A History of Western Philosophy
I’m interested in everything – which is a problem, because there’s not time for everything. So how do you find the best of the world and your own place in it? Understanding your motivations is a good place to start, hence The Molecule of More. The rest comes from exploring as much as you can, and that begins with understanding the scope of what’s out there: ideas, attitudes, and cultures. The greatest joy in my life comes from the jaw-dropping realization that the world is so full of potential and wonder. These books are a guide to some of the best of it, and some of the breadth of it.
The brain chemical dopamine ensured the survival of early man by setting our focus on getting things we don’t have, which were most often the requirements for staying alive. The modern world is a different place, but dopamine still drives us toward “more.” It is now what makes an ambitious professional sacrifice everything in pursuit of success, or a satisfied spouse risk it all for the thrill of someone new. It is why we seek and succeed; it is also why we gamble and squander. Our book explains the process and points toward a solution.
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My book, The Molecule of More, explains how the brain divides everything into anticipation and appreciation – looking for things we don’t yet have, versus taking joy from what we possess right now. Irving’s bizarre, deep, profane, and life-changing novel is an eloquent and hilarious case for seeking joy less in what might happen tomorrow than in what we have in the here and now. I read it when I was 19 and it helped me understand nothing less than how I should live my life. (I re-read it a few years ago, in my 50s. Yup, I was right the first time.)
Every generation believes that they see further and think deeper – and weirder – than every one that came before. From this perspective, we imagine that we can do everything differently that those who preceded us. In this book, one of the creators of the so-called New Journalism shows just how wrong we are. In particular, Talese provides a tour of the history of sexual mores, how cultures reflect those mores, and how tradition turns out to be a more powerful cultural magnet than we expect. We can try to make our own new ways in a lot of areas, but the biological pull we all experience invariably pulls us back to a few tendencies and trends we will likely never shake as a species.
Read this – or anything by Wolfe, the writer who has had the most influence on me. Why? Because Tom Wolfe was what I aspire to be, a joyful explainer. He dropped himself into worlds he knew nothing about and let their most engaged players just talk. He came back with deep-inside tours of lives we would otherwise never know. In The Molecule of More, my co-author Dan Lieberman (one of the great psychiatric minds in America, I say) gave me a thrilling tour of neuroscience, leveraging my own interests as a playwright and a trained physicist so we could combine our knowledges into something that first passed the test of fascinating us as old friends. Wolfe does all that by himself, and magnificently in this tour of 1990s America.
We think you will like The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers, A Little History of Philosophy, and Sexual Morality in Ancient Rome if you like this list.
From Peter's list on starting out in philosophy.
This is the book that really got me into philosophy. My girlfriend gave it to me when I was a teenager. I opened it up began reading, and I never really stopped. Durant’s book gives what I now understand to be a rather conventional account of the origins and history of Western philosophy, but it does it very well. It enthusiastically and eloquently leads readers into the central conceptual concerns, principles, and problems of the central figures of the Western traditions. It’s intellectually substantial, and it doesn’t require advanced degrees. A joy to read, and in a word, for me, life-changing.
From Sue's list on philosophy and humanity’s search for meaning.
Nietzsche said; “Today’s philosophers enjoy the divine principle of incomprehensibility.” This clearly written book takes the opposite tack. If you’re terrified of philosophy, this is the book for you. A great book to get the kids interested in the subject.
From Daisy's list on love and sex in ancient rome.
We often assume that the Romans were in love with love but, actually, they could be very divided over it. Love, for some, was not only destructive, it was practically criminal. The author of this academic book looks at the ethics of love and sex in Rome and considers the surprising appeal of ‘sexual virtue’, abstention, and chastity in ancient society.