Welcome to our best books on how to live.
One criticism of modern philosophy is that is divorced from the ultimate questions of how to live and navigate our world. Far from the original questions that dominated the ancient Greek mindset, philosophy became ivory-tower speculation. Here we try to redress the imbalance.
Interviews include distinguished philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists grappling with how we are to live. In so doing, they recommend the best books on topics ranging from happiness, humanism, ancient Stoicism, to 20th-century existentialism.
Many of us aspire to do the right thing when faced with ethical choices, but for ancient philosophers being a good person involved a much broader look at our behaviour and life choices. Here, Massimo Pigliucci, a practising Stoic and philosophy professor at City College of New York, recommends books on being good, from the ancient sages to modern thinkers.
Killing Rage: Ending Racism
by bell hooks
by Cornel West
The Fire Is upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America
by Nicholas Buccola
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
by Carol Anderson
Citizen: An American Lyric
by Claudia Rankine
In many philosophical and religious traditions, anger is regarded as a useless emotion that’s best avoided but it can play a vital role in the fight against injustice. American philosopher Myisha Cherry, author of The Case for Rage, recommends books that shed light on how to be angry productively.
Can philosophy change your life? Yes, says bestselling author Eric Weiner, though partly by making it more complicated. Here, he picks five works of life-changing philosophy, from Epictetus to Jacob Needleman, a professor (emeritus) at San Francisco State University.
The Stoics offer us valuable strategies of thinking about and dealing with hardships that remain relevant for modern society, Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York and practising Stoic, told us in 2016. We were interviewing him about the best books to read to get a better idea of what Stoicism is all about and why some people find the ancient philosophy, famously practised by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, comforting today. This week our philosophy editor, Nigel Warburton, caught up with Massimo and asked him about new Stoicism books that have come out since they first spoke–and why the philosophy remains so popular in 2020.
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers
Diogenes Laertius (ed. James Miller, trans. Pamela Mensch)
On the Nature of the Universe
Lucretius (trans. Ronald Melville)
The Library of the Villa Dei Papiri at Herculaneum
by David Sider
by Tim O'Keefe
The Morality of Happiness
by Julia Annas
For most of us, an Epicurean means someone devoted to pleasure and enjoying themselves. But the real Epicureans had a very different philosophy of how to live. Cambridge University professor James Warren talks us through the philosophy of Epicurus and explains how it’s still relevant today—particularly when it comes to facing death.
Again and again we return to the question: how should we live? To Henry David Thoreau, the 19th-century author, philosopher and naturalist, the answer was simplicity itself. Here his biographer Laura Dassow Walls selects five key texts that explore the Thoreauvian way of thinking.
It’s an observable phenomenon that the gap in life satisfaction between the very young and the very old with those in their 40s is equivalent to that associated with getting a divorce. Kieran Setiya, the MIT philosopher and author of Midlife: A Philosophical Guide, chooses the best books to counsel you through this difficult period.
Philosophy is sometimes assumed to be a dry, academic subject but it also has much to say about how we live, love and relate to each other. Emrys Westacott chooses the best books on philosophy and everyday living.
Humanist ideas are not a recent phenomenon, but have been around for millennia, says Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK. He explains why it’s worth making a positive choice to be a humanist and recommends a great humanist reading list.
‘There was a research study done in the 1960s that identified that people will open themselves up to a stranger on a train and tell them deep personal information they would never tell their closest friends, partially because they have this sense that they can confess.’
Existentialist philosophy isn’t about bringing despair and angst into our lives, it’s about discovering our inner freedom, explains Sarah Bakewell, the author of At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails. She recommends books to learn more about existentialism.
To learn how to live well we must look to the past, says social philosopher Roman Krznaric. He recommends five books, from Thoreau to Orwell, that inspire us to live more adventurously.
The challenges – and opportunities – of our times have never been greater. Everything from our models of political participation to the very architecture of our brains is at stake, says the novelist and technology blogger Nick Harkaway.
How much do we take in of the world around us? You can tell a lot more about your surroundings than you realise, if you only know how and where to look, as the psychologist explains
Finding meaning in life is not the same as finding happiness, argues Canadian philosopher Paul Thagard. He picks the best books on the meaning of life.
Most of us want to be happy, and yet it’s hard to achieve. Jonathan Haidt, psychologist and author of the classic The Happiness Hypothesis, talks us through five books, old and new, to better understand happiness.
Where does one start if one wants to know about Buddhism? Professor and practitioner, Elizabeth Harris, recommends some of the best books to get you going on the path to Enlightenment.