I've recently found myself reaching for some of my favorite philosophy books as I enter another year of navigating a chaotic, painful world, and navigating my own depression and quest for meaning...
I've recently found myself reaching for some of my favorite philosophy books as I enter another year of navigating a chaotic, painful world, and navigating my own depression and quest for meaning within it. Exploring philosophy really helps give me the language and mental framework to make sense and meaning out of an existence that often overwhelms me with fear and meaninglessness.
One big problem, though: a lot of philosophy books absolutely suck to read. They're overlong, impenetrably dense, and often awkwardly translated from another language.
Can anyone recommend approachable, readable philosophy (or philosophy-adjacent) books that can help me navigate the world, find reasons to live, and develop a durable sense of meaning?
Some more background info: The philosophies that have resonated most with me over the years are the works of Camus, the broader world of existentialists and existentialist-adjacent philosophies, stoicism, and utilitarianism. While I recognize that things like logic, epistemology, and religion are important branches of philosophy I'm more interested in things that help me navigate the daily questions of existence such as meaning, suffering, purpose, and so on.
The most impactful philosophical ideas I've ever encountered are those of Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus. Camus' conception of the absurd and the challenges of navigating it resonated so deeply with me that it essentially kickstarted my entire interest in philsophy. Before that I had never done any philosophical reading that felt like it really applied to me. Suddenly it felt like Camus had taken what was in my brain and put it on the page. However, I still consider the Myth of Sisyphus not an approachable, readable philosophy book, and not really a good book at all. I found his philosophy impactful despite the fact that it's overly long, often boring, and weighed down by an English translation that may have been good in the 1950s but in the 21st century is extremely stilted and hard to read.
For that reason my favorite philosophy book is At The Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell. It's half biography of Sartre, Beauviour, and Heidigger, and half overview of the wide world of existentialist philosophies. It's an smooth, pleasant read written in plain English that both helped me understand more philosophical concepts than any other single book I've ever read and introduced me to tons of things I want to learn more about. I highly recommend it.
Some other books I've read:
- The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin is tremendous. I know this isn't technically philosophy, but it definitely feels philosophy adjacent to me since it fit the bill of "help me make sense of the world" and as a bonus is a very smooth read. I plan to re-read this soon.
- Man's Search of Meaning by Viktor Frankl was a solid 4/5 for me.
- Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is another philosophy-adjacent book that is a tremendous exploration of how we cope with death. It really impacted how I think about end-of-life issues.
- Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments is a collection of essays meant to make philsophy and ethics approachable for normal people - hence why I picked it up. I read most of it, but the essays were just too hit and miss so I ended up putting it down about 2/3rds of the way through.
- The Stranger by Camus. I did not necessarily enjoy this book (and I have no desire to re-read it) but I do appreciate it for being thought-provoking. Plus it was a way smoother read than The Myth of Sisyphus.
Some I'm considering reading:
I deeply appreciate breadcrumbs anyone can provide as I try to learn how (and why) to keep living in this world and to develop a sense of meaning within it.