The best books for insight and ideas into the meaning of life

Why am I passionate about this?

Tom van der Linden is the creator of Like Stories of Old, a YouTube Channel that explores the timeless ideas, philosophies and feelings found in films, video games and other media, and communicates them in an insightful and empathic way.


My channel is...

Like Stories of Old

Movies have always had a strong impact on me, they affect the way I look at the world and help make me a better person. With this channel I want to explore this boundary between film analysis and life lessons, because I believe that movies, just like the stories of old, contain valuable ideas and insights, and to better understand them is to better understand life.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Birth and Death of Meaning

Tom van der Linden Why did I love this book?

Ernest Becker is one of the few authors to tackle to problem of being a human being in a strange, unknown universe head on. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, The Birth and Death of Meaning covers a variety subjects that are at times uncomfortably intimate, yet also incredibly affirming, as if Becker is staring into your very soul to articulate all the things you feel yet fail to properly express. The writing is both accessible and stimulating, with some beautiful passages that are still stuck with me years after reading them.

By Ernest Becker,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Birth and Death of Meaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Uses the disciplines of psychology, anthropology, sociology and psychiatry to explain what makes people act the way they do.


Book cover of The Myth of Sisyphus

Tom van der Linden Why did I love this book?

A rather short, yet rich reading experience. Albert Camus comes right out of the gate by condensing all of philosophy to one single problem: suicide. “Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy,” he writes. Everything else comes second. He engages some of the existentialist philosophers that came before him, but distinguishes himself by avoiding to take ‘the leap of faith’. He seeks for answers in the here and now, in the things we know without having to appeal to some higher power or higher source for meaning, which makes this an excellent exploration of the meaning of life in our more secular times, while still taking the problem of existence seriously.

By Albert Camus,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Myth of Sisyphus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOBEL PRIZE WINNER • An internationally acclaimed author delivers one of the most influential works of the twentieth century, showing a way out of despair and reaffirming the value of existence.

Influenced by works such as Don Juan and the novels of Kafka, these essays begin with a meditation on suicide—the question of living or not living in a universe devoid of order or meaning. With lyric eloquence, Albert Camus brilliantly presents a crucial exposition of existentialist thought.


Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

Tom van der Linden Why did I love this book?

Viktor Frankl’s quintessential search for the meaning of life is as much defined by his logotherapy, his school of thought which proposes that what human beings desire more than anything is purpose, and his experiences in the concentration camps. As a Holocaust survivor, Frankl offers unique observations through a detailed account of witnessing humanity at its worst, which gives tremendous weight to the discussion on our search for meaning in the second half of the book. Both heartbreaking as well as uplifting, this is an essential read for everyone wanting to engage with life’s fundamental problems.

By Viktor Frankl,

Why should I read it?

43 authors picked Man’s Search for Meaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the outstanding classics to emerge from the Holocaust, Man's Search for Meaning is Viktor Frankl's story of his struggle for survival in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. Today, this remarkable tribute to hope offers us an avenue to finding greater meaning and purpose in our own lives.


Book cover of Meditations: A New Translation

Tom van der Linden Why did I love this book?

In this fundamental work of Stoic philosophy, Marcus Aurelius discusses not so much the meaning of life, as much as he offers a practical guide for engaging with it. Meditations, as well as Stoicism in general, emphasizes that life isn’t just something that needs to be pondered or engaged with intellectually, it also needs to be lived practically. And for that, Aurelius offers, in beautiful writing (personally, I recommend the George Long translation which in my opinion best preserves the books poetic qualities) useful and easily applicable tips for managing yourself in day to day life.

By Marcus Aurelius (lead author), Gregory Hays (translator),

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Meditations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nearly two thousand years after it was written, Meditations remains profoundly relevant for anyone seeking to lead a meaningful life.

Few ancient works have been as influential as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and emperor of Rome (A.D. 161–180). A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behavior, it remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. Marcus’s insights and advice—on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others—have made the Meditations required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations…


Book cover of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

Tom van der Linden Why did I love this book?

While at first glance this book is about disasters and how we cope with them, what Rebecca Solnit really offers here is a painfully relevant work on human nature in which she breaks down many of the false beliefs and assumptions we have about ourselves in times of calamities. Through extensive research, she argues that human beings are actually far more altruistic, communal and overall good that we give ourselves credit for, and emphasizes the importance of those beliefs as we move forward and progress as a society. A must read for anyone who desires an effective antidote to the cynicism that seems so rampant nowadays.

By Rebecca Solnit,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Paradise Built in Hell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The freshest, deepest, most optimistic account of human nature I've come across in years."
-Bill McKibben

The most startling thing about disasters, according to award-winning author Rebecca Solnit, is not merely that so many people rise to the occasion, but that they do so with joy. That joy reveals an ordinarily unmet yearning for community, purposefulness, and meaningful work that disaster often provides. A Paradise Built in Hell is an investigation of the moments of altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity that arise amid disaster's grief and disruption and considers their implications for everyday life. It points to a new vision of…


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The Last Whaler

By Cynthia Reeves,

Book cover of The Last Whaler

Cynthia Reeves Author Of The Last Whaler

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Arctic adventurer Eternal optimist Unrealistic realist Foodie Teacher

Cynthia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This book is an elegiac meditation on the will to survive. Tor, a beluga whaler, and his wife, Astrid, a botanist specializing in Arctic flora, are stranded during the dark season of 1937-38 at his remote whaling station in the Svalbard archipelago when they misjudge ice conditions and fail to rendezvous with the ship meant to carry them back to their home in southern Norway. 

Beyond enduring the Arctic winter’s twenty-four-hour night, the couple must cope with the dangers of polar bears, violent storms, and bitter cold, as well as Astrid’s unexpected pregnancy.

The Last Whaler concerns the impact of…

The Last Whaler

By Cynthia Reeves,

What is this book about?

The Last Whaler is an elegiac meditation on the will to survive under extreme conditions. Tor, a beluga whaler, and his wife, Astrid, a botanist specializing in Arctic flora, are stranded during the dark season of 1937-38 at his remote whaling station when they misjudge ice conditions and fail to rendezvous with the ship meant to carry them back to their home in southern Norway. Beyond enduring the Arctic winter's twenty-four-hour night, the couple must cope with the dangers of polar bears, violent storms, and bitter cold as well as Astrid's unexpected pregnancy. The Last Whaler concerns the impact of…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the meaning of life, existential philosophy, and altruism?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the meaning of life, existential philosophy, and altruism.

The Meaning Of Life Explore 49 books about the meaning of life
Existential Philosophy Explore 12 books about existential philosophy
Altruism Explore 21 books about altruism