Happy “Frankenstein Was Published Today” Day

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Portrait of Mary Shelley. (Photo: Culture Club/Getty Images)

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.” – Mary Shelley

Okay, so it might not be a real, recognized holiday, and yes, the big 200th anniversary was last year, but 201st is still pretty cool.

Mary Shelley published Frankenstein on March 11, 1818 and the worlds of literature, horror and story-telling haven’t been the same since. Few stories or characters have occupied the cultural imagination as long or as pervasively as Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstien and his monster.

How do you celebrate? You could…

  • Read Frankenstein
  • Write your own story (gothic horror optional)
  • Read up on Mary Shelley
  • Read something else that features her famous monster (there’s a lot to choose from)
  • Stitch together your own unholy abomination and bring it to life with chemical cocktails, lightning and hubris

We’re not telling you what to do, but all but the last of those you can do at the library… and we wouldn’t really recommend the last one. It didn’t work out well for the good doctor.

29 of the Best Philosophy Books of All-Time

The questions of the universe are seemingly never-ending and unanswerable. But luckily we have access to some of the greatest philosophical minds in history through their writing. This reading list of the best philosophy books of all time features works from the greats like Plato and Nietzsche as well as modern reads from inspiring thinkers like the Dalai Lama. Though nothing is absolute in philosophy, one thing is sure — these books will have you thinking long after the last page. Publishers’ descriptions included.

The Tried and True Classics

From Ancient Greek philosophers to 20th-century thought leaders, these best philosophy books of all time feature the must-read ancient and modern classics.

Beyond Good And Evil
by Friedrich Nietzsche

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Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil is a critical response to metaphysical writings that try to define good and evil. Nietzsche advocates for an individualized way of thinking that focuses on the realities of life and that ignores traditional moral conventions, including religion, free will, and self-consciousness.

Divided into nine subjects areas, Beyond Good and Evil was written in a polemical style consisting of 296 short sections. Published shortly after Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil expands on and adds to the ideas of that previous work.

 

Being and Nothingness
by Jean-Paul Sartre

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Revisit one of the most important pillars in modern philosophy with this new English translation — the first in more than 60 years — of Jean-Paul Sartre’s seminal treatise on existentialism.

In 1943, Jean-Paul Sartre published his masterpiece, Being and Nothingness, and laid the foundation of his legacy as one of the greatest 20th-century philosophers. A brilliant and radical account of the human condition, Being and Nothingness explores what gives our lives significance.

In a new, more accessible translation, this foundational text argues that we alone create our values and our existence is characterized by freedom and the inescapability of choice. Far from being an internal, passive container for our thoughts and experiences, the human consciousness is constantly projecting itself into the outside world and imbuing it with meaning.

Now with a new foreword by Harvard professor of philosophy Richard Moran, this clear-eyed translation guarantees that the groundbreaking ideas that Sartre introduced in this resonant work will continue to inspire for generations to come.

 

The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne
by Michel de Montaigne

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With the goal of describing man with complete frankness and using himself as his most frequent example, Michel de Montaigne first published his Essays in 1580.

This collection of 107 chapters encompasses a wide variety of subjects, originally inspired by his study of Latin classics, and later by the lives of the leading figures of his time. Michel de Montaigne saw the most basic elements of man as variety and unpredictability, and this idea permeates the entire work, even as he explores a myriad of topics, including theology, philosophy, law, fame, memory, death, and his own daily schedule.

The longest essay, entitled ‘Apology for Raymond Sebond,’ contains his most famous quote: “What do I know?” This perhaps embodies the spirit of the entire volume, for it reflects both the inquisitory search for intellectual knowledge as well as the more personal anecdotal quality of a work that has had an enduring impact on both French and English literature for hundreds of years. This edition includes the complete collection of Montaigne’s Essays.

 

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
by Marcus Aurelius

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Marcus Annius Verus was born in Rome, A. D. 121, and assumed the name of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, by which he is known to history, on his adoption by the Emperor T. Aurelius Antoninus. M. Aurelius was educated by the orator Fronto, but turned aside from rhetoric to the study of the Stoic philosophy, of which he was the last distinguished representative. The Meditations, which he wrote in Greek, are among the most noteworthy expressions of this system, and exhibit it favorably on its practical side. The Meditationspicture with faithfulness the mind and character of this noblest of the emperors. Simple in style and sincere in tone, they record, for posterity, the height reached by pagan aspiration in its effort to solve the problem of conduct; and the essential agreement of his practice, coupled with his teaching, proved that even in a palace life may be led well.

 

The Dialogues of Plato
by Plato

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Socrates’s ancient words are still true, and the ideas found in Plato’s Dialogues still form the foundation of a thinking person’s education. This superb collection contains excellent contemporary translations selected for their clarity and accessibility to today’s reader, as well as an incisive introduction by Erich Segal, which reveals Plato’s life and clarifies the philosophical issues examined in each dialogue. The first four dialogues recount the trial and execution of Socrates — the extraordinary tragedy that changed Plato’s life and forever altered the course of Western thought. Other dialogues create a rich tableau of intellectual life in Athens in the fourth century B. C., and examine such timeless — and timely — issues as the nature of virtue and love, knowledge and truth, and society and the individual. Resounding with the humor and astounding brilliance of Socrates, the immortal iconoclast, these great works remain powerful, probing, and essential.

 

Confessions of Saint Augustine
by Augustine of Hippo

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St. Augustine’s Confessions was written between AD 397-400. An autobiographical work, it was written in 13 parts, each a complete text intended to be read aloud. Written in his early 40s, it documents the development of Augustine’s thought from childhood into his adult life — a life he considered in retrospect to be both sinful and immoral. He was in his early 30s before he converted to Christianity, but was soon ordained as a priest and became a bishop not long after.

Confessions not only documented his conversion but sought to offer guidance to others taking the same path. Considered to be the first Western autobiography to be written, Augustine’s work (including the subsequent ‘City of God’) became a major influence on Christian writers for the next 1,000 years and remains a much-valued contribution to Christian thinking.

This edition uses the classic translation from Latin by E.B. Pusey (1838) with a partial modernization of the text to assist the modern reader.

 

Meditations On The First Philosophy
by Rene Descartes

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In Meditations on First Philosophy, French philosopher René Descartes, now regarded as the father of Western philosophy, introduces the concept of the dichotomy — the separation of mind and body — by determining, “I think, therefore I am.”

 

Man’s Search For Meaning
by Viktor E Frankl

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Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory — known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”) — holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

At the time of Frankl’s death in 1997, Man’s Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in 24 languages. A 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a “book that made a difference in your life” found Man’s Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America.

 

The Second Sex
by Simone de Beauvoir

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Simone de Beauvoir’s essential masterwork is a powerful analysis of the Western notion of “woman,” and a revolutionary exploration of inequality and otherness. Unabridged in English for the first time, this long-awaited edition reinstates significant portions of the original French text that were cut in the first English translation. Vital and groundbreaking, Beauvoir’s pioneering and impressive text remains as pertinent today as when it was first published, and will continue to provoke and inspire generations of men and women to come.

 

A Treatise of Human Nature
by David Hume

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One of the most significant works of Western philosophy, Hume’s Treatise was published in 1739-40, before he was 30 years old. A pinnacle of English empiricism, it is a comprehensive attempt to apply scientific methods of observation to a study of human nature, and a vigorous attack upon the principles of traditional metaphysical thought. With masterly eloquence, Hume denies the immortality of the soul and the reality of space; considers the manner in which we form concepts of identity, cause and effect; and speculates upon the nature of freedom, virtue, and emotion. Opposed both to metaphysics and to rationalism, Hume’s philosophy of informed scepticism sees man not as a religious creation, nor as a machine, but as a creature dominated by sentiment, passion, and appetite.

 

The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle
by Aristotle

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Nicomachean Ethics focuses on the importance of habitually behaving virtuously and developing a virtuous character. Aristotle emphasized the importance of context to ethical behavior, and the ability of the virtuous person to recognize the best course of action. Aristotle argued that happiness and well-being is the goal of life, and that a person’s pursuit of such, rightly conceived, will result in virtuous conduct.

 

Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu

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No other English translation of this greatest of the Chinese classics can match Ursula Le Guin’s striking new version. Le Guin, best known for thought-provoking science fiction novels that have helped to transform the genre, has studied the Tao Te Ching for more than forty years. She has consulted the literal translations and worked with Chinese scholars to develop a version that lets the ancient text speak in a fresh way to modern people, while remaining faithful to the poetic beauty of the work. Avoiding scholarly interpretations and esoteric Taoist insights, she has revealed the Tao Te Ching ’s immediate relevance and power, as well as its depth and refreshing humor, in a way that shows better than ever before why it has been so much loved for more than 2,500 years. Included are Le Guin’s own personal commentary and notes on the text. This new version is sure to be welcomed by the many readers of the Tao Te Ching as well as those coming to the text for the first time.

 

Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic
by Seneca

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As chief adviser to the emperor Nero, Lucius Annaeus Seneca was most influential in ancient Rome as a power behind the throne. His lasting fame derives from his writings on Stoic ideology, in which philosophy is a practical form of self-improvement rather than a matter of argument or wordplay. Seneca’s letters to a young friend advise action rather than reflection, addressing the issues that confront every generation: how to achieve a good life, how to avoid corruption and self-indulgence, and how to live without fear of death.

Written in an intimate, conversational style, the letters reflect the traditional Stoic focus on living in accordance with nature and accepting the world on its own terms. The philosopher emphasizes the Roman values of courage, self-control, and rationality, yet he remains remarkably modern in his tolerant and cosmopolitan attitude. Rich in epigrammatic wit, Seneca’s interpretation of Stoicism constitutes a timeless and inspiring declaration of the dignity of the individual mind.

 

The Social Contract
by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau writes, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” This statement exemplifies the main idea behind The Social Contract, in other words that man is essentially free if it weren’t for the oppression of political organizations such as government. Rousseau goes on to lay forth the principles that he deems most important for achieving political right amongst people. Contained within this volume are also two discourses by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In ‘A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality,’ Rousseau examines the causes of the inequalities that exist among men, concluding that it is the natural result of the formation of any civilization. In ‘A Discourse on Political Economy,’ Rousseau examines the nature of politics and their effect on people. These three works lay a solid foundation for the political philosophy of Rousseau and are a must read for any student of political science or philosophy.

 

The Critique of Pure Reason
by Immanuel Kant

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Immanuel’s Kant’s groundbreaking work, considered to be among the most influential philosophical texts in the Western canon.

Familiar to philosophy students through the centuries, The Critique of Pure Reason is in many ways Kant’s magnum opus. First published in 1781, it seeks to define what can be known by reason alone without evidence from experience. Kant begins by defining a posteriori knowledge, which is gained through the senses, versus a priori knowledge, or self-evident truths understood without the benefit of experience. He then examines these two types of knowledge in the context of analytic and synthetic judgments, using the relationship between them to conclude that through reason alone, humans are capable of reaching deep universal truths. Kant then demonstrates how  even as much of the world around us can never be truly known — the laws of the universe are in fact made possible by the human capacity for reason itself.

Sparking intense and lasting discussion, The Critique of Pure Reason remains essential reading for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the ideas that, since their initial publication, have gone on to shape much of Western philosophy.

 

The Prince
by Niccolò Machiavelli

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As a young Florentine envoy to the courts of France and the Italian principalities, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was able to observe firsthand the lives of people strongly united under one powerful ruler. His fascination with that political rarity and his intense desire to see the Medici family assume a similar role in Italy provided the foundation for his “primer for princes.” In this classic guide to acquiring and maintaining political power, Machiavelli used a rational approach to advise prospective rulers, developing logical arguments and alternatives for a number of potential problems, among them governing hereditary monarchies, dealing with colonies, and the treatment of conquered peoples. Refreshing in its directness, yet often disturbing in its cold practicality, The Prince sets down a frighteningly pragmatic formula for political fortune. Starkly relevant to the political upheavals of the 20th century, this calculating prescription for power remains today, nearly 500 years after it was written, a timely and startling lesson in the practice of autocratic rule that continues to be much read and studied by students, scholars, and general readers as well.

 

History of Western Philosophy
by Bertrand Russell

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Hailed as “lucid and magisterial” by The Observer, this book is universally acclaimed as the outstanding one-volume work on the subject of Western philosophy.

Considered to be one of the most important philosophical works of all-time, A History of Western Philosophy is a dazzlingly unique exploration of the ideologies of significant philosophers throughout the ages — from Plato and Aristotle through to Spinoza, Kant, and the 20th century. Written by a man who changed the history of philosophy himself, this is an account that has never been rivaled since its first publication over 60 years ago.

Since its first publication in 1945, Lord Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy is still unparalleled in its comprehensiveness, its clarity, its erudition, its grace, and its wit. In 76 chapters he traces philosophy from the rise of Greek civilization to the emergence of logical analysis in the 20th century.

Modern Philosophy Books

Looking to branch out to some of the more modern best philosophy books of all time? Here are releases from recent years that are sure to get you thinking.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
by Robert M. Pirsig

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Acclaimed as one of the most exciting books in the history of American letters, this modern epic became an instant bestseller upon publication in 1974, transforming a generation and continuing to inspire millions. This 25th Anniversary Quill Edition features a new introduction by the author; important typographical changes; and a Reader’s Guide that includes discussion topics, an interview with the author, and letters and documents detailing how this extraordinary book came to be. A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, the book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions of how to live. The narrator’s relationship with his son leads to a powerful self-reckoning; the craft of motorcycle maintenance leads to an austerely beautiful process for reconciling science, religion, and humanism. Resonant with the confusions of existence, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a touching and transcendent book of life.

 

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
by Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills

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In The Four Agreements, don Miguel Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love.

 

The Book of Joy
by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams

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Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have survived more than 50 years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships — or, as they would say, because of them — they are two of the most joyful people on the planet.

In April 2015, Archbishop Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate His Holiness’s 80th birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others. They looked back on their long lives to answer a single burning question: How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?

They traded intimate stories, teased each other continually, and shared their spiritual practices. By the end of a week filled with laughter and punctuated with tears, these two global heroes had stared into the abyss and despair of our time and revealed how to live a life brimming with joy.

This book offers us a rare opportunity to experience their astonishing and unprecendented week together, from the first embrace to the final good-bye.

We get to listen as they explore the ‘Nature of True Joy’ and confront each of the ‘Obstacles of Joy’ — from fear, stress, and anger to grief, illness, and death. They then offer us the ‘Eight Pillars of Joy,’ which provide the foundation for lasting happiness. Throughout, they include stories, wisdom, and science. Finally, they share their daily ‘Joy Practices’ that anchor their own emotional and spiritual lives.

The Archbishop has never claimed sainthood, and the Dalai Lama considers himself a simple monk. In this unique collaboration, they offer us the reflection of real lives filled with pain and turmoil in the midst of which they have been able to discover a level of peace, of courage, and of joy to which we can all aspire in our own lives.

 

The 48 Laws of Power
by Robert Greene

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Amoral, cunning, ruthless, and instructive, this multi-million-copy New York Times bestseller is the definitive manual for anyone interested in gaining, observing, or defending against ultimate control — from the author of The Laws of Human Nature.

In the book that People magazine proclaimed “beguiling” and “fascinating,” Robert Greene and Joost Elffers have distilled 3,000 years of the history of power into 48 essential laws by drawing from the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and Carl Von Clausewitz and also from the lives of figures ranging from Henry Kissinger to P.T. Barnum.

Some laws teach the need for prudence (‘Law 1: Never Outshine the Master’), others teach the value of confidence (‘Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness’), and many recommend absolute self-preservation (‘Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally’). Every law, though, has one thing in common: an interest in total domination. In a bold and arresting two-color package, The 48 Laws of Power is ideal whether your aim is conquest, self-defense, or simply to understand the rules of the game.

 

The Path
by Christine Gross-Loh and Michael Puett

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For the first time, an award-winning Harvard professor shares his wildly popular course on classical Chinese philosophy, showing you how ancient ideas — like the fallacy of the authentic self — can guide you on the path to a good life today.

Why is a course on ancient Chinese philosophers one of the most popular at Harvard? Because it challenges all our modern assumptions about what it takes to flourish.

Astonishing teachings emerged 2,000 years ago through the work of a succession of Chinese scholars exploring how humans can improve themselves and their society. And what are these counter-intuitive ideas? Transformation comes not from looking within for a true self, but from creating conditions that produce new possibilities. Good relationships come not from being sincere and authentic, but from the rituals we perform within them. A good life emerges not from planning it out, but through training ourselves to respond well to small moments. Influence comes not from wielding power but from holding back. Excellence comes from what we choose to do, not our natural abilities.

In other words, The Path “opens the mind” (Huffington Post) and upends everything we are told about how to lead a good life. Its most radical idea is that there is no path to follow in the first place — just a journey we create anew at every moment by seeing and doing things differently.

 

How to Live
by Sarah Bakewell

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How to get along with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love — such questions arise in most people’s lives. They are all versions of a bigger question: how do you live? How do you do the good or honorable thing, while flourishing and feeling happy?

This question obsessed Renaissance writers, none more than Michel Eyquem de Monatigne, perhaps the first truly modern individual. A nobleman, public official, and wine-grower, he wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before. He called them “essays,” meaning “attempts” or “tries.” Into them, he put whatever was in his head: his tastes in wine and food, his childhood memories, the way his dog’s ears twitched when it was dreaming, as well as the appalling events of the religious civil wars raging around him. The Essays was an instant bestseller and, over 400 years later, Montaigne’s honesty and charm still draw people to him. Readers come in search of companionship, wisdom, and entertainment — and in search of themselves.

This book, a spirited and singular biography, relates the story of his life by way of the questions he posed and the answers he explored. It traces his bizarre upbringing, youthful career and sexual adventures, his travels, and his friendships with the scholar and poet Étienne de La Boétie and with his adopted “daughter,” Marie de Gournay. And we also meet his readers — who for centuries have found in Montaigne an inexhaustible source of answers to the haunting question, “How to live?”

 

The Wisdom of Insecurity
by Alan W. Watts

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We live in an age of unprecedented anxiety. Spending all our time trying to anticipate and plan for the future and to lamenting the past, we forget to embrace the here and now. We are so concerned with tomorrow that we forget to enjoy today. Drawing from Eastern philosophy and religion, Alan Watts shows that it is only by acknowledging what we do not — and cannot — know that we can learn anything truly worth knowing. In The Wisdom of Insecurity, he shows us how, in order to lead a fulfilling life, we must embrace the present — and live fully in the now.

 

Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity
by Richard Rorty

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In this 1989 book Rorty argues that thinkers such as Nietzsche, Freud, and Wittgenstein have enabled societies to see themselves as historical contingencies, rather than as expressions of underlying, ahistorical human nature or as realizations of suprahistorical goals. This ironic perspective on the human condition is valuable on a private level, although it cannot advance the social or political goals of liberalism. In fact Rorty believes that it is literature not philosophy that can do this, by promoting a genuine sense of human solidarity. A truly liberal culture, acutely aware of its own historical contingency, would fuse the private, individual freedom of the ironic, philosophical perspective with the public project of human solidarity as it is engendered through the insights and sensibilities of great writers. The book has a characteristically wide range of reference from philosophy through social theory to literary criticism. It confirms Rorty’s status as a uniquely subtle theorist, whose writing will prove absorbing to academic and nonacademic readers alike.

 

Sophie’s World
by Jostein Gaarder

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One day Sophie comes home from school to find two questions in her mail: “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?” Before she knows it she is enrolled in a correspondence course with a mysterious philosopher. Thus begins Jostein Gaarder’s unique novel, which is not only a mystery, but also a complete and entertaining history of philosophy.

 

Philosophy as a Way of Life
by Pierre Hadot

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This book presents a history of spiritual exercises from Socrates to early Christianity, an account of their decline in modern philosophy, and a discussion of the different conceptions of philosophy that have accompanied the trajectory and fate of the theory and practice of spiritual exercises. Hadot’s book demonstrates the extent to which philosophy has been, and still is, above all else a way of seeing and of being in the world.

 

Aristotle’s Way
by Edith Hall

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From renowned classicist Edith Hall, Aristotle’s Way is an examination of one of history’s greatest philosophers, showing us how to lead happy, fulfilled, and meaningful lives.

Aristotle was the first philosopher to inquire into subjective happiness, and he understood its essence better and more clearly than anyone since. According to Aristotle, happiness is not about well-being, but instead a lasting state of contentment, which should be the ultimate goal of human life. We become happy through finding a purpose, realizing our potential, and modifying our behavior to become the best version of ourselves. With these objectives in mind, Aristotle developed a humane program for becoming a happy person, which has stood the test of time, comprising much of what today we associate with the good life: meaning, creativity, and positivity. Most importantly, Aristotle understood happiness as available to the vast majority us, but only, crucially, if we decide to apply ourselves to its creation — and he led by example. As Hall writes, “If you believe that the goal of human life is to maximize happiness, then you are a budding Aristotelian.”

In expert yet vibrant modern language, Hall lays out the crux of Aristotle’s thinking, mixing affecting autobiographical anecdotes with a deep wealth of classical learning. For Hall, whose own life has been greatly improved by her understanding of Aristotle, this is an intensely personal subject. She distills his ancient wisdom into ten practical and universal lessons to help us confront life’s difficult and crucial moments, summarizing a lifetime of the most rarefied and brilliant scholarship.

By Alyssa Hollingsworth

FINDING THE RIGHT TIME FOR THE CLASSICS

Every book has the right time and place in one’s life; this is a belief I have always firmly held on to. I grew up in a household of readers, where books were always present and loved, and spent hours pouring over anthologies of fairytales—from the Brothers Grimm through Pushkin to the Arabian Nights and beyond—and children’s classics. I fell asleep to my father reading fairy tales and Bulgarian children’s books full of humor and misadventure. As I got older, mom and I would spend weekends at Barnes and Noble, reading and sipping hot beverages. No matter how many books I have read (and still read), however, there is one category I somehow managed to stay away from: the Classics, or, the Western Canon.

classic audiobooksAs a teenager, works like Pride and Prejudice were mostly known to me from the little screen and word of mouth. If anyone asked if I had read Oliver Twist, I smiled and answered in the affirmative, despite only having watched the musical.

Then, in the summer after my high school graduation, I decided to dabble a little bit. It was 2012. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris had recently come out, and I was obsessed with the Lost Generation. I had read Hemingway’s short stories in Senior Year and loved them; the follow-up was The Great Gatsby. I am not sure why I chose it, exactly (the 2013 Baz Luhrmann movie was not even advertised yet at that point). I suppose it just seemed slim and nonthreatening enough. In retrospect, I could not have chosen a better book.

The day I graduated, a freak storm hit my hometown. As a result, we did not have power for several days. In June, in Virginia, that means drinking a lot of water, taking multiple cold showers, and fanning yourself incessantly with a paper fan. But, coincidentally, I was having the same experience as Nick Caraway. His constant complaints about the heat and humidity of New York in the summer of 1922 resonated. Here it was, the connection I needed with this book! I read it at lightning speed. The Great Gatsby had found me at the right juncture of my life, and so it was easy and really pleasurable to read it.

This is just one example of reading a book at what felt like the right time—a phenomenon that is probably familiar to any reader, and one that I continue to experience. But if the Gatsby incident taught me something, it is that there is not a particular time in life when one should read the literary canon. Many will encounter these famous titles through their high school English and college literature classes, but just because they are a part of the curriculum, it does not mean that this is the point in an individual’s life these works are specifically designated for.

Most recently, over the holiday season, I read Little Women, which was described to me as the perfect holiday read. When the right time arrives, I dive into these books with enthusiasm. In the end, it does not matter how old or at what stage of your life one is (nor, for that matter, how many Classics one reads). What should matter is the joy of the experience—an experience which takes place at just the right moment in the reader’s life—and the joy of sharing and discussing these works of literature with others (judgement-free!).

By , February 

9 Best Characters in Literature Inspired by Real People

Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes (2009) © Warner Bros.

These fictional characters are some of the best, and they’re all based on real people.

Sometimes it can be difficult to pin down where inspiration comes from. While it’s no secret that authors glean inspiration for their literary endeavors from a number of sources, such as research, personal experience, and pure imagination, it is not at all uncommon to discover that some of our favorite characters take their cues from real-life figures. It can be something as simple as a few character traits or the whole-sale xeroxing of a actual person to the page. Regardless, it’s fascinating to find out that beloved characters are based on people who actually existed. On a few rare occasions, it turns out that the real world inspiration is more unbelievable than their literary counterpart. Here are some of the best fictional characters in literature inspired by very real people.

The cover of the book Becoming BelleBecoming Belle
by Nuala O’Connor
Isabel Bilton

Nuala O’Connor’s latest novel draws on a sensational 19thcentury court case, a tangled romance, and more than a little bohemian night-life. O’Connor makes the most of her larger-than-life setting to tell the story of the actual Bilton Sisters, Belle and Flo, and Belle’s increasingly torrid and complex love life.

 

The cover of the book Sherlock HolmesSherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is, without a doubt, the most famous literary detective ever conceived (apologies to Mrs. Poirot and Spade, as well as the inimitable Miss Marple). The inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant, mercurial, misanthropic detective is less so: Dr. Joseph Bell. Conan Doyle met Bell in 1877 at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and was immediately amazed by Bell’s hyper observant nature and deductive abilities. The rest, my dear Watson, was elementary.

 

The cover of the book The Ghost WriterThe Ghost Writer
by Philip Roth
Nathan Zuckerman

Philip Roth was somewhat notorious for using various thinly veiled versions of himself as protagonists for his fiction, which, admittedly, is not an uncommon tact for great fiction writers. In Roth’s case, none came closer to the mark of the actual man than Nathan Zuckerman. Over the course of the four acclaimed novels, Roth used Zuckerman to grapple with his literary success, creative process, and the tensions between literature and life.

 

The cover of the book To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Dill Harris

Harper Lee was famously a childhood friend and lifelong confidant of Truman Capote, even accompanying Capote and assisting in interviews and research for In Cold Blood. Lee actually based the character of Dill Harris on Capote. Given Dill’s eccentricities, extraordinary eloquence, and penchant for storytelling, spotting the inspiration isn’t particularly difficult.

 

The cover of the book The Scarlet LetterThe Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hester Prynne

While this one is not quite as clear cut as some of the others, there are plenty of indications that Nathaniel Hawthorne drew inspiration for Hester Prynne and The Scarlet Letter from real-life events. Prynne, in fact, was likely inspired in part by a real person named Elizabeth Pain. Pain had a child out of wedlock – a child she was later accused of murdering. Despite being found not guilty of the murder, the accusation followed her. Her tombstone in Boston is virtually identical to the one described as Hester Prynne’s at the end of the novel.

 

The cover of the book On the RoadOn the Road
by Jack Kerouac
Dean Moriarty

It’s no secret that Jack Kerouac based the character of Dean Moriarty on Neal Cassady, an real-life counter-culture icon who actually appears in a few other books including Ken Kesey’s Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. In an early draft of On the Road, the character was actually named Neal Cassady. Cassady was a larger-than-life character who met a tragic end – he died from exposure after passing out outdoors.

 

The cover of the book BelovedBeloved
by Toni Morrison
Sethe

Beloved is a shattering and horrifying novel lifted by Toni Morrison’s incredible storytelling ability. The entire novel centers on the revelation of Sethe’s devastating backstory(SPOILER ALERT: major spoilers for Beloved follow). Sethe was an escaped slave who murdered her two-year old daughter because she believed it was better than her being taken back to the plantation. Morrison based this brutal moment on an actual event – A runaway slave named Margaret Garner, while surrounded by slave-catchers, was caught in the act of killing her own children to spare them a life of slavery.

 

The cover of the book Alice's Adventures in WonderlandAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
Alice

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a surreal children’s classic and Lewis Carroll based the character of Alice on an actual girl: Alice Liddell. Carroll, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was close with Liddell’s family and wrote the original version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the girl.

 

The cover of the book Primary ColorsPrimary Colors
by Anonymous
Jack Stanton

Jack Stanton is one of the more thinly disguised literary stand-ins in recent memory. As a charismatic Southern governor running a presidential campaign that is nearly derailed when word of his extra-marital affairs comes to light, it didn’t take any particular insider knowledge to realize Stanton was a caricatured version of Bill Clinton. While certainly a satirical farce, Primary Colors nonetheless proved a fascinating, over-the-top view behind the curtain of a presidential campaign.

7 Authors Who Only Ever Published One (Fantastic) Novel

As book lovers, we’ve all likely experienced that excruciating moment of discovery after reading a novel you absolutely loved: The writer penned only that singular work. To be fair, it is a rare situation, but a bittersweet one nonetheless, made more so when it’s a particularly brilliant piece of fiction. Harper Lee, at one time, was perhaps the most notorious one-off author of the twentieth century with To Kill a Mockingbird (J.D. Salinger slid in at a close second, although we’ll concede that he did pepper us with a few fantastic short stories). Of course, and in spite of some controversy, Go Set a Watchman pushed Lee from this roundup. There are still several classic novels that have proved themselves beloved one-offs. Here are a few of our favorites.

The cover of the book Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights
Emily Brontë
Emily Bronte died just a year after her first and only novel was published. The novel she left us with is an unquestionable classic — a tortured and deeply emotional tale of torment, obsession, and the dangers of unfettered passion.

 

The cover of the book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was published after Mary Ann Shaffer’s death in 2008. An epistolary novel set in 1946, it follows the travails of an extraordinary and eccentric cast of characters on a small British island occupied by the Germans during WWII.

 

The cover of the book Doctor ZhivagoDoctor Zhivago
Boris Pasternak
First published in 1957, Boris Pasternak’s only novel earned him an Nobel Prize in Literature. It is an extraordinary example of 20th century Russian literature and chronicles the turmoil of the Russian Revolution through the lens of a poet/physician struggling to survive against the chaotic tumult of the period.

 

The cover of the book The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye
J. D. Salinger
This now-classic tale, one synonymous with teenage angst and alienation, was J.D. Salinger’s only novel. The story centers on Holden Caulfield, a student at a prestigious prep school in the early 1950’s. Holden’s disdain for his peers and the apparent “phoniness” of those around him proved to be a touchstone for generations of seemingly disaffected teenagers.

 

The cover of the book Gone with the WindGone with the Wind
Margaret Mitchell
This Pulitzer Prize winner was Margaret Mitchell’s only novel. It quickly became a cultural touchstone and the basis for the revered 1939 adaptation. It’s said that Mitchell was unsettled and uncomfortable by the attention garnered by the sprawling Civil War-era epic and decided not to pen a second novel or a follow-up.

 

The cover of the book The Bell JarThe Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath committed suicide less than a month after the publication of of her semi-autobiographical classic. Given Plath’s tragic end, her powerful and devastating chronicle of the mental breakdown of a brilliant young woman gained an entirely new and crushing dimension.

 

The cover of the book Remembrance RockRemembrance Rock
Carl Sandburg
While Carl Sandburg is best known for his poetry, he wrote a single novel. This massive, sprawling tale is Sandburg’s prose chronicle of the American experience. Spanning 300 years of history and myriad characters, it is the definition of epic.

 

The cover of the book HeartburnHeartburn
Nora Ephron
While best known as a screenwriter and essayist, Nora Ephron did turn her extraordinary wit and insight to the world of fiction with this semi-autobiographical novel. It is an emotional and oft-hilarious examination of a crumbling marriage – based in part on Ephron’s second marriage – as only Nora Ephron could write.

 

10 Classic Fantasy Books You Need to Read

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

We all have a few literary blindspots, those novels we’ve heard about or that everyone tells us are classics, but for whatever reason we just haven’t gotten around to reading. When it comes to classic fantasy books, it is sort of understandable. We’re in the middle of a boom in great fantasy at the moment with authors both paying homage to fantasy has been and reimagining what it could be. But even the best of today’s fantasy stand on the shoulder of giants. There are landmarks and wellsprings that led the way for the fantasy scene we see today. These are a few our favorites – classics that have inspired countless readers and, in some cases, generations of writers.

The cover of the book The Hero and the CrownThe Hero and the Crown
ROBIN MCKINLEY
The Hero and the Crown tells the story of Aerin – born to a witchwoman who had enthralled the king. She was unwanted, her story told and her value apparently found wanting. But there was still more to Aerin’s story waiting to be told. A hero’s destiny awaited her in this beloved fantasy classic.

 

The cover of the book The Dragonbone ChairThe Dragonbone Chair
TAD WILLIAMS
The Dragonbone Chair, the first in Tad Williams’ Osten Ard cycle, is a landmark work of fantasy fiction that inspired some of today’s best fantasy writers. Set in the war-torn land of Osten Ard, Dragonbone Chair centers on a kitchen boy who may hold the key to save the realm from total destruction. It’s a masterwork that paved the way for much of what we think of as modern fantasy inspiration for stories ranging from A Song of Ice and Fire to The Kingkiller Chronicle.

 

The cover of the book Mama DayMama Day
GLORIA NAYLOR
Gloria Naylor set a particularly high bar for emotional and nuanced storytelling in fantasy fiction with Mama Day. Set on the island of Willow Spring off the coast of Georgia, the story follows Mama Day, a powerful healer who’s skill is tested when the island’s darker forces descend on her great niece Cocoa. It’s a powerful generational saga not quite like any other fantasy.

 

The cover of the book The HobbitThe Hobbit
J.R.R. TOLKIEN
While Tolkien is arguably best known for his genre defining work in The Lord of the Rings, it all began with The Hobbit. The unexpected journey of Bilbo Baggins and his dwarven companions introduced readers to the world of Middle Earth and began the work of positioning Tolkien as perhaps the most influential fantasy writer of the twentieth century.

 

The cover of the book A Wizard of EarthseaA Wizard of Earthsea
URSULA K. LE GUIN
This coming-of-age tale cemented Ursula K. Le Guin as one of the most imaginative and influential voices of fantasy fiction in the latter half of the twentieth century. Building on the structure of the traditional epic, Le Guin nonetheless challenged the basic preconceptions of what a fantasy novel could be and introduced a subversive classic that would prove to be a wellspring for modern fantasy fiction.

 

The cover of the book The Last UnicornThe Last Unicorn
PETER S. BEAGLE
Few other fantasy novels combine the seeming simplicity of the fairytale form with the darker edges of fantasy fiction. The Last Unicorn is both a classic adventure and a powerful meditation on grief and loss centering around a unicorn who discovers all the joy and sorrow the world has to offer, even as extinction looms.

 

The cover of the book Riddle-MasterRiddle-Master
PATRICIA A. MCKILLIP
Patricia A. McKillip captured the imaginations of thousands of fantasy readers with her Riddle-Master trilogy. It is the epic story of a young prince journeying through a strange land where wizards no longer exist but magic is on the verge of being reborn. The story has been engaging readers for well over twenty years, and this is the perfect time to discover what you’ve been missing.

 

The cover of the book The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride
WILLIAM GOLDMAN
If you only know The Princess Bride from the film, which is itself a classic, do yourself a favor and find a copy of the novel. While the major beats are basically the same, Goldman uses the idea that he’s abridging a longer work by the fictional S. Morgenstern to truly great effect and the novel is full of laugh-out-loud moments and brilliantly witty asides that you simply can’t get on the screen.

 

The cover of the book The Annotated Sword of ShannaraThe Annotated Sword of Shannara
TERRY BROOKS
More than 40 years after its initial release, The Sword of Shannara stands as one of the defining pillars of epic fantasy. The Sword of Shannara, the first in The Sword of Shannara Trilogy, spawned a series spanning multiple novels and beloved by readers the world over. With Sword, Terry Brooks introduced readers to Shea Ohmsford, a half-elf who may very well be the key to pushing back the forces of darkness that threaten to envelope the world. This is where it all began.

 

The cover of the book The Color of MagicThe Color of Magic
TERRY PRATCHETT
No one writes fantasy quite like Terry Pratchett and no one lovingly skewers fantasy tropes quite as well. Spanning over 40 novels, Discworld is a truly epic fantasy undertaking that is equal parts homage, satire, and innovator. With The Color of Magic, Pratchett introduced the concept of Discworld, the city of Ank-Morpork and all of its raucous denizens, as well as a host of fantasies most indelible (and delightfully absurd) characters.

13 Classics From High School English to Read or Read Again

Raise your hand if you have a few literary blind-spots – those classic books that you know you should have read, but for whatever reason have not. Maybe you’re like me and your fifteen-year-old self was an underachiever of near-epic proportions with a more than small streak of procrastination. As a result, a fair number of the classics you should have read in high school English fell by the wayside in favor of far less noble shenanigans. Fortunately, there’s no time like the present to remedy those blind-spots. In fact, having recently corrected one of my own – Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird – I can say that it’s a pretty rewarding pursuit. Here are a few of those high school classics you may have skimmed the first time around, but most definitely deserve a second look.

The cover of the book To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of racism and justice told through the prism of a young girl’s coming-of-age is truly an extraordinary read. Between Harper Lee’s storytelling brilliance and the weighty issues she eloquently examines, To Kill a Mockingbird is well worth revisiting.

 

The cover of the book Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights
Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights was Emily Brontë’s only novel – a real tragedy given the pathos and insight it contained. As a tale of complex relationships, lurid passions, and vengeance, this novel shocked readers upon its initial publication, but has since become an unquestioned classic. Between its well-drawn characters and vivid imaginary, it’s easy to see why.

 

The cover of the book Lord of the FliesLord of the Flies
William Golding
While it’s a necessary read for younger readers, the themes that underline Lord of the Flies only deepen when revisited with fresh eyes. While the violence can be shocking, particularly given that it takes place almost entirely between children, the themes of the corrupting influence of power and the potentially innate savagery lurking within human nature are both unsettling and profound when revisited with an adult perspective.

 

The cover of the book The Grapes of WrathThe Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck was inarguably one of the most gifted storytellers of the twentieth century and The Grapes of Wrath was his masterpiece. It can be easy for our high school selves to overlook, but this sprawling and award-winning tale of the Great Depression, poverty, and family is an extraordinary and moving read.

 

 

The cover of the book Go Tell It on the MountainGo Tell It on the Mountain
James Baldwin
James Baldwin’s 1953 semi-autobiographical novel is told through the voice of a fourteen-year-old minister’s son in 1935’s Harlem. According to Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain is “the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.” It is an essential read for its take on spirituality, sexuality, and morality.

 

 

The cover of the book The OutsidersThe Outsiders
S.E. Hinton
The Outsiders is a young adult classic. It’s a surprisingly nuanced portrayal of socioeconomic inequality told through the perspective of rival teenagers in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Given that S.E. Hinton wrote the novel when she was just sixteen, the strength and surprising depth of its narrative is all the more impressive. This one laid the groundwork for a lot of the YA fiction that followed in its considerable wake.

 

The cover of the book BelovedBeloved
Toni Morrison
More recent among the classics set, published in 1987, Toni Morrison’s Beloved immediately found its place as an essential addition to the American classic canon. This Pulitzer-winning tale, set during the 1860s, brings to life a former slave named Sethe and the ghost that haunts her.

 

 

The cover of the book The Scarlet LetterThe Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale of sin, guilt, and vengeance is a classic of American literature. Unfortunately, a fresh read with adult eyes also shines a light on its continued relevance, particularly in the Me Too era. The realization that we aren’t far removed from the double standard at the heart of Hawthorne’s novel, now well over a century old, adds an entirely new and devastating layer to the story.

 

The cover of the book Moby-DickMoby-Dick
Herman Melville
For all of its narrative strength, there are portions of Moby-Dick that can be more than a little difficult to get through, and they’re likely the same ones you skimmed in high school. Melville spends dozens of pages digging into the minutia of whaling and whale anatomy. As unnecessary as they may initially seem, they’re nonetheless a crucial narrative device for taking readers into the purely obsessive mind of Captain Ahab.

 

The cover of the book Animal FarmAnimal Farm
George Orwell
1984 tends to get most of the attention when it comes to Orwell, and rightly so, but Animal Farm is just as fascinating and nearly as devastating. You can also read it in an afternoon. Orwell’s allegorical exploration of the corrupting influence of power and the potential dangers of populism is biting satire at its very best.

 

 

The cover of the book Great ExpectationsGreat Expectations
Charles Dickens
Great Expectations may be the most Dickensian of Dickens’s novels and as a result it can be pretty easy to get lost in the narrative weeds. Even still, this coming-of-age tale is a fascinating examination of the social landscape of nineteenth-century England, and as a coming-of-age tale is second to none. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it features some of Charles Dickens’s best characters.

 

The cover of the book The Count of Monte CristoThe Count of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Dumas
There are few tales of revenge and redemption that can match the daunting complexity of The Count of Monte Cristo. The decades-spanning story of Edmond Dantes and his quest for vengeance features a cavalcade of characters and side-plots that can be dizzying to follow. It’s also a thrilling adventure that distills everything that made Dumas such a captivating writer.

 

The cover of the book Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
We’ll take any excuse to re-read Jane Austen. If you’ve not yet experienced the joy that is her second work, Pride and Prejudice, take this moment to get to know Elizabeth Bennet in all her coming-of-age, lesson-learning glory.