If you want to check out philosophy, where do you start? What are the good books to start with? These are questions that Em from School of Life gets asked a lot so she put together a list of four books that helped to make her so passionate about the subject.
If you’re new to the subject, reading the wrong books on philosophy can put you off it for good so this list is super helpful. A few books and authors are, as many of you have found, are impenetrable. If it’s hard to follow what the hell they’re saying, you may never get into philosophy.That would be a loss because much of what you learn in philosophy can be applied to virtually every area of your life — career, love, friendships, spirituality. Every single one. But the most practical benefit to reading and understanding philosophy is that it can help you develop your critical thinking and inductive reasoning skills. These skills are great in business and great for winning arguments.
I’m just saying.
Check out Em’s recommendations, but be warned: Philosophy can be addictive! As they say: First you hate it; then you love it!
Four book recommendations:
Written by the great Bertrand Russell, let me hit you with a couple quotes from it: “Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.” I got chills reading that. And I loved:
“If we were all given by magic the power to read each other’s thoughts, I suppose the first effect would be almost all friendships would be dissolved; the second effect, however, might be excellent, for a world without any friends would be felt to be intolerable, and we should learn to like each other without needing a veil of illusion to conceal from ourselves that we did not think each other absolutely perfect.”
OMG, this dude is giving me mental highs!!! Philosophy helped me understand the true essence of happiness. That people were central to it and that it’s found in the little things. And then, philosophy helped me to understand that it is Joy that I should be working to cultivate because even happiness is something we can’t control.
After watching his TedTalk, I became a fan of this author. Alain de Botton is a great storyteller and he makes philosophy really accessible. He’s also the founder of the School of Life. You may enjoy his work if you get this quote from The Consolations of Philosophy:
“Not everything which happens to us occurs with reference to something about us.”
Here’s why I liked this book. I’ve always had difficulty accepting many New Age adages, especially these two: “Everything happens for a reason” and “You’re attracting what you get in life.” I mean, there’s truth to both ideas but they’ve also become burdensome cliches too. I see many people who take them to be gospel and never look at the practical side of life and their problems. Philosophy, I’ve believe, can help us to examine popular opinions so we can think for ourselves and ultimately, be kinder to ourselves.
This work by Erich Fromm is a classic. The topic of love gets a lot of airplay—in movies, in love songs, in discussions about divorce and explorations of alternative lifestyles, like open relationships. Even the bible has a lot to say on the topic of love. Me? I go with philosophy on this one too and this quote goes to the essence of what Fromm covers in The Art of Loving.
“Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice.”
Philosophy makes you think and sometimes, it gives us answers to questions we never voiced or knew we had. It helps us understand ourselves, so that for example, if right now you’re hating where you live and strongly desire to move, this quote from Milan Kundera’s work (another classic!), The Unbearable Lightness of Being, can make you think.
“A person who longs to leave the place where he lives is an unhappy person.”
More than anything or anyone else—parents, family, friends, therapy, college—philosophy has had the most profound effects on who I’ve become. It has helped me understand myself better. I owe my love of quotes to reading philosophy and can trace this love back to when I was nine years old. It may never become as significant for you, but try one of the books here and you just may be surprised to find that the subject is actually quite useful.