The best Confucianism books

Who picked these books? Meet our 13 experts.

13 authors created a book list connected to Confucianism, and here are their favorite Confucianism books.
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Book cover of The Cambridge Illustrated History of China

Yang Ye Author Of Vignettes from the Late Ming: A Hsiao-p'in Anthology

From the list on understanding China.

Who am I?

I am a Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Riverside. I was brought up in the family of a Chinese poetry scholar. Arriving in the States for my graduate studies at Harvard in 1982, I have engaged myself in academia here ever since. Acutely aware of, and deeply fascinated by, the cultural similarities and differences of China and the West, I have continued my learning experience, in my thirty years of college teaching, often from direct exchanges with my students. The books on my list of recommendations include both required texts chosen for my courses, and those I want to share with what Virginia Woolf called the Common Reader.

Yang's book list on understanding China

Discover why each book is one of Yang's favorite books.

Why did Yang love this book?

Enriched by more than 200 pictures, mostly in color, as well as maps and line drawings, it is an illuminating and succinct account of Chines civilization from prehistoric times through the rise of the “Three Teachings” (Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism) to the modern communist state. As someone who taught a popular undergraduate college course on Chinese civilization for many years, I can testify that the overall length (384 pages) of the book and its structure of 12 chapters plus an epilogue make it a perfect choice of required texts.

By Patricia Buckley Ebrey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cambridge Illustrated History of China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

More populous than any other country on earth, China also occupies a unique place in our modern world for the continuity of its history and culture. In this sumptuously illustrated single-volume history, now in its second edition, noted historian Patricia Buckley Ebrey traces the origins of Chinese culture from prehistoric times to the present. She follows its development from the rise of Confucianism, Buddhism, and the great imperial dynasties to the Mongol, Manchu, and Western intrusions and the modern communist state. Her scope is phenomenal - embracing Chinese arts, culture, economics, society and its treatment of women, foreign policy, emigration,…


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

Discover why each book is one of Stephen's favorite books.

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…


Bronze Drum

By Phong Nguyen,

Book cover of Bronze Drum

Bekkah Frisch Author Of The Great Quiet

From the list on families from around the world.

Who am I?

Years ago in a psycholinguistics class, I discovered that a person’s primary language—not just their vocabulary but the structure of the language itself—shapes the way that person perceives the world and relationships around them. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated with perspective and how perceptions of an event are shaped by who is experiencing them, what stage of life they’re in, the language they speak, and so on. As a full-time marketer in addition to an author, I have to consider every angle of a project before I can begin, whether I’m designing an ad or writing dialogue between characters.

Bekkah's book list on families from around the world

Discover why each book is one of Bekkah's favorite books.

Why did Bekkah love this book?

I love reading fiction that teaches while it entertains, and I have to say, I was completely unaware of this ancient regional conflict and the legendary sisters Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhi before picking up Bronze Drum. 

The sisters are depicted as opposites—one disciplined and wise, the other impulsive and emotional. They each seek to honor Vietnamese cultural traditions, which was under the oppressive rule of the Han Chinese at the time (circa 40 CE). When the sisters become leaders in a revolution against the Chinese empire, their sisterly dynamic shifts in ways that impact the future of their whole nation.

By Phong Nguyen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A “gripping historical adventure” of ancient Vietnam based on the true story of two warrior sisters who raised an army of women to overthrow the Han Chinese and rule as kings over a united people, for readers of Circe and The Night Tiger (Booklist).

Gather around, children of Chu Dien, and be brave.
For even to listen to the story of the Trung Sisters is,
in these troubled times, a dangerous act.

In 40 CE, in the Au Lac region of ancient Vietnam, two daughters of a Vietnamese Lord fill their days training, studying, and trying to stay true to…


Immovable Object

By A.B. Abrams,

Book cover of Immovable Object: North Korea's 70 Years at War with American Power

Stephen Gowans Author Of Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea's Struggle for Freedom

From the list on to understand the DPRK.

Who am I?

I became interested in North Korea in 2002 when the George W. Bush administration declared the country to be part of an Axis of Evil, along with Iraq and Iran. Bush had lied about Iraq, to justify a war against that country, and I wondered what evidence, if any, his administration had that North Korea was either evil or part of an axis. The answer was none. Bush was able to propagate one North Korean myth after another because the public knew very little about the country. I wished to give people some background so they could make sense of what they were reading and hearing about North Korea in the news and social media.

Stephen's book list on to understand the DPRK

Discover why each book is one of Stephen's favorite books.

Why did Stephen love this book?

I love A.B. Abrams as a writer because he can look at a subject and see what others have failed to see. I read his book only after completing my own, and I’m sorry I missed it. Immovable Object tells a fascinating story, recounted in few other places, of how North Korea has not only helped other peoples fight for national liberation but has achieved what no other post-colonial country has ever accomplished: the ability to stay the hand of an aggressive US empire by developing a credible retaliatory nuclear threat.

By A.B. Abrams,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

North Korea and the United States have been officially at war for over 70 years, one of the longest lasting and most unbalanced conflicts in world history, in which a small East Asian state has held its own against a Western superpower for over three generations. With the Western world increasingly pivoting its attention towards Northeast Asia, and the region likely to play a more central role in the global economy, North Korea's importance as a strategically located country, potential economic powerhouse and major opponent of Western regional hegemony will only grow over the coming decades. This work is the…


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

Discover why each book is one of Jet's favorite books.

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…


The Souls of China

By Ian Johnson,

Book cover of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao

Jennifer Lin Author Of Shanghai Faithful: Betrayal and Forgiveness in a Chinese Christian Family

From the list on history of Christianity in China.

Who am I?

I come from a long line of Chinese Christians. My grandfather, the Rev. Lin Pu-chi, was an Ivy League-educated Anglican minister, and my grandmother’s brother was Watchmen Nee, a leading Chinese Christian whose legacy lives on around the world. Library shelves are filled with books by missionaries. But where are the stories of the Chinese people they encountered? That’s the starting point for my family memoir, which spans five generations, starting with the first convert, a fisherman from Fujian. These are the books I relied on to place the family story into the broader context of what was happening in China from the period after the Opium Wars until today.

Jennifer's book list on history of Christianity in China

Discover why each book is one of Jennifer's favorite books.

Why did Jennifer love this book?

Let’s start in the present and work backward. And for a look at religion in China today, there is no better authority than Ian Johnson, journalist, author, and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. I knew Ian back in the 1990s when we were both newspaper correspondents in Beijing. Since then, he’s plumbed the depths of the spiritual awakening in China since 1976 and the end of the Cultural Revolution. In The Souls of China, he examines not just the rise of Christianity through the house church movement, but also explores the revival of interest in Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism.

By Ian Johnson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Masterfully opens up a little explored realm: how the quest for religion and spirituality drives hundreds of millions of Chinese' Pankaj Mishra

'A fascinating odyssey ... a nuanced group portrait of Chinese citizens striving for non-material answers in an era of frenetic materialism' Julia Lovell, Guardian

'The reappearance and flourishing of religion is perhaps the most surprising aspect of the dramatic changes in China in recent decades...this is a beautiful, moving and insightful book' Michael Szonyi

In no society on Earth was there such a ferocious attempt to eradicate all trace of religion as in modern China. But now, following…


Shamanism

By Mircea Eliade,

Book cover of Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

Bryan S. Turner Author Of The Body in Asia

From the list on making you wish you lived in Asia.

Who am I?

As an undergraduate at the University of Leeds in the 1960s the principal influence on my life and thinking was Trevor Ling an Anglican Priest and Buddhist who eventually became a Professor of comparative religion at the University of Manchester. He was the start of my research on Islam and Asia and my peripatetic career having lived in Scotland, Germany, Holland, America, Australia and Singapore. I became a professor of the sociology of religion in the Asia Research Center at the National University of Singapore. I have published two books on Singapore, a handbook of religions in Asia, and several works on the body, medicine, ageing and human vulnerability.

Bryan's book list on making you wish you lived in Asia

Discover why each book is one of Bryan's favorite books.

Why did Bryan love this book?

When I say to you ‘Religions of Asia’ you will automatically think of the usual suspects: Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and so on. Here is something different from Prof Eliade one of the great scholars of his generation. Shamanism is a major influence across the whole of the northern hemisphere from Canada through Siberia and into eastern and central Asia. The cover of the paperback has an Eskimo ceremonial mask. The shaman is medicine man, magician, miracle worker, priest, mystic and poet. We immediately think of the drum and the ecstatic body, but think also of eagle feathers, rattle, and robe of an animal. Shamanism is still practiced but has suffered from commercial exploitation and the general erosion of native cultures. As a religion of fire and ice, climate change may be its final blow.

By Mircea Eliade,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The foundational work on shamanism now available as a Princeton Classics paperback

Shamanism is an essential work on the study of this mysterious and fascinating phenomenon. The founder of the modern study of the history of religion, Mircea Eliade surveys the tradition through two and a half millennia of human history, moving from the shamanic traditions of Siberia and Central Asia-where shamanism was first observed-to North and South America, Indonesia, Tibet, China, and beyond. In this authoritative survey, Eliade illuminates the magico-religious life of societies that give primacy of place to the figure of the shaman-at once magician and medicine…


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

Discover why each book is one of Stephen's favorite books.

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…


Learning to Be a Sage

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

Book cover of Learning to Be a Sage: Selections from the Conversations of Master Chu, Arranged Topically

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

Discover why each book is one of Stephen's favorite books.

Why did Stephen love this book?

Zhu Xi (also written Chu Hsi; 1130-1200 C.E.) was among the very greatest Confucians both as theorist and as teacher. I love how contemporary his concerns seem; when he worries about students who are "just hurrying through the texts, reading for their literal meaning and taking little pleasure in them," he might as well be talking about most of us today. In Gardner’s fluid translation, Zhu’s millennium-old ideas about how and why to learn—ultimately aimed at becoming a “sage”—turn out to be remarkably relevant. 

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

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Learning to Be a Sage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Students and teachers of Chinese history and philosophy will not want to miss Daniel Gardner's accessible translation of the teachings of Chu Hsi (1130-1200)--a luminary of the Confucian tradition who dominated Chinese intellectual life for centuries. Homing in on a primary concern of our own time, Gardner focuses on Chu Hsi's passionate interest in education and its importance to individual development. For hundreds of years, every literate person in China was familiar with Chu Hsi's teachings. They informed the curricula of private academies and public schools and became the basis of the state's prestigious civil service examinations. Nor was Chu's…


Book cover of Useful Phrases for Immigrants: Stories

Charlie Jane Anders Author Of Even Greater Mistakes

From the list on short stories that could change your life.

Who am I?

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky, which Time Magazine listed as one of the hundred best fantasy novels of all time. Her other books include The City in the Middle of the Night, Victories Greater than Death, and Never Say You Can't Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times By Making Up Stories. She organizes the long-running spoken word series Writers With Drinks, helps to organize tours of local bookstores, and also co-hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct. Her short fiction has appeared in Tin House, Conjunctions, Wired Magazine, Slate, and the Boston Review.

Charlie's book list on short stories that could change your life

Discover why each book is one of Charlie's favorite books.

Why did Charlie love this book?

This story collection is mind-blowing in the best way. As its name suggests, a lot of the stories in this book deal with immigrants, including Chinese people who've immigrated to the United States, but also rural people who've migrated to cities. Chai's characters are struggling to balance traditional Confucian values with postmodern urban existence, and a lot of these stories feature tensions between different generations in a single-family. The best story is probably the award-winning "Fish Boy," in which a boy moves from the Chinese countryside to the big city and ends up working at a seafood restaurant whose offerings sound pretty unappetizing. Chai is brilliant at picking up on the subtle nuances of damaged families, and every one of these stories hits home.

By May-Lee Chai,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the title story of this timely and innovative collection, a young woman wearing a Prada coat attempts to redeem a coupon for plastic storage bins while her in-laws are at home watching the Chinese news and taking her private phone calls. It is the lively and wise juxtaposition of cultures, generations, and emotions that characterize May-lee Chai's amazing stories. Within them, readers will find a complex blend of cultures spanning China, the Chinese diaspora in America, and finally, the world at large.

With luminous prose and sharp-eyed observations, Chai reveals her characters' hopes and fears, and our own: a…


Back to Beginnings

By Huanchu Daoren, Thomas Cleary (translator),

Book cover of Back to Beginnings: Reflections on the Tao

George Kinder Author Of Life Planning for You: How to Design & Deliver the Life of Your Dreams

From the list on influences of the financial life planning movement.

Who am I?

I never wanted to have anything to do with money. I wanted to live a life of meaning in nature, of poetry, of spirit, and of relationship. The problem was that I couldn’t get anyone to pay me for it. My relationship with money from the very beginning was how can I accumulate it and manage it so I could deliver this life of freedom to myself in the shortest amount of time possible. In short, how could I “life plan” myself. I am the founder and thought leader of the life planning movement in financial advice now active in 30 cultures around the world with thousands of life planning practitioners. 

George's book list on influences of the financial life planning movement

Discover why each book is one of George's favorite books.

Why did George love this book?

Translated many times under different titles, this is my favorite edition, influencing my life planning journey. The text is an intermingling of Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian thought.

Huanchu Daoren (who goes by various names) was a retired civil servant, as were many great philosophers and mystics in China. His book is written in brief paragraphs, each paragraph is a teaching of ethics or of spirit.

I carried a tiny version of the book that fit in the palm of my hand wherever I went for about ten years when I was going through the toughest time in my life just to give myself encouragement. Whenever I dipped into it, reading three or four sentences, I would feel as if there was something more profound than what I was going through. 

By Huanchu Daoren, Thomas Cleary (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The secrets of serenity and wisdom in a changing world can be found in these Taoist teachings, written during the late 16th century in the Ming dynasty. The author's reflections are an outgrowth of his upbringing in the science of neo-Confucianism, a lifelong career in public service, and his retirement at age 62 into Taoist apprenticeship.


The Analects of Confucius

By Confucius, James Legge,

Book cover of The Analects of Confucius: The Books of Confucian Wisdom

Yijie Zhuang Author Of 24 Hours in Ancient China: A Day in the Life of the People Who Lived There

From the list on history and environmental history of China.

Who am I?

I'm an archaeologist that is primarily interested in understanding ancient history of water. I have conducted fieldwork in China, Southeast Asia, and Africa. In my spare time, I enjoy writing novels (though never published any yet). This 24 Hours in Ancient China is a trial from this hobbit. I first became fascinated by Han China through a remarkable excavation at the Sanyangzhuang site where an almost intact Han-Dynasty farming village was preserved due to a Yellow River flood. Houses, mills, farming fields, and many other artefacts were revealed through the excavation. Subsequently, I was fortunate to be involved in some collaborative research on the environment and society of Han China. 

Yijie's book list on history and environmental history of China

Discover why each book is one of Yijie's favorite books.

Why did Yijie love this book?

Lunyu is another ancient masterpiece that has withstood the test of time. The book contains primarily sayings and ideas of Confucius and his contemporaries. It is arguably, the most influential Confucius cannon that is still extremely influential. The chapters are being regularly taught at all levels of school. It provides the most unique perspective to understand the philosophy, politics, ideology, and many other aspects of ancient and contemporary Chinese societies. 

By Confucius, James Legge,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the long river of human history, if one person can represent the civilization of a whole nation, it is perhaps Master Kong, better known as Confucius in the West. If there is one single book that can be upheld as the common code of a whole people, it is perhaps Lun Yu, or The Analects. Surely few individuals in history have shaped their country's civilization more profoundly than Master Kong. The great Han historiographer, Si-ma Qian, writing
2,100 years ago said, "He may be called the wisest indeed!" And, as recently as 1988, at a final session of the…


Viet Nam

By Ben Kiernan,

Book cover of Viet Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present

Moss Roberts Author Of Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel

From the list on modern Asia.

Who am I?

I have a strong, if contrarian, interest in modern history, Asian history in particular. I have published more than a dozen articles and book reviews on the subject, and I have taught courses on modern Asian history (China, Japan, Vietnam, India) at New York University, where I have been a professor since 1968. A brief history of my somewhat unusual academic career may be found in a 50-page memoir published via Amazon in 2020 together with an appendix containing a sampling of my short writings. It is titled Moss Roberts: A Journey to the East. The memoir but not the appendix is free via Researchgate. In addition, I have studied (and taught) the Chinese language for more than half a century, and published translations of classical works of literature and philosophy.   

Moss' book list on modern Asia

Discover why each book is one of Moss' favorite books.

Why did Moss love this book?

This work is thorough and informative on the US invasion and defeat but unlike many books on the war also provides extensive discussion of Vietnam’s long history, which dates back more than two millennia. It covers Vietnam’s contentious relations with China and France.

By Ben Kiernan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For many Westerners, the name Vietnam evokes images of a bloody televised American war that generated a firestorm of protest and brought conflict into their living rooms. In his sweeping account, Ben Kiernan broadens this vision by narrating the rich history of the peoples who have inhabited the land now known as Viet Nam over the past three thousand years.

Despite the tragedies of the American-Vietnamese conflict, Viet Nam has always been much more than a war. Its long history had been characterized by the frequent rise and fall of different political formations, from ancient chiefdoms to imperial provinces, from…


A Single Shard

By Linda Sue Park,

Book cover of A Single Shard

Deb Atwood Author Of Moonlight Dancer

From the list on to understand traditional Korean culture.

Who am I?

My kids tease me that I’m the family member (Nordic-European ancestry all the way) who first became fascinated with Korean culture despite their dad having been born in Busan. (Like me, my husband was raised on bologna and French’s mustard sandwiches, not bibimbap and kimchi). My research journey led me to travel to Korea multiple times. There, I discovered the remote island of Jindo, famous for delectable seaweed, the Jindo dog, a decisive battle in which Admiral Yi Sun-shin outwitted the Japanese, as well as a mysterious land bridge that parts the sea every year. I photographed the magnificent sunset overlooking Jindo and pictured my characters there. 

Deb's book list on to understand traditional Korean culture

Discover why each book is one of Deb's favorite books.

Why did Deb love this book?

I adore this Newbery Medal book and read it with my students often. I especially love this edition because it includes the author’s Newbery Medal acceptance speech. A Single Shard features a plucky homeless orphan and the incorrigible master potter he yearns to emulate despite limitations placed on orphans by the remnants of Confucian philosophy and hierarchy. In addition to absorbing social customs of the Joseon era, readers will learn about the creation of celadon pottery that renowned Korean artisans have produced for centuries. A Single Shard is a beautiful novel I recommend for all ages.  

By Linda Sue Park,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Single Shard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tree-ear is fascinated by the celedon ware created in the village of Ch’ulp’o. He is determined to prove himself to the master potter, Min—even if it means making a solitary journey to present Min’s work in the hope of a royal commission . . . or arriving at the royal court with nothing but a single celadon shard.


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

Discover why each book is one of Stephen's favorite books.

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…


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

Discover why each book is one of Stephen's favorite books.

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…