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

Tom van der Linden
By Tom van der Linden

Who am I?

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.

The books I picked & why

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The Birth and Death of Meaning

By Ernest Becker,

Book cover of The Birth and Death of Meaning

Why 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.


The Myth of Sisyphus

By Albert Camus,

Book cover of The Myth of Sisyphus

Why 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.


Man’s Search for Meaning

By Viktor Frankl,

Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

Why 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.


Meditations: A New Translation

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

Book cover of Meditations: A New Translation

Why 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.


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

By Rebecca Solnit,

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

Why 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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

5,215 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 15 books about the meaning of life
Existential Philosophy Explore 8 books about existential philosophy
Altruism Explore 12 books about altruism

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life's Direction and Purpose, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, and Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything if you like this list.