We all have books that have inspired us – however we each define inspiration. Many people would include a religious book such as the Bible or Koran in their list. But for this article, I focus on other books that have provided me with a more secular inspiration.
That is not to say that these books might not have a religious aspect. Many of the great philosophers approached their ideas from a religious point of view. But the books listed here are not ‘religious’ texts, such as the Bible, per se.
So here is my list. Feel free to comment on your thoughts and offer your own list.
Related Article: Five of my Favorite Books
Paul Strathern’s “90 Minutes” Series
This is actually a series of small books covering the Western world’s great philosophers’ principal ideas, from Plato and Socrates to Kant and Wittgenstein. Reading philosophical texts can be a daunting task, as I’m sure many of you know. But Strathern condenses the thoughts of the great philosophical minds of the ages into about 90 pages.
Certainly, these books don’t provide an in-depth discussion of the philosophers’ ideas. As Katherine A. Powers of the Boston Globe wrote: “Each of these little books is witty and dramatic and creates a sense of time, place, and character…I cannot think of a better way to introduce oneself and one’s friends to Western civilization.”
To me, that is the strength of Strathern’s books. They provided a starting point to explore further the philosophical ideas one finds most interesting and intriguing.
Great Thinkers of the Western World
This book is a concise presentation of the ideas of 116 of the world’s greatest thinkers throughout history. The works are arranged chronologically, making it easy for the reader to follow the development and evolution of ideas – from the Greeks to the early 20th century. Additionally, the volume contains brief biographies of each of the thinkers, providing context for the times in which they lived.
Great Thinkers of the Western World expands on the content provided in Strathern’s 90-minute series but still presents philosophical ideas in an easily digestible form and length. There is also a coordinated bibliography for further exploration.
The New Lifetime Reading Plan
This book, originally published in 1960, is now in its fourth edition. The latest publication date is 1999, so it has still been around for a while.
But that really doesn’t matter, because the suggestions in this book have stood the test of time as great works. In the 21st century, it has become more popular than ever to dismiss works of “dead white men.” Yet, the New Lifetime Reading Plan selections present inspiration from some of the great thinkers of all time and are not limited to Europeans.
From Homer to Hawthorne, Plato to Pascal, and Shakespeare to Solzhenitsyn, Western civilization’s great writers can be found in chronological order. Moreover, the latest edition provides increased emphasis on the works of women authors.
Plato Not Prozac
No matter what the problems you face, it can help apply the great philosophers’ principles to the solution. But that can be daunting – simply understanding the various approaches can take years of study.
From Kirkegaard’s thoughts on coping with death to the I Ching’s guidelines on adapting to change, Plato, Not Prozac makes philosophy accessible. This little book condenses those ideas in ways that provide inspiration to address real-world issues.
Happy for No Reason
I would be happy if … fill in the blank. If I had more money – If I was better looking – If I had more friends – If I lived in another time.
But in Happy for No Reason, transformational leader and New York Times best-selling author Marci Shimoff takes the position that we already have within us the ability to live in a state of happiness. By inspecting the lives of people who seem naturally happy, regardless of their circumstances, Shimoff presents core principles to find happiness within ourselves.
In today’s world, filled with medical, economic, and social strife, we could all use a little ‘glass half full’ approach to life. But this book isn’t merely one of feel-good platitudes. It provides a doable road map to finding the positive within ourselves.
What’s Your Inspiration?
That’s my list. What are works that have inspired you? Feel free to list them in the comments section below.