The Reader and the Thinker: Books for the Armchair Philosopher

19/08/2014

Long after you’ve left school, this time of year may still leave you with the urge to buy pencils and a new lunchbox. And something about a dip in temperature (thank you very much, Augtober) means the beach reads won’t be quite as satisfying now, and it’s time for me to look for something a little more – dare I say it – philosophical.

 

But if the prospect fills you with dread, not to worry! Many excellent authors specialize in addressing such a serious and scholarly subject in an engaging and approachable manner. These are not lightweight authors, but they recognize that many of their readers may still be novice philosophers, and they encourage us to become involved in some of the Big Questions and new ways of looking at the world.

 

 John Armstrong’s How to Worry Less About Money (one of several publications released by the School of Life in London) is the book I have recommended most this year. Not a financial guide in the traditional sense, How to Worry Less About Money examines how we feel about money, why we feel that way, and how we can use this self-analysis to sensibly approach our financial priorities. At a mere 148 pages (with pictures!) this little philosophy book packs a punch, and as an added bonus it’s the most enlightening and refreshing book about finances I’ve read.

 

 

 

 The founder of The School of Life, Alain de Botton, is a staple of the philosophy section. I’ve always favoured his “old” material, and if you’re looking to start exploring his work, you couldn’t do better than How Proust Can Change Your Life (for which you absolutely do not have to have read Proust) and The Art of Travel, which will change the way you look at your yearning to get away from it all, exotic locales, airport lounges, and everything in between.

 

 

 

If you prefer your philosophy with a plotline, you want Jostein Gaarder, whose novels use complex plot and characters to examine some of those Big Questions. Sophie’s World, his best known work, follows the philosophical education of 14-year-old Sophie, who comes home from school to discover that she is receiving mysterious letters introducing her to the great philosophers – and challenging her to give their perspectives a try and ask difficult questions in her own life. Sophie’s World is a brilliant and enjoyable introduction to philosophical theory.

 

 

 

 And for something a little reassuring when times are hard, you might want to reach for Andrew Shaffer’s funny and fascinating Great Philosophers Who Failed  at Love. This book is full of bite-sized biographies of great minds falling afoul of love, or making such spectacularly bad decisions that you are bound to feel better about  your circumstances by comparison. On a more thoughtful note, Adam Phillips’ On Kindness is a slim but eloquent volume about why kindness matters so much to  us psychologically, culturally, and historically – and how much we stand to lose if we treat it carelessly. It’s a topic that is all too easily overlooked, even when it’s one of the things we need the most.

 

 

So put on your philosopher’s cap and address some of your most pressing questions with a little guidance from the experts. And the best thing is, there’s no final exam.

 

Image: The Art of Travel

The Art of Travel

By De Botton, Alain
Image: Sophie's World

Sophie's World

A Novel About the History of Philosophy
By Gaarder, Jostein
Image: On Kindness

On Kindness

By Phillips, Adam