The best books on philosophy and humanity’s search for meaning

Why am I passionate about this?

I am fascinated by humanity’s search for meaning. That is what I am exploring as I read philosophy and as I write my biographies of extraordinary individuals. Sue Prideaux has written award-winning books on Edvard Munch and his painting The Scream, the playwright August Strindberg, and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. She acted as consultant to Sotheby’s when they sold The Scream for a record-breaking $120 million.


I wrote...

Book cover of I Am Dynamite! A Life of Nietzsche

What is my book about?

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most enigmatic figures in philosophy, and his concepts—the Übermensch, the will to power, slave morality—have fundamentally reshaped our understanding of the human condition. But what do most people really know of Nietzsche—beyond the mustache, the scowl, and the lingering association with nihilism and fascism? Where do we place a thinker who was equally beloved by Albert Camus, Ayn Rand, Martin Buber, and Adolf Hitler?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Little History of Philosophy

Sue Prideaux Why did I love this book?

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.

By Nigel Warburton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Little History of Philosophy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For readers of E. H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World, an equally irresistible volume that brings history's greatest philosophers to life

"A primer in human existence: philosophy has rarely seemed so lucid, so important, so worth doing and so easy to enter into. . . . A wonderful introduction for anyone who's ever felt curious about almost anything."-Sarah Bakewell, author of How To Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

Philosophy begins with questions about the nature of reality and how we should live. These were the concerns of Socrates, who…


Book cover of How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

Sue Prideaux Why did I love this book?

Nietzsche said; “Only those with very large lungs have the right to write long sentences.” Montaigne was of the same opinion. He pre-dated Nietzsche in couching his philosophy simply and clearly in short, sharp aphorisms. Like Nietzsche’s aphorisms, they are often very funny.

By Sarah Bakewell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How to Live as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How to get on well with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love? How to live?

This question obsessed Renaissance nobleman Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-92), who wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before. Into these essays he put whatever was in his head: his tastes in wine and food, his childhood memories, the way his dog's ears twitched when it was dreaming, events in the appalling civil wars raging around him. The Essays was an instant bestseller, and over four hundred years later, readers still come to…


Book cover of In the Land of the Cyclops

Sue Prideaux Why did I love this book?

Nietzsche said; “Art is the supreme task, the truly metaphysical activity in this life.” The relationship between life and art has always been a tough issue. Even more so today, in our unsettling age of post-truth and celebrity culture. Knausgaard writes not to provide answers, but to teach us to ask the proper questions of the time we live in.

By Karl Ove Knausgaard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Land of the Cyclops as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliantly wide-ranging essay collection from the author of My Struggle, spanning literature, philosophy, art and how our daily and creative lives intertwine.

In the Land of the Cyclops is Karl Ove Knausgaard's first collection of essays to be published in English, and these brilliant and wide-ranging pieces meditate on themes familiar from his groundbreaking fiction.

Here, Knausgaard discusses Madame Bovary, the Northern Lights, Ingmar Bergman, and the work of an array of writers and visual artists, including Knut Hamsun, Michel Houellebecq, Anselm Kiefer and Cindy Sherman.

These essays beautifully capture Knausgaard's ability to mediate between the deeply personal and…


Book cover of Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World

Sue Prideaux Why did I love this book?

Nietzsche said “God is dead, but in thousands of years there still may be caves where his shadow will be shown.” Tom Holland traces the effect of the long shadow on our lives.

By Tom Holland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dominion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A "marvelous" (Economist) account of how the Christian Revolution forged the Western imagination. Crucifixion, the Romans believed, was the worst fate imaginable, a punishment reserved for slaves. How astonishing it was, then, that people should have come to believe that one particular victim of crucifixion-an obscure provincial by the name of Jesus-was to be worshipped as a god. Dominion explores the implications of this shocking conviction as they have reverberated throughout history. Today, the West remains utterly saturated by Christian assumptions. As Tom Holland demonstrates, our morals and ethics are not universal but are instead the fruits of a very…


Book cover of Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School

Sue Prideaux Why did I love this book?

Nietzsche said; “To greatness belongs dreadfulness, let no-one be deceived about that”, while he watched the rise of German nationalism with horror. This is a book about the Frankfurt School of Philosophers who got together in the 1920s to try to find answers to the rise of fascism in Europe. Brave voices, their words tell us a lot about how we arrived at where we are today.

By Stuart Jeffries,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Grand Hotel Abyss as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This brilliant group biography asks who were the Frankfurt School and why they matter today In 1923, a group of young radical German thinkers and intellectuals came together to at Victoria Alle 7, Frankfurt, determined to explain the workings of the modern world. Among the most prominent members of what became the Frankfurt School were the philosophers Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse. Not only would they change the way we think, but also the subjects we deem worthy of intellectual investigation. Their lives, like their ideas, profoundly, sometimes tragically, reflected and shaped the shattering events of…


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Book cover of The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

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Why am I passionate about this?

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Robert's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter—voted “most important public intellectual in the world today” in a 2005 magazine poll—Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation.

In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues—including Vietnam, Israel, East Timor, and his work in linguistics—that illustrate not only “the Chomsky effect” but also “the Chomsky approach.”

Chomsky, writes Barsky, is an inspiration and a catalyst. Not just an analyst…

The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

By Robert F. Barsky,

What is this book about?

"People are dangerous. If they're able to involve themselves in issues that matter, they may change the distribution of power, to the detriment of those who are rich and privileged."--Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter--voted "most important public intellectual in the world today" in a 2005 magazine poll--Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation. In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues--Chomsky's signature issues,…


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