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Bryan Van Norden's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Bryan Van Norden recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Bryan Van Norden's favorite book recommendations of all time.


The Complete Works of Zhuangzi

Only by inhabiting Dao (the Way of Nature) and dwelling in its unity can humankind achieve true happiness and freedom, in both life and death. This is Daoist philosophy's central tenet, espoused by the person -- or group of people -- known as Zhuangzi (369?-286? B.C.E.) in a text by the same name. To be free, individuals must discard rigid distinctions between good and bad, right and wrong, and follow a course of action not motivated by gain or striving. When one ceases to judge events as good or bad, man-made suffering disappears and natural suffering is embraced as part of life.
Recommended by Bryan Van Norden, and 1 others.

Bryan Van NordenA philosophical work that makes its points through a combination of explicit arguments, very intriguing short stories, and poetry. (Source)

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The Bodhicaryāvatāra

Written in India in the early 8th century AD, Śāntideva's Bodhicaryāvatāra addresses the profound desire to become a Buddha and rescue all beings from suffering. The person who acts upon such a desire is a Bodhisattva. Śāntideva not only makes plain what the Bodhisattva must do and become, he also invokes the powerful feelings of aspiration that underlie such a commitment, employing language which has inspired Buddists ever since it first appeared. Indeed, his book has long been regarded as one of the most popular accounts of the Buddhist's spiritual path. Important as a manual of training... more
Recommended by Andy Puddicombe, Bryan Van Norden, and 2 others.

Andy PuddicombeThe purpose is not to read cover to cover, the purpose is to find out what is the essence you need in that moment that’s going help you live a happier, healthier life, and in turn to help others lead a healthier and happier life. And that’s enough. I still use the book in that way. (Source)

Bryan Van NordenDespite the intimidating title, it’s actually a readable introduction to a certain kind of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy. (Source)

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With Selections from Traditional Commentaries

Bryan Van Norden's new translation of the Mengzi (Mencius) is accurate, philosophically nuanced, and fluent. Accompanied by selected passages from the classic commentary of Zhu Xi - one of the most influential and insightful interpreters of Confucianism - this edition provides readers with a parallel to the Chinese practice of reading a classic text alongside traditional commentaries. Also included are an Introduction that situates Mengzi and Zhu Xi in their intellectual and social contexts; a glossary of names, places and important terms; a selected bibliography; and an...


Michael PuettHe is clearly seen as brilliant, someone whose philosophy is extraordinarily powerful, and yet the text will—despite having been written by his own disciples—present him as sometimes failing. It’s part of the power of the text that it shows someone trying, on a daily basis, to live up to his own philosophy and, at times, failing to do so, and then learning from that. (Source)

Daniel A. BellMencius believed that we are born good. He had a fairly optimistic view of human nature as well as the view that the government should rely upon informal means of social control rather than harsh punishment as a way of securing social order and harmony. (Source)

Bryan Van NordenMengzi argues that we can actually become better people through various activities, and that a kind of ethical transformation is possible. (Source)

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David and Mary Norton present the definitive scholarly edition of one of the greatest philosophical works ever written. This first volume contains the critical text of David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature (1739/40), followed by the short Abstract (1740) in which Hume set out the key arguments of the larger work; the volume concludes with A Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend in Edinburgh (1745), Hume's defence of the Treatise when it was under attack from ministers seeking to prevent Hume's appointment as Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.
Recommended by Rebecca Goldstein, Bryan Van Norden, and 2 others.

Rebecca GoldsteinHume, who is himself an Enlightenment thinker, is also the go-to guy when it comes to exploring reason’s limitations. (Source)

Bryan Van NordenYou find in this one book a comprehensive picture of how everything fits together: the epistemology, the account of human motivations, and the theory of ethics are all rolled in together, and you are led to see how these are part of a coherent whole. (Source)

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The newest deluxe edition in the bestselling Capstone Classics Series This ancient classic has had a make-over. In recent years these Capstone Classic deluxe editions have caught the book buying public's imagination. The volumes of international bestsellers such as Think and Grow Rich and The Art of War have quickly become the market leaders. Now Plato's best known work, one of the most intellectually and historically influential works of philosophy and political theory, has been brought to life in this luxury, hardback, keep-sake edition.

This edition includes:

Maria PopovaTim Ferriss: "If you could guarantee that every public official or leader read one book, what would it be?": "The book would be, rather obviously, Plato's The Republic. I'm actually gobsmacked that this isn't required in order to be sworn into office, like the Constitution is required for us American immigrants when it comes time to gain American citizenship." (Source)

Rebecca GoldsteinLiving today in Trump’s America, I am constantly reminded of specific passages in the Republic, most saliently his warnings of how a demagogue might arise in the midst of a democracy by fanning up resentments and fears. (Source)

David Heinemeier HanssonI’m about a third through this and still can’t tell whether Plato is making a mockery of Socrates ideas for the idyllic society or not. So many of the arguments presented as Socrates’ are so tortured and with so disconnected leaps of logic that it’s hard to take it at face value. Yet still, it’s good fun to follow the dialogue. It reads more like a play than a book, and again, immensely... (Source)

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