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James Warren's Top Book Recommendations

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


The Morality of Happiness

Ancient ethical theories, based on the notions of virtue and happiness, have struck many as an attractive alternative to modern theories. But we cannot find out whether this is true until we understand ancient ethics--and to do this we need to examine the basic structure of ancient ethical theory, not just the details of one or two theories. In this book, Annas brings together the results of a wide-ranging study of ancient ethical philosophy and presents it in a way that is easily accessible to anyone with an interest in ancient or modern ethics. She examines the fundamental notions of... more
Recommended by James Warren, and 1 others.

James WarrenJulia starts with Aristotle, because in some ways that’s the first systematic approach to ethics in this vein that we have, but also takes on those schools after Aristotle. So the Epicureans are one, the Stoics are in here as well. She also looks at some Sceptics. What Julia does really well is draw out the various important differences between these schools and how they go about things. (Source)

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This introduction to Epicureanism offers students and general readers a clear exposition of the central tenets of Epicurean philosophy, one of the dominant schools of the Hellenistic period. Founded by Epicurus of Samos (c. 341-270 BCE), it held that for a human being the greatest good was to attain tranquility, free from fear and bodily pain, by seeking to understand the workings of the world and the limits of our desires. Tim O'Keefe provides an extended exegesis of the arguments that support Epicurean philosophical positions, analyzing both their strengths and their weaknesses while... more
Recommended by James Warren, and 1 others.

James WarrenTim O’Keefe is a really excellent scholar of Epicureanism. There are a number of works that are explicitly supposed to be introductory to people who are wanting to engage with Epicureanism in this way. I chose this one because it’s a relatively brief, but really well written and very philosophical. (Source)

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The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii in A.D. 79 also buried nearby Herculaneum. Over time the location of the small town was forgotten. Shortly after its rediscovery in the 1730s, excavations--more likely treasure hunts--were organized that unearthed ancient sculptures that had survived the disaster. The richest finds were from a villa that came to be called the Villa dei Papiri, because it also yielded upward of a thousand papyrus rolls--the only library ever to have been recovered from the classical world. To the great excitement of contemporaries, the papyri held out the... more
Recommended by James Warren, and 1 others.

James WarrenThe town of Herculaneum, in southern Italy, was one of those that was completely destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, and when it was excavated it was discovered that there was a rather opulent villa just a little outside the town that had a library, and in that library were preserved—albeit in a scorched, carbonized form—papyrus rolls of ancient books. This book by David Sider about... (Source)

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On the Nature of the Universe

Lucretius’ poem On the Nature of the Universe combines a scientific and philosophical treatise with some of the greatest poetry ever written. With intense moral fervour Lucretius demonstrates to humanity that in death there is nothing to fear since the soul is mortal, and the world is governed by the mechanical laws of nature and not by gods; and that by believing this men can live in peace of mind and happiness. Lucretius bases his argument on the atomic theory expounded by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, and the poem explores sensation, sex, cosmology, meteorology, and geology with... more
Recommended by James Warren, and 1 others.

James WarrenLucretius produces something quite extraordinary. It’s a poem. It’s long. It’s in six books of about twelve hundred or so lines each, which set out, again, a systematic version of Epicureanism, addressed to this imagined interlocutor called Memmius. Lucretius explains to Memmius, starting from the very first beginnings of Epicurean physics. (Source)

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Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Everyone wants to live a meaningful life. Long before our own day of self-help books offering twelve-step programs and other guides to attain happiness, the philosophers of ancient Greece explored the riddle of what makes a life worth living, producing a wide variety of ideas and examples to follow. This rich tradition was recast by Diogenes Laertius into an anthology, a miscellany of maxims and anecdotes, that generations of Western readers have consulted for edification as well as entertainment ever since the Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, first compiled in the third century... more
Recommended by James Warren, Jeffrey Beneker, and 2 others.

James WarrenDiogenes is very keen on making this a personal story. He’s both interested in telling us all sorts of odd and fantastical stories about the individual philosophers, but he’s also very interested in showing how each of these individual philosophers was influenced directly and personally by other predecessors. I think of it as a family tree of philosophies with Epicurus as the final branch of one... (Source)

Jeffrey BenekerWe probably shouldn’t trust anything that we can’t find in another source, but many of the things you read in here pop up everywhere when you read about these philosophers in modern accounts because, in the end, it’s all we have. (Source)

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