Books to Read
closed book “The true University of these days is a Collection of Books.”
— Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), The Hero as a Man of Letters
open book
Philosophy Books: for lovers of wisdom— welcome aboard...
Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching (1989), Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English (translators), Vintage, ISBN: 0679724346— “Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub; It is the center hole that makes it useful. Shape the clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful” writes Lao Tsu on the function of emptiness in verse XI of this 2500 year-old text. This is most accessible and authoritative modern English translation of the ancient Chinese classic. It offers the essence of each word and makes Lao Tsu's teaching immediate and alive. Alan Watts' review: “No one has done better in conveying Lao Tsu's simple and laconic style of writing, so as to produce an English version almost as suggestive of the many meanings intended.” This new Vintage reprint does not have the nature photos and Chinese calligraphy of the original 9x12 size 1972 edition. However the 5x8 size makes this volume handy and easy to use. The new edition also includes an introduction and notes by the scholar of philosophy and comparative religion, Jacob Needleman. Avg. Review (6): 4.5 stars
Plotinus, The Enneads Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged edition,1991), Stephen MacKenna (Translator), John Dillon (Editor), Penguin USA, ISBN: 014044520X— Plotinus (204-270 A.D.) is one of the greatest visionary philosophers, and MacKenna's translation is superb. My favorite quote on beauty is from Plotinus' The Enneads, I.6.9: “Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine... Never did eye see the sun unless it had first become sunlike, and never can the soul have vision of the First Beauty unless itself be beautiful.” You'll find insightful gems in abundance from this enlightened sage.
Avg. Review (2): 5 stars
Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture (reissue 1993), Princeton Univ Press, ISBN: 0691017700— One of this century's leading works on Zen, this book is a valuable source for those wishing to understand its concepts in the context of Japanese life and art. In simple, often poetic, language, D. T. Suzuki describes what Zen is, how it evolved, and how its emphasis on simplicity and self-effacement have helped to shape an aesthetics found throughout Japanese culture. He explores the surprising role of Zen in the philosophy of the samurai, and subtly portrays the relationship between Zen and swordsmanship, haiku, tea ceremonies, and the Japanese love of nature. Suzuki's contemplative discussion is enhanced by anecdotes, poetry, and illustrations showing silk screens, calligraphy, and examples of architecture. New York Times review: “As one turns the pages of this delightful book, one seems to catch intimations of how and why certain aspects of the 'spirit of Zen' are making themselves felt in America today.” Avg. Review (2): 5 stars
Will Durant, Story of Philosophy Will Durant, Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Great Philosophers (reissue 1991), Pocket Books; ISBN: 0671739166— Easily the most engaging writer of Western intellectual history in the English language, Will Durant breathes life into philosophers and their ideas. He is colorful, witty, and above all, informative. Durant summarizes the lives and influence of philosophy's greatest thinkers— Plato, Aristotle, Bacon, Spinoza, Voltaire, Kant, Schopenhauer, Spencer, Nietzsche, Bergson, Croce, Russell, Santayana, James and Dewey. He paints each of them with humanity and adds a few of his own wise platitudes. Some 70 years after its first printing, The Story of Philosophy still stands as one of the great books of our time. Any reader who wishes to survey the history and development of Western philosophy will find this book a gem. Avg. Review (8): 5 stars
Bryan Magee, Story of Philosophy Bryan Magee, Story of Philosophy (1998), DK Publishing; ISBN: 078943511X— Bryan Magee has been one of the most successful English-language popularizers of philosophy in the 20th century. In this beautiful illustrated volume, he presents 2500 years of Western philosophy from pre-Socratic Greek philosophers like Thales and Heraclitus to postmodern French thinkers like Derrida and Foucault. Crisp woodcuts, paintings, and photos fill every page, offering not only portraits of the major philosophical thinkers but illustrations of some of their key concepts, while ample marginalia provide supplementary information for historical context. I like Magee using a bold quotation that draws the reader into the text. In the final chapter— The Future of Philosophy, he quotes Voltaire: “Superstition sets the whole world in flames; Philosophy quenches them.” But can the philosophic mind ever be quenched? Magee ends his book beautifully: “There may be no final answers, but there is a wonderful lot to learn.” This harkens back to Plato's “Philosophy begins in wonder.” All in all, this is a wonderful book! Avg. Review (5): 4.5 stars
Jostein Gaarder, Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy Jostein Gaarder, Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy (1996), Boulevard, ISBN: 0425152251— Sophie, a Norwegian schoolgirl, anticipating her 15th birthday, finds two questions in her mail: Who are you? and Where does the world come from? Before she knows it, she is pondering all the great questions of Western philosophy (from the Pre-Socratics through Jean-Paul Sartre) with a mysterious mentor Alberto Knox via a correspondence course for which she never signed up. But Sophie is also receiving a separate batch of equally unusual letters. Who is Hilde? And why does her mail keep turning up in Sophie's world? To solve this riddle, Sophie uses her new knowledge of philosophy, but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined. From the opening Goethe quote to the closing discussion of the big bang theory, this is an extraordinary, exciting, provocative book that has been a bestseller in Europe. Gaarder presents a didactic history of philosophical thought as part of a fictional mystery story that sweeps the readers along into wonderland. Avg. Review (242): 4.5 stars

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