100 books like The Courage to Be

By Paul Tillich,

Here are 100 books that The Courage to Be fans have personally recommended if you like The Courage to Be. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Denial of Death

Mordecai George Sheftall Author Of Blossoms In The Wind: Human Legacies of the Kamikaze

From my list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things.

Why am I passionate about this?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up expecting to spend that day – and the rest of my academic career – leisurely studying the interplay of culture and individual temperament in second language acquisition. As the rest of that terrible day unfolded, however, my research up to that point suddenly seemed very small and almost decadently privileged. Recruiting the rudimentary cultural anthropology toolbox I had already amassed, I took a deep breath and plunged into the rabbit hole of studying the role of culture in human conflict. Twenty-two years later, using my Japan base and relevant language skills, my research has focused on the Japanese experience in World War II.

Mordecai's book list on how culture makes us do self-destructive things

Mordecai George Sheftall Why did Mordecai love this book?

Have you ever read a book that literally changed your life? I have, and that book is The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1974.

Becker’s basic thesis is that the institution of “culture” has evolved not so much to facilitate our physical survival (the orthodox viewpoint), but rather, as an elaborate symbolic framework that psychologically protects us from our species’ unique awareness of our own inevitable mortality, both individually and collectively.

Becker basically blew the top of my head off when I first read him during my PhD work in the mid-Oughts, and he remains a major influence on my teaching and research to this day.

By Ernest Becker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1974 and the culmination of a life's work,The Denial of Death is Ernest Becker's brilliant and impassioned answer to the "why" of human existence. In bold contrast to the predominant Freudian school of thought, Becker tackles the problem of the vital lie -- man's refusal to acknowledge his own mortality. In doing so, he sheds new light on the nature of humanity and issues a call to life and its living that still resonates more than twenty years after its writing.

Book cover of The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature

Elaine Pagels Author Of Why Religion? A Personal Story

From my list on why religion and spirituality are still around.

Why am I passionate about this?

“And what do you do?” someone asked at a crowded reception at the NY Academy of Science. “Write—comparative religion.” Startled, he backed away, asking suspiciously, “Why religion? Are you religious?” Yes, incorrigibly—although I grew up among people who regarded religion as obsolete as an outgrown bicycle stashed in a back closet. While many of us leave institutions behind, identifying as “spiritual, not religious,” I’ve done both—had faith, lost it; then began exploring recent discoveries from Israel and Egypt—Dead Sea Scrolls, Christian “secret gospels,” Buddhist practices, asking, Why is religion still around in the twenty-first centuryWhat I love is how such stories, art, music, and rituals engage our imagination and illuminate our experience.

Elaine's book list on why religion and spirituality are still around

Elaine Pagels Why did Elaine love this book?

This book is full of stories, using case studies that include the lives of Walt Whitman, Saint Augustine, and Russian writer Leo Tolstoy—that I found fascinating. Here psychologist William James challenges what he—and I—were both taught: namely, that religions are primarily childish fantasies (the view of Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, in The Future of an Illusion). But after James, as a young man, experienced a terrifying depression, he describes his surprise at what felt to him like a spiritual breakthrough that enabled him to recover. James skips questions about dogma and belief, instead identifies a range of different “varieties of religious experience” that, far more than “belief,” can give rise to spiritual insight. 

By William James,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Varieties of Religious Experience as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Standing at the crossroads of psychology and religion, this catalyzing work applied the scientific method to a field abounding in abstract theory. William James believed that individual religious experiences, rather than the precepts of organized religions, were the backbone of the world's religious life. His discussions of conversion, repentance, mysticism and saintliness, and his observations on actual, personal religious experiences - all support this thesis. In his introduction, Martin E. Marty discusses how James's pluralistic view of religion led to his remarkable tolerance of extreme forms of religious behaviour, his challenging, highly original theories, and his welcome lack of pretension…

Book cover of The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness

Tony Sandy Author Of Observations from Another Planet

From my list on the struggle to be yourself in a crazy world.

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion and subsequent expertise in this subject have followed years of self-study and reading. I have tried to make sense of the conflicting views that the world has thrown at me, confusing me by each claiming to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (the seller's marketplace). The books in this series, reflect how difficult it is to be yourself and how much courage it takes to break free of your conditioning, parental or societal. It covers the necessary breakdown of the internal personality, so that a new you can emerge from the cocoon of the reassembled old you, butterfly-like.

Tony's book list on the struggle to be yourself in a crazy world

Tony Sandy Why did Tony love this book?

The Divided Self kick-started my search for the truth of the human condition. It taught me that I didn't have to follow the life laid out for me and that I was expected to follow. Through it I discovered that I was not the only person trapped in a world and struggling to make sense of the bizarre and contradictory reality around me, that lied and lied about existence continually. Further books by him reinforced this awareness of the illogic of it all, including The Politics of Experience, The Self and Others, and Knots. I was Brer Rabbit, caught in the honey trap of the tar baby and this book showed me that.

By R.D. Laing,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Presenting case studies of schizophrenic patients, Laing aims to make madness and the process of going mad comprehensible. He also offers an existential analysis of personal alienation.

Book cover of The Great Gatsby

Shobana Mahadevan Author Of A Marriage Knot: A Tangled Love Story

From my list on classical books that teach you about psychology.

Why am I passionate about this?

I started reading classical books at a very young age. Granted, I did not understand a lot of things then. Rereading the same books again after years made me realize that more than what the author was trying to convey, my maturity made a world of difference when reading a book. It was the same text but with entirely different contexts and perspectives. I love old books. Books that take me back a century or more. It gives me an insight into how people lived, thought, and felt back then. It helps me connect with people across centuries.

Shobana's book list on classical books that teach you about psychology

Shobana Mahadevan Why did Shobana love this book?

A book from the 1920s. The Jazz Age. This book will take you back to that age and time. A book about romance, class divide, and the ‘libertine.’

All the people you cheer for will die. And all the people who you don’t want to survive thrive! And yet, when you finish the book, the story will occupy your mind and heart for a long time. That is the impact of this book! 

By F. Scott Fitzgerald,

Why should I read it?

22 authors picked The Great Gatsby as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As the summer unfolds, Nick is drawn into Gatsby's world of luxury cars, speedboats and extravagant parties. But the more he hears about Gatsby - even from what Gatsby himself tells him - the less he seems to believe. Did he really go to Oxford University? Was Gatsby a hero in the war? Did he once kill a man? Nick recalls how he comes to know Gatsby and how he also enters the world of his cousin Daisy and her wealthy husband Tom. Does their money make them any happier? Do the stories all connect? Shall we come to know…

Book cover of Being and Nothingness

Mark Rowlands Author Of Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness

From my list on humans and other animals.

Why am I passionate about this?

The most important formative experiences of my life were contained in the years I spent living and traveling with Brenin, a wolfdog. I can safely say that just about every worthwhile idea I have had – I am a professor of philosophy and ideas are supposed to be my thing – stemmed from those years. I have written many books since Brenin died, all of them, in one way or another, concerned with the question of what it is to be human. I am convinced that we can only understand this if we begin with the idea that we are animals and work from there.

Mark's book list on humans and other animals

Mark Rowlands Why did Mark love this book?

Sartre was not a good philosopher in the classical sense. He wasn’t great at constructing arguments. But what he was unquestionably great at was intuitions. He had them, and they were usually spot on, and as a result he was right about most things. In this large book, we find a sustained development of a single brilliant, intuition: anything you are aware of is not you. You are the awareness rather than anything you are aware of. You are nothingness. One implication of this helped me get through the second half of my first marathon. Experiential unpleasantness is a motive to stop, but not part of me, and it is up to me how I interpret it. My motives can never compel me. I am in this sense free.

By Jean-Paul Sartre,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sartre explains the theory of existential psychoanalysis in this treatise on human reality

Book cover of Existentialism Is a Humanism

Mike James Ross Author Of Intention: The Surprising Psychology of High Performers

From my list on books to help you find meaning in your life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been interested in purpose and meaning since I snuck into a high school philosophy class when I was 10 years old. Since then, I have not only worked on my own quest for meaning in my life but also helped dozens of others through these types of questions as an executive coach and business leader. I believe that having an answer to the question “why am I here?” is the crucial ingredient to living a happy and fulfilled life, and I’ve been working for years to distill all that I have learned on the subject into a useable and accessible collection of insights.

Mike's book list on books to help you find meaning in your life

Mike James Ross Why did Mike love this book?

This is an amazing and brief explanation of what existentialism is and why it should matter to anyone looking for meaning in their life.

I love that Satre demystifies his philosophy, making it accessible and understandable to anyone. The book is actually the transcription of a lecture he gave, so it is wonderfully readable and full of examples and situations that I learned a lot from.

He also defends existentialism from some of its common critiques, which makes the book even more useful as an introduction. Many of my questions were answered here!

By Jean-Paul Sartre, Carol Macomber (translator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Existentialism Is a Humanism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It was to correct common misconceptions about his thought that Jean-Paul Sartre, the most dominent European intellectual of the post-World War II decades, accepted an invitation to speak on October 29, 1945, at the Club Maintenant in Paris. The unstated objective of his lecture ("Existentialism Is a Humanism") was to expound his philosophy as a form of "existentialism," a term much bandied about at the time. Sartre asserted that existentialism was essentially a doctrine for philosophers, though, ironically, he was about to make it accessible to a general audience. The published text of his lecture quickly became one of the…

Book cover of Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

Matthew Hutson Author Of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane

From my list on consciousness and how our brain works.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a freelance science reporter and Contributing Writer at The New Yorker, with degrees in cognitive neuroscience and science writing. Growing up, I wanted to understand the fundamental nature of the universe—who doesn’t?!—and grew interested in physics, before realizing our only contact with outside reality (if it exists) is through consciousness. Today I cover psychology and artificial intelligence, among other topics. Can machines be conscious? I don’t know. Why does consciousness exist at all? I don’t know that either. But if there’s anything at all that’s magic in the universe, it’s consciousness.

Matthew's book list on consciousness and how our brain works

Matthew Hutson Why did Matthew love this book?

Christoph Koch, a physicist-turned-neuroscientist, is a colorful character. I’ve spoken with him and heard him speak many times, and he never fails to entertain. Here he explains the neuroscience and philosophy of consciousness, arguing that someday it will all be explained (which I don’t personally believe), while giving a personal take on why the topic interests him and how he got to where he is. For a long time, the C-word was to be avoided in science, but his mentor Francis Crick (co-discoverer of DNA’s structure) helped bring it into the mainstream.

By Christof Koch,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A fascinating exploration of the human brain that combines “the leading edge of consciousness science with surprisingly personal and philosophical reflection . . . shedding light on how scientists really think”—this is “science writing at its best” (Times Higher Education).
In which a scientist searches for an empirical explanation for phenomenal experience, spurred by his instinctual belief that life is meaningful.
What links conscious experience of pain, joy, color, and smell to bioelectrical activity in the brain? How can anything physical give rise to nonphysical, subjective, conscious states? Christof Koch has devoted much of his career to bridging the seemingly…

Book cover of The Myth of Sisyphus

Peter S. Fosl Author Of The Philosopher's Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods

From my list on starting out in philosophy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a philosopher who’s taught mostly undergraduates for over thirty years at small liberal arts colleges in the US, and I’ve held research fellowships at the University of Edinburgh and Williams College. I’ve co-authored three “toolkit” books – The Philosopher’s Toolkit, The Ethics Toolkit, and The Critical Thinking Toolkit. My more scholarly work, however, has focused on skepticism, for example in Hume’s Scepticism. I also like to write about pop culture, especially for collections like my Big Lebowski and Philosophy. Fundamentally, though, I’m just a lover of dialectic and an explorer in the world of ideas. Nothing, for me, is more enjoyable.

Peter's book list on starting out in philosophy

Peter S. Fosl Why did Peter love this book?

This was the first book from the very first philosophy class I took in college (at Bucknell University in 1981), and it had me from its very first sentence: “There is only one truly important philosophical question, and that is suicide.” You know, the big stuff: Is life worth living? What gives it meaning? How ought we to engage the world and others, especially in the face of the apparently meaningless universe in which we’ve been thrown. Existentialist Camus served in the French resistance against the Nazis in World War II and would win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957. In these pages, the remarkable man and the remarkable life he lived shows. 

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 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Michael Mullin Author Of Simon

From my list on books that retell plays of Shakespeare.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve become a bit of a Hamlet geek in my adult years, including having a framed poster in my house that features the entire text. The passion, for me, comes from the depth and complexity of the story. It sounds like hyperbole, but there really is always something new to discover. Some years ago, I taught Hamlet in a college writing class. That experience really allowed me to dive into the text and much of the attendant criticism. The academic approach opened up whole new worlds of opinions and perspectives for which I’m very grateful.

Michael's book list on books that retell plays of Shakespeare

Michael Mullin Why did Michael love this book?

Embracing the absurdist nature of this work (which is, of course, a play vs. a novel) is key to both understanding and enjoying it. I personally love how the story holds a mirror up to one of the central themes in Hamlet. The moral question of “should he act?” is replaced by the more existential question: are they (R & G) even capable of acting? Is control of one’s life even an option? 

The destiny vs. free will debate rings strong throughout, resonating with anyone like me who often wonders if outside forces are in charge. With wit and charm, this story can have you contemplating those aspects of your life in which you are more pawn than you’d like to be. 

By Tom Stoppard,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed as a modern dramatic masterpiece, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is the fabulously inventive tale of Hamlet as told from the worm’s-eve view of the bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s play. In Tom Stoppard’s best-known work, this Shakespearean Laurel and Hardy finally get a chance to take the lead role, but do so in a world where echoes of Waiting for Godot resound, where reality and illusion intermix, and where fate leads our two heroes to a tragic but inevitable end.

Tom Stoppard was catapulted into the front ranks of modem playwrights overnight when Rosencrantz…

Book cover of Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts

Lee Braver Author Of Heidegger: Thinking of Being

From my list on everything you want to know on existentialism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor of philosophy because when I got to college, philosophy sounded like what Gandalf would study—the closest thing we have to the study of magic. It turns out, I wasn’t far from the mark. Philosophy shows you entire dimensions to the world that you never noticed because they exist at weird angles, and you have to change your way of thinking to see them. Entering them and seeing the world from those perspectives transforms everything. A great work of philosophy is like having the lights turn on in an annex of your mind you didn’t know was there, like an out-of-mind experience—or perhaps, an in-your-mind-for-the-first-time experience.

Lee's book list on everything you want to know on existentialism

Lee Braver Why did Lee love this book?

Existentialism spilled out of the ivory tower into heated conversations in cafes and smoky dorm rooms at 2:00 am all over the world, where it continues to be intensely discussed today (albeit, with more vape than smoke nowadays). It had an enormous influence on art, especially literature, inspiring many masterpieces. From the multitude I could point to (Kafka’s The Trial, Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Vonnegut’s, I don’t know, Slaughter-House 5, sure), I’ll pick Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a play where, as an early critic wrote, nothing happens. Twice. One of the first US performances took place in San Quentin State Prison, where the prison newsletter wrote one of the most insightful reviews it ever received. After all, who knows more about waiting than those doing time? And, in the end, what else are we doing?

By Samuel Beckett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From an inauspicious beginning at the tiny Left Bank Theatre de Babylone in 1953, followed by bewilderment among American and British audiences, Waiting for Godot has become of the most important and enigmatic plays of the past fifty years and a cornerstone of twentieth-century drama. As Clive Barnes wrote, “Time catches up with genius … Waiting for Godot is one of the masterpieces of the century.”

The story revolves around two seemingly homeless men waiting for someone—or something—named Godot. Vladimir and Estragon wait near a tree, inhabiting a drama spun of their own consciousness. The result is a comical wordplay…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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