Yet another top ten – philosophical, thought provoking books…

So my best mate, Toby, wanted some book recommendations to help him fulfill one of his New Year’s resolutions – to start reading more philosophy.

So in the spirit of the top ten lists that have been flying around here are my top 10 philosophical and thought provoking reads. I haven’t tried to provide a comprehensive list that covers key works and all areas of enquiry, and haven’t included any original philosophical classics. Rather I have chosen the books that have interested me the most, and the ones that I would love to re -read at some point in the future, plus a couple that I haven’t read yet but are sat on my bookshelf waiting….

1. The Problems of Philosophy – Bertrand Russell

This deceptively concise introduction to the key questions about what we can really know is a great place to start.

2. Irrational Man – William Barrett

One of my favourite books of all time, this analysis of Existentialism is both clear and understandable but also rich and deep in ideas. Existentialism is the most compelling schools of thought I have come across, and I have always found it relevant and helpful to my understanding of what life is all about and the human condition.

3. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl survived the Holocaust and in this short book talks about his experience, how he coped and what it taught him about what life means. Inspirational stuff that helps put difficult situations in life into perspective.

4. Straw Dogs – John Gray

Full of caustic rhetoric, but one of the most provocative and interesting reads of recent years. Gray lays waste to the liberal humanism on which so much of our assumptions about humanity are based and questions much that we take for gospel about our place in the world. Worth a read simply because you don’t hear that point of view so expertly laid out very often.

5. The Meaning of Things – A. C. Grayling

I hesitated to include this book, as compared to some of the others it is slightly dry. But it is a great introduction to many of the themes and concepts in everyday life that philosophy tries to tackle.

6. The Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Is this really philosophy? Maybe not but in the context of the last couple of years very valuable reading. Taleb explores the dangers of accepting to readily, the principle of induction (that tomorrow will be like today) and the heuristics that arise from it on which we all rely. He argues passionately that to do so lays you open to the destructive impact of a black swan, an event that no one could have forseen.

7. Status Anxiety – Alain de Botton

I really warmed to De Botton after seeing him talk at TED Global last summer, and read this book shortly afterwards. A hugely relevant look at the way we live our lives and the dangerous role status plays in giving our lives meaning and as a source of happiness.

8. All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten – Robert Fulghum

Cheesy, touchy feely and a bit saccharine, and although I haven’t read it for years I still remember enjoying the simple truths in these straight forward honest stories about everyday life.

And finally a couple I haven’t read yet but are on my “next book” pile…..

9. The Life you can save – Peter Singer

Peter Singer is the preeminent Ethicist of our generation. His most recent book looks at the moral duty we have to help others in need if we have the means to do so regardless of our physical closeness to them. He proposes a far greater proportion of income in the western world should be given away to help others, once our immediate material needs are taken care of.

10. The Kingdom of Infinite Space- A fantastical journey around your head – Raymond Tallis

Kind of two recommendations in one really- This book was recommended by Mark Vernon, who’s excellent blog is always enlightening and stimulating. The book itself looks fascinating, I have always enjoyed understanding more about the mind/body relationship and the sense of wonder that a scientific explanation of the world can create (and and a third…. Richard Dawkin’s excellent Unweaving the Rainbow).



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