According to famed psychologist Howard Gardner, there is not one measure of intelligence, but nine: Spatial, Naturalist, Musical, Logical-Mathematical, Existential, Interpersonal, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Linguistic, and Intra-Personal. This means that if your goal is truly to become smarter, you have to think in broader terms and do more than plow through a few extra crossword puzzles every week—you have to feed every aspect of your intellect. The books below can help make you smarter in each area of intelligence. Embark on a reading journey that’ll make you feel like a genius—or at least more aware of your strengths.
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Frames of Mind, by Howard Gardner
You might as well start at the source. Gardner’s seminal 1983 book lays out his theory of multiple versions of intelligence in detail. He describes the nine types of intelligence as different ways people process information, and argues that they operate largely independently—and that modern testing and education systems are fatally flawed, because they don’t take this variety into account. It’s a fascinating work that might change how you think about thinking.
Spatial Intelligence: Spatial Intelligence: Why It Matters from Birth through the Lifespan, by Daniel Ness, Stephen J. Farenga, Salvatore G. Garofalo
No book offers a more comprehensive outline of what, exactly, spatial intelligence is, and why you should be more aware of it. After explaining the natural tendency for all people to interrogate the world through spatial relationships and knowledge, it offers real-world parallels linking spatial skills to professional skills, and demonstrates how developing them can make you more effective and successful.
Naturalist Intelligence: Last Chance to See, by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine
Our ability to identify and comprehend other living things has always been essential to our survival, from the first time someone died from eating the wrong berries, to our instinctive reaction to spotting a rabid dog on the street. Naturalistic Intelligence is severely underdeveloped in a large portion of the modern world, insulated as we are from the hunting and farming and wilderness survival that was once essential. Adams and Carwardine’s book focuses on species that are in imminent danger of extinction—an excellent place to start your naturalistic reeducation.
Musical Intelligence: Amadeus, by Peter Shaffer
You could buy a book on musical theory, or specifically on Musical Intelligence, which is how we interpret and react to sounds, rhythms, and tones. You could read this haunting, complex play, listening to the musical pieces referenced as you go, and climb into the head of a genius who seemed to translate everything he experienced into music. Mozart certainly possessed extraordinary musical intelligence, and if you can absorb just a bit of it, you’ll be better off.
Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: Gödel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas R. Hofstadter
This book isn’t solely focused on one form of intelligence—there is a lot of musical intelligence stuff in here as well, for example. But it’s a deep dive into questions, puzzles, and ways of thinking directly linked to the Logical-Mathematical part of your brain, and it’s so energetically written and wonderfully imagined, it’s also a damn hard book to put down. It’s not easy reading, but it will definitely leave your logic circuits buffed up once you’ve absorbed its stories, word games, linguistic puzzles, and deep references.
Existential Intelligence: The Stranger, by Albert Camus
On the surface, Camus’ classic is a straightforward story of a man who commits a terrible crime and pays the price. Underneath, it wrestles with fundamental questions of our existence, and there’s no better way to boost start your Existential IQ than reading it—twice, maybe—and thinking about the absurd view that Camus puts forward. Our existence, our being, is one of the fundamental facts of our lives, and yet it is a mystery in many ways. Read this novel, go have a good think, and you’ll come out smarter, whether you realize it or not.
Interpersonal Intelligence: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
There’s a sense that this classic novel gets an inflated reputation because of its racially-charged subject matter, but that’s unfair—Lee’s first (and for some time, only) novel is a genius-level creation of Interpersonal iIntelligence and empathy. Science tells us that reading classic literature improves both dramatically anyway, partially because it forces us to experience lives much different from our own. That’s true of Mockingbird, but it’s also a book featuring a main character, Scout, with a genius-level Interpersonal IQ. Scout navigates the other characters with a strong instinct for who’s good, who’s bad, and how to deal with both, even though she often lacks the experience to put her instinct into words. You can learn a lot just by thinking about why she reacts in certain ways throughout the story.
Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
There are many books specifically about knowing your body and learning its limitations, but this work of fiction is one of the deepest to investigate the mysterious relationship between what we’re capable of doing and how we actually learn to do it. Harbach’s story about a skilled baseball player chasing a difficult record that’s derailed by a mysterious and sudden inability to do what was once came naturally—known in professional sports as ‛The Yips’—is not only a brilliant read, but a book that will have you thinking about the sometimes tenuous link between your mind and your body.
Linguistic Intelligence: Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
People with Linguistic Intelligence find language to be a pliable tool, useful for accomplishing just about anything. Considering a huge portion of the words you use every day were invented by Shakespeare, it’s arguable he possessed one of the highest linguistic IQs in history. The challenge here is to read his plays in the original 16th-century English, without reference materials, and see how much you can follow. Then, go back and read them again, focusing on things you don’t quite get. You might eventually have to look some stuff up (some of Shakespeare’s reference were very topical), but forcing yourself to think hard about his words is a great exercise.
Intrapersonal Intelligence: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami
At first blush, a book by a famous author about his running obsession might not seem right for intelligence focused on knowing yourself—but read it, and all becomes clear. This isn’t so much a book about running as it is a book about meditation, private thought, and finding that safe space where you can explore yourself without distraction or self-doubt. For Murakami, that pace is running. After reading it, you’ll be inspired to find that place for yourself.
What books do you read to feel smarter?