50 Classic Books ofPhilosophy

8 Apr 2023

Reviewing the book '50 Philosophy Classics' By Tom Butler-Bowdon
I have read many philosophy books and philosophy introductions, but lately, I've been trying to get more into actual original works. So when I saw this book, which deals with specific influential philosophy books rather than just explaining ideas, it made me curious.

When I've dived into philosophy introductions before, and when they have a short introduction for each thinker or idea, I've generally skipped the ones I'm already fairly familiar with, with tends to make the portion I actually read very short. I was surprised that this didn't happen here, and that's be cause of the author's choice of who to include,

There is a very standard philo- sophical canon that you will find pretty much one very single book you pick. For example, Aristotle
or Descartes. But there were many here that I've never read much about if anything at all. For example, I've heard the name of Hannah Arendt, but I never knew what she actually wrote about. He explores her book of "The Human Condition" in 1958, arguing that the nature of human beings is the creation of possibility, of the unexpected. Another one is Ralph Waldo Emerson, who discusses the interplay of both fate and creative power in 1860.

There were many others that I en- joyed, such as Baudrillard, Simone de Beauvoir, Bergson, David Bohm, Noam Chomsky, Foucault, Michael Sandel, and Slavoj Žižek. All of them are thinkers that I knew by name for a long time but never actually read anything about. Finally learn- ing what their philosophies were
was honestly thrilling.

There were a couple of other partic- ularities that stood out to me. One is that there are a fair bit of modern works (20th and even 21st century), which is very unusual for these types of books. That was good to see, and I think it's a major flaw of philosophy introductions that gen- erally focus on the older classics. It only further sinks the notion which philosophy is a thing of the past which is blatantly wrong.

Another aspect that I enjoyed is how there were a few people that aren't really philosophers. To be honest, the ones that were included, I wasn't a big fan of, such as Sam Harris or Nicholas Taleb. From so many thinkers, I think that was a poor choice. But I still think it was a good effort and refreshing to
see. Philosophy is generally a bit pretentious about who is able to get inside the circle or not. I liked that the author wasn't so bound by such conventions.

The writing itself was excellent, and everything was summarized very well. I don't think there was a single author that was hard to understand. And it had a good balance of not being so short that you don't get anything substantial but also not so long that it seems to drag with each chapter. Everything feels the right amount and creates a feeling of newness with each following chapter that seems to come at the perfect time.

The only thing I didn't like was the organization. It doesn't have any structure at all, and the authors are presented in alphabetic order. I typ
ically don't like the usual present- ation, which is chronological (I prefer grouping them by topic), but that's still better than this. I get that the author was trying to avoid cat- egories and make new connections, but it just doesn't work well.

Overall it's a fantastic resource. The length of the book and the depth of some of the philosophers don't make this the easiest philosophy introduction ever, but I would say it's a somewhat "light intermediate" reading. If it's your very first reading of philosophy ever, maybe getting something shorter and more canonical is best. But if you have some experience, even if really minor, and you want a very broad and enjoyable journey into philo- sophy with an emphasis on specific key books, this is a wonderful choice!
And in case you're curious to know what 50 books were covered, here you go:

1. Hannah Arendt The Human

Condition (1958)

2. Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics (4th

century BC)

3. AJ Ayer Language, Truth and Logic


4. Julian Baggini The Ego Trick (2011)

5. Jean Baudrillard Simulacra and Simulation (1981)

6. Simone de Beauvoir The Second Sex (1952)

7. Jeremy Bentham Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789)

8. Henri Bergson Creative Evolution


9. David Bohm Wholeness and the
Implicate Order (1980))

10. Noam Chomsky Understanding

Power (2002)

11. Cicero On Duties (44 BC)

12. Confucius Analects (5th century BC)

13. Rene Descartes Meditations (1641)

14. Ralph Waldo Emerson Fate


15. Epicurus Letters (3rd century


16. Michel Foucault The Order of Things (1966)

17. Harry Frankfurt On Bullshit


18. Sam Harris Free Will (2012)

19. GWF Hegel Phenomenology of
Spirit (1803)

20. Martin Heidegger Being and

Time (1927)

21. Heraclitus Fragments (6th


22. David Hume An Enquiry

Concerning Human Understanding


23. William James Pragmatism


24. Daniel Kahneman Thinking: Fast

and Slow (2011)

25. Immanuel Kant Critique of Pure

Reason (1781)

26. Søren Kierkegaard Fear and

Trembling (1843)

27. Saul Kripke Naming and

Necessity (1972)

28. Thomas Kuhn The Structure of
Scientific Revolutions (1962)

29. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Theodicy (1710)

30. John Locke An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)

31. Marshall McLuhan The Medium is the Massage (1967)

32. Niccolo Machiavelli The Prince


33. John Stuart Mill On Liberty (1859)

34. Michel de Montaigne Essays


35. Iris Murdoch The Sovereignty of Good (1970)

36. Friedrich Nietzsche Beyond Good

and Evil (1886)

37. Blaise Pascal Pensees (1670)
38. Plato The Republic (4th century


39. Karl Popper The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934)

40. John Rawls A Theory of Justice


41. Jean-Jacques Rousseau The Social Contract (1762)

42. Bertrand Russell The Conquest of

Happiness (1920)

43. Michael Sandel Justice (2009)

44. Jean Paul Sartre Being and

Nothingness (1943)

45. Arthur Schopenhauer The World as Will and Representation (1818)

46. Peter Singer The Life You Can Save (2009)

47. Baruch Spinoza Ethics (1677)
48. Nassim Nicholas Taleb The Black

Swan (2007)

49. Ludwig Wittgenstein

Philosophical Investigations (1953) 50. Slavoj Zizek Living In The End Times (2010)

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