A History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russell
A History of Western Philosophy is an excellent book, and one that will teach you not only about philosophy, but about history and politics. And Bertrand Russell is not an impartial commentator, but one of the most respected philosophers in history – which makes this introduction to the best philosophers of the last two millennia particularly interesting.
Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman
Amusing Ourselves to Death is a book about epistemology – and how it is actively being changed by new forms of media. Neil Postman makes a powerful argument about the importance of the written word, about how by its nature, it is more conducive to a true understanding of the world, whereas other forms of media, that rely on pictures, are a poor substitute.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding – David Hume
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume is considered one of the most philosophical and scientific texts ever written, and primarily, it exposes the limits of human rationality through a series of 12 essays that are quite rational themselves.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche introduces Zarathustra, the prophet, who has come to preach the meaning of life, to strive towards becoming the Superman.
On Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Leo Strauss
Leo Strauss was a German-American political philosopher, and in this book records his oral commentary of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
Beyond Good and Evil – Friedrich Nietzsche
In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche makes a powerful argument against the moral philosophers, the utilitarians, and the “pure” souls. There is no such thing as virtue, there is only the strong and the weak. Exploitation is not wrong, it is the essence of being alive. Being trampled on, being placid, being foolish – those are the vices that we should watch out for. Nietzsche is bored of being told about what’s right and wrong, when everything we know about history and human psychology point us towards the opposite direction, towards the real motivators of man.
The Gay Science – Friedrich Nietzsche
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Why is Stoicism suddenly mainstream? I wouldn’t have imagined that in 2018, ancient philosophies would become more relevant. I decided to put some books on Stoicism on my reading list. I was curious to see what all the hype was about. This is the first book that introduced me to Stoicism.
The Age of Spiritual Machines – Ray Kurzweil
If you want to understand how quickly technology has been advancing, how accurate Kurzweil has been in the past in predicting future events, and what his vision is for the future. Read this book. You may not agree with Kurzweil’s views or philosophy, but his predictions have been accurate, impressive, well founded. I’ve seen many people attempt to arm chair diagnose Kurzweil with existential angst and dismiss him as a whack job. I saw neither in his writings. This book was entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking.
The Courage to be Disliked – Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi
This book, which was very popular in Japan, was written by Ichiro Kishimi. The author did for Adler what Plato did for Socrates. Alfred Adler was considered, alongside Freud and Jung, one of the three pillars of psychology. Freud and Jung focused on analyzing the unconscious, an aetiological approach (seeks to determine past causes for why people behave the way they do), while Adler’s individualistic psychology was about focusing on what could be done today, regardless of what happened in the past.
The Myth of Sisyphus – Albert Camus
Camus starts the book by stating that the central problem of philosophy is to figure out whether life is worth living, everything else is details. People don’t die in the name of the ontological problem. What gives life meaning is the irrational illusions. These same ideas that, when removed, are enough to cause thoughts of suicide.
Self-Reliance – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Self-Reliance was an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. In it, he explains to us why the answers we seek are not found in trusting authority, blind religious faith, or following convention. He impels us to look inwards – to understand that, the rules that govern society were constructed by human beings, they were not supernaturally ordained. You become bold by trusting yourself, you become original by following your instincts. Emerson distrusts the status quo but has full faith in the individual.
The Oversoul – Ralph Waldo Emerson
In The Oversoul, which may have played a big part in inspiring Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Emerson discusses his religious beliefs and thoughts on the human intellect. At first, he defines the Over-Soul as the existence of God within us, or of a kind of intelligence that is beyond us.
The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli
The Prince by Machiavelli is an introduction to realpolitik. It’s important to understand that Machiavelli’s audience is a prince. Few can consider themselves princes in the modern world, and many of insights in this book involve warfare, how to successfully build and maintain an empire, and how to treat your subjects – none of these are practical matters that most people think about. However, there are parts of the book that relate to human psychology in general and these are the parts that caught my attention.
The Technological Society – Jacques Ellul
The Technological Society was written in 1954 by French philosopher Jacques Ellul. The book traces humanity’s historical discovery of technology, and how technique has come to dominate every aspect of our lives.
The Medium is the Message – Marshall McLuhan
The Medium is the Message was written in 1964, and the ideas in it seem to become more relevant in time. McLuhan’s thesis is that the medium through which we communicate, whether TV or Radio or Newspaper, creates an entire industry around it that we are not aware of: a new way of living, and a new way of thinking.
Free Will – Sam Harris
Free Will by Sam Harris is a book devoted to the philosophical debate about what agency is. His argument is that free will is nothing more than illusion. The reason why this is important is that if he is correct, we would need to think of reality and people very differently.
Fear and Trembling – Soren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher who was a controversial figure, his work was unpopular during his lifetimes, and in no small part, this was due to his criticism of the Danish church for pushing a diluted form of Christianity and his rejection of widely accepted ideas.
This is Water – David Foster Wallace
The purpose of a liberal arts education is to teach you what to think about. It has nothing to do with accumulating knowledge. The power of an education is that you gain the ability to focus your attention to things that are important to you.
Self-Deception – Herbert Fingarette
The idea of deception is easy for most people to understand. It is not a puzzle that some people are able to deceive others. It is not difficult to think of many reasons why they would do so. But why self-deception? It appears paradoxical, that a person would harm themselves.
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies – Nick Bostrom
For Kurzweil, our goal as a species has always been, and will always be, to overcome our miserable human state, and to build a super-intelligence that will grant us immortality. And this is where Nick Bostrom comes in. He is not so optimistic, not because he doesn’t think we cannot build superhuman AI, but because too much can go wrong if we do.
Straw Dogs – John Gray
‘Gaia’ is the name of a goddess in Greek mythology, and the Gaia principle, by Lovelock, suggests that the earth is a self-regulating, complex system that is influenced by its habitants. And that human beings, are merely organisms in this system, that will be treated like straw dogs, if they disrupt the balance of the earth.
On the Shortness of Life – Seneca
On the Shortness of Life by Seneca is an essay about how men take for granted the most precious thing: time. We complain about nature for giving us limited time, but if we know how to use it, it is plenty.
The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday
The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday is a book about stoicism. The ancient Greeks had many philosophical schools, but the most pragmatic among them was stoicism, and this may explain why in the practical, modern world, it has gained in popularity.
A Calendar of Wisdom – Leo Tolstoy
This book by Tolstoy is a list of 365 thoughts to meditate on, with supporting quotes from great teachers, such as Seneca, Buddha, and Jesus. Each page has a handful of quotes around a theme. I found some of these ideas to be helpful and original, others too familiar, and others not very helpful.
How to be a Stoic – Massimo Pagliucci
Massimo Pagliucci has written How to be a Stoic, a great book about the history of how Stoicism emerged, as well as its theoretical background.
Letters from a Stoic – Seneca
Seneca failed to live up to his principles. But he was still an outstanding figure in history. He is credited with inventing the essay format, and the content of his letters have been useful to many people after his time. In his eight letter to Lucilius, he said that he hoped that he would not be remembered for his public life, power, or wealth – that he wanted his work to be useful for future generations.
A Guide To The Good Life – William Irvine
A Guide For The Good Life is about the practice of Stoicism from a more academic lens. The author, Irvine, is a philosophy professor who was not exposed to Stoicism until much later in his academic career
The Enchiridion – Epictetus
The Enchridon by Epictetus is a short book about Stoicism. We are warned of the excesses of wealth and of succumbing to pleasure.
Discourses of Epictetus – Epictetus
The Discourses of Epictetus is a conversation that takes place between Epictetus and his student. There is a lot of information about proper conduct, but most interesting to me were the psychological insights and the critique of Epicurus near the end of the book.
The Nature of Things – Lucretius
The Nature Of Things is a poem by Lucretius on the philosophy of Epicureanism. The original texts of Epicurus lacked beauty and art that is found in this document. Epicurus was born six years before Plato’s death, and like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle – Epicurus was concerned with moral philosophy.
Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu
The Tao Te Ching was written by Lao Tzu, and according to legend, he wrote the book for a stranger who asked him to help him become wise. Lao Tzu communicated what he had learned when he left society to live by himself, and the result is an illuminating text that continues to be relevant today.
The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are – Alan Watts
The Book – On Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are is a book about the latest societal taboo. Sexuality and religion were the previous taboos. The biggest danger today is self-knowledge – a state of wonder at who we are and where we came from.
The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity – Carlo Cipolla
This short book is a funny, clever, and simple description of the phenomenon of stupidity. But it is not elitist or racist or sexist. Cipolla insists that no society, no matter how prosperous it is, has managed to escape the natural law that ensures the existence of stupid people.
Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse
Siddhartha realized that he was not a youth anymore, but a man. And the one thing that no longer existed in him, which accompanied him throughout his youth, was to have teachers and to listen to teachings. He even left the wisest teacher, Buddha. He then wondered what it was that he wanted to learn from his teachers, who had taught him much, but could still not teach him?
In Praise of Idleness – Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell was part of a generation that was brought up on the saying: ‘Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.’ In Praise of Idleness challenges this piece of common wisdom.
The Art of Worldly Wisdom – Baltasar Gracian
The Art of Worldly Wisdom is a text that is over 300 years old. In it, we find aphorisms, written in beautiful prose, that contain advice on how to behave in the world.
Dr. Gordon Livingston, a psychiatrist, imparts 30 pearls of wisdom in this short book. He has had his share of suffering in life. Within a year, one of his sons committed suicide and another died in an accident. He was also run over by a snowmobile while standing in a lift line. While this book contains many clichés, they are still worth revisiting.
Ikigai is a Japanese philosophy for how to live life. This book sheds light on what the Japanese have long known were the secrets to a happy, healthy, and long life.
In The Lucifer Principle, Howard Bloom sets on an ambitious undertaking, to find a single explanation for why there is evil in the world.
The Art of Living – S.N. Goenka
Vipassana is about gaining intellectual insight about yourself. In recognizing the ephemeral nature of your thoughts, and in learning equanimity, you can free yourself from unnecessary suffering.
Girard’s Mimetic Theory – Wolfgang Palaver
A great overview of Mimetic Theory, by Wolfgang Palaver. In a systematic careful synthesis of Girard’s thought, Palaver summarizes the mimetic insights that were derived from authors such as Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Flaubert, and Proust.