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.
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.
Albert Camus was born in northern Algeria in extreme poverty, but went on to become one of the best-known French philosophers of the 20th century. In 1957, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature for illuminating “the problems of the human conscience in our times.” Here, Camus expert Jamie Lombardi talks us through the books that best capture his work and the moral dilemmas he sought to explore.
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.
As questions of identity become a focus of political debate, interest in existentialism has been booming once more. Here, the philosopher Jonathan Webber discusses five classic books dealing with existentialist themes that deserve a bigger audience.
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.
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 the best books on Existentialism.
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.