists, or writers of the past and present; to my knowledge, none have been made public as of yet — except perhaps Susan Sontag’s diary, which is essentially a lifelong reading list.)

Complement with Nabokov on the six short stories every writer should read, then revisit Tyson on genius and the most humbling fact about the universe.

Christopher Hitchens : Letter to a Young Contrarian

Today would have marked the sixty-third birthday of acclaimed author and professional contrarian Christopher Hitchens, who succumbed to esophageal cancer last December.“One should try to write as if posthumously,” he famously prophetically even, were such a contention not to be blasphemous to him declared three days before he became gravely ill in 2010. Perhaps he had this dictum in mind when he penned, on a challenge from his New School students, Letters to a Young Contrarian, condensing years’ worth of his advice “to the young and the restless” into a series of letters written as if to just one of them, a form borrowed from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

This particular excerpt distills a great deal of Hitch’s lens on life in just one short paragraph:
"Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you."

These words of wisdom join other astute advice to young guns from such cultural figures as John Steinbeck, C. S. Lewis, Albert Einstein, and Jackson Pollock’s dad.

Best Atheist Quotes

Stephen Roberts: When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

Jimmy Carr: When I was a kid I had an imaginary friend and I used to think that he went everywhere with me, and that I could talk to him and that he could hear me, and that he could grant me wishes and stuff. And then I grew up, and I stopped going to church.

Buddha: Believe nothing, No matter where you read it, Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it, Unless it agrees with your own reason And your own common sense.

Michel de Montaigne: To understand via the heart is not to understand.

Jules Renard: I don’t know if God exists, but it would be better for His reputation if He didn’t.

Anonymous: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime; give a man religion and he will die praying for a fish.

Ancient Roman tombstone: Do not pass by my epitaph, traveler. But having stopped, listen and learn, then go your way. There is no boat in Hades, no ferryman Charon, No caretaker Aiakos, no dog Cerberus. All we who are dead below Have become bones and ashes, but nothing else. I have spoken to you honestly, go on, traveler, Lest even while dead I seem talkative to you.

John McCarthy: An atheist doesn’t have to be someone who thinks he has a proof that there can’t be a god. He only has to be someone who believes that the evidence on the God question is at a similar level to the evidence on the werewolf question.

Blaise Pascal: Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions.

Anonymous: Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.


I can’t claim that my home is completely minimalist, but it surely isn’t cluttered, and most people I know would call it a pretty minimalist home.

One recent visitor saw my kitchen and remarked, “I’ve never seen a kitchen that looked so clean, so clear of stuff!” Well, I do my best to keep it clean, but the key is to remove the unnecessary stuff.

For example, on the floor of my kitchen/dining room area are just a few essentials: dining table (clear of any clutter), chairs, some counter stools, a high chair, a step stool for the kids. On the counters are only the toaster, coffee maker and microwave.

Is this kind of minimalist home devoid of character and fun and life? Some might think so, but I get a strange satisfaction, a fulfillment, at looking around and seeing a home free of clutter. It’s calming, and liberating, and just nice.

Less stressful: Clutter is a form of visual distraction, and everything in our vision pulls at our attention at least a little. The less clutter, the less visual stress we have. A minimalist home is calming.

More appealing: Think about photos of homes that are cluttered, and photos of minimalist homes. The ones with almost nothing in them except some beautiful furniture, some nice artwork, and a very few pretty decorations, are the ones that appeal to most of us. You can make your home more appealing by making it more minimalist.

Easier to clean: It’s hard to clean a whole bunch of objects, or to sweep or vacuum around a bunch of furniture. The more stuff you have, the more you have to keep clean, and the more complicated it is to clean around the stuff. Think about how easy it is to clean an empty room compared to one with 50 objects in it. That’s an extreme example, of course, as I wouldn’t recommend you have an empty room, but it’s just to illustrate the difference.

Minimal furniture: A minimalist room would only contain a few essential pieces of furniture. A living room, for example, might only have a couch, another chair or love seat, a coffee table, a minimalist entertainment stand (not a huge one with a bunch of shelves), a television, and a couple of lamps. It could even contain less (couch, chairs, and coffee table, for example). A bedroom might have a simple bed (or even just a mattress), a dresser, and perhaps a night stand or book shelf.

Clear surfaces: In a minimalist home, flat surfaces are clear, except for one or two decorations (see next item). There are not a whole bunch of knick knacks, and definitely not stacks of books or papers or other items.

Accent decorations: A home completely clear of things would be a bit boring, actually. So instead of having a coffee table completely free of any objects, you could have a simple vase with a few flowers, for example. Or a clear desk might just have a family photo. An otherwise empty wall might have a tasteful piece of art (I use my dad’s artwork, as he’s a great artist).

Quality over quantity: Instead of having a lot of stuff in your home, a minimalist would choose just a few really good things he loves and uses often. A really nice table, for example, is better than 5 pieces of press-board furniture.

Examples: The photo at the top of this post is a nice example of a minimalist home (it’s not my home, but I wish it were). See more photosof that lovely home. Traditional-style Japanese homes are another great example of minimalism, as is this nice spread.


There are actually no set steps to making your home minimalist, except to change your philosophy and shoot for the ideals in the previous section above. But here are some tips that I would offer to anyone trying to shoot for minimalism:
One room at a time. Unless you’re just moving into a place, it’s hard to simplify an entire house at once. Focus on one room, and let that be your center of calm. Use it to inspire you to simplify the next room, and the next. Then do the same outside!
Start with furniture. The biggest things in any room are the furniture, so you should always begin simplifying a room by looking at the furniture. The fewer pieces of furniture, the better (within reason, of course). Think of which furniture can be eliminated without sacrificing comfort and livability. Go for a few pieces of plain, simple furniture (example of a minimalist coffee table) with solid, subdued colors.

Only the essentials. Whether looking at your furniture or anything else in the room, ask yourself if the item is truly essential. If you can live without it, get it out. Try to strip the room down to its essentials — you can always add a few choice items beyond the essentials later.

Clear floors. Except for the furniture, your floors should be completely clear. Nothing should clutter the floor, nothing should be stacked, nothing should be stored on the floor. Once you’ve gotten your furniture down to the bare essentials, clear everything else on the floor — either donate it, trash it, or find a place for it out of sight.

Clear surfaces. Same thing with all flat surfaces. Don’t have anything on them, except one or two simple decorations (See Tip 9 below). Donate, trash or find an out-of-sight storage spot for everything else. It will make everything much, much more minimal-looking.

Clear walls. Some people hang all kinds of stuff on their walls. No can do in a minimalist home. Clear your walls except for one or two simple pieces of nice artwork (see Tip 8 below).

Store stuff out of sight. This has been mentioned in the above tips, but you should store everything you need out of sight, in drawers and cabinets. Bookshelves can be used to store books or DVDs or CDs, but shouldn’t have much else except a few simple decorations (not whole collections of things).

Declutter. If you are clearing flat surfaces and the floor, and storing stuff in cabinets and drawers, you’ll probably want to declutter your storage areas too. You can do this in a later stage if you want. See How to Declutter for more.

Simple artwork. To keep a room from being boring, you can put a simple painting, drawing or photo, framed with a subdued, solid color, on each wall if you want. Leave some walls bare if possible.

Simple decorations. As mentioned in the above tips, one or two simple decorations can serve as accents for a minimalist room. A vase of flowers or a small potted plant are two classic examples. If the rest of your room has subdued colors, your accents could use a bright color (such as red, or yellow) to draw the eye and give a plain room a splash of energy.
Plain window treatments. Bare windows, or simple, solid colored curtains, or simple, wooden blinds are good. Too much ornate stuff around the windows is clutter.
Plain patterns. Solid colors are best for floor coverings (if you have any), furniture, etc. Complex patterns, such as flowers or checkers, are visual clutter.

Subdued colors. As mentioned in Tip 9 above, you can have a splash of bright color in the room, but most of the room should be more subtle colors – white is classic minimalist, but really any solid colors that don’t stress the eyes is good (earth colors come to mind, such as blues, browns, tans, greens).

Edit and eliminate. When you’ve simplified a room, you can probably do more. Give it a couple of days, then look at everything with a fresh eye. What can be eliminated? Stored out of sight? What’s not essential? You can come back to each room every few months, and sometimes you’ll discover things you can simplify even more.

Place for everything. I’ve discussed this in other posts, but in a minimalist house, it’s important that you find a place for everything, and remember where those places are. Where does you blender go? Give it a spot, and stick with it. Aim for logical spots that are close to where the thing is used, to make things more efficient, but the key is to designate a spot.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy. Once you’ve simplified a room, take a moment to look around and enjoy it. It’s so peaceful and satisfying. This is the reward for your hard work.


It’s an awkward thing to be thanked for your military service. It always catches me off guard, and I contemplate the right response before coming up blank and resorting to the default: “my pleasure.” It feels like an empty exchange and sometimes it bothers me, but I shrug it off after a few moments. Sometimes, though, I get sucked into deep contemplation, wondering if that response even makes sense. Some parts were my pleasure. Other parts were not so pleasurable.


I met the chief of the munitions storage area (collectively referred to as the “bomb dump”). He was a man who can best be described as grizzled. He was spitting long streams of brown tobacco and I remember being fascinated by a scar on his right cheek that sunk part of his face. He guided me through a room full of missiles and offhandedly asked, “so, being around explosives don’t bother you?” I looked around. It didn’t really feel real so I said no. It was Madison, Wisconsin and robins were chirping outside. My parents, who were with me because I was only seventeen, exchanged looks of concern.

Bunker busters, laser guided, satellite guided, air to ground, air to air, you name it and I ended up fusing it, inspecting it, and driving it around on a trailer behind me. Slowly bobbing and weaving among fighter jets with thousands of pounds of explosives pointed at the back of my head. You could hit these things with a hammer and they wouldn’t blow up, but that didn’t always make it easier. Heat was the number one hazard and it was 120 degrees in the desert. They call it “cooking off” when one thing explodes and the others follow. Stress was compounded by the fact that I was usually the only girl around, as far as the eye could see. And you can see for miles on a flight line.

“Thank you for your service.”

“My pleasure.”

Being around explosives didn’t bother me until the jets started coming back empty after they had been loaded up full of bombs. The guys on the flight line would cheer and high-five each other. Everyone seemed thrilled but I sat in my truck and wondered what happened out there in the desert, who died and who lived and who got to decide, pondering what it must feel like to have your entire being obliterated from the planet in a single fiery moment.


I know that my job often saved lives, the good guys. My friends out there. But my job killed people. A lot of people. And in an indirect way, a way that made me feel an intense loss of control. I had no say in anything, I just fused the bomb. After that, it was on its merry way. We often gathered around strike footage when it came in, huddled around dusty computers in plywood lean-tos, where little green glowing men moved about the screen like Frogger. A small box tracked them, voices crackled. Then the screen glowed brightly, and the little green men stopped moving about. Sometimes one got away, and then a stream of bright dots trailed him, like on Oregon Trail when the father goes out to shoot the buffaloes to feed the children. Then the little green man usually stopped moving for good. This was the culmination of my service. Pac Man. Little green glowing men moving about on a computer screen before they disintegrated.

“Thank you for your service.”

“My pleasure.”

Once I Googled “what happens to you in the moments before an explosion” because I wanted to better understand the implications of my actions. I found one website that said in the moments before an explosion, your breath is sucked out of you. A moment of intense pressure follows, where all your innards squish together. An implosion. Then you explode. I don’t even know if that’s true or not, they never taught us that part in training. But since I had no control over who imploded or exploded, I began volunteering my days off in the combat trauma hospital on base.

It was the largest trauma center in Iraq, where virtually everyone who got blown up came to be stabilized before being flown to Germany and then home. Volunteering in the hospital was an effort to get away from the little green glowing men and put a human face on the cost of war. If I was going to help explode people, maybe I should take some small action toward helping put people back together again. This made sense at the time. It certainly worked. I no longer think of the little green men, and instead the images from the hospital are forever seared in my mind.

“Thank you for your service.”

But not all of it was “my pleasure.”

Upon returning home, being thanked for my service became something I found awkward. My experience was not that traumatic. It was not that dangerous. It didn’t truly feel like a sacrifice. Other people certainly deserved a thank you, but not me. Not when I remembered leaning over a guy who had just lost his leg, scrubbing blood from his hands, attempting a conversation to soothe him when he was incoherent, doped up on morphine. Digging through his bag to find his Purple Heart because he became panicked when he couldn’t remember where they put it. I dug through the normal shit he packed in his bag earlier that day, back when he had two legs, like bubble gum.

“Thank you for your service.”

I didn’t deserve much thanks for anything.

Even when other service members or veterans acknowledged my service it felt contrived, something that was said in lieu of a more meaningful conversation. Even worse was when you were out with a group of friends and acquaintances, enjoying dinner or drinks, and someone announces you were in the military and spent time in Iraq. Somebody soon murmured thank you for your service. More often than not it was something they said just before they decided they didn’t have much in common with you and wandered away.

But then something happened that made me appreciate the effort that others had mustered up when they said “thank you for your service.”

I was living in Washington, DC and like everyone else, I was in a rush. I stepped on the metro. It took a moment to register but first I saw a detached, vacant expression on his face, staring ahead. Then I saw his wheelchair. Then I saw his stumps. Fresh bandaged stumps.

And then I saw his mother, sitting just behind him, watching me looking at him. She saw it all register as I put it together in that one…brief…moment. Damn it. She saw me realize he didn’t have legs. My expression didn’t change, I know it didn’t change, but I know she saw me realize it. Our eyes met. I felt like I could see her thoughts in that moment. She had seen a young woman looking at her young son, and she was wondering if a girl would ever see her son for who he was and not his stumps. She was wondering if she’d ever be a grandmother. She was wondering if her son would ever be loved by another woman other than herself.

There’s no way she could have known I was a veteran. That just a short time ago, I had been diving to the ground avoiding incoming mortars. There’s no way she could have known that memories of wiping blood from that amputee’s hands haunted me, because his face was so perfect. And that could have just as easily been her son because his face was perfect, too.

His mother and I, we both smiled that polite, tight lipped non-smile in mutual recognition. I slid into the seat behind her. I wanted to say something, I wanted to say anything. I wanted to give her encouragement. I wanted to say “I understand,” even though truthfully, I couldn’t begin to comprehend. I wanted to say “I feel your pain,” because in that moment I felt entirely full of pain. But I knew I couldn’t say something without sounding vapid and empty, swiping at some semblance of shared experience and missing entirely. Her experience was not my experience, no matter how much I wanted to empathize.

The train jerked forward, and a torrent of frustration and pity and empathy and anger rushed through me.

After Iraq, I’ve continued my work with veterans. I’ve been to Walter Reed a dozen times. I’ve met hundreds of veterans: resilient, strong, some who are struggling with both visible and invisible wounds. Their stories have deeply affected me, and it hasn’t been an easy road. I’ve found myself suffering too. And while working with veterans has always been a challenge, it has never overwhelmed me. But on that day, in the metro, I crumpled in my seat, weeping silently, filled with the frustration of wanting to say something meaningful but fumbling for the words, and ultimately choosing to remain silent.

And so I understand now, all too fully, the discomfort in attempting to awkwardly recognize another person’s great sacrifice in service to this country. When you understand their experience is not your experience. And your experience feels meaningless and insignificant in the face of their sacrifice. And you fail quite miserably in the attempt to verbalize gratitude or compassion.

But now, when I encounter someone who thanks me for my service, someone who couldn’t possibly relate, I understand that maybe they had to work up the guts to come over and say thank you. That they risked an awkward moment. That maybe they didn’t know what else to say, but they wanted me to know they felt something, and chose to say it. And I feel grateful for their words.

How to cook roasted butternut squash

In this post you are going to learn how to make roasted butternut squash. Roasted butternut squash is such a tasty side dish. If you are used to cooking potatoes consider mixing up little bit with a bright and colorful Butternut squash.

Ingredients to make roasted butter squash:
1lb of butternut squash, peeled and cut-You can purchase already pre peeled and cubed butternut squash, because it is easy and save little bit of time. If you already have one, all you need to do it just peeled it with vegetable peeler and cut it half at lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and then chop it on up.

  • Pinch ground black pepper.
  • Half tsp kosher salt to taste.
  • 3 to 4 tsp of olive oil.
  • Lemon juice.

So, lets start cooking roasted butternut squash:
You can start with two ingredients,to avoid the butternut squash becomes dry. Make sure you have a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and your owen must preheated at 475F (246C).Combine your cubed butternut squash in the bowl (medium sized is better) and drizzle in olive oil. Because the butternut is always a little bit of wet,you will feel that when you are peeling and it always look glistening and you may want to use olive oil to getting nice and olive oily good. Finally putting your salt, lemon juice and pepper and mix them up. If you feel your vegetable is little dry you can drizzle them with little bit olive oil to bring life back to the vegetable, you don’t have to stuck with dry vegetables.

Now pop the mixture on your parchment line sheet and spread it evenly, because if you piled it, the butternet in the middle will gonna have harder time. You must spread it out evenly to get easy roasting. Move your rack in the owen to the center to ensure even roasting. Now you are gonna have to pop it down in the cook it 10-15 minutes, flip and continue roasting until it become tender and little bit crispy.

After you finished your roasting, you will see how gorgeous it is, it will be nice and soft on the inside and crunchy golden brown on the outside. This is the part remember that the lemon juice is optional so if you want to add it in which you will think that nice just drizzle the lemon juice. Add little bit more salt and olive to taste, so if you really like salt you might want to do it more, if you don’t just leave that out. Just remember you can add in but you cant really take any out, So do it carefully . Now give it a one last toss.

If you want the roasted butternet squash jazz it up you can toss it with flavored butter, you could eat it as side dish and put it in your pasta and so many things you can do it with your roasted buttner squash.

Now you know how to cook nutritious and and absolutely delicious roasted butternut squash.