100 books like What Is Existentialism?

By Simone de Beauvoir,

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Book cover of Beyond Good And Evil

Felipe G.A. Moreira Author Of The Politics of Metaphysics

From my list on the relation between politics and metaphysics.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a philosophy post-doc at Unesp and a poet who has always felt that politics is not the exclusive business of politicians; that violence is not the exclusive business of warfare or of “vulgar” people, say, drunkards in bars. Violence, I have felt while doing philosophy in the USA, Brazil, Germany, and France, is likewise expressed by well-educated and apparently “peaceful” philosophers who are engaged in implicit politics and practice “subtle” violence. To handle the relation between politics and metaphysics is to do justice to this feeling. The Politics of Metaphysics, I hope, does that. I believe that though more tacitly, the same is done by this list’s books. 

Felipe's book list on the relation between politics and metaphysics

Felipe G.A. Moreira Why did Felipe love this book?

What I love about this book is the fact that it indicates that an apparently apolitical metaphilosophical assumption agrees with an upfront right-wing policy.

The assumption is that when tackling disputes in metaphysics, philosophers should aim to achieve consensus. The policy is that of pressing one to respect the allegedly rationally undeniable standards of a “herd,” as Nietzsche puts it. While problematizing this view, Nietzsche argues that libertarian tendencies of expressing one’s uniqueness are more valuable than more egalitarian tendencies of following herds; to provoke dissensus would then be more valuable than to reach consensus.

This stance has influenced me, even though while problematizing Nietzsche’s works through Carnap’s (and vice-versa), I claim that libertarian and egalitarian tendencies are equally valuable so that one should aim for a balance between them.

By Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Beyond Good And Evil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Unabridged English value reproduction of Beyond Good And Evilby Friedrich Nietzsche and translated by Helen Zimmern. This philosophical classic is a must read because of its fearless approach to how knowledge is formed.

Beyond Good And Evil asks, is truth absolute? Do humans invent ways to fortify already held views or truly seek the truth? Are the powerful more ‘right’ than the weak? Or is Nietzsche writing down page after page to hear himself talk?

Let the reader decide in this slim volume with full text and footnotes, produced at an affordable price.


PREFACE              3

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 The Metamorphosis

Luke Coulter Author Of City of Mann

From my list on seeing the world how it’s never been seen before.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up in Ireland with a lot of Pink Floyd records, an active imagination, and no TV, I was almost destined to have a seemingly endless number of questions about the universe, our existence, and the purpose of it all. Finding that much could be learned from the tip of a pen (including that blue flavor is the best one) I began to read and make shapes and draw words of my own. Then, questioning the reasons I had questions, and seeking what could not be found, I found the answer to a single one—that there is far more to this world than we can ever see, and we indeed, are not alone.

Luke's book list on seeing the world how it’s never been seen before

Luke Coulter Why did Luke love this book?

His physicality transformed, Gregor awakes no longer a man, but instead, a giant grotesque creature.

As I read this masterpiece, I too understood how it is, to appear not how I desire. To sound different, to look different, to appear different than the paragon of myself I have created in my mind. And to strive to be more than this body I inhabit can give. But is this not the condition of us all?

A truly brilliant Kafka, this book created a world that is my own, yet unreal, and my reality yet a waking dream.

By Franz Kafka, Stanley Corngold (translator),

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Metamorphosis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”

With this  startling, bizarre, yet surprisingly funny first sentence, Kafka begins his masterpiece, The  Metamorphosis. It is the story of a  young man who, transformed overnight into a giant  beetlelike insect, becomes an object of disgrace to  his family, an outsider in his own home, a  quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing—though  absurdly comic—meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The  Metamorphosis has taken its place as one  of the most widely read and influential works of  twentieth-century…

Book cover of The Undiscovered Self: The Dilemma of the Individual in Modern Society

Zachary Austin Behlok Author Of Manipulating Nature: An Existential Essay Regarding Humanity's Impact on the World Around Us

From my list on finding meaning within your life.

Why am I passionate about this?

For as long as I can remember, it has been of the utmost importance to find meaning in life, both for myself and for everyone else sharing this planet. I have spent much of my time over the course of the past few years pushing for a continued level of discourse in the field of philosophy. I have studied at and attended various educational institutions including Eastern Florida State College, The Florida Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and The University of Cambridge – the studies at such range between philosophy, psychology, behavior analysis, and engineering. I hope that my work will be of some assistance in pushing humanity towards positive progress.

Zachary Austin's book list on finding meaning within your life

Zachary Austin Behlok Why did Zachary Austin love this book?

In this text, the famed clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, gives his analysis on the world around us, in a way that aims to provide the reader with a higher level of understanding of the effects of such a world on our minds as individuals. For me, this piece really highlighted the ways in which the governmental powers above us have a grasp on the ways in which we live our lives, and are subsequently affected mentally. 

By C.G. Jung,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Written three years before his death, The Undiscovered Self combines acuity with concision in masterly fashion and is Jung at his very best. Offering clear and crisp insights into some of his major theories, such as the duality of human nature, the unconscious, human instinct and spirituality, Jung warns against the threats of totalitarianism and political and social propaganda to the free-thinking individual. As timely now as when it was first written, Jung's vision is a salutary reminder of why we should not become passive members of the herd.

With a new foreword by Sonu Shamdasani.

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 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…

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 The Jargon of Authenticity

Richard Wolin Author Of Heidegger in Ruins: Between Philosophy and Ideology

From my list on intellectuals and fascism.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a graduate student during the late 1970s, my mentor, Martin Jay, generously introduced me to two members of the Frankfurt School: Herbert Marcuse and Leo Lowenthal. These memorable personal encounters inspired me to write a dissertation on Walter Benjamin, who was closely allied with the Frankfurt School. The completed dissertation, Walter Benjamin: An Aesthetic of Redemption, became the first book on Benjamin in English and is still in print. The Frankfurt School thinkers published a series of pioneering socio-psychological treatises on political authoritarianism: The Authoritarian Personality, Prophets of Deceit, and One-Dimensional Man. These studies continue to provide an indispensable conceptual framework for understanding the contemporary reemergence of fascist political forms.

Richard's book list on intellectuals and fascism

Richard Wolin Why did Richard love this book?

To this day, Adorno’s pathbreaking Heidegger-critique, The Jargon of Authenticity, remains one of the most insightful and lucid exposés of fascist ideology ever written.

To begin with, Adorno wrote as an insider: as a scholar who had witnessed the implantation and criminality of German fascism firsthand. In Jargon, he used the Heideggerian's notion of “authenticity” as the point of departure for a brilliant semantic and rhetorical unmasking of the way that fascist linguistic habitudes suffuse the discourse of everyday life. After reading Adorno’s critique, it is impossible read Heidegger naïvely: that is, without careful attention to the ideological distortions of his Denkhabitus.

As Adorno deftly shows, Heidegger’s idiolect of “authentic” being-in-the-world masks a deep-seated longing for German geopolitical supremacy.

By Theodor Adorno,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Theodor Adorno was no stranger to controversy. In The Jargon of Authenticity he gives full expression to his hostility to the language employed by certain existentialist thinkers such as Martin Heidegger. With his customary alertness to the uses and abuses of language, he calls into question the jargon, or 'aura', as his colleague Walter Benjamin described it, which clouded existentialists' thought. He argued that its use undermined the very message for meaning and liberation that it sought to make authentic. Moreover, such language - claiming to address the issue of freedom - signally failed to reveal the lack of freedom…

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 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…

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