Readers of this site will note that I have a broad definition of “philosopher.” My reading list reflects this. Below you will find fiction and nonfiction. Books about seeking, psychology, history, and the science of the future. I believe philosophers are all passionately curious about how things work, why things are, and where we might be going. They don’t just read “philosophy books” but all kinds.
Here are some books that got me thinking about things in a new light, and perhaps some of them will do the same for you.
Seeking purpose and place
Hesse, Hermann, Siddhartha | our thoughts – Rosner’s is a great translation of this Nobel Laureate’s masterpiece. Story of a man who meets the Buddha yet chooses to walk his own path to Enlightenment. This remarkable 150 page could change your life, if you are so inclined.
Maugham, W Somerset, The Razor’s Edge – A young man comes back from WWI changed forever. He cannot return to his previous life, so he wanders the world in search of answers and of himself.
Thoreau, Henry David, Walden – A beautiful guide to life, nature, and self discovery.
Ethics, politics, leadership: how to “make your way” in the world
Aurelius, Marcus, Meditations – A gem of wisdom from the stoic Roman emperor: how to live in peace though surrounded by war. The best translation is that of George Long.
Huntford, Roland, The Last Place on Earth – A masterful account of the Race to the South Pole. Two men went; only one returned. Why? Amundsen and Scott were two very different leaders. I learned more from reading this book than from any book I have picked up in the business section of the bookstore.
Spinoza, Benedict, Ethics – Quite possibly the most magnificent and difficult book in the history of philosophy. In these 200 pages, one will find the spirit of modern thought, the light that inspired Albert Einstein and Will Durant, and a path to blessedness. Worth every ounce of effort, but the challenge is no joke. It is not to be read; it is to be studied. Readers new to Spinoza might want to begin with Scruton’s friendly little intro Spinoza and Runes’ abridgment The Ethics Of Spinoza: The Road to Inner Freedom before trying to tackle the original. Nadler’s Spinoza’s Ethics: An Introduction is a great companion.
Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy – A timeless personal testament on the power of philosophy to elevate and heal the human heart.
Dalton, Jerry, Tao Te Ching: Backward Down the Path – A decent version of Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese wisdom text.
Durant, Will, The Story of Philosophy – If you’re marooned on a desert island with just one book, this intro to great philosophical personalities is a good one to have. Even better, there’s a top-notch Audio CD version in two parts (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) to keep you company on the road.
Psychology, history, speculation: why things are and where do we go from here?
Cain, Susan, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – our thoughts – The rare book that we’d recommend to anyone. Almost all of us know an introvert, but do we really understand them? Using case studies and the latest scientific research, this book may change your perception, improve your team, or even save a life–if you’re an introvert, this life could be your own.
Kaku, Michio, Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 – Get a glimpse of the science and technology that will shape the next 100 years of human history.
Morris, Charles, A Time of Passion: America 1960-1980 – our thoughts – This book will help you understand the underlying forces at work during a pivotal time in American history (and in some sense, world history). Remarkably, the insights in this book still hold true today, thirty years after it was published!
Shenk, Joshua, Lincoln’s Melancholy – Much has been written about Lincoln’s political brilliance (Team of Rivals) and his Civil War years. But how did he become the man he was? It wasn’t by magic. He was shaped in large part by his melancholy and the traits and habits that he developed to deal with it.