The best books to make you rethink modern politics and industrial civilization

William Ophuls Author Of Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology
By William Ophuls

The Books I Picked & Why

The Republic of Plato

By Allan Bloom

Book cover of The Republic of Plato

Why this book?

This bedrock text is the fons et origo of all Western thinking on politics and is still as challenging and profound as on the day it was composed. It is also a deep critique of civilization, an epistemological guide, and a primer on how to live a good life. A lot in one book! It used to be the one work that every college graduate had to read. Alas, no more.


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Walden and Civil Disobedience

By Henry David Thoreau

Book cover of Walden and Civil Disobedience

Why this book?

Another profound critique of “civilized” values. Thoreau is like Plato in that he always drills down to bedrock truth: What is it that makes for a good life? Individually and collectively? Be prepared for longueurs. Those who want a pithier critique along more contemporary lines might enjoy the works of the late Ivan Illich, especially Tools for Conviviality.


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The First and Second Discourses

By Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Roger D. Masters, Judith R. Masters

Book cover of The First and Second Discourses

Why this book?

Rousseau took up the critique of civilized politics where Plato left off. All later critics of capitalism, technology, and media—e.g., Karl Marx, Jacques Ellul, and Neil Postman—stand in his debt. And many of his most radical insights have been amply confirmed by contemporary anthropologists. In short, a rich playground for the intellect.


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Memories, Dreams, Reflections

By Clara Winston, C.G. Jung, Aniela Jaffe, Richard Winston

Book cover of Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Why this book?

This memoir by one of the founders of depth psychology is an exemplar of the examined life urged by Socrates in Plato’s Republic. In the process, Jung introduces the reader to the psyche, to the unconscious, and the archetypes that shape our conscious experience. Often accused of being a mystic, Jung is actually quite down to earth, and his subtle critique of modern life is right on the mark. Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents makes a nice complement to Jung.


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Tristes Tropiques

By Claude Levi-Strauss, Doreen Weightman, John Weightman

Book cover of Tristes Tropiques

Why this book?

A classic work of philosophical anthropology containing the record of one anthropologist’s search for what it means to be human. Part personal memoir, part vivid travelogue, part scientific milestone, part critique of civilization, and all tour de force, the work defies easy categorization. Another rich playground for the intellect.


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