10 Of The Best Philosophy Books You Must Read This Year

Whatever problems you’re facing, by reading the best philosophy books, you’re looking back at history and learning from emperors, businessmen, and slaves.

We all face problems during our daily lives, and everyone has their own way of dealing with them. Whatever your problem is, someone in the past likely had the same issue and found ways of dealing with it effectively.

This is where reading a philosophy book can make your life a thousand times easier. Ancient philosophers dealt with the same problems we’re facing, but they never had phones, the Internet and television to distract themselves. All they could do was read and write about their problems then find solutions.

Thoreau expressed the same thought by saying, “To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school … it is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”

Let’s look at a few books that can give you the knowledge to deal with your problems more effectively.

1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is the first book I read about stoic philosophy after finding out about stoicism on the Internet. This is a book everyone should read, since it provides simple solutions to huge problems we face every day. The three biggest lessons I learned from reading Meditations are:

  • Managing your expectations saves you from a lot of unnecessary headaches.
  • Always focus on the internal and ignore the external.
  • Don’t worry about anyone else's opinions about you.

Manage Your Expectations

If you were to rent a house for $1,000 per month, and your landlord told you that in exactly one year, he would increase your rent to $1,100 then after one year you won’t be angry. Why? Because you expected him to raise your rent.

If he had not told you beforehand, then suddenly increased your rent, you would be furious. 

That’s the power of expectation. Aurelius teaches us how to use expectation to our advantage in our daily lives when putting effort into something and expecting a certain result. The practice can be useful in marriage, business, relationships or fitness goals.

Instead of having high expectations, expect the worst possible result. This might seem scary at first, but it can do wonders for your long-term happiness.

For example, if you started a business with the expectation of making money only after a year, and you actually make money after six months, you’d be ecstatic. But if you set high expectations, like making $1 million after one year, then even if you made $200,000, you’d still be disappointed since you never set proper expectations.

Focus Only on The Internal and Ignore The External 

Internal forces are fully in your control while external forces are random. When you base your happiness on something out of your control, you set yourself up for a miserable life.

An example of something internal is the hard work you put in at the gym. Only you can determine the number of reps and sets you’re able to complete in one session and how many sessions you can get in every week.

If you focus on improving your lifting form, your diet and the amount of weight you lift, you'll be far happier than the guy or girl who focuses on the external and looks at someone else, aiming to reach that person’s fitness level.

In this philosophy book, Aurelius speaks about ignoring everything that’s not in your control and focusing on what you can control.

Don’t Worry About Other People’s Opinions

A rule of thumb I like to follow is that if I won’t take advice from someone, I won’t take criticism from them.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The only people who’re criticizing others are those who are unsuccessful and unhappy with their own lives. Why would you even value their opinion? 

In Aurelius’s lifetime, he faced a lot of criticism but he never cared about them since he knew those people were unhappy.

Can you imagine Elon Musk or Bill Gates criticizing someone over the Internet? No! They don’t have time for that. The only people who have time for offering unsolicited criticism are unfulfilled and unsuccessful. 

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Marcus Aurelius
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Man's Search for Meaning
  • Great product!
  • Frankl, Viktor E. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 06/01/2006 (Publication Date) - Beacon Press (Publisher)

2. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday

The Daily Stoic contains 366 different philosophical texts, each explained further by author and philosopher Ryan Holiday. He also gives practical advice on how you can implement these meditations into your daily life.

I suggest starting slow and reading only a few philosophical texts per day. The two biggest principles I got out of this book are:

  • Amor Fati
  • Remember your own mortality.

Amor Fati

Amor Fati is a famous Latin term that directly translates to “love of fate.” A perfect example of someone displaying Amor Fati is Thomas Edison. In the nineteenth century, Edison found out that his factory had burned down, and all the work he put in went up in flames. He told his son who stood next to him, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.”

He realized he had no control over that fire. Instead of getting angry about it, he embraced it. He loved his fate.

That’s what Amor Fati is. When something bad happens that you have no control over, why get angry or depressed? Instead, accept it, and you’ll have an easier time loving your fate.

Remember Your Own Mortality

At any given time in the future, all this will be gone. All your problems, dreams, desires and fears will be a thing of the past, so instead of being scared of your death, embrace it. Remember, Amor Fati.

When you realize your whole life can be over in a split second, you start appreciating the gift life is, and you focus only on things that are important to you. You ignore everything else. 

I like comparing life and death to a vacation. When you first go on vacation, you don’t get depressed at the fact that it’ll be over in a few weeks. You know your vacation is limited, so you must make the most of it while it lasts. Practice the same attitude toward life.

“What we desire makes us vulnerable.”

Ryan Holiday
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The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living
  • The Daily Stoic 366 Meditations on Wisdom Perseverance and the Art of Living
  • Hardcover Book
  • Holiday, Ryan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 10/18/2016 (Publication Date) - Portfolio (Publisher)

3. A New History of Western Philosophy by Anthony Kenny

This philosophy book is a must-read for anyone interested in western philosophy. It’s similar to the book A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, but it’s far easier to read. Kenny explains his ideas intelligently and in detail. He also defends his opinions by sharing his reasoning.

Kenny starts by telling the history of philosophy in Ancient Greece then moves through the Middle Ages and into the Enlightenment. Last, he writes about modern philosophy and introduces us to great thinkers like Ockham, Aquinas and Augustine.

Instead of teaching about a specific philosophy and how it’ll benefit our lives, Kenny explains common Western philosophy, who follows it and why it’s so effective in dealing with everyday problems. This makes the book uniquely interesting.

“Virtue is indeed teachable,”

Anthony Kenny
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A New History of Western Philosophy
  • Clarendon Press
  • Kenny, Anthony (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1080 Pages - 10/15/2012 (Publication Date) - Oxford University Press (Publisher)

4. Republic by Plato

This book focuses on Plato and his ideas of the “perfect republic.” He tells stories about himself and writes a lot about the nature of justice and how he and his men aimed to enforce this justice.

Plato includes countless opinions of others about how an ideal republic should be governed. One of the first issues they discussed was true justice. Some said justice is returning favors to those who helped you while being a good person.

Plato provides an unique view on how philosophers debate this issue and recommend their own versions of justice. Plato concludes that justice isn’t just mere strength but using that strength to do good. Everyone should benefit from justice, not just the strong.

Another compelling topic this book considers is Plato’s top five regimes. His order from best to worst was:

  1. Aristocracy
  2. Timocracy
  3. Oligarchy
  4. Democracy
  5. Tyranny.

It’s interesting that he put aristocracy first and democracy just above tyranny; however, many people today will agree that democracy is by far the best system of government.

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

Plato
The Republic of Plato
  • Basic Books
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 528 Pages - 11/22/2016 (Publication Date) - Basic Books (Publisher)

5. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

After reading the book The Gulag Archipelago, you’ll look at the world through a completely different lens. In the modern world, many of us live comfortably and safely in our homes.

Although we might have problems like not making enough money, feeling depressed and suffering from social anxiety, our discomfort is nowhere near the amount of pain and suffering people in the past experienced.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote this book when he was forced to work in the Gulag, which is a labor camp in the Soviet Union.

In the Gulags, Solzhenitsyn and his peers experienced a world of pain and suffering we can’t even imagine. This is an eye-opening book but it’s difficult to read since you’ll see firsthand how evil people can really become.

The two biggest lessons I took from reading this book are:

  • Evil people don’t know they’re doing evil deeds.
  • Ideologies own people.

People Who Do Evil Aren’t Evil

The soldiers who arrested and killed innocent people for trying to make a living didn’t think that in carrying out orders they were doing anything evil. They thought those they arrested were evil capitalists. 

After you realize this, you realize that anyone can be manipulated into doing evil since they think they’re doing something noble. But this doesn’t make them evil people.

Ideologies Own People

Ideologies can destroy, separate and own people, and that causes many conflicts. The reason Stalin decided to send people to the Gulag is he thought his ideology was best. Further, he thought anyone who disagreed with him was wrong and should be punished. 

The best way to avoid falling into this trap is to understand why other people have different ideas and their reasoning of those ideas. Making the effort to understand prevents you from being closed-minded and looking down on people who don’t share your ideals.

“If you live in a graveyard, you can't weep for everyone.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago
  • HARVILL SECKER
  • Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 496 Pages - 12/31/2002 (Publication Date) - Vintage Uk (Publisher)

6. Letters From A Stoic by Lucius Annaeus Seneca

The philosopher Seneca wrote this book, and anyone who’s practicing stoicism must read it because it contains countless great experiences, lessons and theories.

Letters From a Stoic teaches us several ideas we can use in our everyday lives to get more things done, live with less stress and make better decisions. My biggest takeaway, however, was to focus on one thing at a time.

The world we live in is filled with distractions like phones, television, video games and the Internet. Although stoic philosophers like Seneca, Kant and Aristotle never had these distractions, they knew the importance of focusing on one thing.

When you’re working and focusing on your goals, avoid preventable distractions. As motivation, you can always enjoy your phone, TV and video games as a reward when you’re finished.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Seneca
Letters from a Stoic (Collins Classics)
  • Seneca, Lucius (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 01/12/2021 (Publication Date) - William Collins (Publisher)

7. Discourses Of Epictetus

Most ancient stoic philosophers like Aristotle, Kant and Socrates came from the top of society; however, one of the most important stoics came from the opposite end of the spectrum. 

Epictetus was born into poverty as a slave. In 68 CE, Emperor Nero passed away and Epictetus was awarded his freedom. He devoted his life to philosophy, lectured to thousands of people in Rome, and opened a school in Greece. Students of Epictetus like Arrian studied his work extensively, and his writings about ancient philosophy survive to this day.

The biggest lesson for me in this book is about focusing on what you can and cannot control. It’s similar to Meditations, but it goes into far more detail about what is and is not in your control.

I found that by simply ignoring factors you don’t control, you eliminate almost all stress, anxiety and problems from your life.

Epictetus uses an extreme example about a man who was sentenced to death. Because his death wasn’t in his control, he never wasted time worrying about it. What he had control over was if he was going to die miserable or with a smile on his face.

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

Epictetus
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Discourses and Selected Writings (Penguin Classics)
  • Penguin Classics
  • Epictetus (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages - 11/25/2008 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

8. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

Tao Te Ching is an eastern philosophy book, and it's the reason I started meditating. Lao Tzu believes everyone should meditate since it has countless benefits for your mental and emotional health.

Tzu doesn't call the practice meditation. He calls it solitude, but the principles are the same.

You sit in a quiet place with no distractions and focus on your breath. You’ll find that it's impossible to not think of anything else since your mind will think about the past and future. This is a good thing because if you’re struggling with a problem, your subconscious will look for solutions to these problems.

After meditating only a few times, you won’t see benefits. Stick with it for a few weeks, though, and you’ll start opening the floodgates of inspiration that are a crucial tool for a writer.

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Lao Tzu
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Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way
  • Le Guin, Ursula K. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 136 Pages - 05/14/2019 (Publication Date) - Shambhala (Publisher)

9. Man’s Searching For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Man’s Searching For Meaning is similar to The Gulag Archipelago, as it documents Viktor Frankl’s experiences in Auschwitz, an infamous Nazi concentration camp.

He was tortured, beaten and worked to the brink of death every day for three years. His captors gave him little food and no clothes or shoes which led to frostbitten toes and a laundry list of diseases. Death was a daily occurrence since inmates were starved, beaten and executed for no reason.

To top that all off, his mother, father, brother and wife were killed in the space of a few years.

With all those horrible things in mind, how did Frankl find life worth living? He found meaning in suffering by developing a strong why. He always envisioned himself standing on stage and talking to people about his experiences. That’s what allowed him to overcome any obstacle.

Frankl suggests that everybody develop a strong why, and if your why is strong enough, it can overcome any how.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Viktor Frankl
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Man's Search for Meaning
  • Great product!
  • Frankl, Viktor E. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 06/01/2006 (Publication Date) - Beacon Press (Publisher)

10. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Although Atlas Shrugged is a controversial political philosophy book because it compares socialism to capitalism, it deserves a read because author Ayn Rand lived in both socialist and capitalist states. Atlas Shrugged gives us a deeper understanding of the two philosophies than what we’d get from reading a textbook.

The book is massive. It’s well over 1,000 pages and has tiny words that you can barely see. If you don’t feel like reading all those pages, opt for a mini version. You can buy one on Amazon, and it covers all the important topics without you having to read so many pages.

My biggest takeaway from this book is that you receive based on what you deserve, not your needs. And this doesn’t apply only to money. It could be respect or love.

Rand also writes about objectivism and individualism, and will cause you to question your morals and principles. For example, if someone secretly returned all the taxes you’ve paid over the course of your lifetime, would you take it, or would you refuse because it’s “stealing”?

Another theory that’s deeply discussed in this book is Rand’s view on government regulation. Rand lived in two countries that were on different ends of the spectrum. In the Soviet Union, everything was owned and controlled by the government. In the United States, however, citizens have the freedom to start a business with minimal regulation.

She compares the two political philosophies and shares her opinion on which is better.

“The Only Proper Purpose Of A Government Is To Protect Man's Rights, Which Means: To Protect Him From Physical Violence.”

Ayn Rand
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Atlas Shrugged
  • Plume Books
  • Rand, Ayn (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1192 Pages - 08/01/1999 (Publication Date) - NAL (Publisher)

Why Should I Bother Reading Philosophy Books?

From a distance, philosophy may seem like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. Before I started reading philosophy books religiously, I thought the topic was irrelevant, boring and even weird. But after further inspection, I realized that philosophy is literally the answer to all our problems.

Every problem you face was overcome by millions, if not billions, of people. Philosophers from the past wrote down problems and found solutions. Why not learn from other people’s successes and failures and the attitudes they adopted to overcome their problems?

the Final Word On Best Philosophy Books

We all have a certain number of years left on this Earth, and it’s best to make the most of our lives. One of the best ways to do this is to learn about other philosophies and ideologies and challenge our own. By simply reading a few pages of these books every day, you gain critical information about the world itself.

FAQs On Best Philosophy Books

Does Stoicism Mean Emotionless?

No. Stoicism encourages you to be full of emotion because it's what makes you human and gives you good ethics. Stoics behave indifferently to circumstances and make decisions rationally, which might appear emotionless.

Which Are The Best Ancient Stoic Philosophers To Read About?

Aristotle, Kant and Socrates are all popular stoic philosophers who wrote countless books that are easy to understand and allow you to improve your life and ethics. With the understanding you take from the Stoics, you can become a happier and more fulfilled person.

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Author

  • Yaseen is a personal trainer turned professional writer and he’s obsessed with everything health, fitness, and business-related. If he isn’t at the gym, you can find him playing video games or spending time with friends and family.

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