The 5 Most Inspiring Philosophy Books for Your Christmas #159
Our big Christmas gifts guide, part 1
Dear friends of Daily Philosophy,
welcome to another Friday email! I hope that you’re all well and happily sliding into the advent, while managing to avoid the grossest manifestations of consumerist frenzy that the season brings with it.
Speaking of which, we’re going to stoke the consumerist fires a bit, even here on Daily Philosophy, one of the last refuges of sanity. Because today I’d like to give you some ideas for better Christmas presents: more thoughtful and interesting than four pairs or socks, an assortment of USB cables, or even a new iPhone.
Let’s talk about books.
I started this post with the title “Ten Best Philosophy Books for Christmas” and then I jotted down a list. After I’d reached 63 items within the first ten minutes, it became obvious that I’d have to sort these books into categories and that I’d certainly need more than one post to discuss them.
So today we’ll have the first of a series of posts on my personal best-ever philosophical books that you can give to your loved ones (or even to that uncle you always disliked) as presents. Of course, everyone’s taste will be different. I don’t make any claim that this has to be some kind of definitive list of the “best philosophy books” for everyone. These are just my favourites. But since you’ve been around here, reading these emails for a while now, it may be safe to assume that we do share some preferences about philosophy and about what we find interesting or boring.
So the selection below will be a very personal one. Any list of books is like a fingerprint of the person making the list. Different people like different things and philosophers are even more picky than the general population. A Nietzsche reader will not enjoy Bertrand Russell. A Vienna Circle devotee will not even count Heidegger among the philosophers. No one will like or enjoy all the books below, so use your knowledge of the person you want to give a gift and let that inform your decision.
I want to start with the category that always has meant most to me personally: inspiring books. Those books that can change your life when you are young (or perhaps even if you’re older) and that one remembers throughout one’s life. In later posts, we will also talk about philosophy introductions and histories of philosophy, individual philosophers, novels and short stories with a philosophical theme or twist, and movies and online content that I have always loved. Not everything in these lists is “classic” philosophy. Some works are quite far from academic philosophy, but I’ve always believed that philosophy is best understood as the “love of wisdom” (which is what “philosophy” literally means) and wisdom can take many forms, some of which may, at first, look quite like foolishness.
I wanted to number the books, but when I tried, I found that I just couldn’t do it. A numbering would emphasise far too much my own perspective, and I’m sure that every one of us would come up with their own, different numbering. So I’ll just list them in alphabetical order, by author.
Let’s dive in!
1. Alexandra David-Neel: Magic and Mystery in Tibet
This is one of those books that are idiosyncratic, to say the least. But it’s also a book that is astonishing in its boldness and beautiful in its evocation of old Tibet, a place that does not exist any more as David-Neel describes it here.
Alexandra David-Neel (1868-1969) was a Belgian-French explorer, and, as Wikipedia remarks, she was also a “spiritualist, Buddhist, anarchist, opera singer, and writer.” And note that she was a woman who lived much of her life in the 19th century!
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