1 The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
Not since reading Hannah Arendt have I been this impressed with a thinker. Arendt’s History of Totalitarianism was one of the most challenging and rewarding reads of my life. Much the same holds true for The Second Sex. I have encountered page-turners in other genres, like a thriller, but never in philosophy. It is dense and abundant with brilliance on every page. People mostly connect Simone to Sartre and having read them both I really think it should be the other way around. I truly consider her superior. They are both once in a generation thinker, but the biggest difference to me is the writing. She’s a better writer, in the sense that she can express brilliant ideas with very pleasing, aesthetically stunning language. Also big props to the translator team of Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier.
The book itself deals with a large number of historical conditions that most women had to experience throughout history. It is a book that should be read by everyone at least once in their life.
2 The History of Religious Ideas by Mircea Eliade
If you like the history of religion, or as I like to call it, the evolution of ideas that as time passed became sacred this three-volume work is magnificent. It deals with the genesis of every single major and minor religious idea ever. One of the most delightful things about reading this and learning so much about a subject that is a flaming passion in my life was the lack of repetition, as well as short, concise chapters that tell you everything that you need to know about let us say Zamoxis for example. Often in the walk of life, we encounter something that gives us that Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” moment. But, in the case of this magnificent work, it is more like someone detonated every single cave there is and the light shone brightly throughout the World of Ideas.
3 The Golden Bough by James George Frazer
The golden bough handles similar subjects to the number 2 on my list, but it approaches them differently. It is more interested in the anthropological and sociological impact of certain ways of thinking. Those ways of thinking are the Magical, the Religious, and the Modern or Scientific. I really like this division, makes a lot of sense to me and it really shows that religion in its core and science in its core and two things that can not be fused. Their cores are in a sense the antithesis of one another. If there is a universe, it can not simultaneously have absolute laws that are unchangeable under any circumstances and an absolute being that could or should bend these always when one of his followers gains enough credits, prayer points, or EXP.
It is a 12 volume work, I have only read the first three and the ninth volume because it deals with the phenomenon of Scapegoat in cultures around the world. The volume was really eye-opening in a lot of ways. It shows that people all around the world do and have done things and believed in things that Christians think are the unique foundation of their religion.
The complete Golden Bough can be found on this Project Gutenberg link.
4 The Narrative of William W. Brown
I read a few slave narratives before. I do not know why I find them so interesting. There is something about pain and suffering that makes people run away, but for some reason, I don’t want to look away, I want to be there for them. Page after page, sentence after sentence, you feel pain, shame, fury, vindictiveness, and forgiveness.
There is one image that really stuck with me. A mother and her children are being auctioned. The mother goes last, of course. The goal of the slavers is to destroy both the body and mind of those who they consider inferior but in reality are their vast superiors, physically, spiritually, intellectually. I sincerely hope no one feels such pain ever again. I can never imagine and feel what that poor woman must have felt at that moment. Her children, literal parts of her body were hacked away and distributed for the highest price, and she was powerless. It pulverizes the heart.
I read the Project Gutenberg version which can be obtained here.
5 The Apology by Plato
The arrogance of absolute belief in authority and the insecurity, as well as fear that comes with every attempt that might undermine it is the biggest thing I took from Plato’s Apology. In a court scene, Socrates asks his accusers, How is it possible that such a powerful state with perfect institutions, morals, teachings, people, etc can be potentially threatened by a silly old man who walks around all day and asks a bunch of questions. They try to weasel their way out of the obvious question, but we all know what the true answer is.
I read the Project Gutenberg version which can be found here.
If you want to, instead, listen to a free audiobook you can do it with this Librivox link.