Posts tagged Philosophy
The Consolations of Philosophy

By Alain de Botton

This book provides a great overview of the tradition of Western philosophy. Besides providing useful summaries of some of the major thinkers and what their philosophy can do for you in your life, it shows the the connecting threads between thinkers that might seem totally unrelated at first glance. Each chapter gives a brief thumbnail of the biography and thinking of a major philosopher, which is great, but what's really useful about this book is that every chapter addresses a specific concern that everyone faces - such as unpopularity, money, and frustration. Alain's style is warm and gentle, with a hint of detached humor that makes for enjoyable reading. If you've ever thought "I wish I knew more about philosophy", this is the place to start.

Get it here.

Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

By Robert Pirsig

Despite my initially somewhat negative reaction to this book, it has become one of my "operating manuals" for life. Even when I first read it and disagreed with much of what it said, I found a lot of compelling food for thought. Paradoxically, the very thing that made me uncomfortable initially has become its greatest value to me: the questioning of received ideas of values and building new ones up from scratch. A fascinating look at depth, focus, and quality. 

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Strategy: A History

By Lawrence Freedman

Man oh man am I loving this book. It puts out a comprehensive record of thinking about the concept of strategy in western thought from the Bible and Homer all the way to modern theorists. Along the way, Freedman provides analysis of the strengths and shortcomings of the various formulations and their applications. Despite what might turn into a dry, intellectual subject, the book is quite clear and readable, moving briskly through trends and eras of thought. For me, it's greatest value is highlighting the connections and influences between figures as disparate as Thucydides, Machiavelli, and John Boyd. I suspect that I will be coming back to my notes on this and its bibliography for years to come. 

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Ego is the Enemy

By Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday has been behind a lot of what I've talked about here and a lot of the links I've shared, but I haven't called him out explicitly yet. He's a modern day exponent of an ancient philosophy, and though my interest in stoicism predates my exposure to Holiday, I have found his works useful and engaging. He's best known for The Obstacle is the Waywhich has been hugely influential with top performers from the business world to the NFL, but I have found this book more useful personally. It is a systematic analysis of how prone we all are to excessive self regard and the ways that destroys you - whether you are aspiring, achieving, or failing. Ego also hinders true creativity because it stops you from the real work you need to push limits and discover new frontiers.

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellStoicism, Philosophy
Zhuangzi: Basic Writings

By Zhuang Zi, trans. Burton Watson

This is an excerpt of the complete Zhuangzi, and I'm normally a rabid completionist, but there are three facts that lead me to recommend this edition: 1) This is the version I had in my physical library and therefore read, 2) The translator makes a pretty good case that what is excluded is mostly later (less awesome) additions to the work of the original author, and 3) you can get this excerpt for about one third of the price of the complete works. So, with that in mind, let me tell you what's great about this book. It's a lot more lively than most philosophy, featuring poetry, metaphor, and humor. I found it almost as valuable as a demonstration of an alternative way to convey deep, important ideas as I did for the actual ideas it was discussing. It's also interestingly different from the Daoism you may know from the Daodejing. I'm not going to get a Yin-Yang symbol tattooed on me anytime soon, but I have found this a worthwhile addition to my mental tool kit.

For lots more on this book, check out the full post I wrote about here.

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellPhilosophy
Antifragile

By Nassim Taleb

The core concept explored in this book is what is "risk" and how should we think about it in our lives, but it reaches out and touches so many more areas of interest. Taleb is shockingly smart, enjoyably contrarian, and writes in a very engaging way. This book is one of my top five life and brain changing books - you will be a little bit smarter every time you read it.

Check out the posts I wrote about this book here and here.

Buy it here.