Favorite Books



"From my infancy I was passionately fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was laid out in the purchasing of books. [...] I have since often regretted that at a time when I had such a thirst for knowledge, more proper books had not fallen my way ..."
 - Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
Listed below are some of my favorite books and books I'd recommend. The categories are: non-fiction, fiction, books you buy mostly for the pictures, humor, popular science, history and philosophy.

Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago (1963)
- biography of WW II general George S. Patton and basis for the movie starring George C. Scott.

West With The Night by Beryl Markham (1942)
- autobiography of an early aviator. Ernest Hemingway said her book was so well written that it made him "completely ashamed" to call himself a writer.

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (1996)
- autobiography of an Irish youth, a great book that will make you hungry.

Bad Land by Jonathan Raban (1996)
- a superbly written book about the settling of Montana in the early 20th century.

The Time Of Illusion by Jonathan Schell (1975)
- a great book about Richard Nixon and the effects of Watergate.

Inside The Aquarium: The Making Of A Top Soviet Spy by Viktor Suvrov (1986)
- a fascinating book about the training of Soviet spies.

Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson (1971)
- a great book about The American Dream in the early 1970s.

Spycatcher by Peter Wright (1987)
- humorous autobiography of the former Assistant Director of MI 5 (British Intelligence), banned in Britain.

Stone Alone by Bill Wyman (1990)
- story of life in a rock band by the bass player for the Rolling Stones.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003)
- mystery/adventure novel utilizing research on Biblical Criticism and secret societies. Yikes!

The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever (1957)
- humorous tale of an eccentric family.

A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
- classic novel about the French Revolution.

A Fable by William Faulkner (1954)
- brilliantly written, very strange book - a vague allegory of the first three Gospels set in WW I.

Light In August by William Faulkner (1932)
- a study of a sociopath.

Cockpit by Jerzy Kosinski (1975)
- a former secret agent metes out his own style of justice.

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski (1965)
- a very disturbing book about a boy living in Nazi occupied Eastern Europe.

Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard (1992)
- story of a contemporary drug dealer - great dialogue.

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1992)
- powerful story of young men taking a trip to Mexico.

The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz (1953)
- about the power and dangers of totalitarianism.

Twenty Love Poems and a Song Of Despair by Pablo Neruda (1924)
- poems with great imagery.

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
- classic novel about poverty and prejudice.

In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck (1936)
- a subtle study of fanaticism.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980) - an odd and humorous book!

Books You Buy Mostly For The Pictures
American Cars of the 1950s by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide (2007)
- illustrated solely from brochures and ads from the '50s, nicely illustrates the chrome-encrusted land yachts of yesteryear.

The Library: A World History by James W. P. Campbell (2013)
- if you love books, this is the book to have!

Painting Techniques of the Masters
by Hereward Lester Cooke (1972)
- shows how they do it.

Classic Old House Plans by Lawrence Grow (1984)
- contains drawings and floor plans of some classic mansions.

Salvador Dali by Jessica Hodge (1994)
- an excellent short survey of his surrealist paintings.

Castles of Europe by Molly Moynihan (1993)
- worth it just for the photo on the cover.

Treehouses by Peter Nelson (1994)
- survey of some incredibly elaborate treehouses.

Portraits of Unique Homes, Volume Three by Shelley Nohowel and Richard Goodwin (1994)
- great ideas for spending your lottery winnings!

The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss by Claire Nouvian (2007)
- incredible pictures of incredible creatures!

Monet: The Ultimate Impressionist by Sylvie Patin (1993)
- pocket sized, but a superbly written and well photographed book.

Jazz Covers by Joaquim Paulo and Julius Wiedemann (2012)
- classic covers of jazz albums.

Castles by Donald Sommerville (1995)
- a photographic survey of castles.

Van Gogh: A Retrospective by Susan Alyson Stein (1986)
- beautiful collection of his works along with numerous letters by Van Gogh.

The World Encyclopedia of Flags by Alfred Znamierowski (1999)
- shows a huge variety of flags and explains their symbolism.

The Onion's Finest News Reporting, Vol. 1, ed. by Scott Dikkers and Robert Siegel (2000)
-  funny fake news articles (some of which are featured on my office door)!

The Big Book Of Hell by Matt Groening (1990)
- The Ultimate Collection of Binky cartoons.

Letters From A Nut by Ted L. Nancy (1997)
- Real letters written to various corporations, along with their earnest replies.

Some Good Books In Popular Science

There Are No Electrons: Electronics For Earthlings by Kenn Amdahl (1991)
- one of the most entertaining popular science books I've read.

The Origin Of The Universe
by John D. Barrow (1994)
- a short book on the beginning of everything.

Gods, Graves and Scholars by C. W. Ceram (1967)
- dated, but very well-written overview of the history of archeology.

Neuronal Man by Jean-Pierre Changeaux (1985)
- dated now, but a very well written discussion of the biology of the mind.
The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins (1987)
- excellent discussion of evolution.

Why Do Buses Come in Threes? by Rob Eastaway and Jeremy Wyndham (1998)
- amazing account of the ubiquity of mathematics.

Science On Trial: The Case For Evolution by Douglas Futuyma (1995)
- superb discussion of the evidence for evolution.

Bully For Brontosaurus by Stephen Jay Gould (1991)
- interesting tales in natural history.

The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene (2004)
- excellent discussion of contemporary physics, more detailed than most.

The Birth of Time: How Astronomers Measured the Age of the Universe by John Gribbin (2001)
- slightly dated already, but a great read!

Numbers: The Universal Language by Denis Guedj (1997)
- fascinating account of the history of numerals.

Bridges To Infinity by Michael Guillen (1983)
- survey of the value of mathematics for people who hate math.

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert Hare (1999)
- fascinating account of the minds of psychopaths.

Science Matters by Robert M. Hazen and James Trefil (1990)
- a nice overview of the stuff everyone should know.

Only A Theory by Kenneth R. Miller (2008)
- nice refutation of creationism

In the Blink of an Eye by Andrew Parker (2003)
- offers and defends a theory that the evolution of vision caused the Cambrian explosion.

Knocking on Heaven's Door by Lisa Randall (2011)
- accessible book on physics and scienttific methods.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks (1985)
- stories of patients with remarkable and unusual neurological disorders.

Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe by Simon Singh (2004)
- great discussion of the development of the Big Bang theory.

Wrinkles In Time by George Smoot and Keay Davidson (1993)
- great book on the search for the origins of the universe.

DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman (2001).
- interesting study of dimethyltryptamine, a brain chemical that may be responsible for religious mystical experiences.

Some Good Books in History
Rise to Globalism, Sixth Edition by Stephen E. Ambrose (1991)
- excellent overview of American foreign policy since 1938.

What The Bible Really Says by Manfred Barthel (1980)
- superbly written blend of archeology and history of Biblical times.

Religion and the Enlightenment by James M. Byrne (1997)
- excellent discussion of the interrelationships among philosophy, religion and politics during the Enlightenment.

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (1997)
- fascinating account of the rise and fall of societies as a result of geography and natural resources.

Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman (2010)
- well written account of the development of Christianity.

The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible by Robin Lane Fox (1991)
- a fascinating tale of historical detective work.

The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman (2002)
- well-written book about the transition from reason to the Dark Ages in Europe.

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt (2011)
- great book on the move away from a Medieval world view and towards a modern one.

The Ends of Power by H. R. Haldeman (1978)
- an insider's look at Watergate.

The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby (2008)
- discusses the development contemporary anti-intellectualism.

Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger (1994)
- excellent if long book about modern European history American foreign policy written by a guy who made a significant portion of that history.

The Land Where The Blues Began by Alan Lomax (1993)
- story of the birth of the blues and the South in the early part of the 20th century.

The Age Of Reason by Frank Manuel (1951)
- a brief overview of the Enlightenment.

American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World by David E. Stannard (1992)
- eye-opening book about the genocide of Native Americans by Europeans; you'll wonder how we could ever celebrate Columbis Day!

The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon S. Wood (1993)
- a great book on the social changes surrounding the American Revolution.

The following recommended philosophy books are secondary, single author books accessible to advanced undergraduates and philosophy majors. They provide an excellent introduction to the basics. A few of these are a bit dated, but those that are are extraordinarily clear and still useful. If you're just starting out, I would instead recommend the books listed at the end of my article entitled "What Is Philosophy?"
Popular Philosophy
The Matrix and Philosophy ed. by William Irwin (2002) - collection of essays discussing the philosophical themes of the movie The Matrix. Accessible even to those with no philosophical background!

What If... Collected Thought Experiments in Philosophy by Peg Tittle (2005) - fascinating collection of thought experiments!

The Structure of Empirical Knowledge by Laurence Bonjour (1985)
An Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology by Matthias Steup (1996)

Utilitarian Ethics by Anthony Quinton (1988)
Ethics, Second Edition by William Frankena (1973)
Basic Moral Philosophy by Robert L. Holmes (2006)

Introductory Modal Logic by Kenneth Konyndyk (1986)
Metalogic by Geoffrey Hunter (1971)
Possible Worlds: An Introduction to Logic and Its Philosophy by Raymond Bradley and Norman Swartz (1979)
Choice and Chance: An Introduction to Inductive Logic by Brian Skyrms (1999)

Universals by D. M. Armstrong (1989)
Contemporary Metaphysics by Michael Jubien (1997)
An Essay on Free Will by Peter Van Inwagen (1983)

Particular Philosophers
Donald Davidson
Donald Davidson by Simon Evnine (1991)

Descartes: An Analytical and Historical Introduction by Georges Dicker (1993)

Frege by Anthony Kenny (1995)

Cognition and Commitment in Hume's Philosophy by Dan Garrett (2002)

The Categorical Imperative by H. J. Paton (1965)

Locke by R. S. Woolhouse (1983)

John Stuart Mill by John Skorupski (1989)

Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist by Walter Kaufmann

Bertrand Russell by A. J. Ayer (1972)

Spinoza by Stuart Hampshire (1987)

Various Philosophers
A Hundred Years of Philosophy by John Passmore (1957) - covers Mill through Wittgenstein
The Cambridge Companions To ... (Hume, Locke, Plato, etc.) series consists of collections of contemporary essays which tend to be very good.

Wittgenstein by Anthony Kenny (1973)

Philosophy of Language
Language and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language by Michael Devitt and Kim Sterelny (1999)
Philosophy of Language by William Alston (1964)

Philosophy of Mind
Body and Mind, Second Edition by Keith Campbell (1984)
Philosophy of Mind by Jerome Shaffer (1968)
Mental Content by Colin McGinn (1989)
Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy of Religion, by William Rowe (2007)
Reason and Religious Belief, by Michael Peterson, et al, (2008)
The Miracle of Theism by J. L. Mackie (1982)

Philosophy of Science
An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science by Rudolf Carnap (1966)
Philosophy of Natural Science by Carl Hempel (1966)
The Copernican Revolution by Thomas Kuhn (1957)

Political Philosophy
Anarchy, State and Utopia by Robert Nozick (1974)

Twentieth Century Analytic Philosophy
Contemporary Analytic Philosophy by Milton K. Munitz (1981)
Analytic Philosophy by Barry Gross (1970)
Philosophical Analysis by J. O. Urmson (1956)

A Bit Of Almost Everything
Philosophical Explanations by Robert Nozick (1981)

The Encyclopedia of Philosophy edited by Paul Edwards (1967)
- a bit dated now, and expensive (either 4 or 8 volumes, depending on which version you get), but still the best general reference work. A supplemental update volume has recently been published.
The Oxford Companion To Philosophy edited by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Cambridge Dictionary Of Philosophy by Robert Audi (1995)
- these two "dictionaries" are really more like concise encyclopedias. There are some true dictionaries of philosophy out there, but I wouldn't recommend any of the ones I have read. A word of advice regarding the latter: never look up a word unless you already know what it means. Philosophers are fond of adding their own shades of meaning to common philosophical terms.
Blackwell has also published a series of books entitled "Blackwell Companions To ... (Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind, Ethics, Metaphysics, etc.). These tend to be concise encyclopedias on the given topic (although the format does vary).

Oxford has published a series of books entitled Oxford Handbooks each devoted to an area of philosophy. These have been very good. Similarly for Routledge, Continuum and Bloomsbury!