287 books directly related to philosophy 📚

All 287 philosophy books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

By Edward O. Wilson

Why this book?

The ultimate big-picture book. Wilson outlines how fields like history and the humanities can incorporate insights from biology and the study of human nature—to the benefit of both science and the arts. A bracing look at the future of human knowledge.
From the list:

The best books that will open your mind to the wonders of biology

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

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

By Sarah Bakewell

Why this book?

Nietzsche said; “Only those with very large lungs have the right to write long sentences.” Montaigne was of the same opinion. He pre-dated Nietzsche in couching his philosophy simply and clearly in short, sharp aphorisms. Like Nietzsche’s aphorisms, they are often very funny.

From the list:

The best books on philosophy and humanity’s search for meaning

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Book cover of The Oxford Companion to the Mind

The Oxford Companion to the Mind

By Richard L. Gregory

Why this book?

This is the one to get if you are shipwrecked on a desert island – or forced into another lockdown. Or, for that matter, if you need a doorstop that happens to contain fascinating essays on aspects of brain and mind from Abacus to Wittgenstein. Dip into it for a guaranteed good read or use it as a superior Google when you want to know things like why mirrors only reverse one way or the origin of the phrase “mad as a hatter”. It won’t disappoint.

From the list:

The best books to start exploring consciousness

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Book cover of Language, Truth and Logic

Language, Truth and Logic

By Alfred Jules Ayer

Why this book?

This is a widely-scorned book whose ideas are no longer in philosophical fashion. But it was the work that first hooked me into philosophy, and I recommend it for its sheer verve and confidence. Freddie Ayer visited Vienna in the 1930s and when he returned to the UK he introduced the ideas of the Vienna Circle into the Anglo-American world. The book argued that propositions that were not testable – for example some assertions about God, or about ethics or aesthetics – were meaningless because they were not verifiable. Amazing claims!

From the list:

The best philosophy books to read before you turn 25 (or after!)

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Book cover of Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think about Our Lives

Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think about Our Lives

By David Sloan Wilson

Why this book?

We can’t understand ourselves, unless we understand our evolutionary history. In his book Evolution for Everyone, evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson outlines the principles behind our biology, history, culture, and morality. In order to understand how these processes came to be, we must view evolution through a multi-level and multi-dimensional lense, which is not only central to our modern understanding of evolution, but provides an extended evolutionary synthesis that allows evidence-based psychotherapists to view themselves as applied evolution scientists. David Sloan Wilson describes these processes and more in an accessible and engaging manner – all inside this volume.

From the list:

The best books on understanding and shaping reality

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Book cover of Eating Animals

Eating Animals

By Jonathan Safran Foer

Why this book?

What is the meaning of life? We could take the question further by disposing of our blinkers and asking, what is the meaning of the other lives that may not look like ours? These lives consist of the millions of animals who die in the factory farms built to conceal their suffering and turn them into fungible objects, not lives. Safran’s book is an eye-opening exposition of how we have enslaved animals for food that we don’t even need in the 21st century—damaging ourselves and the environment in the process. One meaning of life: the value of letting other lives…

From the list:

The best books that helped me find my meaning of life

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Book cover of The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments

The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments

By Peter Catapano, Simon Critchley

Why this book?

The Stoics were expansive philosophers, in that they were concerned about many diverse aspects of our existence: politics, ethics, epistemology, therapy, cosmology. The Stoics also aimed for their philosophy to be practical; hence, they wrote in accessible, readable fashion, so their teachings could reach many. The New York Times philosophers’ column, “The Stone,” shares Stoic concerns in applying philosophical thinking to a wide variety of topics, in a manner accessible to many. The Stone Reader is an anthology of some of the most popular essays from the New York Times column; the essays touch on many subjects, such as violence,…

From the list:

The best books on stoic themes, influence and inspiration

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Book cover of Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

By Paulo Freire

Why this book?

With this study, the legendary Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, delivered a manifesto for a critical pedagogy that continues to undergird the mission statement of many university departments all over the world, and in particular in the Global South, from the Humanities to the Social Sciences. The book tells the story of the eternal struggle between the ruling classes and the underprivileged castes in society, and their resistance against the oppressive power of that system. I read this book at SOAS University of London. It has informed my understanding of civil resistance as a form of democratic empowerment which is so…

From the list:

The best books about power and resistance

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Book cover of Dialectic of Enlightenment

Dialectic of Enlightenment

By Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Edmund Jephcott

Why this book?

The standard liberal (and neoliberal) response to those who complain that enlightenment and progress leave behind precisely those people whom they are supposed to help the most has been to double down and demand more progress. In this 20th century classic of political-sociological analysis, Horkheimer and Adorno show that the concept of enlightenment as interpreted by the liberal politicians, and as touted by them to the masses whom they hold in thrall, is self-undermining.
From the list:

The best books that explore the human condition

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Book cover of Life of the Mind: One/Thinking, Two/Willing

Life of the Mind: One/Thinking, Two/Willing

By Hannah Arendt

Why this book?

The relentless and erudite work of Arendt never ceases to challenge me. In the books included here—Thinking and Willing—she explores what it means that the self knows itself to be a self, and how that knowledge refracts and splits upon encountering others, and then changes when returning to solitude again. I read her knowing that she has not just considered but felt her ideas. “To be alive means to be possessed by an urge toward self-display. . . .Up to a point we can choose how to appear to others.”

From the list:

The best books on the existential crisis of looking in a mirror

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Book cover of Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

By David Christian

Why this book?

Few thinkers have done more to advance and popularize the discipline of Big History in recent years than David Christian. He coined the term and has worked with Bill Gates to deliver Big History teaching to high school students around the world. The book I’ve picked out here is a little more academic and detailed than the others, and provides a really solid overview of this approach to integrating large-scale history from the Big Bang to the present. 

From the list:

The best books on big history

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Book cover of The Terrible Unlikelihood of Our Being Here

The Terrible Unlikelihood of Our Being Here

By Susanne Paola Antonetta

Why this book?

Susanne Paola Antonetta’s first book, Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir taught me how memoir can be compiled through multiple lenses—one that invites into the author’s self-view and another through which you can learn about place and environmental degradation. With two (or more) questions, who-I-am becomes complicated and textured. Antonetta’s new The Terrible Unlikelihood of Our Being Here illustrates that understanding ourselves comes only through looking at those selves through other texts, other people, our current understanding of ourselves, science, place, and our childhood’s vision of the world.

Antonetta takes quantum entanglement, her grandmother’s Christian Science beliefs, and her own account…

From the list:

The best books that make science the story

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Book cover of The Dream of the Earth

The Dream of the Earth

By Thomas Berry

Why this book?

In college during the 1960s I studied Eastern and indigenous world religions with Thomas Berry which informed my approach to art healing. Only recently I discovered how he evolved to become a leading figure in the ecological community, calling for a new depth of psychology of nature. His vision of how each person and all of nature participate in an inclusive creative force is for me the way forward with art healing. Among his books, including The Great Work and the new biography published by Columbia University Press, I recommend The Dream of the Earth as a starting point. We…

From the list:

The best books on art healing

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Book cover of The Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science

The Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science

By Michael S. Schneider

Why this book?

According to Michael Schneider, "The universe may be a mystery, but it's no secret." This book is a comprehensive yet simple visual guide to understanding the hidden meaning in the mathematical composition of all physical form. It is fun and fascinating to discover the sacred geometry visible throughout nature, in flowers, crystals, plants, shells, and the human body. You don't have to be a mathematician to see the beauty and symmetry of these patterns in every expression of God's creation, once revealed.

From the list:

The best books on higher consciousness and healing ourselves and our planet

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Book cover of Proofs and Refutations

Proofs and Refutations

By Imre Lakatos

Why this book?

Lots of people have a priori ideas about what mathematics is all about but Lakatos had the brilliant idea of looking at what actually happened. His book is all about one famous theorem: “for all regular polyhedra, V – E + F =2, where V is the number of vertices, E is the number of edges, and F is the number of faces.  Think of a cube where V=8, E = 12, F = 6.  

We tend to think that mathematics proceeds from a well-defined hypothesis to conclusion. But that is only the finishing step. Along the way the definitions…

From the list:

The best books on thinking, creativity, and mathematics

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Book cover of Deschooling Society

Deschooling Society

By Ivan Illich

Why this book?

If interested in reflecting on the point of “education,” this book is a must-read. Giving to the reader a philosophical take on “schooling,” Illich forces you to think about just what “school” is about. Is “school” about achieving grades or character? Is “school” about self-discovery, or is “school” about leading minds into becoming the perfect “citizen”? Illich challenges the current educational paradigm to awaken minds to realize that there is more to “school” than burdening children with a curriculum that fails to relate to them.

From the list:

The best books challenging the traditional definition of education

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Book cover of Ways of Drawing: Artists' Perspectives and Practices

Ways of Drawing: Artists' Perspectives and Practices

By Julian Bell, Julia Balchin, Claudia Tobin

Why this book?

There’s nothing like looking at the work of other artists to inspire you to draw. In this book, contemporary artists and teachers from the Royal Drawing School in London reflect on drawing and the diversity of ways to go about it through a series of essays that are interspersed with hundreds of drawn images by alumni and leading artists through the ages. A series of practical propositions for you to try out can lead to change and inspiration in your own work, whether it is based in the studio, out in the open, or from your imagination. This book makes…

From the list:

The best books to inspire you to draw

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Book cover of Descartes' Dream: The World According to Mathematics (Dover Books on Mathematics)

Descartes' Dream: The World According to Mathematics (Dover Books on Mathematics)

By Philip J. Davis, Reuben Hersh

Why this book?

Mathematicians are constantly baffled by the public’s lack of awareness, not just of what mathematics does, but what it is. Today’s technological society functions only because of a vast range of mathematical concepts, techniques, and discoveries, which go far beyond elementary arithmetic and algebra. This was one of the first books to tackle these misunderstandings head on. It does so by examining not just the math and what it’s used for, but the social structures, the ‘conditions of civilization’ that have brought us to this curious state: utterly dependent on math, almost universally unaware that we are. 

From the list:

The best books to find out why math isn’t what you think

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Book cover of Bento's Sketchbook

Bento's Sketchbook

By John Berger

Why this book?

John Berger taught us to see art in a new way. His acclaimed BBC series changed the way art was shown on TV. Contemplating art included looking around and finding remarkable images being used in plain situations. In his book, Here is where we meet he placed a heart-touching short story in Lisboa, my adored city. I realised that we had often crossed the same roads and parks, enjoyed the same views. I was conquered. In Bento’s Sketchbook, Berger searches for the mind of Baruch (Bento) Spinoza, one of the most enigmatic philosophers of the 17th century. It is…
From the list:

The best books on unassumingly sketching the world around us

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Book cover of Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World

Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World

By Glenn A. Albrecht

Why this book?

Earth Emotions is a landmark guide to new concepts and vocabulary to represent the complex new ‘eco-emotions’, a spectrum of positive and negative emotional responses caused by recent environmental and life changes. From a mental health perspective to social sustainability, this book is valuable for many people currently processing their eco-emotions. One lesson from my research journey is that emotion and shared empathy as forms of sustainability knowledge are underestimated in favor of more rational approaches, when affect and cognition are intrinsically linked. This book advances our understanding of holistic emotions as sustainable information. Having conducted research into knowledge ecosystems,…

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The best books on social sustainability

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Book cover of Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World

Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World

By Walter Russell Mead

Why this book?

The book provides one of the best analyses of the various strands that have framed U.S. foreign policy over the decades. It is easy to read, provides in-depth material, and can be read by both practitioners and lay readers. I love reading this book and it inspired me to undertake something similar for India’s foreign policy in my book.
From the list:

The best books on history & foreign policy

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Book cover of What Philosophy Can Do

What Philosophy Can Do

By Gary Gutting

Why this book?

Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting sadly passed away right before COVID, but not before writing countless articles, many of them on the New York Times philosophy website The Stone, showing practical uses of the philosophical tradition. Many of his thoughts are collected in his 2015 book What Philosophy Can Do which includes chapters on how philosophical practices can help us better argue about politics and religion, better understand the power, nature (and limitations) of science, and how to think about education and art. Gutting’s thoughtful and insightful writing provides practical ways to navigate a contentious age using tools that…

From the list:

The best books to become a better critical thinker

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Book cover of Art

Art

By Clive Bell

Why this book?

This book was instrumental in introducing the English-speaking world to Modern Art. As criticism, it taught readers how to appreciate Neo-Impressionism. But it was also a seminal contribution to Anglo-American philosophy. By demanding an answer to the question “What is Art?” Bell set the agenda for subsequent philosophers who sought to develop a definition of art in response. Bell’s own answer is that something is art if and only if it possesses significant form which itself is the cause of aesthetic emotions. Bell’s emphasis on significant form earned him a reputation as one of the foremost Philosophical Formalists.

From the list:

The best philosophy books that surveys the arts

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Book cover of Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism

Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism

By Monroe Beardsley

Why this book?

Originally published in 1958 as a textbook, when Aesthetics was updated, it was recognized as the “summa” of the aesthetic theory of art. This is the view that something is art just in case it is made with the intention to afford a certain magnitude of aesthetic experience. Because of his emphasis on aesthetic experience, Beardsley defended the notion of the autonomy of art – the idea that art is essentially independent of all other social practices. Using this lens, Beardsley explores an impressive range of topics including literature, fiction, pictorial representation, criticism, and interpretation.

From the list:

The best philosophy books that surveys the arts

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Book cover of A New Theory of Urban Design

A New Theory of Urban Design

By Christopher Alexander

Why this book?

This book reports on a research project, this time undertaken by Christopher Alexander and his students.  It is one of a number of books that attempts to ask deep questions about how places grow, and in particular about how they can grow positively in a manner that we instinctively feel to be ‘good.' Like Cullen’s book, this deeply influenced my own studies, this time of planning, when I remember conducting an experiment focused on piecemeal growth with a fellow student. The project emulated Alexander’s method and taught me a key lesson that has informed my own work ever since, namely…

From the list:

The best books about urban design

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Book cover of Tetralogue: I'm Right, You're Wrong

Tetralogue: I'm Right, You're Wrong

By Timothy Williamson

Why this book?

One area in which argument is increasingly important is the area of ethics, or morality. In our increasingly polarized world, a world in which people often find themselves in ‘bubbles’ where their ideas are confirmed by everything they read, arguing becomes increasingly difficult because people want to remain in their comfort zones. This book looks at a discussion between four people on a train and examines the way their discussion questions their key assumptions.   

From the list:

The best books to learn how to argue well

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Book cover of The General Theory of Law and Marxism

The General Theory of Law and Marxism

By Evgeny Pashukanis

Why this book?

Considering the legal apparatus as part of the state, Pashukanis puts forward the “commodity-form” theory of law in order to conceptualize the apotheosis of law under and fundamental to capitalism. Following Lenin, and against the claims of many of his Soviet philosopher contemporaries, Pashukanis argues that the withering away of the state should also imply the withering away of law. In making this argument he also examines the construction of legal relations and the legal subject. Pashukanis’ analysis has been revisited and revived in critical legal studies giving rise to scholarly studies such as China Miéville’s Between Equal Rights—which…

From the list:

The best books on the state and state repression

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Book cover of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

By Jordan B. Peterson

Why this book?

I started reading Peterson in the early 2000s. His mind has a weird combination of knowing all the research, knowing all the ancient wisdom of humanity, and having a feel for the practical, like, what does it mean for my life, right now. When Peterson talks about drug addiction, men and women, young people, and so on, it feels like he is talking to me, directly, with complete understanding and sympathy for the kind of life I am in. he holds no punches and says completely reasonable, thoughtful, wise things that just happen to totally undermine the messages of weakness…

From the list:

The best tough and practical books for living well

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Book cover of Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality

Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality

By Paul Levy

Why this book?

Another wonderful examination of the foundational nature of Consciousness in the universe. Levy makes the subject matter easy to understand. In many ways, this book is an imploration for the public to comprehend the quantum discoveries of the past century since such mass awareness can fundamentally change our world. Reality is not as it appears and the public deserves to know the truth.

From the list:

The best books about reality and destiny

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Book cover of The Lives of Literature: Reading, Teaching, Knowing

The Lives of Literature: Reading, Teaching, Knowing

By Arnold Weinstein

Why this book?

Weinstein takes the age-old question – what is literature? – and transforms it into why we (would want to) read literature. For him, literature changes us, allows us to be someone else, and provides us insight into the world we inhabit, and many more worlds we haven’t. He reads a broad array of works, from Sophocles to James Joyce and Toni Morrison, and thinks about such issues as identification, empathy, and sympathy with those we come to ‘know’ through our reading.

From the list:

The best books to help us harness the ‘classics’ to address crises -- such as flight from persecution

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Book cover of The Tao of Equus: A Woman's Journey of Healing and Transformation Through the Way of the Horse

The Tao of Equus: A Woman's Journey of Healing and Transformation Through the Way of the Horse

By Linda Kohanov

Why this book?

A Woman’s Journey of Healing & Transformation through the Way of the Horse. I was enthralled with Kohanov’s story of how she awakened to the spiritual presence of horses, and her research, along with the connections she made to mythology, was fascinating. When I read this book, I had two horses and an elderly mule, and while I’d always felt the emotional peace that comes from a horse’s presence, I was inspired to explore that more deeply and appreciate the spiritual connections they generate. 

From the list:

The best books about horses healing humans

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Book cover of Buddhist Moral Philosophy: An Introduction

Buddhist Moral Philosophy: An Introduction

By Christopher W. Gowans

Why this book?

Buddhist philosophers had much to say about how we should live our lives and how we should treat others. Modern scholars of Buddhist moral thinking have presented these ideas in a number of different ways. Gowans’ book is a fair and balanced discussion of what Indian Buddhist moral philosophers had to say about ethics and the different ways in which recent scholars have interpreted their claims.

From the list:

The best books on Indian Buddhist philosophy

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Book cover of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

By Daniel Dennett

Why this book?

Like Kant reading Hume, this book woke me up from my small-minded intellectual slumbers. Before this, I thought biology was basically just memorizing different parts of cells. Dennett opened my mind to the intricacies of evolutionary theory and did so with wit and elegance.
From the list:

The best books that will open your mind to the wonders of biology

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Book cover of Conscious Mind in Search of a Fundamental Theory

Conscious Mind in Search of a Fundamental Theory

By David J. Chalmers

Why this book?

Chalmers is the philosopher who first called Consciousness the “Hard Problem” and this is his attempt to solve it. It’s a hugely ambitious work that puts up an entirely new theory then tests it so hard that he leaves nothing for his critics to do. You may not swallow the theory, but it’s worth reading just to follow the meticulous thinking and imaginative leaps of a terrific brain.

From the list:

The best books to start exploring consciousness

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Book cover of The Problems of Philosophy

The Problems of Philosophy

By Bertrand Russell

Why this book?

In this book, one of the great philosophers of the first half of the 20th century sketches his take on two central philosophical tasks -- explaining what kinds of things exist in reality, and how they are related, and delineating what we can know and how we know it.  In so doing, Russell illustrates the new method of logical and linguistic analysis he used in The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918), to lay the foundations of an epistemological and metaphysical system rivaling the great systems of the past. A key transitional figure linking the history of the subject to contemporary…

From the list:

The best books on western philosophy: what it is and how to do it

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Book cover of Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice

Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice

By Harry Collins

Why this book?

Collins is a brilliant and lucid exponent of the (mainly British) “strong programme” in the sociology of science. He is one of the numerous “children of Kuhn,” in the sense that like Kuhn he understands scientists to be (usually) honest and serious human beings, not machines implementing an alleged Scientific Method.

From the list:

The best books on the rhetoric of science (from a distinguished professor)

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Book cover of Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy

Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy

By Michael Polanyi

Why this book?

Polanyi, an eminent Hungarian Jewish chemist who spent his career at the University of Manchester, was the smarter brother of the more famous Karl Polanyi, the socialist economic historian. Michael (Mihály) shows in the book how science depends on ordinary, “personal” knowledge, as for example in riding a bicycle. He was a “liberal” in the European sense, unlike his brother, and saw the scientific community as analogous to a free market, and the free market as analogous to a scientific community.

From the list:

The best books on the rhetoric of science (from a distinguished professor)

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Book cover of Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault

Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault

By Pierre Hadot

Why this book?

I simply had to include one of philosopher Pierre Hadot’s wise and weighty books on Stoic philosophy. The subject matter of this book is centered on Stoic thought, but draws on, compares, and contrasts Stoic ideas with other foundational ideas in ancient and more modern philosophy. The key theme, as the title suggests, is that philosophy’s highest calling is as a way to transform and improve the way one actually lives one’s life. While including chapters on Aurelius, and on Socrates, (a highly respected pre-Stoic inspiration to the Stoics), another main emphasis is on how Stoic practices serve as “spiritual…

From the list:

The best modern books on Stoicism to help translate the ancient to now

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Book cover of Memory, History, Forgetting

Memory, History, Forgetting

By Paul Ricoeur

Why this book?

A landmark philosophical tome, which argues for the ‘imbrication of forgetting in memory’. The disentangling of the complex relationships between history, memory and forgetting raises ethical questions about abuses of memory and interrogates the connection between forgetting and forgiving.

From the list:

The best books about forgetting

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Book cover of Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

By Michael Pollan

Why this book?

A self-critical and often hysterically funny account of what happens when you plant a garden to be “one with nature” and nature has other ideas. Still my favorite Pollan book (his first!), which is saying a lot. Favorite bit: his journey from “living in harmony” with a resident groundhog to an albeit ill-considered act of firebombing.

From the list:

The best books to revolutionize how Americans think about nature & environment

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Book cover of A Stroll With William James

A Stroll With William James

By Jacques Barzun

Why this book?

In my college days, it seemed that everyone was carrying around a copy of Barzun’s book on Darwin, Marx, and Wagner, and I remember devouring his two-volume book on Berlioz and the Romantic Century, just for fun. When I began to seriously study William James, I was amazed to see that Barzun had written about him too. A Stroll with William James has one of my favorite titles, signifying a certain American informality and inherent movement that is characteristic of both James the man and his philosophy of pragmatism.

Barzun’s engagingly written book contains chapters on James’s life, his relation…

From the list:

The best books about philosophy and human life

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Book cover of Discourses, Fragments, Handbook

Discourses, Fragments, Handbook

By Christopher Gill, Robin Hard

Why this book?

Author Elif Batuman wrote of the Stoic Epictetus, he “won me over with his tone, which was that of an enraged athletics coach.” He is feisty, demanding, sarcastic, but he can be surprisingly poignant and occasionally empathetic to his audience. Epictetus himself wrote nothing; what survives was written down by a student. We therefore witness Epictetus live as he works with his own student or even when he talks with magistrates who would came to consult with him at the end of the day. Epictetus had been a slave early in life so it packs quite a wallop when he…

From the list:

The best books on Stoicism through the eyes of a philosophy professor

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Book cover of Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life

Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life

By Eva Jablonka, Marion J. Lamb, Anna Zeligowski

Why this book?

The traditional neo-Darwinian view of evolution understands inheritance in genetic terms, as the transmission of DNA from parents to offspring. Jablonka and Lamb argue convincingly that in addition to genetic inheritance, there exist three other inheritance systems in nature – epigenetic, symbolic, and behavioural – all of which play an important role in evolution. The book is not a work of philosophy in the strict sense, but rather a fascinating and conceptually-rich synthesis of a diverse body of empirical findings which, the authors argue, can only be accommodated by going beyond a purely geno-centric view of evolution.

From the list:

The best books about the philosophy of evolution

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Book cover of The Matter of History

The Matter of History

By Timothy J. Lecain

Why this book?

I am recommending this volume because it shocked me with its ability to nestle humans into the world as an integral part of the natural world, not separate from it, not rulers over it, but clever animals that need the Earth more than the Earth needs us. It helps me to undercut the manufactured power of the divinely ordained rulers from ancient Egypt.

From the list:

The best books on power and the powerless

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Book cover of The Atheist Who Didn't Exist Or: the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments

The Atheist Who Didn't Exist Or: the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments

By Andy Bannister

Why this book?

Andy Bannister has written this book in response to popular one-liners by new atheists, particularly Dawkins. Tired retorts comparing God to Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are hilariously dealt with by the author's dry British humour. I had a good couple of chuckles in this book. I particularly loved his imaginary friend who claimed he stole the Venus di Milo's arm, and also how he sarcastically puts trademark symbols on the words 'Science' and 'Reason'. Still, I think he does a good job of preventing his teasing from becoming a poo-flinging contest. Such a talented writer - loved this…

From the list:

The best books on Christian apologetics

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Book cover of Philosophical Investigations

Philosophical Investigations

By Ludwig Wittgenstein

Why this book?

Surely the greatest work of philosophy of the 20th Century. It delves into a wide range of philosophical issues, including the relationship between language and the world. OK, it’s tough to understand without also reading some accompanying secondary literature – but it is endlessly beguiling. It’s one of the few works of philosophy that repays being re-read. I took a Wittgenstein paper at university - and have called myself a Wittgensteinian ever since.

From the list:

The best philosophy books to read before you turn 25 (or after!)

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Book cover of At Home With The Marquis De Sade

At Home With The Marquis De Sade

By Francine Du Plessix Gray

Why this book?

The Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) is one of those characters that you loathe, but cannot help but find fascinating. By all standards, this deviant aristocrat was a gentleman in name only. Yet his remarkable life (32 years of it spent in prison) and amoral philosophizing provide the grist for a great biography under the pen of Gray. Readers will find many of de Sade’s horrific exploits here, yet this book also explores his relationship with the two most important women in his life: his beloved wife, who indulged him for decades, and his hated mother-in-law, whom he envisioned flaying alive…

From the list:

The best books about the Enlightenment and the world it created

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Book cover of The Essential David Bohm

The Essential David Bohm

By Lee Nichol

Why this book?

I first encountered the philosophy of physicist Bohm in another book by the philosopher Renée Weber (Dialogues with Scientists and Sages) in which she, the Dalai Lama, and Bohm (among others) explore, well, everything. But Bohm’s own exploration blends Buddhist concepts with physics. One of the many reasons I am Buddhist myself is its architecture and allowance for new concepts including physics theory and the reality of light itself. His implicate order for the universe explains more about its reality than accepted current theory. I’m no physicist nor towering intellectual, but I am following the Buddha’s advice to…

From the list:

The best books for the rest of us to absorb Buddhist essence

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Book cover of Unnatural Nature of Science

Unnatural Nature of Science

By Lewis Wolpert

Why this book?

I spend a lot of my time trying to clarify the bilge poured out by the merchants of fake science: the flat-earthers, creationists, and climate deniers mainly, but also medical quacks and other fruitloops who throw out alternative science, stuff which is like normal science, with one small exception. I was already fighting these fights when Wolpert came to Sydney, and I chaired a lecture he gave. He showed us where the problem lay in combatting idiocy: the idiots depend on naïve and naked intuition.

Invariably, these unhinged pseudo-realities rely on a simple misreading of scientific lore, and Lewis explained…

From the list:

The best books about history and science

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Book cover of Spinoza on Learning to Live Together

Spinoza on Learning to Live Together

By Susan James

Why this book?

James is one of our best Spinoza scholars, and she writes with a clarity and urgency not often found in history of philosophy literature. This is a broad study that covers a lot of ground in just over two hundred pages, with a particular emphasis on how Spinoza envisions political and social life. They are mostly previously published essays, but they all hang together under the theme of how we, as rational and passionate beings, can live together democratically, cooperatively, and in peace. An excellent contribution to envisioning Spinoza as an important moral and political thinker.

From the list:

The best mostly recent books on Spinoza

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Book cover of Potentia: Hobbes and Spinoza on Power and Popular Politics

Potentia: Hobbes and Spinoza on Power and Popular Politics

By Sandra Leonie Field

Why this book?

It is impossible to read Spinoza and not think often of Thomas Hobbes. Spinoza read Hobbes’s works and was clearly influenced by the English philosopher both in his account of human nature and, especially, in his political thinking. This is, as far as I know, the first book devoted explicitly to the two thinkers together. Field’s focus is on the political, and she does a beautiful job of analyzing and distinguishing different conceptions of ‘power’ (both in the individual and in the group), as well as illuminating similarities and contrasts between these two of the most important early modern thinkers…

From the list:

The best mostly recent books on Spinoza

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Book cover of Greenlights

Greenlights

By Matthew McConaughey

Why this book?

This is the best book I have read on how to live your life without regrets. It’s all about making mistakes and moving on, which are two things that inventors must embrace. Along your journey to commercializing your invention, making mistakes is inevitable, so getting comfortable with moving on quickly is key. That said, you don’t have to make every mistake yourself. You can and should learn from experts.
From the list:

The best books for inventors with big ideas

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Book cover of John Brown

John Brown

By W.E.B. Du Bois

Why this book?

First published in 1909, this succinct biography by a leading Black author and reformer spearheaded a tradition of appreciative commentary on Brown by African Americans. Brushing aside longstanding critiques of John Brown as a fiend, a fanatic, and a traitor, Du Bois explores the depth of Brown’s antislavery commitment and his willingness to sacrifice his own life in order to bring about the emancipation of Amerca’s 4 million enslaved people. Du Bois makes the memorable generalization: “John Brown was right.”
From the list:

The best books about John Brown the abolitionist

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Book cover of Proust's Way: A Field Guide to in Search of Lost Time

Proust's Way: A Field Guide to in Search of Lost Time

By Roger Shattuck

Why this book?

"Like the Bible, In Search of Lost Time embodies its own sources, myths, and criticism. Like an archaeological site, the novel has come to stand for a state of civilization.” Roger Shattuck is masterful in reach and insight; his “field guide” is aptly named. The reader journeys alongside him to traverse the vast and incomparable terrain of a seven-volume novel. Full of wit and provocation, he leads us through thick and thin, and best of all, he allows our own reading of the great work to revive within us, illuminating the very experience of reading that Proust so brilliantly mined.
From the list:

The best books to expand your grasp of Marcel Proust

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Book cover of Running and Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind

Running and Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind

By Michael W. Austin

Why this book?

Because the 21st century belongs to friendships. And camaraderie is the number 1 ingredient in the longevity recipe. We need each other. We need mutual assistance if we want to live not just longer but better. (What’s the saying? “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”) It’s easy to forget that in the tech age, which promotes ferocious independence (which ultimately isn’t much fun). Think of Durkheim’s notion of “collective effervescence”—which we missed big-time during Covid lockdown – and you’ll appreciate what Michael Austin, a philosopher from the University of Eastern…
From the list:

The best books on actually living before you die

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Book cover of Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist

Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist

By Richard Dawkins

Why this book?

This book is a collection of essays, letters, and lectures about the intrinsic value, importance, and beauty of science by one of its most talented and passionate communicators. Dawkins’s clear and often witty treatment of complex scientific issues is a breath of fresh air in this time of misinformation and ‘fake news.’ He writes primarily about biology, his own specialty, but ranges widely from ecology to evolution to genetics and even life beyond planet earth. Throughout, his incisive prose conveys the thrill and wonder of scientific discovery.

From the list:

The best books on scientific discovery and what makes scientists tick

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Book cover of Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence

Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence

By Emmanuel Levinas

Why this book?

The notion of time appears in many of Levinas's articles and books, but Otherwise than Being offers the most profound view. I was troubled by Bergson's and Heidegger's focus on the time of the individual, and their reduction of collective time to a vulgar, inauthentic, unreal experience. I found an answer to this discomfort in Levinas's view of time as inter-subjective. For him, time is not exterior to the subject (like the traditional view of time) nor tied with the individual, but rather is an experience in-between myself and the Other. Time is created when I am interrupted by the…
From the list:

The best books about time and its impact on human existence

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Book cover of How Physics Makes Us Free

How Physics Makes Us Free

By J.T. Ismael

Why this book?

Philosophers for thousands of years have wondered how we can have free will in a deterministic universe. If all events are explained by natural laws, then isn’t the future inflexibly determined by the past? Philosopher Jenann Ismael argues persuasively that (1) human freedom and control over events is only possible if all events are caused, and (2) that giving up on the objective passage of time is to acknowledge a world where the future determines the past just as much as the past determines the future. The actions of human beings help tell the story of both the future and…

From the list:

The best books on time and our perception of time

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Book cover of Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache

Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache

By Keith H. Basso

Why this book?

A brilliant and uplifting tale of how stories are used by the Western Apache people to tie them to place and give meaning to life. This is a quite unique book, speaking to all human experience. The Western Apache talk of mental smoothness, a mind that can be calm and focused. The smooth mind is a tightly woven basket, yielding but strong, resistant to the jarring effects of external events. “Wisdom sits in places,” said elder Dudley Patterson, “You will walk a long way and live a long time. And your mind will be smoother and smoother.” If objects and…

From the list:

The best books on stories and place since writing began

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Book cover of The Complete Works of Plato, Volume I

The Complete Works of Plato, Volume I

By Plato

Why this book?

After 2,400 years, Plato finally won the battle against Socrates, Aristotle, Avicenna, Rousseau, Locke, Freud, French and Neo-Liberalism, and most parents of two-year-olds. According to 21st-century neuroscientists, as Plato provided in the Allegory of the Cave, the prescient idea is that we are not born as blank slates, but rather have the basic knowledge of beauty, good and evil baked into our prenatal brain (genetically preformed circuits!)
From the list:

The best books on philosophies

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What Is History?

By Edward Hallet Carr

Why this book?

This book is a classic, for more than half a century, and remains the starting point in the current discussion of the historian’s craft. Edward H. Carr underscores the importance of dialogue in the study of history. History is a process of interaction between the historian and their facts, or between the past and the present. In this dialogue, the historian is not an objective reporter or analyst, but an individual whose world view and scientific approach are shaped by society.
From the list:

The best books on how historians work

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Book cover of All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses

By Cormac McCarthy

Why this book?

What can you say about Cormac McCarthy that has not been said before, the poetry in his prose, his fearlessness to go to the human extreme of emotional tension and violence, the elegance of creating a world so real that one does not want to leave, yet cannot stay? The writer in me wants to write just like him, but... I cannot, I will not, for there is only one Cormac McCarthy, and the world could not stand another.

From the list:

The best influential western literature (to my writing)

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Book cover of The Mind-Body Problem

The Mind-Body Problem

By Rebecca Goldstein

Why this book?

Literature, because it is less rule-bound than science and philosophy, may be more suited to exploring the question of who we really are, can be, and should be. Rebecca Goldstein, who earned degrees in physics and philosophy before turning to fiction, has written several novels that touch on the mind-body problem. My favorite is her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, the funny, sexy, poignant tale of a young philosopher’s quest to solve the mind-body problem.

From the list:

The best books on mind-body

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Book cover of Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy

Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy

By Jostein Gaarder, Paulette Møller

Why this book?

This is one of my all-time favorite novels. The setup is fantastic. One day a young girl, Sophie, comes home from school to find two questions, Who are you? and Where does the world come from? From there, she and the reader learn much about the history of philosophy. It’s one of the most thought-provoking novels I’ve ever read, and I can’t recommend it enough.

From the list:

The best contemporary fiction that will make you think

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Book cover of What Is This Thing Called Science?

What Is This Thing Called Science?

By Alan F. Chalmers

Why this book?

Bookshelves groan under the weight of highly skilled science communicators, and through them those of us with no specialist knowledge can learn about evolution, quantum mechanics, neuroscience et al, and then bore people to death with our newfound knowledge. There is, however, a world of difference between the things science discovers and the stories we tell about these discoveries. I love this book because it makes the reader do the hard yards, thinking not just about the breathless new discoveries, but also the very nature of this knowledge, and hence its limits.

From the list:

The best books to get your head around consciousness

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Book cover of The Power of Narrative: Climate Skepticism and the Deconstruction of Science

The Power of Narrative: Climate Skepticism and the Deconstruction of Science

By Raul P. Lejano, Shondel J. Nero

Why this book?

People make sense of their experience of the world through the stories they tell each other. These stories bind people together into social formations. This is as true for climate change as it is for many other bewildering or unsettling phenomenon. Lejano and Nero start from this premise and show how the narrative of climate skepticism has been able to forge a social movement and stake a challenge to the hegemony of the larger community of scientists on what is regarded (falsely) as a matter of science. Using narrative and discourse analysis, richly illustrated with examples, the book takes the…

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The best books about the contested meanings of climate change

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Book cover of Artifictional Intelligence: Against Humanity's Surrender to Computers

Artifictional Intelligence: Against Humanity's Surrender to Computers

By Harry Collins

Why this book?

I’ve not met Harry, but he seems to have a logical and sensible head on his shoulders. His writing is considered and grounded, which is exactly what you need when discussing the hype that forever seems to surround AI. This book is another look at this topic and finds yet more ways to explain to readers the difference between human intelligence and our algorithmic attempts at intelligence – which are frequently pretty stupid.

From the list:

The best books on artificial intelligence that are not full of hype and nonsense

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Book cover of God's Debris: A Thought Experiment

God's Debris: A Thought Experiment

By Scott Adams

Why this book?

I like short books that don’t feel too daunting to read. This very readable, brief tale, described by Adams as a thought experiment wrapped in a story, reminds us how to see the world differently. Something we could all do with, to challenge our prejudices and lift us from our echo chambers. 

From the list:

The best books for making sense of our existence in the Universe

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Book cover of Strangers in Our Midst: The Political Philosophy of Immigration

Strangers in Our Midst: The Political Philosophy of Immigration

By David Miller

Why this book?

I don’t agree with most of this book. But nonetheless it's a must-read for anyone who wants a great overview and defense of standard arguments to the effect that nation-state governments should enjoy broad power to exclude potential migrants. Miller puts the case well, and it’s easily grasped by experts and laypeople alike.

From the list:

The best books on migration rights and democracy

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Book cover of Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas

Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas

By Etienne Gilson

Why this book?

Etienne Gilson was the leading intellectual historian of the medieval Church in France, and this is the clearest, most lucid exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’s thinking that I have read. Perhaps because the Roman Catholic Church has often used Aquinas’s thinking to justify conservative positions, we often forget that he was a world-class genius who radicalized religious and ethical thought in the Middle Ages, and whose work helped inspire later movements of reform like the Vatican II Council. Gilson’s sympathetic treatment of Aquinas restored this understanding of his thinking and helped produce the modern neo-Thomist movement. It is worth reading…

From the list:

The best books about religion, learning, love, and science in the Middle Ages

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Book cover of The Tyranny of the Ideal: Justice in a Diverse Society

The Tyranny of the Ideal: Justice in a Diverse Society

By Gerald Gaus

Why this book?

This book challenges the notion that we should rely on the ideal as a guidepost. Set aside whether we could decide on an ideal; Gaus, a philosopher, makes a four-part argument against pursuing it. First, how could we contemplate the incomprehensible number of possible institutional, legal, and organizational configurations? We couldn’t. Second, the components of those configurations interact, resulting in a rugged landscape: the path to the ideal would not be entirely uphill, that is, it would require sacrifices. Hence, the book’s title. Third, owing to the interactions among choices, we cannot evaluate collective well-being in alternative configurations with…

From the list:

The best books for an aspiring or inspiring social scientist

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Book cover of The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Memory of Nature

The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Memory of Nature

By Rupert Sheldrake

Why this book?

The amazing results achieved with energy healing raise profound questions concerning the nature of consciousness and the human energy anatomy and how these suggest the existence of a much broader conception of reality than consensual thought allows for, and it is with respect to this broader conception that Rupert Sheldrake proves such an informative guide. His central concept - that of the existence of ‘morphic fields’ connecting all sentient life-forms and the influence that they exert on our emotional and physical lives through the phenomena of ‘morphic resonance’ - provides the ‘missing link’ in our understanding of consciousness and as…

From the list:

The best books about energy healing, the fields of consciousness, health, and well-being

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Book cover of The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living

The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living

By Stephen Cope

Why this book?

Stephen Cope is a master at using real-life examples to show how yoga can be embodied. The Wisdom of Yoga follows five friends facing struggles with work and relationships and how they use yoga philosophy to change their perspectives and approaches. Cope is magnificent at explaining Eastern thought to Westerners. His book is easy to read and allows us to look at our own lives as we witness the journeys of others.  

From the list:

The best books on the philosophy behind yoga

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Book cover of The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution

The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution

By Stuart A. Kauffman

Why this book?

This book comes at biology from an unusual angle, ignoring fine details and instead of going for the deepest underlying principles of life as seen by a dyed-in-the-wool theoretician. When I read it, I felt I was like being given 'X-ray specs' - an ability to see beyond the surfaces at which we mostly work to hidden mechanisms of order, control, and evolution. I have never seen biology the same way since, and this book changed my research and teaching immediately and lastingly. The writing is superb but still demands concentration and commitment because the concepts may be alien at first,…

From the list:

The best books to make you think about biology

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Book cover of Quantum Dialogue: The Making of a Revolution

Quantum Dialogue: The Making of a Revolution

By Mara Beller

Why this book?

Beller did a lot of the historical work that Becker relies on, delving deeply into the personal interaction between Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and the other founders of quantum theory. The presentation is more scholarly than Becker’s but is a goldmine for anyone who wants to understand the fine details of how quantum theory emerged from that set of distinctive personalities.

From the list:

The best books on quantum theory and its history

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Book cover of Artists' Film

Artists' Film

By David Curtis

Why this book?

David Curtis’ copiously illustrated book is a wide-ranging yet detailed introduction to the world of artists’ film, with over 400 filmmakers discussed. The survey is rooted in the historical avant-garde of the 1920s and ‘30s but covers work up to the present day. While major figures such as Steve McQueen and Bill Viola are mentioned, equal space is devoted to little-known filmmakers from France, Poland, and elsewhere.

From the list:

The best books on artists’ film and video

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Book cover of The Lessons of History

The Lessons of History

By Will Durant, Ariel Durant

Why this book?

This classic, written by the authors of the 11-volume The Story of Civilization, is a must-read for those who want to understand everything, from history to economics, from foreign policy to politics. I have read and re-read this book multiple times as it is my go-to book for when I rethink issues and problems. This short collection of essays offers simple yet critical lessons on geography, biology, economics, religion, and government all of which help explain the foreign policies of empires and states.  

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The best books on history & foreign policy

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Book cover of The Dream of Reason: A History of Western Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance

The Dream of Reason: A History of Western Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance

By Anthony Gottlieb

Why this book?

While critical thinking is not synonymous with philosophy, philosophical principles like logic and epistemology play a huge role in thinking systematically and productively. If you’re interested in how these new and revolutionary ways of thinking were born, I highly recommend this 2003 tour of the history of early Western philosophy, from Ancient Greece through the Medieval Age, by former Executive Editor of the Economist Anthony Gottlieb. If that book leaves you hungry for more, Gottlieb’s second title the series, The Dream of Enlightenment, continues the story of Western philosophy through the start of the modern era.  

From the list:

The best books to become a better critical thinker

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Book cover of Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War

Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War

By Hito Steyerl

Why this book?

Hito Steyerl is one of the most prominent artists and media theorists in the world. Her essays draw unexpected and always stimulating connections between media technologies, surveillance, war, and political power. They are short, concise, and a pleasure to read, but they always engage with big ideas around the ethical and social challenges of a world made global through the framework of the Internet and digital communication more broadly.

From the list:

The best books on art and globalization

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Book cover of On Compromise and Rotten Compromises

On Compromise and Rotten Compromises

By Avishai Margalit

Why this book?

This book explores the expedients of political negotiations and compromises—when should we (not) negotiate with evil people or regimes or those we can’t trust? It explores some of the most controversial negotiations in history (Munich, Yalta, Arab-Israel peace negotiations) and provides both vivid stories and good philosophical standards for trying to do the best one can in problematic settings. How can we make things better when things are already bad? How can we distinguish good acts and bad acts and well-meaning actors in tough situations, and necessary, if painful, political compromises? Major historical events provide guidance even for everyday negotiations.

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The best books for ethical negotiators

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Book cover of This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

By David Foster Wallace

Why this book?

Reading This is Water is a heartbreaking but beautiful experience, because the author, a philosophical and literary giant, took his own life. Wallace gave us so much in his too-short life. And, he had so much more to give. Nevertheless, this tender little book will fill you with compassion for yourself and for humanity in general. It is not a manual for living, but for seeing the world around you more clearly so that you can let more beauty and goodwill into your mind and heart while spreading the same to others. This is a little treasure.

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The best books for making the most meaningful life

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Book cover of Languages of Art

Languages of Art

By Nelson Goodman

Why this book?

Because of his prior reputation as a metaphysician and epistemologist, when Nelson Goodman turned his attention to the philosophy of art, he lent unprecedented prestige to aesthetics. In his book, Goodman treats art as a matter of symbol systems whose major structures include representation, exemplification, and expression. Given his emphasis on symbolism, Goodman regarded artistic projects, like picturing, as conventional and he maintained that our conviction of the realism of pictorial representations was merely an affair of our habituation to various styles. Languages of Art is a book noteworthy for its bold and bracing literary style.

From the list:

The best philosophy books that surveys the arts

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Book cover of Socrates in Love: Philosophy for a Die-Hard Romantic

Socrates in Love: Philosophy for a Die-Hard Romantic

By Christopher Phillips

Why this book?

This book really captures what it’s like to do philosophy in an informed but informal way. Philosophy as Socrates practiced it, and as it often is at its best, is a dialogue among several interlocutors. Different people share their different views on a topic, compare them, scrutinize and criticize them, and hopefully improve them. Phillips started a movement of Socratic cafés where people got together to do just that. The topics recorded here analyze love in its various forms (erotic, familial, friendly, hospitable, spiritual, and philosophical). Love is, in fact, basic to philosophy, which, as the word philosophia implies, is…

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The best books for starting out in philosophy

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Book cover of The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers

The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers

By Will Durant

Why this book?

This is the book that really got me into philosophy. My girlfriend gave it to me when I was a teenager. I opened it up began reading, and I never really stopped. Durant’s book gives what I now understand to be a rather conventional account of the origins and history of Western philosophy, but it does it very well. It enthusiastically and eloquently leads readers into the central conceptual concerns, principles, and problems of the central figures of the Western traditions. It’s intellectually substantial, and it doesn’t require advanced degrees. A joy to read, and in a word, for me,…

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The best books for starting out in philosophy

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Book cover of The Story of Philosophy

The Story of Philosophy

By Bryan Magee

Why this book?

Magee’s splendid introductory book is my go-to recommendation for those who wish to enter the world of philosophical ideas. Yes, it’s old-school in the sense that it can be annoyingly androcentric and Eurocentric. A supplement like Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting’s remarkable Philosopher Queens or Julian Baggini’s volume below should be read in tandem. Having said that, however, no one else pulls together the history of western philosophy with terse, informative, and fascinating accounts of important figures and schools as well as Magee. Plus, Magee’s text luxuriates amidst the lush, generous, and illuminating visuals that make Dorling Kindersley volumes so…

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The best books for starting out in philosophy

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Book cover of What Is Philosophy For?

What Is Philosophy For?

By Mary Midgley

Why this book?

Mary Midgley was in her nineties when she wrote this book, yet it’s alive with ideas and energy – and the insistence that philosophy should be “for” something in the most urgent, practical sense; that it should help us explore such questions as to how to live and to do good. Midgley was both highly scientifically literate and fiercely opposed to the claim that science will ever answer every question. We humans, she believed, are brilliant animals who need to understand our biological heritage as richly as possible if we’re to grapple fruitfully with our planetary future. I can think…

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The best books about critical thinking

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Book cover of Through the Looking-Glass

Through the Looking-Glass

By Lewis Caroll

Why this book?

Many of us, when young, read Looking-Glass with Carroll’s first work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but it was as an adult, eager to reflect philosophically, that I began to appreciate deep puzzles within our language and consciousness – and these are more prominent in Looking-Glass.  

I taught philosophy for many years  oops, not true, I don’t think philosophy can be taught. Rather, I encourage people to step back and think philosophically by confronting paradoxes, using their imagination, and looking beyond appearances. I often recommend Looking-Glass to achieve a sense of bewilderment and the delicious desire to dig…

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The best books for grappling with what it is to be human

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Book cover of The Ecstasy of Being: Mythology and Dance

The Ecstasy of Being: Mythology and Dance

By Joseph Campbell

Why this book?

I am sure many of you already know this visionary philosopher from his ground-breaking The Hero With a Thousand Faces. You may not be aware that Campbell was married to Jean Erdman, one of Martha Graham’s principal dancers in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Campbell’s initiations to modern dance came at Sarah Lawrence College when witnessing Erdman as Graham’s student; and then at Bennington, where Erdman performed with Graham’s company. His own learned background in the archetypal ethos of C.G. Jung made Campbell a prime candidate for Graham’s deeply-digging, Nietzschean/ecstatic archaic/abstract movement vocabulary. The choreographer and the professor spoke the…

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The most ecstatic books about dance and dancing

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Book cover of Making Sense of It All: PASCAL and the Meaning of Life

Making Sense of It All: PASCAL and the Meaning of Life

By Thomas V. Morris

Why this book?

You’ll have to work to find a copy of this book, but it will be worth your while. Morris is a brilliant philosopher (PhD from Yale, formerly on the faculty at Notre Dame) who has a flair for public speaking and accessible writing. (He wrote the Philosophy for Dummies book also.) In this volume, he champions the French scientific and philosophical genius Blaise Pascal to show the relevance of Pascal’s thought to our time and to our most pressing concerns.

From the list:

The best books to understand why smart people believe in Christianity

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Book cover of Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life

By Daniel C. Dennett

Why this book?

Easier to read than On the Origin of Species, this book connects Darwin’s overwhelmingly significant explanatory insight to the last fifty years of advance in our understanding of biology, psychology, social science, and the nature of the mind. Dennett is a brilliantly ingenious builder of images and metaphors that really enable you to grasp Darwin’s breakthrough, one at least as important as Newton’s and Einstein’s, but more relevant to understanding the meaning of life. 

From the list:

The best books for getting a grip on our reality

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Book cover of The Anxious Mind: An Investigation Into the Varieties and Virtues of Anxiety

The Anxious Mind: An Investigation Into the Varieties and Virtues of Anxiety

By Charlie Kurth

Why this book?

I enjoy being surprised by philosophical work on emotions. Kurth’s The Anxious Mind is full of unexpected insights into anxiety, an emotion that seems to have little to recommend it. But Kurth manages to persuade readers that we should actually be glad for the presence of anxiety in our lives. He explains how anxiety can enhance our performance and contribute to moral progress both individually and collectively. 

From the list:

The best philosophy books for dealing with difficult emotions

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Book cover of Medieval Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction

Medieval Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction

By John Marenbon

Why this book?

This is an engaging and wide-ranging survey of the topic written by one of the leading scholars of philosophy in medieval Latin Christendom. Marenbon actually wrote some earlier general introductions which were also very good. But I recommend this one because he casts a broader net, by looking at medieval philosophy not only in Christian Europe but in the Islamic world too.

From the list:

The best books that take a fresh approach to medieval philosophy

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Book cover of The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy

The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy

By Robert Pasnau

Why this book?

A deep dive into medieval philosophy with chapters by many of the leading scholars in the field. It’s arranged by philosophical topic rather than chronologically or by figure. But it also has a very detailed list of medieval philosophers providing their dates and indications for further reading. This is only one of several useful appendices: also included are lists of medieval translations of philosophy between different languages. So again this book invites readers to go beyond the usual suspects of Latin scholasticism like Abelard, Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham.

From the list:

The best books that take a fresh approach to medieval philosophy

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Book cover of Racism Postrace

Racism Postrace

By Roopali Mukerjee, Sarah Banet-Weiser, Herman Gray

Why this book?

A central idea of racial neoliberalism is the erasure of concepts referencing race, taking away the very terms by which racism can be identified and critically addressed. This is a condition that, with Obama’s election in 2008, became increasingly widely identified as “the postracial.” I find this edited volume more readily than others to provide trenchant analysis of the complex relations between the condition of the postracial and its rendering of racism less readily identifiable and more challenging to address.

From the list:

The best books spotlighting race and neoliberalization

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Book cover of Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History

Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History

By Immanuel Kant, David L. Colclasure

Why this book?

Immanuel Kant is often seen as a pure philosopher, one who was interested in abstract principles. He was that, but his essays on "Perpetual Peace" and especially his essay "Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Perspective" are literally the best things I have ever read, and have so much resonance for us today.

Democracies tend not to go to war as much as dictatorships because the people are likely to be the ones who are killed on the battlefield. In Kant’s time Frederick the Great was able to go to war whenever he wanted. Today, Vladimir Putin can…

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The best books for deep thinkers about politics, democracy, and philosophy

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Book cover of Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought

Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought

By Hannah Arendt, Jerome Kohn

Why this book?

Hannah Arendt is the most important political thinker of the post-totalitarian moment. While her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism is more well-known and became a bestseller again after the election of President Donald Trump, in this collection of essays she lays out her ideas about the way that the past helps us to locate ourselves in the present by imagining and reimagining our futures. This book was hugely influential for me during my graduate studies at Yale. Unlike so many political theorists, Arendt is also a wonderfully accessible and engaging writer.

From the list:

The best books on memory and postwar Europe

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Book cover of On Liberty

On Liberty

By John Stuart Mill

Why this book?

While the cover only lists John Stuart as the author, he acknowledged in his autobiography that the book was “directly and literally our joint production” with his wife Harriet. And certainly, the book has a different tone than ‘his’ other works; less academic, and more lively. Anyway, what they wanted to show was that the “only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at…

From the list:

The best books for deep thinkers about politics, democracy, and philosophy

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Book cover of Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany

Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany

By Matthew Hall

Why this book?

Matthew Hall’s book offers a good formulation of the problem—Western philosophy has treated plants as things, not as living beings—and a nice overview of alternative (non-Western and, above all, Indigenous) approaches to plants that do not fall into the same trap. I have on many occasions vehemently disagreed with Hall’s recommendations that we should treat plants as persons, not least because of the problematic (and, ironically, very Western) heritage of personhood. But it is a wonderful entry point into the topic of plants and philosophy.

From the list:

The best books on plants and philosophy

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Book cover of Thinking Plant Animal Human: Encounters with Communities of Differencevolume 56

Thinking Plant Animal Human: Encounters with Communities of Differencevolume 56

By David Wood

Why this book?

This book challenges us to leave behind the conventional distinctions and classifications that separate plants from animals and humans. Instead, Wood urges us to view different species and kingdoms from the standpoint of their collaborative being-with. Seemingly familiar realities, including human and vegetal realities, become strange, indeed, uncanny. Throughout, he focuses on plants—trees, above all—to illustrate the main point of his important study. Wood’s philosophical concern is similar to my own: he wishes to save plants from the unfair neglect, to which philosophers have historically submitted them, and to restore to them their rightful place in the history of life…

From the list:

The best books on plants and philosophy

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Book cover of Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero

Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero

By Charles Sprawson

Why this book?

This book is packed with fascinating, dramatic, and sometimes bizarre tales of swimming lore from history and literature. Sprawson is also fascinated with the swimming world’s legacy to Hollywood in the thirties and forties, exploring the careers of “aquamusical” star Esther Williams and Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who starred in a dozen Tarzan movies. Sprawson’s reputation as a literary writer about swimming is second only to that of Roger Deakins. What gives the book a strange fascination for many people is the fact that after the publication of Haunts of the Black Masseur, Sprawson never wrote another one.

From the list:

The best books about swimming for people who aren’t competitive swimmers

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Book cover of The Sacred and Profane

The Sacred and Profane

By Mircea Eliade

Why this book?

Mircea Eliade is one of the foremost historians of religion, The Sacred and the Profane is probably his most readable book. It clearly describes what traditional (oral) religions are like and how they differ from global (book) religions. Traditional religions provide critical background for understanding some contemporary ritual practices, but most importantly for me, traditional religions provide a context for understanding the emergence of secret societies. This will be a good read for anyone interested in traditional religions, whether native American, Australian, African, or pre-Christian Europe. I highly recommend it.

From the list:

The best books on secret societies in traditional cultures and how they changed the world

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Book cover of Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology

Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology

By Kim Sterelny, Paul E. Griffiths

Why this book?

This book is an engaging treatment of philosophical issues in biology, with a strong though not exclusive focus on evolution. Written by two leading practitioners, the book continues to be an excellent entry point into the subject despite being more than 20 years old. For any reader of my own book who wants more detail, Sterelny and Griffiths’ text is ideal. Chock full of real-life examples, the book offers an excellent model of how philosophy can engage with biology. Topics discussed include function and adaptation, reductionism, levels of selection, the “selfish gene” theory, and more. 

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The best books about the philosophy of evolution

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Book cover of Chance in Evolution

Chance in Evolution

By Grant Ramsey, Charles H. Pence

Why this book?

This collection of essays takes a different position to mine on the question of chance in evolution. This book boldly approaches the study of evolution with the assumption that there is a large element of chance, contingency, and randomness in the process. Bringing together biologists, and philosophers of science, it explores many aspects of the theory as well as its implications for the existence of life on earth, and especially for the emergence of Homo sapiens. Along the way, the authors tackle such topics as genetic drift, mutation, and parallel evolution. By engaging in collaboration across biology, history, philosophy,…

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The best books on religion, evolution, and chance

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

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

By Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann

Why this book?

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…

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The best books that will tell you everything you wanted to know about existentialism but were afraid to ask

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Book cover of A Little History of Philosophy

A Little History of Philosophy

By Nigel Warburton

Why this book?

Nietzsche said; “Today’s philosophers enjoy the divine principle of incomprehensibility.” This clearly written book takes the opposite tack. If you’re terrified of philosophy, this is the book for you. A great book to get the kids interested in the subject.

From the list:

The best books on philosophy and humanity’s search for meaning

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Book cover of Nicomachean Ethics

Nicomachean Ethics

By Aristotle, David Mills Daniel

Why this book?

This may not be the best place to start, but sooner or later you’ll want to land here. Aristotle’s view of a good life, one that involves developing virtuous ways of being, is surprisingly contemporary. And unlike a lot of contemporary philosophy, he has deep reflections on the role of friendship in creating a worthwhile life.

From the list:

The best books on what makes a life meaningful

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Book cover of Eastern Philosophy

Eastern Philosophy

By Mel Thompson

Why 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,…

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The best books for a long bike ride

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Book cover of Naming and Necessity

Naming and Necessity

By Saul A Kripke

Why this book?

This book, given as three lectures in 1970 by a 28-year-old wunderkind, made its author one of the greatest philosophers of our era.  Just as Russell transformed the philosophy of his day by demonstrating the significance of an advanced system logic he helped to found, so Kripke transformed the philosophy descending from Russell by inventing an expressively richer version logic, and illustrating its significance. This book, more than any other,  provided the starting point for contemporary metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. It is, nevertheless, remarkably accessible.  Delivered in a delightfully informal style, it presents ideas capable…

From the list:

The best books on western philosophy: what it is and how to do it

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Book cover of The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change

The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change

By Thomas S. Kuhn

Why this book?

The book is much better than his famous but often misread The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, because it gets down to detailed cases in physics, in which Kuhn was trained. Though he never accepted the term, it amounts to a “rhetoric” of physics, that is, a study of, in Aristotle’s definition, the available means of persuasion in a science or a court of law.

From the list:

The best books on the rhetoric of science (from a distinguished professor)

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Book cover of Cosmos

Cosmos

By Carl Sagan

Why this book?

I read Cosmos when I was young and it inspired the love of science I still carry today. I found Sagan’s musings about the pale blue dot mesmerizing, and the science was thrilling. I ended up going to Space Camp when I was 14 and Governor’s School for Physics when I was 16 to further my scientific knowledge. When I wrote A Paradox of Fates, I used some of the science I learned in Governor’s School to explain time travel, which has always been a fascinating subject to me.

From the list:

The best books for fellow science dorks

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Book cover of A History of Western Philosophy

A History of Western Philosophy

By Bertrand Russell

Why this book?

Whatever those deep questions are that you have, somebody’s already thought about them, and this masterwork of a book will show you that you’re not alone. In fact, you’re thinking and feeling the same way women and men did a couple thousand years ago – and some very wise individuals have thought through what you’re thinking through. This book will change your life and your mind. You have to be patient, but it’s worth it. Read three pages (no more) a day, every day. Plan on sticking with this for more than a year, then do so. Use a highlighter…
From the list:

The best books to help you find your place in the world

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Book cover of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

By Donald Robertson

Why this book?

Part biography, part self-help book, Donald Robertson draws on his own professional experience as a psychotherapist to draw out of the Meditations a series of practical techniques that people can use today. For readers new to Marcus Aurelius, this book is a great place to start, introducing the man himself, the Stoic philosophy on which he drew, and shows how people might draw on and make use of ideas in the Meditations in their own lives.

From the list:

The best books on Marcus Aurelius and his desire to live a good life

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Book cover of Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art

Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art

By Susanne K. Langer

Why this book?

Susanne K. Langer was a philosopher of aesthetics, and a specialist in the nature of symbolism and language. This classic book, dedicated to Alfred North Whitehead, contains her now somewhat famous distinction between “presentational forms” and “discursive forms,” which refers, roughly to symbolism such as sculpture and architecture which present much-at-once, and symbolism such as music and language which disclose their meaning linearly over time. She also brilliantly lays out her views on “Language,” where in a chapter by that name, she critiques instinct theories, challenges naïve views, and speculates on how human beings are evolutionary descendants of singing, dancing,…

From the list:

The best books for grasping how language and symbols relate to the human condition

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Book cover of Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage

Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage

By Stanley Cavell

Why this book?

Cavell writes like no one else, and it took me some time before I could catch on, initially through his writing about Wittgenstein. I first heard his name years earlier, from a fellow American studying with me at Oxford. We were both attending what proved to be an intolerably boring and disheartening course on aesthetics. Having a cup of tea after abandoning the course, my new friend told me that his teacher at Harvard, Stanley Cavell, offered a brighter, more hopeful and imaginative version of what might be called aesthetics than the one we were presented with. He was right,…

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The best books about philosophy and human life

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Book cover of The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

By Alan Watts

Why this book?

In my own book, The Buddha in the Classroom, I tell the story of my fortuitous and life-changing first encounter with this book, while in my first year of college. Foreshadowing my career as a teacher of eastern philosophy, it lit the fire of my ongoing interest in Zen and had a profound impact on my personal journey into meditation. I sensed that the ironic title held some precious secret. I would discover, within its pages, the magic that happens when we learn to lean into the unknown, rather than fight against it. Indeed, the search for assuredness in…

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The best books to take with you on a spiritual journey

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Book cover of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

By Thomas S. Kuhn

Why this book?

Perhaps one of the greatest books ever written. Kuhn is one of the most brilliant thinkers in human history, the creator of the word “paradigm.” This book examines how science progresses over time, one worldview replacing another. More significantly, Kuhn argued that defenders of the current paradigm resist any challenge to its tenets to maintain respect and privilege. In short, science is limited by human insecurity and ego. I found this book to be imperative to any understanding of how the world works. 

From the list:

The best books about reality and destiny

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Book cover of What Is Zen?

What Is Zen?

By D.T. Suzuki

Why this book?

As I began my search to make some kind of sense of my life, I started with philosophy and moved to religion. When I came across this book, I intuitively sensed that the author knew what I wanted to know. I had no idea what he was talking about but my heart sang with every page. This was my first experience of being taken to the “place” from which the author wrote. Reading it was like sitting at the feet of the Master, aware of a lack of comprehension while witnessing a living example of what the heart intuitively knows.

From the list:

The best books about Zen awareness practice

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Book cover of A Field Guide to a Happy Life: 53 Brief Lessons for Living

A Field Guide to a Happy Life: 53 Brief Lessons for Living

By Massimo Pigliucci

Why this book?

A Field Guide to a Happy Life is an outstanding example of what a modern Stoic book can and should be. Pigliucci has taken the famous Handbook (Enchiridion) of the Roman Stoic teacher, Epictetus, and reworked it to reflect a more modern approach to the philosophy. As such, this field guide is a portable, practical guide to applying Stoic wisdom in your day to day life.

What I most appreciate about A Field Guide to a Happy Life is that the author’s update of the philosophy is clearly described in a later section of the book. This allows the reader…

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The best books on practicing Stoicism

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Book cover of Eight Bookes of the Peloponnesian Warre

Eight Bookes of the Peloponnesian Warre

By Thomas Hobbes, David Grene

Why this book?

There are lots of excellent modern translations of Thucydides (I tend to recommend either the Oxford World Classics edition by Martin Hammond or the CUP one by Jeremy Mynott), and Hobbes’ version, the first proper translation into English, is not the easiest place to start, not least because at times you effectively have to translate it out of seventeenth-century English. It is powerfully and elegantly written, and above all it offers the spectacle of one great thinker on matters of politics and war engaging with another – you can almost feel Hobbes developing his own ideas (some of which later…

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The best books to understand Thucydides

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Book cover of The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

By Jean-Jacques Rousseau, J. Cohen

Why this book?

The granddaddy of literary autobiography and biography, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions was written in 1769 but published posthumously in 1782. Rousseau, whose pioneering Romantic political philosophy was by then already influential, was setting out to do something equally new when he decided to study human nature, taking as his experimental model the human he knew best – himself. The rollicking result, sometimes self-flagellating, occasionally exhibitionist, deviates from its own model, St Augustine’s fourth-century religious-philosophical Confessions, in being chock-full of what nowadays we call emotional intelligence.

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The best literary biographies

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Book cover of Time and Chance

Time and Chance

By David Z. Albert

Why this book?

I vividly remember reading this book some years ago. You probably don’t remember it at all, even if you’re going to take my advice and read it tomorrow. That’s pretty odd when you think about. Why should we remember the past but not the future?

It does no good to echo platitudes like “the future hasn’t happened yet”. You could as well say “the past is already over”, which is equally true and equally irrelevant. The laws of physics tie the past to the present and the future to the present in exactly the same way. Any process that can…

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The best books on the biggest questions

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Book cover of The Moral Problem

The Moral Problem

By Michael Smith

Why this book?

There are a lot of great books about metaethics and a lot of great books about reasons, but this book nabs my top recommendation because Smith makes the topics so deceptively easy to get into and start thinking about. This is the book that I wrote my undergraduate senior thesis on that got me into studying and writing about philosophy for a living, and it is also one of the key books that everyone in my generation in my field grew up thinking about and reacting to. It also has a great balance between an overarching project that spans all…

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The best books about reasons in ethics

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Book cover of What Is Global History?

What Is Global History?

By Sebastian Conrad

Why this book?

So, what, exactly is this ‘world’ or ‘global history’? Authors slap the two words on their books, universities offer new courses in it, and government officials across the planet now speak of ‘global this’ and ‘global that’. One could be forgiven for throwing up one’s hands in exasperation for failing to understand what exactly these two words mean. That is until Sebastian Conrad published this gem of a book aptly entitled: What is Global History? Yes, it’s a bit academic, but it’s also clearly written, logically organized, and succeeds brilliantly in explaining what global history is and is not…

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The best books on empires in world history

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Book cover of Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe

Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe

By Brian Greene

Why this book?

This book covers a dizzying array of human thought: Greene’s trademark is physics, of course – but in this wildly ambitious work, the Columbia University physicist also dives into evolution, the origins of human culture, the origins of art and music and religion – even the puzzle of consciousness and the paradox of free will. He tackles the deepest of questions – including the problem of finding “meaning” in a universe governed only by the laws of physics. Be prepared to go slow. Your brain will get a workout – but it will be worth every minute of your time.

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The best books about the universe for people who want the big picture

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Book cover of Fun, Taste, & Games: An Aesthetics of the Idle, Unproductive, and Otherwise Playful

Fun, Taste, & Games: An Aesthetics of the Idle, Unproductive, and Otherwise Playful

By John Sharp, David Thomas

Why this book?

This under-appreciated book by two professors revolves around theories of play, why we play games, how we play them, and what it all means to the world. As they look at everything from Meow Wolf's exhibitions to Monopoly to Myst to Portal, they see that as beauty was to art, fun is to play and games. The work begins as they quote Gombrich, who says "The idea of fun is even more unpopular among us than the notion of beauty." Each of these chapters, as they roll together as one, magically juggle the varied theories of games as art and…

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The best video game narrative histories and a couple of others

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Book cover of A Treatise of Human Nature

A Treatise of Human Nature

By David Hume

Why this book?

When I wrote Rationality, I mentioned Hume 32 times. He didn’t think of everything, but he explained an astonishing range of topics related to rationality, including causation versus correlation, is versus ought, and individual versus collective self-interest. His follow-up, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, explained why we shouldn’t believe in miracles. He explored all of these topics with clarity and wit, putting modern academic writing to shame.
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The best books on rationality and why it matters

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Book cover of Buddhism Plain and Simple: The Practice of Being Aware Right Now, Every Day

Buddhism Plain and Simple: The Practice of Being Aware Right Now, Every Day

By Steve Hagen

Why this book?

This was the first book I ever read that changed my life. It came along at a time when I felt I was missing something. I didn’t know a lot about Buddhism at the time, and therefore didn’t recognize that what I was feeling was a universal phenomenon and that the Noble Eightfold Path was a secular template for contentment. I have read many other Buddhist books since then, but none of them have spoken to me like this one did. I have a notebook that contains entire passages of Buddhism Plain and Simple, and regularly refer back to those…

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The best books for finding your own philosophy of life

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Book cover of The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics

The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics

By Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Alastair Smith

Why this book?

Bueno de Mesquita and Smith emphasize the desire of leaders to seek political survival after all else. The authors show how democratic and autocratic leaders respond to the political institutions that they are embedded in, by having systemically distinct policy proclivities. The academic version of the theory is in their book The Logic of Political Survival. The Dictators’ Handbook is the version meant for popular consumption. It is full of examples of leaders making policy choices that benefit their political survival at the expense of their own people who they profess to rule for. I assign the book to…

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The best books on using foreign aid to do good in a realistic way

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Book cover of I and Thou

I and Thou

By Martin Buber

Why this book?

Bold in its simplicity, Buber communicates the importance of being in the present, recognizing the Divine in each and every human interaction. Rather than a “me and you” conversation, he explains how human communication should be “I and thou.”

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The best books that have changed my way of viewing the world

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Book cover of Relativity Visualized

Relativity Visualized

By Lewis Carroll Epstein

Why this book?

Relativity Visualized is simply the secret weapon for understanding Einstein’s theory of relativity. Professor of physics Lewis Carroll Epstein uses brilliant, accessible visualizations (and no equations!) to help any reader to a good conceptual grasp of special and general relativity. If you want relativity without the math, this is the one.

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The best books on time and our perception of time

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Book cover of In Defense of History

In Defense of History

By Richard J. Evans

Why this book?

This book is a reflection on the nature of historical research and the perils of history in the postmodern age. An influential current in the study of history has abandoned the aspiration of getting close to the truth and accepts ideologically motivated accounts of the past as equally valuable narratives. The repercussions of the controversy on ‘post-truth’ reach far beyond the limits of the academic world and are ubiquitous in contemporary Western society. Richard J. Evans knows that from his own experience, having served as an expert witness in Irwing v Penguin Books and Lipstadt libel case, relating to Holocaust…
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The best books on how historians work

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Book cover of The Direction of Time

The Direction of Time

By Hans Reichenbach

Why this book?

Most academics have played the game David Lodge calls “Humiliations” in his novel Changing Places: you have to list books that you should have read but didn’t, the more scandalous the better. For a while, Reichenbach’s book was my go-to. I was writing my PhD on the direction of time but hadn’t read Reichenbach. Because it was old I figured I indirectly knew everything in it. Holy moly was I wrong! Not only is The Direction of Time the first serious blend of good philosophy and physics tackling the direction of time — plus a great example of the…

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The best books on time for people who love physics and deep thinking

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Book cover of Astrology: A Cosmic Science: The Classic Work on Spiritual Astrology

Astrology: A Cosmic Science: The Classic Work on Spiritual Astrology

By Isabel M. Hickey

Why this book?

Isabelle Hickey is no longer alive, but she managed to combine astrology, metaphysics, and her psychic gifts into a beautiful whole. This book deals more with the philosophy of astrology rather than the nuts and bolts. A beginner won’t learn how to cast a Horoscope from this book, but will understand more of the cosmic and philosophical infrastructure.
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The best books on astrology for beginners

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Book cover of Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience

Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience

By Sally Satel, Scott O. Lilienfeld

Why this book?

This was a much-needed cautionary examination of the increasing hype about neuroscience. Following a period in which neuroscience suddenly became a pop culture phenomenon, Brainwashed aims to tamp things down. The book takes issue with how mainstream media trumpeted studies that supposedly show how the brain “lights up” when we kiss, listen to music or engage in other activities. Satel and Lilienfied explain what brain scans and neuroscientific reports really reveal and don’t reveal.

From the list:

The best books that make neuroscience interesting for non-scientists

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Book cover of Ignorance: How It Drives Science

Ignorance: How It Drives Science

By Stuart Firestein

Why this book?

How does science actually work? In the quest for understanding nature, taking the brain as an example, scientists are traditionally believed to carry out experiments to accumulate new facts which added together reveal new knowledge. Stuart Firestein puts forth a revolutionary view: that piling new facts one on the other is not how scientists work. Progress is measured in how far each step is able to remove our ignorance of that aspect of nature, and how much new ignorance it reveals that stimulates the next efforts along the way.

Firestein highlights this view with real-life stories of how four scientists…

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The best books for understanding the brain and behavior

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Book cover of Matter and Desire: An Erotic Ecology

Matter and Desire: An Erotic Ecology

By Andreas Weber

Why this book?

This book stopped me being scared of death – well almost. It is a wonderful read about how we are embodied creatures of planet Earth. Our very being is relationship. Take breathing for example. As you sit there you breathe in oxygen, nitrogen, and a little carbon dioxide. When you breathe out you release extra carbon dioxide – with that carbon coming from your body itself. You gift a little of your being in exchange for the oxygen - fragments that may end up in that tree outside your window. Once we understand that exchange is the essence of life,…

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The best books on living well together

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Book cover of Finite and Infinite Games

Finite and Infinite Games

By James Carse

Why this book?

After the first edition of Psychology for a Better World was published, I was on the search for a symbol or metaphor to capture the drive of so many people to contribute to the common good. It needed to be something that worked in secular settings and would resonate with the big social movements for the environment, justice, and wellbeing. I heard Carse speak about the infinite game on a podcast and immediately bought his book.

The notion is simple – in life, there are at least two kinds of games: finite games in which the object is to win,…

From the list:

The best books on living well together

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Book cover of The Climate of History in a Planetary Age

The Climate of History in a Planetary Age

By Dipesh Chakrabarty

Why this book?

I love how Dipesh’s book shows a historian at the height of his powers explaining how history has become geological. Decades ago, Chakrabarty began as someone arguing for a history that made Europe “provincial”. Now he argues that all human history is relative to planetary time. His writing is infused with humanism and is up to date on Earth System Science.

From the list:

The best books on how we got here with climate change and mass extinction – and where to go

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Book cover of A Field Guide to Getting Lost

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

By Rebecca Solnit

Why this book?

Feeling lost as a writer—or as a person? Good! Instead of having an anxiety attack, it helps to reimagine that feeling as a kind of diving board into the deep end of transformation. Solnit: “Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration—how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?” Which is all a fancy way of saying: It’s our job to be lost. Solnit inspired the line in my book, “If you suddenly feel like you’re walking in the dark, then you’re in…

From the list:

The best non-songwriting books for songwriters

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Book cover of Yoga: Immortality and Freedom

Yoga: Immortality and Freedom

By Mircea Eliade, Willard R. Trask

Why this book?

This book provides a historical overview of yoga philosophy and psychology and is a great introduction to the study of yoga. It was originally written in French by Mircea Eliade, who became the dean of Religious Studies all over the world, for decades training graduate students at the University of Chicago. The book is now a little dated on certain topics such as tantra and the yogic practices of Buddhism. Nevertheless, it stands as the preëminent classic in the field of yoga studies. It has a bouncy but elegant style and has been a favorite in the courses I have…

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The best books on yoga philosophy and psychology

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Book cover of Maro Up: The Secret to Success Begins with Arigato: Wisdom from the “Warren Buffet of Japan”

Maro Up: The Secret to Success Begins with Arigato: Wisdom from the “Warren Buffet of Japan”

By Janet Bray Attwood, Ken Honda

Why this book?

Known as the Warren Buffer of Japan, Wahei Takeda was a billionaire and investor living in Japan that passed away in 2016. He had a philosophy of life that built upon the concept of gratitude. A mentor of mine met and studied with this man, and he shared that every day, every day, he has a practice of giving 1,000 gratitude. Not figuratively, but honestly, living in a state of gratitude. I have tried this and go back to the practice of giving 1,000 when I need to shake myself out of a rut. It’s transformational, and it’s hard.…

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The best books that get you thinking

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Book cover of Philosophy of Physics: Quantum Theory

Philosophy of Physics: Quantum Theory

By Tim Maudlin

Why this book?

When a world-class philosopher of physics is also a spectacularly gifted writer, you have the makings of an extraordinary book. This book offers a comprehensive introduction to various interpretations of quantum mechanics, while Maudlin's companion volume on the philosophy of space and time is equally highly recommended. Maudlin is a (very) opinionated guide, which makes these books even more valuable (and enjoyable to read). I especially enjoy Maudlin’s refusal to tolerate any of the nonsense that one often finds in quantum mechanics textbooks that depict the “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum mechanics as indeed a genuine interpretation of quantum mechanics. Rather,…

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The best books about the philosophy of physics

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Book cover of Philosophical Concepts in Physics: The Historical Relation Between Philosophy and Scientific Theories

Philosophical Concepts in Physics: The Historical Relation Between Philosophy and Scientific Theories

By James T. Cushing

Why this book?

This book is a beautiful discussion of a theme that runs through my book as well: the intimate relations between conceptual innovations in physics and developments in philosophy. Cushing (a longtime professor of physics and philosophy at Notre Dame) organizes his survey historically and aims to show how time and time again, metaphysical and epistemological considerations have played important roles in scientific advances. I don’t believe that there is a sharp distinction between physics and the philosophy of physics. Cushing’s elegant and accessible book bears this out.

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The best books about the philosophy of physics

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Book cover of Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution

Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution

By Raya Dunayevskaya

Why this book?

Dunayevskaya’s Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. This book contained the first-ever analysis of Luxemburg as feminist, the first widely disseminated analysis of gender in Marx’s late Ethnological Notebooks, and a hard-hitting discussion of feminism, race, and revolution that pulled no punches in terms of critiquing dominant forms of feminism, especially in the U.S. The treatment of the late Marx featured a searing critique of Engels’s economistic reductionism on women’s liberation, and this was followed up by unstinting critiques of Lenin and Trotsky as well as Luxemburg herself on the failures of what Dunayevskaya termed…

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The best philosophy and social theory books

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Book cover of Marx's Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism

Marx's Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism

By Peter Hudis

Why this book?

This is the first study ever of Marx on communism/socialism, a topic that is often considered something he refrained from writing about. Hudis ingeniously marshals a huge body of writings – on Proudhon, Lassalle, and others – where Marx elaborates his own concept of socialism/communism in the course of critiquing what he sees as vastly inadequate concepts. In so doing, Hudis connects these issues to dialectics and to economics, and above all to the critique of both capital and the state, here not even sparing Lenin’s classic work, State and Revolution.

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The best philosophy and social theory books

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Book cover of A Cabinetmaker's Notebook

A Cabinetmaker's Notebook

By James Krenov

Why this book?

Many would say Krenov’s approach stands in strong contrast to Frid’s books. Krenov’s books contain much valuable practical information, but I believe the great value of this book is in his attitude toward his work. It is— and I know this is an overused word — but I think it is inspirational.  He speaks clearly and in-depth about his approach to and interaction with his materials; their interplay with design and function; how the physical act of doing the work affects it; his attitude towards time, energy, genuineness, and patronage, and achieving the highest levels of art, craft, and satisfaction.…

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The best books to kick your woodworking up a notch

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Book cover of Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism

Black Rights/White Wrongs: The Critique of Racial Liberalism

By Charles W. Mills

Why this book?

Charles Mills was a giant in contemporary political theory and is perhaps best known for his book The Racial Contract. In his most recent book, Black Rights/White Wrongs, Mills interrogates what he calls “racial liberalism” and the racist underpinnings of modern liberal theory. What I think is most remarkable about this book, though, is its further attempt to reconstruct a “radical liberalism” meant to address issues of racial justice. This book has been a major influence on me in the way I think about and imagine the limits and possibilities of liberalism as a tradition.

From the list:

The best books on liberalism and politics

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Book cover of We Have Never Been Modern

We Have Never Been Modern

By Bruno Latour, Catherine Porter

Why this book?

Is it possible to write a sophisticated and high-stakes philosophical tract but remain engaging, accessible, and humorous? Latour shows it can be done. Reading him makes one young and agile again. Along the way, you learn urgent lessons about how to mend the catastrophic mental divide between the human and the natural world. 

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The best books against writers’ block

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Book cover of Being and Nothingness

Being and Nothingness

By Jean-Paul Sartre

Why 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…

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The best books on humans and other animals

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Book cover of Quantum Non-Locality and Relativity: Metaphysical Intimations of Modern Physics

Quantum Non-Locality and Relativity: Metaphysical Intimations of Modern Physics

By Tim Maudlin

Why this book?

This is a wonderful and highly convincing analysis of quantum non-locality, written by one of the top expert philosophers of science. Personally, I learned a lot from this book, which clearly influenced me and helped me to become an expert in the field. The book goes deep into explaining why we live in a world full of non-local correlations and what that means. It analyses in depth the tension between quantum non-locality and relativity. Moreover, it contains several original ideas, like, e.g., how many bits of communication are needed to simulate quantum non-locality. It is still today a very timely…

From the list:

The best book on nonlocality, teleportation, and other quantum marvels

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Book cover of How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy

How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy

By Julian Baggini

Why this book?

Is philosophy a strictly western phenomenon, a stream of thinking that originated roughly in early sixth-century BCE Greece and flowed through forward the Roman Empire, Islamic culture, and into western modernity? Does it do a kind of violence to force the intellectual achievements of other traditions into a western philosophia-shaped box? Or is it more accurate to say that philosophy has flowered all over the world – in India, China, Africa, Australia, the Americas, and elsewhere? This book makes a compelling case for the latter. It helped introduce me to arguably philosophical traditions of thought all over the world…

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The best books for starting out in philosophy

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Book cover of Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

By Max Tegmark

Why this book?

This book looks into a distant future when machines are much more capable than humans of doing absolutely everything. How do we ensure humanity continues to flourish? Max is a physicist and he thinks on a much longer time scale than the rest of us. But he does so in an entertaining and provocative way.
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The best books about artificial intelligence (and what they tell us about human intelligence)

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Book cover of Naked: The Dark Side of Shame and Moral Life

Naked: The Dark Side of Shame and Moral Life

By Krista K. Thomason

Why this book?

Like many emotions, shame seems like a double-edged sword. Shame seems to notify us that we haven’t lived up to our own ideals – that we’re not the people we thought or hoped we were. But shame has, as Thomason carefully delineates, a dark side: Shame can lead us to withdraw from the world in order not to be seen, and too often shame is a precursor to self-destructive behaviors. Naked ultimately argues that we need shame despite these drawbacks. Thomason’s book is also among the very best of recent books to use philosophical tools to investigate social media; her…

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The best philosophy books for dealing with difficult emotions

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Book cover of Political Loneliness: Modern Liberal Subjects in Hiding

Political Loneliness: Modern Liberal Subjects in Hiding

By Jennifer Gaffney

Why this book?

We live in a very interconnected world, and yet loneliness is rampant. How can that be? Gaffney’s Political Loneliness helps us see that today’s loneliness is the byproduct of our specific political moment. Modern political life, she argues, alienates us from one other and fosters anonymity while also priming us to value belonging and inclusion. Gaffney’s purpose is less to offer us advice about how we can overcome this ‘political loneliness’ on an individual level. Rather, her uncomfortable message is that, with respect to loneliness at least, the personal is indeed the political, and she warns us that many will…

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The best philosophy books for dealing with difficult emotions

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Book cover of Aristotle's Politics

Aristotle's Politics

By Aristotle, Carnes Lord

Why this book?

Reading Aristotle is easier than you might think. Even those who are not able to read him in the original Greek cannot fail to be enamoured by his enthusiasm. What is so fascinating about Aristotle’s Politika (in English normally translated as The Politics) is the way this enormously erudite man got carried away babbling and digressing in his lectures. Aristotle, simply, could not help but tell his students about a certain Hippodamus (“the son of Eryphon”). This 5th Century BC Athenian was, “the first man not engaged in politics to speak on the subject of the best Constitution,”…

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The best books for deep thinkers about politics, democracy, and philosophy

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Book cover of Ta T’ung Shu: The One-World Philosophy of Kang Yu-Wei

Ta T’ung Shu: The One-World Philosophy of Kang Yu-Wei

By Kang Yu-Wei

Why this book?

This is modern China’s only full-fledged utopia (mostly written about 1900)—explaining how humanity gradually evolves to get rid of the “boundaries” dividing us by nation, class, race, and gender. It may take thousands of years, but history will create a truly democratic and equal society. Children will be raised in public nurseries, couples, including homosexuals, will enter into one-year (renewable) contracts. In thousands of years, the boundaries separating the species and even the gods will dissolve as well.

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The best books on utopianism east and west

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Book cover of God, Value, and Nature

God, Value, and Nature

By Fiona Ellis

Why this book?

Many people think that modern science shows the cosmos to be an impersonal process, devoid of meaning and value. In this intricate and ground-breaking study, Fiona Ellis puts forward an ‘expansive naturalism’ that challenges contemporary atheist orthodoxy, and it led me to rethink the supposed opposition between the ‘natural’ and the divine.

From the list:

The best books on the human search for meaning

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Book cover of First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

By Richard Bode

Why this book?

Richard Bode’s pocket-sized memoir was given to me by a college friend, shortly after our graduation (as I write this, that was about three decades ago, and I still have this little book on my shelf within reach). It’s got water and sailing (both of which I love), but more importantly, it’s also chock-full of life lessons—without being preachy or overbearing. In the end, you realize that you can plot your own course, adapt to the shifts of wind and waves (Bode’s metaphor for life), and become your own hero.

From the list:

The best books for heroes that we can relate to

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Book cover of What Is Existentialism? Vol. I: History & Principles

What Is Existentialism? Vol. I: History & Principles

By Frank Scalambrino

Why this book?

After extensive research, this is the only book in existence that answers the question: What is existentialism? Existentialism may be understood as the correct point of departure for addressing the philosophy of being as it relates to the individual. In other words, existentialism provides the philosophical framework with which to answer the question: What does it mean to be?

Existentialism is the culmination of the philosophical tradition moving from Kant through the German Romantics to Heidegger and Sartre, among the other existentialists. In regard to Kant’s division, it differs from Deleuze’s choice to articulate transcendental philosophy with cosmology as the…

From the list:

The best philosophical metaphysics books: What is be-ing? & What does it mean to be?

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Book cover of The Philosophy of Social Evolution

The Philosophy of Social Evolution

By Jonathan Birch

Why this book?

The study of how natural selection shapes social behaviour is an important sub-branch of evolutionary biology, but one that has been mired in controversy. Much of this controversy concerns "altruistic’’ behaviours, that is, behaviours that are costly for an organism to perform but benefit others, such as defending one’s colony from attack. Birch’s book offers a deft analysis of the seemingly intractable debates over social evolution, bringing considerable conceptual clarity. Topics discussed include the status of kin selection theory, Hamilton’s rule, cultural evolution, and the idea that a multicelled organism is itself a social group composed of cells.

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The best books about the philosophy of evolution

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Book cover of Evidence and Evolution

Evidence and Evolution

By Elliott Sober

Why this book?

This ambitious book, written by a distinguished philosopher, is a contribution to what might be called the “epistemology of evolutionary biology.” Sober starts by offering a general analysis of the concept of evidence based on probability theory, then applies this analysis to issues in the theory of evolution. He explains why the evidence favours evolution over the hypothesis of “intelligent design,” then tackles the thorny methodological problem of how to infer evolutionary history from observations on contemporary species. Though difficult, the book is clearly written and repays close study.

From the list:

The best books about the philosophy of evolution

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Book cover of Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection

Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection

By Peter Godfrey-Smith

Why this book?

This short, clearly written book offers a penetrating analysis of the foundations of evolutionary biology. Godfrey-Smith develops a novel conceptual framework for understanding evolution based on the concept of a “Darwinian population,” which refers to any collection of entities capable of evolving by natural selection, and a “Darwinian individual,” which is a member of such a population. He uses this framework to shed light on topics including reproduction, symbiosis, culture, and transitions between levels of organization. The book is a perfect illustration of why science sometimes needs philosophy.

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The best books about the philosophy of evolution

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Book cover of Concluding Unscientific Postscript

Concluding Unscientific Postscript

By Søren Kierkegaard, Walter Lowrie, Joseph Campbell

Why this book?

How many bibliographical jokes have you ever heard, well, read? This book has jokes in its Table of Contents, its title, its sub-title—in the author attribution! And at the end, the Postscript to this Postscript takes the entire thing back—twice!—although, as Kierkegaard says, to write something and take it back is not the same as not writing it. He wants to affect the reader, not just pass along abstruse theories. Kierkegaard criticizes the basic mindset of philosophy that pretends to have a God’s-eye view of reality when really we’re forced to make decisions of crucial importance, in precarious circumstances, with…

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The best books that will tell you everything you wanted to know about existentialism but were afraid to ask

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Book cover of In the Land of the Cyclops

In the Land of the Cyclops

By Karl Ove Knausgaard

Why this book?

Nietzsche said; “Art is the supreme task, the truly metaphysical activity in this life.” The relationship between life and art has always been a tough issue. Even more so today, in our unsettling age of post-truth and celebrity culture. Knausgaard writes not to provide answers, but to teach us to ask the proper questions of the time we live in.

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The best books on philosophy and humanity’s search for meaning

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Book cover of Beyond Good And Evil

Beyond Good And Evil

By Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Why this book?

Nietzsche’s recommendation that we leave morality behind and seek to create ourselves by overcoming who we currently are is not for everyone. A friend of mine once described Nietzsche’s entire philosophy as kicking you in the head and saying, “Wake up!” He’s always engaging even when he’s maddening.

From the list:

The best books on what makes a life meaningful

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Book cover of Against Method: Outline of an Anarchist Theory of Knowledge

Against Method: Outline of an Anarchist Theory of Knowledge

By Paul Feyerabend

Why this book?

Read it to jolt you out of thinking that there is a Scientific Method like the one you heard about in high school chemistry. Feyerabend was trained as a physicist, and knew how scientists actually argue, as he shows here in a startling analysis of Galileo’s Dialogue.

From the list:

The best books on the rhetoric of science (from a distinguished professor)

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Book cover of Qu'Est­Ce Que le Bouddhisme

Qu'Est­Ce Que le Bouddhisme

By Jorge Luis Borges

Why this book?

A book in French, but the conferences of the author on the topic can easily be found on the Internet. Jorge Luis Borges is a key figure of the universal literature. Known for his erudition he explains Buddhism as no-one before and manage to catch the Buddhism essence and deep principles to explain it simply to our occidental minds.

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The best books on Buddhist philosophy, meditation, and mindfulness

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Book cover of Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius

Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius

By Stephen Hanselman, Ryan Holiday

Why this book?

We learn more through stories than through reading about abstract concepts. Lives of the Stoics is the story of the ancient Stoics. Who were they? How did they think? How did they live? If we want to live a Stoic life, then it helps us to know how other Stoics applied philosophy in their own lives: How did they face adversity? How did they handle betrayal? How did they handle prosperity? How did they deal with the ups and downs of life? The tone of the book is more informal and personal rather than authoritative. Yet this is one of…

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The best books on Stoicism for beginners

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Book cover of A Philosophical Investigation

A Philosophical Investigation

By Philip Kerr

Why this book?

THEME: Technically, this is not really a work of science fiction per se, even though it takes place in London 2013, twenty-one years before the book's publication. So it explores aspects of the future through a journey into the head of a serial killer and to the heart of murder itself. In the book, London at that time was a city where serial murder has reached epidemic proportions. To combat this raft of murders, the government has created a test to screen people for a predisposition to commit violent crimes. Tested at random, a man is shocked to hear that…

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The best psychological thrillers that will make you think

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Book cover of Change Your Mind: A practical guide to Buddhist meditation

Change Your Mind: A practical guide to Buddhist meditation

By Paramananda

Why this book?

More and more people are drawn to meditation but it’s easy to be confounded by all those books and online teachings. This book is a great way to start. A simple guide to Buddhist meditation – to what it means, and how to do it – it’s practical, clear, helpful, and short.

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The best books on Buddhism, meditation, and philosophy

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Book cover of Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius

By Ray Monk

Why this book?

Wittgenstein is the key philosopher of how what we do and what we think combine to give us a view of the world and a set of things we take for granted – our ‘form of life’.  It is almost impossibly hard to read his book, Philosophical Investigations and, in any case, philosophers disagree about what it means.  But Monk entertainingly and interestingly explains his ideas through his biography: he makes Wittgenstein’s later philosophy readily comprehensible. 

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The best books on making reality

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Book cover of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

By William B Irvine

Why this book?

This is perhaps my favorite book of all time. The author, William Irvine, does an excellent job distilling the wisdom of ancient Stoic philosophy and explaining why it’s still useful today. The most important idea in Stoicism is to focus on what’s within your control and let go of what’s not. But that’s far from everything I learned in this phenomenal book. It’s a treasure trove of timeless advice for taking control of your thoughts, emotions, and actions.

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The best books on how to develop self-discipline

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Book cover of Meditations

Meditations

By Marcus Aurelius, Martin Hammond

Why this book?

While riding on the New York subway one day, the young woman sitting next to me was reading from the so-called “Little Black Book” (a collection of daily thoughts often read by members of Alcoholics Anonymous). After closing the book, she pulled out this very edition of Marcus Aurelius and I could not help but comment to her that she had made a great choice. Not only does the theme of the “Serenity Prayer” go back to Stoics, but Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (literally titled “To Himself”) show the thoughtful and meditative side of Stoicism. In addition, Marcus Aurelius seems to…

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The best books on Stoicism through the eyes of a philosophy professor

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Book cover of Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life

Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life

By A.A. Long

Why this book?

Another Stoic classic. Written, again, in a highly accessible, conversational style. In fact, the only teachings by Epictetus that we know of today were recorded from his lectures by his disciple Arrian.  This book has given great solace to many people over the years. It is said that Frederick the Great never campaigned without it. And, the war hero Admiral James Stockdale credits Epictetus with helping him endure seven and a half years in a North Vietnamese military prison—including torture—and four years in solitary confinement. “No man is free who is not master of himself.”

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The best books about Stoicism and ancient Rome

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Book cover of Mouse Book Club

Mouse Book Club

By Mouse Book Club

Why this book?

Mouse books is an indie publisher in Chicago that prints limited-edition pocket-sized books mostly of the classics. Their mission is to get us reading a tiny book rather than surfing our phone when we are on the go. They operate on a subscription model with three books per quarter; and they host podcasts with experts on each book. In the latter half of 2020, they printed Epictetus’ Handbook (a.k.a. the Enchiridion) and hosted a conversation with me and Massimo Pigliucci. Although they publish plenty of material which is not on Stoicism, I consider them Stoic-related for the following reason: the…

From the list:

The best books on Stoicism through the eyes of a philosophy professor

Book cover of A Companion to Marcus Aurelius

A Companion to Marcus Aurelius

By Marcel van Ackeren

Why this book?

This is a large and expensive academic book containing over thirty chapters by different authors (disclaimer: two of them are by me). It’s perhaps not the sort of thing that a typical general reader is likely to buy. But taken together these chapters constitute the fullest discussion of Marcus Aurelius available in English and most questions that people are likely to have about Marcus or his philosophy are probably answered somewhere in its five hundred plus pages.

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The best books on Marcus Aurelius and his desire to live a good life

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Book cover of Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living In

Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living In

By Kai Whiting, Leonidas Konstantakos

Why this book?

Being Better is the best expression of the heart of Stoic philosophy that I have found in print. This is not a how-to book in the style of so many beginner’s manuals (including my own), but instead it is a meditation on the core principles of Stoicism. The authors challenge us to apply those principles in our own lives, so that we can join together in making the world a better place. Each chapter unveils a facet of the philosophy using the experiences of real people, both ancient and modern, as examples of how to apply Stoic thinking to hard…

From the list:

The best books on practicing Stoicism

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Book cover of World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence

World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence

By Stephen C. Pepper

Why this book?

Stephen Pepper’s central insight is that philosophical systems cluster around a few core models, or "world hypotheses," drawn from common sense. He ignores details and personalities, and uses very little quotes and citations. Instead, he presents the central tenets of each world view using his own terms. His style permits an understanding of the grand scheme of philosophy, abstracted from the details of particular positions. The book is like a series of colored spotlights cast on a complicated scene. Irrelevant details of various philosophical positions disappear like so many shades of blue under a blue spotlight. Fundamental differences leap out,…

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The best books on understanding and shaping reality

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Book cover of The Human Condition

The Human Condition

By Hannah Arendt

Why this book?

This book is not about the Stoics per se, but addresses the distinction between the public and private sphere, as it was understood by the ancient Greeks. In this respect, Arendt is addressing political concerns deep at the heart of Stoic philosophy: what does it mean to be a citizen? When and where am I a citizen? How essential is politics to the life of a human being?

From the list:

The best books on stoic themes, influence and inspiration

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Book cover of The View from Nowhere

The View from Nowhere

By Thomas Nagel

Why this book?

Perhaps my favourite philosophy book of all time. Humans have the unique ability to take a detached view of our lives and actions. Call this an objective perspective. Thomas Nagel argues that many of our philosophical problems – such as the attempt to understand free will, or consciousness – stem from a clash between the subjective and objective standpoints. For example, we believe (subjectively), that we are free, that we have free will, that we can raise our right arm, or choose whether or not to go to shopping. But from an objective perspective we might reflect that, like everything…

From the list:

The best philosophy books to read before you turn 25 (or after!)

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Book cover of The Vulnerable Observer

The Vulnerable Observer

By Ruth Behar

Why this book?

Ruth Behar is an academic, but this deeply personal book is nothing like your typical academic treatise. It’s part memoir, part essay collection, part manifesto for a more ethical – and more honest – way of recording the world and your own interactions with it. What Behar calls for is the “vulnerable observation” of the title: a recognition of the way your own personal and cultural baggage colours your way of seeing, and of the way that you, the writer, are always part of the story. What this leads to is the realisation that objectivity is not just unattainable, but…

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The best books that capture the complexities of writing about the real world

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Book cover of The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order

The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order

By Joan Wickersham

Why this book?

This striking, intense, and beautifully meditative book offers a daughter struggling to understand her father in the wake of his suicide. It’s structured, yes, like an index, which does nothing to dilute its immense emotional power. There’s a lot of love and anger in this book, yet it’s told with extraordinary calm and exemplary clarity. Simply put, The Suicide Index is one of the most inventive, affecting memoirs I’ve ever read—a drop-everything-and-read-this-now book if there ever was one.

From the list:

The best books about trying to understand your parents

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Book cover of The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays

The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays

By Isaiah Berlin

Why this book?

This is the book for readers who wish to sample Berlin’s kaleidoscopic, multidisciplinary work in a single volume across its whole range. It includes his most celebrated essays in philosophy, political theory, the history of ideas, and twentieth-century portraiture. His two most famous pieces, The Hedgehog and the Fox (on Tolstoy’s view of history) and Two Concepts of Liberty (on ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ political freedom), are here, as are his accounts of his formative meetings with the great Russian poets Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak, his impressions of Churchill and Roosevelt, and his pellucid accounts of romanticism and nationalism. The…

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The best books by and about Isaiah Berlin

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Book cover of The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

By Michael Strevens

Why this book?

Science has revolutionized the way we live and the way we understand reality, but what accounts for its success? What method sets science apart from other forms of inquiry and ensures that it yields ever-more accurate theories of the world? Strevens argues that the scientific method is not a special kind of logic, like deriving hypotheses from first principles or narrowing hypotheses through falsification, but a simple commitment to arguing with evidence. Strevens shows, with historical case studies, how this commitment is seemingly irrational, as it provides no constraints on what counts as evidence or how evidence should be interpreted,…

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The best books on the cognitive foundations of science

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Book cover of Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient

Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient

By Norman Cousins

Why this book?

This is the book that started the therapeutic humor movement. Cousins reveals how laughter helped him heal from a life-threatening illness. When he was diagnosed with a crippling and irreversible disease, he forged an unusual collaboration with his physician, and together they were able to beat the odds. This remarkable story of the triumph of the human spirit is truly inspirational reading.

From the list:

The best books on therapeutic humor & laughter

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Book cover of In Praise of Idleness: The Classic Essay with a New Introduction by Bradley Trevor Greive

In Praise of Idleness: The Classic Essay with a New Introduction by Bradley Trevor Greive

By Bertrand Russell

Why this book?

Published in 1932, this essay hails from an era long before side hustles, smartphones and social media. And yet it still feels fresh and relevant today. Russell saw the cult of work as a form of social control – you keep people down by keeping them working. His view that more time for leisure would create a kinder, gentler society chimes with the Slow philosophy. In Praise of Idleness is a delicious paean to the art of doing things – or nothing at all – for the sheer joy of it.

From the list:

The best books on slowness

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Book cover of Zen Meditation in Plain English

Zen Meditation in Plain English

By John Daishin Buksbazen

Why this book?

I love this book and find myself rereading it each year. It is the first book I recommend for my students and for anyone who is curious about the practice of Zen. Daishin has a depth of practice with a tenderness and love for the practice that is palpable. 

From the list:

The best books for an introduction to Zen

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Book cover of A Relational Theory of World Politics

A Relational Theory of World Politics

By Yaqing Qin

Why this book?

Qin is the former president of China Foreign Affairs University and China’s foremost thinker on international relationships. This book is not an easy read, but it is worth the effort because Qin presents an original perspective on world affairs that is rooted in Chinese intellectual traditions. In contrast to current theories of international relations, Qin emphasizes the importance of relationships over transactions—attention to managing long-term, particular connections rather than “the art of the deal.” In addition, he describes a dialectic based on the mutual transformation of opposites—a yin-yang relationship—rather than the usual Western assumption of separate categories. Qin is a…

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The best books on China perspectives

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Book cover of Spinoza on Reason, Passions, and the Supreme Good

Spinoza on Reason, Passions, and the Supreme Good

By Andrea Sangiacomo

Why this book?

This is another important contribution to our understanding of Spinoza as a moral philosopher. It is a denser read than the first three books, but fascinating nonetheless for those already with a little Spinoza under their belt. Rather than concentrating on just the latter parts of the Ethics, where most scholars interested in Spinoza’s moral philosophy focus and where we find the mature discussion of the “free person” who lives under the “guidance of reason”, Sangiacomo is especially concerned with the evolution of Spinoza’s moral thought from his earliest writings to his final, uncompleted work. He considers tensions within,…

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The best mostly recent books on Spinoza

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Book cover of Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

By Kwame Anthony Appiah

Why this book?

The idea of cosmopolitanism goes back to ancient Greece when the ancient philosopher Diogenes the Cynic claimed that his home—his city or his polis—was the cosmos as a whole.

In this humane, wise book, Appiah brings together philosophy, literature, and stories from his own life to update the ancient idea of cosmopolitanism, and to ask why it matters today. Along the way, he sets out a vision for how we can live better—more openly and more hospitably—in a world where almost everybody we meet is a stranger.

From the list:

The best books about hospitality and the art of dealing with strangers

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Book cover of Collected Fictions

Collected Fictions

By Jorge Luis Borges, Andrew Hurley

Why this book?

Time plays an explicit or implicit role in numerous of Borges's texts. Through his essays and fiction, he explores questions such as the possibility of changing the past, the direction of time, Zeno's paradoxes, etc. For me, The Secret Miracle is especially fascinating, since in many ways it offers a concrete manifestation of Bergson's philosophy. The protagonist experiences two different types of time: the internal time of consciousness and the external cosmological time. Through his experiences, we face questions such as: Does each one of us experiences time differently? What is the relation between exterior cosmological time and interior subjective…
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The best books about time and its impact on human existence

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Book cover of Indian Buddhist Philosophy

Indian Buddhist Philosophy

By Amber Carpenter

Why this book?

Buddhism is a religion (or family of religions), but its underlying ideas—many of which are independent of the soteriology of Buddhism—have undergone a rich development in the two and a half thousand years since Siddhārtha Guatama (the historical Buddha) lived. Carpenter’s book introduces us to the philosophical development in India in the first 1,000 years of Buddhism. It concentrates on the ethical aspects, and explores, amongst other things, various relationships with ethical ideas from Ancient Greek philosophy.

From the list:

The best books to learn about Buddhist philosophy

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Book cover of Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra

Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra

By Francis H. Cook

Why this book?

There are a number of distinct forms of Chinese (Mahāyāna) Buddhism.  Huayan (華嚴, Skt: Avataṃsaka) Buddhism is usually reckoned to be the most theoretically sophisticated. It flourished for only a few hundred years in the middle of the first millennium of the Common Era (though it still has a small presence in Japan, where it is called Kegon). However, it had a major impact on the thought of the other Chinese schools of Buddhism (and on Neo-Confucianism).  Cook’s book is old and a bit dated now, but it is still the best introduction to this form…

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The best books to learn about Buddhist philosophy

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Book cover of Zen Action Zen Person

Zen Action Zen Person

By Thomas P. Kasulis

Why this book?

Perhaps the best-known form of Chinese Buddhism in the West is Chan (). This had a major impact on Buddhism in Japan, when it took off there around the 12th Century. (The Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character is Zen.)  Zen is undoubtedly the most enigmatic form of Buddhism, and many “pop” books on it can be found in local bookstores, but good philosophical books are much harder to find. Kasulis’ book is one of the best. Certainly, you are going to get his take on matters, and there are others, but it’s hard to go past…

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The best books to learn about Buddhist philosophy

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Book cover of The Reapers Are the Angels

The Reapers Are the Angels

By Alden Bell

Why this book?

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…

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The best books that take zombies in a new direction

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Book cover of The Holographic Universe: The Revolutionary Theory of Reality

The Holographic Universe: The Revolutionary Theory of Reality

By Michael Talbot

Why this book?

To me, this is the best book ever written on the subject of the Universe as a hologram. Berkeley Physicist David Bohm, who contributed to the study of Quantum Theory, and neuroscientist Karl Primbram, emeritus professor of psychology and psychiatry at Stanford University originally offered this explanation of our brains and our world, beyond our limited view through our three-dimensional senses. It explains magic, miracles, the inexplicable. You will be astounded and fascinated by the evidence of this brilliant theory, written lucidly, clearly, scientifically, and involvingly.

From the list:

The best book on consciousness and what dolphins and wise humans know about it

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Book cover of Court and Garden: From the French Hôtel to the City of Modern Architecture

Court and Garden: From the French Hôtel to the City of Modern Architecture

By Michael Dennis

Why this book?

This book focuses on the role of modern architecture in Paris, and by “modern,” Dennis has in mind the architecture created during the reinvention of Paris in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Dennis provides the best introduction to a crucial factor in Paris’s essence: the particular kind of residential architecture that became characteristic of the cityscape in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: the hôtel or townhouse. Great architecture helps make a city great, and in Paris in particular, much of the greatest modern architecture was originally residential – grand townhouses built for the wealthiest Parisians.

Today, most of these townhouses…

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The best books on what makes a city great – and in particular on what makes Paris a great city

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Book cover of Immortality

Immortality

By Milan Kundera

Why this book?

If you were to read one of Kundera’s novels, let it be this, Immortality! It’s the last of a trilogy (that includes The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting and The Unbearable Lightness Of Being), and Kundera’s masterful attempt to answer questions such as: What’s the meaning of life? And is immortality so unbearable as our brief existence?

Its plot is Kunderian, light, and poetical. The story initiates from a simple gesture by Agnes, one of the protagonists, but as it progresses the reader begins to feel the heaviness of mortality and the endless challenges of love. It’s a…

From the list:

The best philosophical novels from global writers that I love

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