I think gifted teenagers should be aware of the subjectivity and complexity of history and narratives. So my choices are geared around challenging existing narratives. I've also made an effort to choose some female authors.
1. Howard Zinn - A People’s History of the United States
An absolute blast of revisionist history, critiquing the American Dream from a range of angles. It is contentious, but that's the point - to provoke a debate.
What struck me as I began to study history was how nationalist fervor--inculcated from childhood on by pledges of allegiance, national anthems, flags waving and rhetoric blowing--permeated the educational systems of all countries, including our own. I wonder now how the foreign policies of the United States would look if we wiped out the national boundaries of the world, at least in our minds, and thought of all children everywhere as our own. Then we could never drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, or napalm on Vietnam, or wage war anywhere, because wars, especially in our time, are always wars against children, indeed our children. Howard Zinn, A People's History
2. The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
I've heard several people in EA dismissing fiction. This is ridiculous. Fiction has a lot to teach us about our own thought processes, the lives of others, and the cultures we live in. TGN is feminist and anti-war, and especially considering Lessing's non-standard educational background, the prose is utterly brilliant.
Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: 'You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society. Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
3. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Hopefully this is on every school reading list on Earth, but just in case not, then I'll back it here. I cry every time I read Atticus' speeches.
I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
I'd second Thinking, Fast and Slow.
I took a general primer on human biases ("Psychology of Critical Thinking") at a local university in high school, which overall had an enormously beneficial effect on my thinking.
Thinking, Fast and Slow is the most comprehensive popular book I've read which covers that territory, and wins points for describing in detail the experiments that Kahneman and Tversky used to reach their various conclusions. My understanding is that most of Kahneman and Tversky's results have held up, but not everything ... (read more)