Some of the greatest thinkers in world history have lived within the field of philosophy. By studying the best philosophy books we can try to understand the ways that cultures before us created and understood meaning in their lives. Very few people wake up and think “I need philosophy.” This is perfectly understandable. But of course, everyone has their own problems and are dealing with the difficulties of life in some way or another.
Reading the best philosophy books gives us the opportunity to look into those hidden depths and understand our own thinking and behaviour at a deeper level, helping us eliminate behaviour we don’t like. These philosophy books that will give you a diverse and wide-ranging understanding of metaphysical principles, as well as new ways to look at, and govern, your own life and mind.
Bertrand Russel’s ‘A History of Western Philosophy’ has held a position of reverence since it’s the first publication in 1945. Comprehensive, erudite and revealing; this is a history written by one who would go on to become a regarded philosopher in his own right.
Arguably the most legendary philosopher of all time, Plato’s Five Dialogues is a great introduction to his work and the study of philosophy in general. You’ll learn about Socrates’s life (Plato was his student), the concept of forms, and the notion of the immortal soul. And even though the dialogues are classics, the writing itself is actually quite digestible and easy to follow.
Meditation is perhaps the only document of its kind ever made. It is the private thoughts of the world’s most powerful man giving advice to himself on how to make good on the responsibilities and obligations of his positions. Trained in stoic philosophy, Marcus stopped almost every night to practice a series of spiritual exercises–reminders designed to make him humble, patient, empathetic, generous, and strong in the face of whatever he was dealing with.
As one of the three central greats of Greek and Western moral philosophy, Aristotle introduces new guiding terminology and methods in the Nicomachean Ethics. Namely, the question of what does it mean to live a good and fulfilling life. He uses the term eudaimonia, which was a term that can be translated to either mean happiness or faring well. It is something that should be strived for in the sum total of a person’s life.
This is another classic book you’ll find on every philosophy 101 syllabi since it’s a great introduction to the many facets of the discipline. In other words, if you’re a beginner and just want to get a foundational understanding, or you’re interested in studying but aren’t sure which direction you’ll take, this book will fit the bill. Russell’s writing is also easy to read because it’s so swift, concise, and comprehensive.
Seneca, like Marcus, was also a powerful man in Rome. He was also a great writer and from the looks of it, a trusted friend who gave great advice to his friends. Much of that advice survives in the form of letters. Now we can read those letters and they can guide us through problems with grief, wealth, poverty, success, failure, education and so many other things.
Philosopher and revisionist historian Michel Foucault’s three-part volume entitled The History of Sexuality covers a lot of ground. He talks about the ways in which identity is constructed by particular institutions, how discourse is powerful because of the way in which it can regulate and control, and he also brings theories of power and control into the discussion of gender, opening up new possibilities for change and resistance. The crux of this is: “Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power.” Though challenging, it’s definitely worth a read.
Outlining Frankl’s theory of ‘logotherapy’, he argues that human beings cannot avoid suffering in life, but we have the power to give it meaning and thus endure it with renewed purpose. He holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful. All the more impactful for where it was written, Frankl tells the story of his time spent within Nazi extermination camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Library of Congress found Man’s Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America.
In this book, Friedrich Nietzsche, not one for complacency, boldly goes into an attack and critique on much of the history of philosophy, challenging ancient notions many people and philosophers took for undeniable truths at that time. He wants to create new ideas and goals for an era of what he terms “new philosophers.
A woman goes on vacation to an undefined European country and ends up running into a violent mess. Or maybe she seeks it out, manifests it or imagines it—it’s relatively unclear. The novel explores all sorts of notions of control, free will, gender norms, time, identity, and more, leaving you to wonder who’s really in the driver’s seat.
If you like my work support me on https://www.patreon.com/pyoflife