100 books like Learning to Be a Sage

By Chu Hsi, Daniel K. Gardner (translator),

Here are 100 books that Learning to Be a Sage fans have personally recommended if you like Learning to Be a Sage. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Wrong of Rudeness

By Amy Olberding,

Book cover of The Wrong of Rudeness: Learning Modern Civility from Ancient Chinese Philosophy

Stephen C. Angle Author Of Growing Moral: A Confucian Guide to Life

From the list on how ancient Confucianism tells us to live well now.

Who am I?

The first time I ever had Chinese food was as a 20-year-old junior in college, on the first night of studying abroad for a semester in Nanjing, China. (Luckily, I liked it.) Confucianism was not in my upbringing, at least not explicitly or on purpose. I happened upon China as a freshman at Yale in the 1980s, immersed myself in the language, and went on to earn a PhD in Chinese philosophy. I have taught at Wesleyan University since 1994, and my favorite comment from students is that they find my classes among the most “relevant” things they take—even when we’re studying twelfth-century medieval Confucianism. 

Stephen's book list on how ancient Confucianism tells us to live well now

Why did Stephen love this book?

In this deeply personal book, philosopher Amy Olberding shows how ancient Confucians can help us to grasp the centrality of manners and civility to good lives today. The book has important lessons for anyone who has ever struggled to be politeor wondered whether it's worth the bother. It’s also frequently hilarious. 

By Amy Olberding,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In a time of fractious politics, being rude can feel wickedly gratifying, while being polite can feel simple-minded or willfully naive. Do manners and civility even matter now? Is it worthwhile to make the effort to be polite? When rudeness has become routine and commonplace, why bother? When so much of public and social life with others is painful and bitterly acrimonious, why should anyone be polite?

As Amy Olberding argues, civility and ordinary politeness are linked both to big values, such as respect and consideration, and to the fundamentally social nature of human beings. Being polite is not just…


Ethical Excellence

By Heidi M. Giebel,

Book cover of Ethical Excellence: Philosophers, Psychologists, and Real-Life Exemplars Show Us How to Achieve It

Stephen C. Angle Author Of Growing Moral: A Confucian Guide to Life

From the list on how ancient Confucianism tells us to live well now.

Who am I?

The first time I ever had Chinese food was as a 20-year-old junior in college, on the first night of studying abroad for a semester in Nanjing, China. (Luckily, I liked it.) Confucianism was not in my upbringing, at least not explicitly or on purpose. I happened upon China as a freshman at Yale in the 1980s, immersed myself in the language, and went on to earn a PhD in Chinese philosophy. I have taught at Wesleyan University since 1994, and my favorite comment from students is that they find my classes among the most “relevant” things they take—even when we’re studying twelfth-century medieval Confucianism. 

Stephen's book list on how ancient Confucianism tells us to live well now

Why did Stephen love this book?

Giebel succeeds brilliantly at the challenging task of weaving together ancient philosophical insight from both East and West, modern psychological research, and stories from the lives of exemplary individuals. Each strand of the book expands on and reinforces the others: Confucians fill out gaps in Socratic theory, and vice versa; psychologists test, tweak, and confirm ancient theories; and contemporary lives give richness and realism to the ideals. The whole tapestry, conveyed in Giebel’s lovely, accessible prose, is nothing short of a master class in how to cultivate a better, more meaningful life for oneself and all those for whom one cares.

By Heidi M. Giebel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Why do some people achieve ethical excellence while others fail? For example, how did Gloria Lewis overcome a lifetime of difficulty and go on to found a non-profit focused on feeding the homeless while Danny Starrett, despite a seemingly ideal childhood, became a rapist and murderer? Why did some Germans rescue their Jewish neighbors while others stood by?

One recent study found that four personal variables, taken together, differentiated Nazi-era bystanders from rescuers with startling 96.1% accuracy: social responsibility, altruistic moral reasoning, empathic concern, and risk-taking-traits related to ethical excellences (virtues) like justice, benevolence, and courage. Drawing from the combined…


Book cover of Understanding the Analects of Confucius: A New Translation of Lunyu with Annotations

Stephen C. Angle Author Of Growing Moral: A Confucian Guide to Life

From the list on how ancient Confucianism tells us to live well now.

Who am I?

The first time I ever had Chinese food was as a 20-year-old junior in college, on the first night of studying abroad for a semester in Nanjing, China. (Luckily, I liked it.) Confucianism was not in my upbringing, at least not explicitly or on purpose. I happened upon China as a freshman at Yale in the 1980s, immersed myself in the language, and went on to earn a PhD in Chinese philosophy. I have taught at Wesleyan University since 1994, and my favorite comment from students is that they find my classes among the most “relevant” things they take—even when we’re studying twelfth-century medieval Confucianism. 

Stephen's book list on how ancient Confucianism tells us to live well now

Why did Stephen love this book?

Peimin Ni’s translation of the foundational Confucian text, the Analects of Confucius, is not for those who want to zoom through the book looking for catchy phrases. Ni presents the text as a living document, embedded in two thousand years of conversation over its meaning. He strives to mirror ambiguities in the original in his translation, and his comments do a lovely job of opening the text up for the reflective reader. 

By Peimin Ni,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Understanding the Analects of Confucius as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2019 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for a Translation of a Scholarly Study of Literature presented by the Modern Language Association

The Analects of Confucius is arguably the single most influential work of China's cultural heritage. In this new English translation, Peimin Ni accomplishes the rare feat of simultaneously providing a faithful translation of the text, offering his own reading based on gongfu (practice) perspective, and presenting major alternative readings to help the reader understand how diverse interpretations and controversies arise. In addition to the inclusion of the original Chinese text, Ni adds a comprehensive introduction, a…


Book cover of Confucianism in China: An Introduction

Stephen C. Angle Author Of Growing Moral: A Confucian Guide to Life

From the list on how ancient Confucianism tells us to live well now.

Who am I?

The first time I ever had Chinese food was as a 20-year-old junior in college, on the first night of studying abroad for a semester in Nanjing, China. (Luckily, I liked it.) Confucianism was not in my upbringing, at least not explicitly or on purpose. I happened upon China as a freshman at Yale in the 1980s, immersed myself in the language, and went on to earn a PhD in Chinese philosophy. I have taught at Wesleyan University since 1994, and my favorite comment from students is that they find my classes among the most “relevant” things they take—even when we’re studying twelfth-century medieval Confucianism. 

Stephen's book list on how ancient Confucianism tells us to live well now

Why did Stephen love this book?

Most books on the history of Confucianism are dry and concentrated on the earliest period, during and soon after Confucius lived. I’m not saying Confucius himself wasn’t important, but the greatness of Tony Swain’s book is that it manages to be both fascinating and engaging, even occasionally snarky, while also bringing the story of Confucianism all the way up to the twenty-first century. If you want to think about Confucianism as something important today, it helps to understand the evolving ways the tradition has been lived throughout the centuries. 

By Tony Swain,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This accessible history of Confucianism, or the 'Way of the Ru', emphasizes the religious dimensions of the tradition. It clearly explains the tradition's unique and subtle philosophical ideals as well as the 'arts of the Ru' whereby seemingly simple acts such as reading, sitting quietly, good manners, and attending to family and state responsibilities, became ways of ultimate transformation.

This book explains the origins of the Ru and documents their impact in imperial China, before providing extensive coverage of the modern era. Confucianism in China: An Introduction shows how the long history of the Ru is vital to comprehending China…


Eastern Philosophy

By Mel Thompson,

Book cover of Eastern Philosophy

Jet McDonald Author Of Mind is the Ride

From the list on for a long bike ride.

Who am I?

I’m a writer, musician, and psychiatrist, a member of the Philosophy Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the owner of far too many bikes. I cycled four thousand miles from Bristol in the UK to India. But I didn’t just want to write a travel book, I wanted to take apart my experiences with the tool kit of philosophy, and then put them back together again, in a long-distance bike ride. Freewheeling down the mountains, clutching at the brakes.

Jet's book list on for a long bike ride

Why did Jet love this book?

If Bertrand Russell’s book is about Western Philosophy, our rational need to investigate objects and minds, as unwilling observers, then Mel Thompson’s book explores the ideas of the East, where immersive philosophies don’t just employ thought, but also feelings and physical reactions, ritual, and meditation. Where mind and body aren’t just separate entities on the end of a stick, but an integral part of the environment that surrounds us. This eloquent book, equally unpatronising and rigorous, puts thicker tomes to shame. If you’re willing to believe that a long-distance bicycle ride is a pilgrimage of sorts, an experiment in self-understanding, then this book might just help you reach a different destination.

By Mel Thompson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Eastern Philosophy examines key ideas that developed within the ancient civilisations of India and China. It presents a range of philosophies that both inform discussion of personal, moral and social issues and address the fundamental questions about the nature of reality and the place and purpose of human life within it.

From the erotic images of Tantra to the simple precision of Zen, and from the social order in traditional Confucian teaching to the rich variety of Hindu ideas and lifestyles, Eastern Philosophy provides a feast of ideas of universal relevance.

Eastern Philosophy:

- Looks at the ethical and social…


How to Live

By Sarah Bakewell,

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

Sue Prideaux Author Of I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche

From the list on philosophy and humanity’s search for meaning.

Who am I?

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.

Sue's book list on philosophy and humanity’s search for meaning

Why did Sue 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…


At Home With The Marquis De Sade

By Francine Du Plessix Gray,

Book cover of At Home With The Marquis De Sade

Andrew S. Curran Author Of Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely

From the list on the Enlightenment and the world is created.

Who am I?

Andrew Curran is passionate about books and ideas related to the eighteenth century. His writing on the Enlightenment has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Newsweek, Time Magazine, The Paris Review, El Païs, and The Wall Street Journal. Curran is also the author of three books and numerous scholarly articles on the French Enlightenment. He is currently writing a new multi-person biography that chronicles the birth of the concept of race for Other Press. Curran teaches at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, where he is a Professor of French and the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities.

Andrew's book list on the Enlightenment and the world is created

Why did Andrew love this book?

The Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) is one of those characters that you loathe, but cannot help but find fascinating. By all standards, this deviant aristocrat was a gentleman in name only. Yet his remarkable life (32 years of it spent in prison) and amoral philosophizing provide the grist for a great biography under the pen of Gray. Readers will find many of de Sade’s horrific exploits here, yet this book also explores his relationship with the two most important women in his life: his beloved wife, who indulged him for decades, and his hated mother-in-law, whom he envisioned flaying alive before throwing her “into a vat of vinegar.” To a large degree, Marquis’s life and philosophy were an intentionally extreme version of the Enlightenment’s emancipation of the individual. A great window into the dark side of the Enlightenment.

By Francine Du Plessix Gray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked At Home With The Marquis De Sade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Dialectic of Enlightenment

By Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Edmund Jephcott (translator)

Book cover of Dialectic of Enlightenment

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam Author Of Is Artificial Intelligence Racist? The Ethics of AI and the Future of Humanity

From the list on future technologies and the ethics of AI.

Who am I?

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies at SOAS University of London and Fellow of Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge. Among over a dozen honorary appointments all over the world, Adib-Moghaddam is the inaugural Director of the SOAS Centre for AI Futures.

Arshin's book list on future technologies and the ethics of AI

Why did Arshin love this book?

First published in 1947, this iconic book of the “Frankfurt School” could not be a study of AI and 21st-century technologies per see.

Instead it is a phantasmic explainer of how the mistakes of the past impinge on our humanity and the prospects for a better future. "What we had set out to do," Adorno and Horkheimer famously wrote in the Preface, "was nothing less than to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism."

With spectacular erudition, the authors clearly show how the terror regime of the Nazis was rooted in the nefarious legacies of enlightenment Europe and its obsession with racial purity. As such, Adorno and Horkheimer presaged why it is that our polluted history feeds into racist AI technologies: Bad data, Adorno and Horkheimer would agree, produces bad outcomes. 

By Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Edmund Jephcott (translator)

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Dialectic of Enlightenment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dialectic of Enlightenment is undoubtedly the most influential publication of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. Written during the Second World War and circulated privately, it appeared in a printed edition in Amsterdam in 1947. "What we had set out to do," the authors write in the Preface, "was nothing less than to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism."

Yet the work goes far beyond a mere critique of contemporary events. Historically remote developments, indeed, the birth of Western history and of subjectivity itself out of the struggle…


Nietzsche

By R. J. Hollingdale,

Book cover of Nietzsche: The Man and his Philosophy

Anthony K. Jensen Author Of An Interpretation of Nietzsche's on the Uses and Disadvantage of History for Life

From the list on interpreting Friedrich Nietzsche.

Who am I?

I don’t especially like Nietzsche, and rarely agree with him. As a professor of philosophy, I find that he is less original than is popularly assumed and less clear than he should be—not out of some mysterious profundity—so much as a recalcitrance or maybe inability to make plain what he thinks. Even so, I find it quite impossible to break away from Nietzsche. For my part, and I suspect for many readers who came upon him during their formative years, Nietzsche’s thought is so close to me that I’m always wrestling with it. Maybe that’s not a ‘result of’ but a ‘condition for’ reading it?

Anthony's book list on interpreting Friedrich Nietzsche

Why did Anthony love this book?

Nietzsche studies are a cottage industry unto themselves. There are thousands of monographs, anthologies, and papers, which are conveniently searchable at the Weimarer Nietzsche-Bibliographie. My “five best books” are not necessarily the interpretations I personally consider by some measure the ‘best’, in the sense of being the most ‘correct’. They are instead the ones I find most helpful for a reader to interpret Nietzsche in a responsible, well-informed way for themselves. 

R. J. Hollingdale is a great starting point for a novice. He was that rare combination of translator, biographer, and philosopher—and as such, his work is approachable for any intellectually curious reader. It was first published in 1965, at a time when one really did have to argue for Nietzsche’s place as a canonical philosopher rather than just a brilliant writer, bombastic iconoclast, or politically-dangerous driver of the pre-war German Zeitgeist. Even if somewhat dated, his book…

By R. J. Hollingdale,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This classic biography of Nietzsche, first published in the 1960s, was enthusiastically reviewed at the time. The biography is now reissued with its text updated in the light of recent research. Hollingdale's biography remains the single best account of the life and works for the student or non-specialist. The biography chronicles Nietzsche's intellectual evolution and discusses his friendship and breach with Wagner, his attitude towards Schopenhauer, and his indebtedness to Darwin and the Greeks. It follows the years of his maturity and his mental collapse in 1889. The final part of the book considers the development of the Nietzsche legend…


The End of Mr. Y

By Scarlett Thomas,

Book cover of The End of Mr. Y

J.A. Christy Author Of SmartYellow™

From the list on women in dystopian worlds.

Who am I?

I write women in dystopia. I live in the North West of the UK and I also write psychological thrillers and women’s fiction – I am currently writing my 9th book. I love books set in the near future and in alternate dystopian worlds – I recently discussed this with my brother and we settled on ‘mind-bending’ as our go-to for this genre. I have a PhD in narrative and storytelling and my mission as a writer was to write fiction about issues that affect women, and what better way than to place them in hypothetical but possible situations to explore that reality? 

J.A.'s book list on women in dystopian worlds

Why did J.A. love this book?

I love Scarlett Thomas’ writing and The End of Mr. Y was my first read of hers. I fell in love with this book because it was about a book, and a cursed book at that. The exquisite writing took me on a journey of uncertainty and time travel with Ariel and I have yet to find another book like it – it is a unique book that has many layers and as well as focusing on the speculative aspect, it is suspenseful and beautifully descriptive. Five stars from me and it made me want to read more from this author. 

By Scarlett Thomas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Ingenious and original' Philip Pullman

If you knew a book was cursed, would you still read it?

When Ariel Manto uncovers a copy of The End of Mr. Y in a second-hand bookshop, she can't believe her eyes. She knows enough about its author, the outlandish Victorian scientist Thomas Lumas, to know that copies are exceedingly rare. And, some say, cursed.

With Mr. Y under her arm, Ariel finds herself thrust into a thrilling adventure of love, sex, death and time-travel.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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