10 books like The Proper Study of Mankind

By Isaiah Berlin,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Proper Study of Mankind. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Russian Thinkers

By Isaiah Berlin,

Book cover of Russian Thinkers

As a Russian Jew and Russian-speaker by birth, a witness of the Russian Revolution, a historian of ideas by vocation, and a consummate prose-writer, Berlin was able to extract the pith of the nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia and present it in English as no one else has before or since. Belinsky, Herzen, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and others come to life in these ten essays and speak to us and our concerns today in Berlin’s ventriloquistic tours de force.

In particular, Herzen’s passionate denunciation of political extremism plays a central role, and provides a moral underpinning for Berlin’s commitment to liberty. The book is a major contribution to the explanation of Russia to the West, and the reader is left in no doubt about the relevance and power of the ideas that Berlin illuminates.


Russian Thinkers

By Isaiah Berlin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Few, if any, English-language critics have written as perceptively as Isaiah Berlin about Russian thought and culture. Russian Thinkers is his unique meditation on the impact that Russia's outstanding writers and philosophers had on its culture. In addition to Tolstoy's philosophy of history, which he addresses in his most famous essay, 'The Hedgehog and the Fox,' Berlin considers the social and political circumstances that produced such men as Herzen, Bakunin, Turgenev, Belinsky, and others of the Russian intelligentsia, who made up, as Berlin describes, 'the largest single Russian contribution to social change in the world.'


Isaiah Berlin

By Michael Ignatieff,

Book cover of Isaiah Berlin: A Life

Ignatieff’s intensely readable authorised biography of Berlin is based on a decade of recorded conversations with his subject about all aspects of his life, as well as on a study of the massive archive of letters and other papers that Berlin left at his death. As a result it has many of the characteristics of the autobiography that Berlin never wrote, but one filtered through Ignatieff’s shrewd critical intelligence, deployed in the service of the liberal humanist outlook that he shares with his subject.

Isaiah Berlin

By Michael Ignatieff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Isaiah Berlin refused to write an autobiography, but he agreed to talk about himself - and so for ten years, he allowed Michael Ignatieff to interview him. Isaiah Berlin (1909-97) was one of the greatest and most humane of modern philosophers; historian of the Russian intellgentisia biographer of Marx, pioneering scholar of the Romantic movement and defender of the liberal idea of freedom. His own life was caught up in the most powerful currents of the century. The son of a Riga timber merchant, he witnessed the Russian Revolution, was plunged into suburban school life and the ferment of 1930s…


Isaiah Berlin

By John Gray,

Book cover of Isaiah Berlin: An Interpretation of His Thought

John Gray’s encounter with Berlin’s ideas, first published in Berlin’s lifetime, remains one of the most intriguing and challenging explorations of the intellectual territories that he inhabited. Gray is not afraid to disagree with Berlin, but makes clear where he goes beyond him to present his own interpretation of the topics by which they are both preoccupied: freedom, pluralism, history, nationalism, Romanticism, the Enlightenment, and liberalism.

Isaiah Berlin

By John Gray,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) was the greatest intellectual historian of the twentieth century. But his work also made an original and important contribution to moral and political philosophy and to liberal theory. In 1921, at the age of eleven, Isaiah Berlin arrived in England from Riga, Latvia. By the time he was thirty he was at the heart of British intellectual life. He has remained its commanding presence ever since, and few would dispute that he was one of Britain's greatest thinkers. His reputation extends worldwide--as a great conversationalist, intellectual historian, and man of letters. He has been called the century's…


The Most Human Human

By Brian Christian,

Book cover of The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive

This is an entertaining and lighter read than my other recommendations about AI. It is specifically about chatbots trying to pass the Turing Test, and ultimately is a witty story of what it means to be human. For anyone who has ever mistaken an answerphone for a person, or a person for an answerphone!

The Most Human Human

By Brian Christian,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A playful, profound book that is not only a testament to one man's efforts to be deemed more human than a computer, but also a rollicking exploration of what it means to be human in the first place.

“Terrific. ... Art and science meet an engaged mind and the friction produces real fire.” —The New Yorker

Each year, the AI community convenes to administer the famous (and famously controversial) Turing test, pitting sophisticated software programs against humans to determine if a computer can “think.” The machine that most often fools the judges wins the Most Human Computer Award. But there…


The Ascent of Man

By Jacob Bronowski,

Book cover of The Ascent of Man

A fascinating history about the evolution of human life by a renowned expert in the field. The book focuses on the technological developments that drove the evolution of humans from the very beginning. A beautifully illustrated book. The source of my favorite lines of poetry by William Blake:

“To see a World in a grain of sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

The Ascent of Man

By Jacob Bronowski,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Dr Jacob Bronowksi's The Ascent of Man traces the development of human society through our understanding of science.

First published in 1973 to accompany the groundbreaking BBC television series, it is considered one of the first works of 'popular science', illuminating the historical and social context of scientific development for a generation of readers. In his highly accessible style, Dr Bronowski discusses human invention from the flint tool to geometry, agriculture to genetics, and from alchemy to the theory of relativity, showing how they all are expressions of our ability to understand and control nature.

In this new paperback edition,…


The Gay Science

By Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann (translator),

Book cover of The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs

Alchemists pretended to have magic that could control nature until their immature discipline evolved into chemistry, a science that actually can do amazing things to improve our state. Nietzsche asks this SAT analogy question: chemistry is to alchemy, as what is to philosophy and religion? What could evolve from those pretenders that could actually be beneficial, using the same kind of tools but sharpened, honed, perfected? His answer: the joyous, frolicking wisdom he fills this book with. This is where he pronounces the death of God and the birth of humanity, as well as the Eternal Return of the Same as the prayer one says over a dead God.

The Gay Science

By Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The book Nietzsche called "the most personal of all my books." It was here that he first proclaimed the death of God—to which a large part of the book is devoted—and his doctrine of the eternal recurrence.

Walter Kaufmann's commentary, with its many quotations from previously untranslated letters, brings to life Nietzsche as a human being and illuminates his philosophy. The book contains some of Nietzsche's most sustained discussions of art and morality, knowledge and truth, the intellectual conscience and the origin of logic.

Most of the book was written just before Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the last part five years…


Being Salmon, Being Human

By Martin Lee Mueller,

Book cover of Being Salmon, Being Human: Encountering the Wild in Us and Us in the Wild

Hailed as a “new genre of nature writing,” Mueller’s book is species-specific, dwelling upon the lives and deaths of salmon, yet the subject matter could apply to any creature that has become a commodity within late-stage capitalism. Mueller contrasts the Norwegian farmed-salmon industry and the increasing mechanization and reduction of living beings to things with wild salmon populations and Native people’s perspectives from the Pacific Northwest. Critically, he dares to take on the perspective of salmon, sprinkling memorable and moving vignettes throughout the book, helping readers imagine the world from a salmon’s-eye-view. This work of interspecies empathy is a rare and welcome contribution to thinking about personhood through a lens that is other-than-human.

Being Salmon, Being Human

By Martin Lee Mueller,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Nautilus Award Silver Medal Winner, Ecology & Environment

In search of a new story for our place on earth

Being Salmon, Being Human examines Western culture's tragic alienation from nature by focusing on the relationship between people and salmon-weaving together key narratives about the Norwegian salmon industry as well as wild salmon in indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest.

Mueller uses this lens to articulate a comprehensive critique of human exceptionalism, directly challenging the four-hundred-year-old notion that other animals are nothing but complicated machines without rich inner lives and that Earth is a passive backdrop to human experience. Being fully…


The Reapers Are the Angels

By Alden Bell,

Book cover of The Reapers Are the Angels

This book had to make it into my list, because while it does have zombies, and terrifying ones at that, they serve as the backdrop for the heroine Temple to work out her inner demons while interacting with individuals who haven’t necessarily worked out their own. Ultimately, Temple is on a hero’s journey akin to the great journeys of Hercules, Jason, and Icarus.

I’ve always loved a flawed tragic hero, and I think Bell did a fantastic job not just with Temple, but with the rest of the cast. He managed to create a whole cadre of raw complex characters whose tragic and yet relatable actions will keep the reader in a constant state of agitation and hope.

The Reapers Are the Angels

By Alden Bell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Reapers Are the Angels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe...

Older than her years and completely alone, Temple is just trying to live one day at a time in a post-apocalyptic world, where the undead roam endlessly, and the remnant of mankind who have survived, at times, seem to retain little humanity themselves.

This is the world she was born into. Temple has known nothing else. Her journey takes her to far-flung places, to people struggling to maintain some semblance of civilization - and to those who…


A Most Improbable Journey

By Walter Alvarez,

Book cover of A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves

This is a much lesser-known book than the others I’ve picked, and I feel it deserves a load more attention. Walter Alvarez was instrumental to the development of the theory that the dinosaurs were wiped-out by an asteroid impact. Here, he casts his professor-of-geology eye across the whole of Earth’s history to show us the astonishing ways that our world – and the cosmos around us – have nurtured life on the planet and influenced the human story.

A Most Improbable Journey

By Walter Alvarez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Most Improbable Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Big History, the field that integrates traditional historical scholarship with scientific insights to study the full sweep of our universe, has so far been the domain of historians. Famed geologist Walter Alvarez-best known for the "Impact Theory" explaining dinosaur extinction-has instead championed a science-first approach to Big History. Here he wields his unique expertise to give us a new appreciation for the incredible occurrences-from the Big Bang to the formation of supercontinents, the dawn of the Bronze Age, and beyond-that have led to our improbable place in the universe.


A History of Humanity

By Patrick Manning,

Book cover of A History of Humanity: The Evolution of the Human System

In 256 pages Manning tells you about what he calls the “human system.” Nearly half the book is dedicated to the Paleolithic, before farming, cities, and writing, a very unusual feature. Manning is trained as a historian of Africa, and that shines through at many points. He pays lots of attention to migration, languages, and labor history. Unlike most historians, he considers evidence from archeology, linguistics, and genetics as well as written sources. The only drawback to this one is that it is not written in the most accessible or entertaining prose.

A History of Humanity

By Patrick Manning,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Humanity today functions as a gigantic, world-encompassing system. Renowned world historian, Patrick Manning traces how this human system evolved from Homo Sapiens' beginnings over 200,000 years ago right up to the present day. He focuses on three great shifts in the scale of social organization - the rise of syntactical language, of agricultural society, and today's newly global social discourse - and links processes of social evolution to the dynamics of biological and cultural evolution. Throughout each of these shifts, migration and social diversity have been central, and social institutions have existed in a delicate balance, serving not just their…


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