I first tried to read the bible beginning with the Old Testament. It was about as much fun as reading the Koran was, and when I got to a part where they were justifying why you should stone someone to death, I decided "there is no wisdom in this book" and stopped reading. Anyway a Christian friend at my work pointed out that the New Testament was nowhere near as long, and lent me a copy so I gave it a read. I must say it is a much more enjoyable and engaging read than the Koran or the Old Testament, and there is a lot more in it to like. There are also some really disturbing parts, anyway I have written a whole article on it, complete with quotes so you can read more about my thoughts linked from the main page.
"Its Connection With Political & Social Circumstances". Bertrand Russell is a wonderful philosopher and author, and this is the classic introduction to philosophy. His range of knowledge is vast, his insight into the great philosophers is excellent, and at times his wit is wonderfully understated. I would recommend this book, as the history of thoughts reveals something about the processes of history that have led to ourselves. When thinking about the great thinkers of the past who have believed such ridiculous things, we can see how long humanity has struggled with its own limitations. The people of most times in history have believed things, sometime based their entire life upon things, that we know today with the perfect science of hindsight to be completely baseless. This is a message from the ages to us all, just how important doubt needs to be integrated into our own thinking, without paralysing us into inaction. Russell's thought is not dry and academic, he doesn't pull his punches, and I can't say the book left me with much respect for any philosopher before relatively modern times. It did however leave me with a profound respect for Bertrand Russell, and I would highly recommend this, or any other of his writings.
This is one of the most influential books I have ever read. I can't even find a decent link to it on the web, so no chance of anyone buying a copy, and I am unlikely to lend it either. It would be wrong to think that this is merely a book about Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, it ranges far deeper than that. It was meant to be a companion to his other book called Great Philosophers of the West, and he seems to have tried to cover everything else of major note in this book. It starts out talking about some of the oldest (then) known philosophy that of ancient Egypt, looking at songs and poems with interesting insights familiar to modern man. It moves on to Babylonia, Israel and then settles down to specific religions, in order Zoroastarianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Hindu Systems, the Chinese Sages and Mohammed. He doesn't just talk about them, he thinks about them, he inspires you to think about them. It's interesting that many of the best books I have read are dedicated to peoples children, this one his son. I can imagine any intelligent western father would be pleased to share with his son the knowledge that people in other places and times, were thinking deeply and beautifully. We often forget that other parts of the world had advanced civilizations, whilst our forefathers were still hunter gatherers, this book is an antidote to our western centred ways of thought. It is such a pity this book isn't widely published, I've read other similar books but they just weren't anywhere near as good. If you are interested you will just have to come over to my place and read it.
I read the Koran in 1997. It was a real trial to get through it. Mohammed was basically a small time warlord, and the only reason he ever gave for people following his version of the faith was that God said so. If you don't believe in God and you are looking for any other sort of wisdom in this book, I am afraid you will be dissappointed. High points include the part where he says to beat your wife if she is disobedient, or the bit where he says that God has revealed to him he can sleep with pretty much any women he desires, but no one else can. The whole tone he takes as well is disturbing, people who don't believe aren't worth talking to, they are "deaf dumb and blind", and you certainly shouldn't be friends with "people of the book" as he refers to Christians and Jews. I found it really hard to finish the Koran, if people are interested in learning about the Muslim culture which contributed so much to world culture for a thousand years, I would skip the Koran and find a good book on Islam instead. Maybe I just didn't get it but when I had finished my main thought was exactly the same as when I tried to read the Old Testament, "there is no wisdom in this book".
Like it or not statistics say that 96% of humanity consider themselves religious. A huge percentage of them subscribe to a handful of faiths, buddhism, confucianism, taoism, judaism, islam and christianity. If you would like to understand the mind of humanity, what drives it in so much of its day, I'm not sure you can do so without at least a basic understanding of the religions which they follow. If you would understand the world, you should read a book like this, in fact this one is pretty good even if Amazon doesn't have a picture for it, so perhaps read this one.
I have read a number of books about Buddhism, ranging from obscure books about zen, popular asian cartoon books, and even ones which reminded me more of messianical christianity than buddhism. What I wanted though, was a book that was as close to possible to what the buddha actually said, difficult as this is. For some reason neither jesus, buddha or mohammed thought it worthwhile to write down what they thought, and that has been left to people after them. With this in mind I went to the theosophical society in Melbourne and enquired, and I was pointed in the direction of this book, What the Buddha Taught. Since then I have read it a couple of times and enjoyed it immensely, have gotten my partner to read it, given it as a gift, and recommended it many times. I even discussed it with a monk from Sri Lanka who called it "a handbook of buddhism". If you are interested in the buddha, and philosophical wisdom rather than religion, I know of no better book than What the Buddha Taught. The journey to enlightenment starts with a single step, this may be the one for you.
I first saw the television show "Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness" and enjoyed it immensely. On finding out the series was based on the book, I couldn't wait to read it. Basically it is an attempt to bring philosophy into our everyday lives. Sure a lot of philosophy is stupid and rambles on about whether a chair really exists or not, but over the thousands of years and millions of words, some good has come of it. De Botton is very selective about what he chooses from each philosopher, Neitzsche, who was in actuality a complete bastard, is portrayed as a misguided soul searching for love, and the bits where he recommends taking a whip to a women are left out. Socrates who said all sorts of stupid things about how the gods could be logically proved to exist, becomes a martyr of the highest order dying the perfect death to show us all how unpopularity is often the nobler course. Really when it comes down to it, should we let peoples vast stupidity blind us from the positive and helpful things they might have to say that can help us in our own lives? Even the dullest mind it seems can be really right about something when others around them are blind to it. This is a fabulous book, and I really loved the parts about Epicurus. This book achieves what it sets out to do, give us a philisophical insight into ourselves through the words of the great philosophers, and it is written in a witty, idiosyncratic and amusing style. Very enjoyable read.
There are few much more maligned books than this, I first heard about it in high school from a friend who used to joke about the sort of people who read books like it, so often indeed that it stuck in my mind. Well wherever you are Jesse, I'm sorry but I became one of those people who read a book like this. I can only think people dislike it because they baulk at the title and never actually read the book, which is at worst harmless and at best an example of how people should treat each other in a kinder more productive way. It is written from the perspective of those who would be leaders of people, and how to wield that power in such a way as you not only influence people, but you win friends at the same time. It is full of quaint stories and examples which illustrate the points well. For example, the point of listening to all opinions is made by a large group of men with all sorts of machinery trying to remove a truck which had gotten stuck under a bridge, a passing young girl mentioned that letting the tyres down might be a good idea, saving them many hours of trouble because they chose to listen to her. It has stories about many famous people, often American political leaders, and how they dealt with people and problems, showing by the example of some of the most successful people in history how we might do things differently in our own lives. Every one I have gotten to read this book has enjoyed it, most have loved it, some have even bought their own copies and one even bought me an extra lending copy he enjoyed it so much. It is like having a conversation with a wise elderly person about how to get on in the world.
What happens after we die? Why don't we investigate it, amongst other things look at the experiences of people who have been declared clinically dead and survived? The reason we don't is because yet again a bunch of crazy religious people have already decided (or should I say have been told) what happens after death, so there can be no logical debate about it. The debate is so muddied, that it has people who believe without any evidence in some religious wonderland after they die on one side, and on the other people who deny the possbility of life after life purely because it's so obvious the people on the first side have no idea what they are talking about. Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people have had near death experiences, during which they report surprisingly similar phenomenon. If you are interested in what might really happen when we die, forget the religions, in fact forget everyone who says they know one way or the other. This book made me a little too spiritual for a while, but once I got over that, I think I was a better person for reading it, because I finally knew the truth....that I didn't know. The second book is even better, thats why I had to put both in.
It is hard to imagine a more beautiful and epic poem than the Bhagavad Gita (gita means song). Its theme is a dialogue between Arjuna and Lord Krishna, as they drive a chariot between two parts of an extended family, about to go to war. Arjuna tells Lord Krishna that he has no heart to kill people who are his own blood, and Krishna tells him not to be silly, that he should go calmly into war, because no matter what he does in life, his fate is not his own to command, but rather Lord Krishna's. Anyway once the war mongering is over, it gets much better as Arjuna starts to ask questions about life, what makes a good man (not person as usual in the great religions) etc. Some of the most interesting passages in it are where Krishna says that no matter what god one prays to, they will in the end come to Krishna. Quite refreshing to see the more relaxed nature about other gods of polytheistic religions, it's a pity the followers of hinduism aren't always so relaxed about those worshipping other gods. I have read two versions, the happy modern version, and also a version translated and published in 1885, which I adore because it in many places is written in poetry, I would imagine much more like the original. Yes it is another weird religious book telling you how to live you life with little evidence as to why one should do so, but it manages to do it in a wise and beautiful way. "Fearlessness, singleness of soul, the will always to strive for wisdom, opened hand and governed appetites, and piety, and love of lonely study, humbleness, uprightness, heed to injure nought which lives, truthfulness, slowness unto wrath, a mind that lightly letteth go what others prize, and equanimity and charity which spieth no mans faults; and tenderness towards all that suffer; a contented heart. fluttered by no desires; a bearing mild, modest and grave, with manhood nobly mixed, with patience, fortitude, and purity; An unrevengeful spirit never given to rate itself too high; - such be the signs..of him whose feet are set on that fair path which leads to heavenly birth". There is good in this book, highly recommended.