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The Best TED Talks on Books and Reading

If you’re a living human with an internet connection in the 21st century, chances are you’ve fallen down a rabbit-hole of TED talks at least once. They’re available online, for free, at the click of a button, and there are hundred of talks on every imaginable subject. Having an interest in books and literature, as I (clearly) do, my favourite TED talks often focus on reading and the role of books in the modern world. To save you many hours, I’ve put together a list of the best TED talks on books and reading, so you can watch them at your leisure…

Chip Kidd: Designing Books Is No Laughing Matter. OK, It Is.


Book designer Chip Kidd gives (hilarious!) insights into the thought process behind designing Alfred A Knopf’s most iconic book covers.

Anne Lamott: 12 Truths I Learned From Life And Writing

I have watched Anne Lamott’s TED talk on life and writing at least half a dozen times, and quoted it at least a hundred. She gives us gems like: “if people wanted you to write nicely about them, they should have treated you better!”. Well worth a watch, for writers and non-writers alike.

Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel: What We Learned From 5 Million Books

It turns out, the all-knowing all-encompassing Google has digitised 5 million books – that’s over 500 billion words – and these two smarty pants-es have used the data (everything from date of publication to frequency of phrases appearing over time) to give us incredible insights into humanity, culture, and change.

Ann Morgan: My Year Reading A Book From Every Country In The World

I related, on a deep, deep level, to this talk from Ann Morgan. She identified a marked lack of diversity on her bookshelves, and set about reading a book from every country in the world. It sounds like a reasonable-enough goal, but she only gave herself a year to do it, and she’s monolingual – meaning she had to go to extreme lengths to find works translated into English. This is a fantastic TED talk that highlights both the importance of diversity and the role of translators in the publishing world.

Parul Sehgal: An Ode to Envy

This one might seem out of place, but watch it and you’ll see why I’ve included it here. Not only does Parul Sehgal delve into the nature of jealousy, but she examines it through the lens of literature… and, come to that, she examines literature through the lens of jealousy. Plus, there’s some awesome for-dummies Proust analysis thrown into the bargain.

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger Of A Single Story

Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk is probably more focused on storytelling and representation than books and reading per se, but she’s a novelist, so I say it counts! She makes (what should be) a very obvious point about the great danger of “single stories”, and the importance of representation and balance in storytelling and narrative. This is one to make you think about how much you don’t know about what you don’t know.

Brian Dettmer: Old Books Reborn As Intricate Art

You might have seen a viral video floating around, about old books made into works of art – this is that guy! Brian Dettmer takes physical books (most often old encyclopedias, dictionaries, and out-of-date medical texts) and carves away at them to create sculptures. He calls it “remixing books”. I still can’t quite wrap my head around how he does it, but the end result is phenomenal either way!

Mac Barnett: Why A Good Book Is A Secret Door

And, to end on a light (but touching!) note, as all good TED talks do, this one comes from children’s author Mac Barnett. He talks about the incredible capacity of children to accept things as simultaneously real and make-believe (in a way that is far more articulate and easy-to-understand than I can replicate). Plus, he’s got a few cute anecdotes about his readers, and no one can resist those, right?

Honourable mention to the amazing TED talk that I once saw about the importance of reading aloud to children and the impact that this can have on future literacy… that I can’t find anywhere on the TED website! Argh! If you come across it, please link me to it in the comments below!

Bonus question: do you have a favourite bookish TED talk? Share it in the comments (or over at KUWTP on Facebook!).


  1. I love this post! I’m a huge fan of TED Talks – I could watch them for hours and hours. TED Talks on books? Yes please! I’m quite excited to watch the one from Ann Morgan. What a challenge she gave herself! I definitely agree with her about there being a lack of diversity on the shelves. Can’t wait to watch it. I’m off for the next three days so I know exactly what I’m going to be doing! 😂
    Great post!

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 2, 2018 at 11:08 AM

      Hahahaha cheers, Kelly! Ann Morgan’s one was really eye-opening for me too. Enjoy your days off! ❤️

  2. Thanks for this list. I have never really gotten into TED talks but this just might be a subject matter that would get me interested.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 2, 2018 at 8:11 PM

      I’m VERY sure you’ll find something in here that gets your motor running 😉 Can’t believe you’ve been able to resist the lure of TED thus far!

  3. Thanks for writing this post–I will have to watch some of these. I am actually not a TED Talks person yet, and I should be. One of my favorite travel writers just produced a TED talk soooo I have to get on board. TED Talks about books?! Count me in. Maybe my failure to seek them out is because of my generation? I dunno. Podcasts are harder for me too. But I used to be a NPR girl… Makes no sense, I know.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 6, 2018 at 11:07 AM

      Hahahahahaha well consider this post your gateway drug 😛 I’m afraid I can’t relate at all re: podcasts – I am *obsessed*!! I’m constantly listening to them, no matter what I’m doing. Right now, I’m working my way through the archives of The Garret, interviews with great Australian writers and publishers. It still boggles my mind that there are literally MILLIONS OF HOURS of INCREDIBLE content available FOR FREE in a device that fits in my pocket… I know the world is a dumpster fire for the most part, but I think that’s pretty magical 😂

  4. You’ve just given me hours of bedtime viewing for the next few weeks. Thanks for these. I love a good TED talk, and these look like beauties.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 6, 2018 at 11:16 AM

      Hahahahahaha happy to be of assistance 😉 These are all fantastic, I’d say I’ve watched them all at least a dozen times over now.

  5. Ooh, some of these look so good. I’m usually intrigued by TED talks but I don’t usually have the time to spend to watch them. But I really want to watch Chimamanda Adichie’s. I love her, and I’ve been thinking more about storytelling lately, and its role in learning, communicating, and disrupting beliefs. I’m interested in her thoughts on its shortcomings and the need for diverse viewpoints in our stories.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 7, 2018 at 9:19 PM

      Then her talk here is right up your alley Allison – it’s FANTASTIC!! Let me know what you think when you’ve had the chance to watch it 😀

  6. I like the idea of TED talks but when do you get 5 minutes to watch these things? Last one I saw I think I was off sick at the time. Which probably describes availability for TED talks.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 21, 2018 at 11:35 AM

      Back when I was commuting, I used to watch them on the train (when I wasn’t reading or listening to podcasts). I’ve also even seen a few on planes and in hotel rooms where they have some kind of syndication deal – keep an eye out for them next time you’re travelling!

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