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Oliver Burkeman's Top Book Recommendations

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

A profound, original, and accessible book that offers a new secular vision of how we can lead our lives. Ranging from fundamental existential questions to the most pressing social issues of our time, This Life shows why our commitment to freedom and democracy should lead us beyond both religion and capitalism.

In this groundbreaking book, the philosopher Martin H�gglund challenges our received notions of faith and freedom. The faith we need to cultivate, he argues, is not a religious faith in eternity but a secular faith devoted to our finite life together. He shows...
Recommended by Oliver Burkeman, and 1 others.

Oliver BurkemanHe argues that it is the finitude of life – the fact that we’re only here briefly and all our relationships are therefore only here briefly – is precisely what gives them their value. (Source)

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In Search of Silence

Recommended by Oliver Burkeman, and 1 others.

Oliver BurkemanIt’s essentially a travelogue, intertwining an outer journey with an inner one. Bell addresses the way we chronically hope that other people, or certain lifestyle choices, are going to ‘fix’ us, and how unhelpful that is; the end result of her all her physical travel is to come back to herself. (Source)

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The Second Mountain

In The Second Mountain, David Brooks explores the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose: to a spouse and family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith, and to a community. Our personal fulfillment depends on how well we choose and execute these commitments. In The Second Mountain, Brooks looks at a range of people who have lived joyous, committed lives, and who have embraced the necessity of dependence. He gathers their wisdom on how to choose a partner, how to pick a vocation, how to live out a philosophy, and how we can begin to integrate our commitments into... more
Recommended by Oliver Burkeman, and 1 others.

Oliver BurkemanThe so-called ‘second mountain’ is a shift toward asking what life is demanding of you, rather than what you can get out of it. Brooks thinks we’re in a culture that’s so hyper-individualistic that we often miss moving to this second mountain. (Source)

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What makes somebody a Loser, a person doomed to unfulfilled dreams and humiliation? Nobody is born to lose, and yet failure embodies our worst fears. The Loser is our national bogeyman, and his history over the past two hundred years reveals the dark side of success, how economic striving reshaped the self and soul of America.

From colonial days to the Columbine tragedy, Scott Sandage explores how failure evolved from a business loss into a personality deficit, from a career setback to a gauge of our self-worth. From hundreds of private diaries, family letters, business records,...
Recommended by Oliver Burkeman, and 1 others.

Oliver BurkemanThis is an historical account of changing attitudes towards failure. Sandage takes American culture as his focus, although I think his insights apply far beyond that. The idea of being “willing to fail” gets bandied about a lot these days, mostly by annoying celebrity entrepreneurs who say that “the only way to succeed is to be willing to fail”. I think that’s true, but it goes a lot deeper than... (Source)

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The first book to explore the enigmatic emotion of AWE, based on the only-known study of its connection to the meaning of life

'Feeling suddenly elevated to the limits of indescribable delight, yet teetering on the edge of fear, we experience our rarest, most powerful, and least understood emotion: awe. It's an overwhelming and life-altering blend of fright and fascination that leaves us in a state of puzzled apprehension and appreciative perplexed wonder. If we go beyond a kind of ignorant distant voyeurism through which we gawk at life rather than fully engage with it...

Recommended by Oliver Burkeman, and 1 others.

Oliver BurkemanThis is an amazing book that sketches out some alternatives to the very shallow and impractical positive-thinking approach to happiness. Paul Pearsall was a maverick psychologist who lived in Hawaii. He died a few years ago. His book takes as its organising idea the notion that true happiness requires plenty of the emotion that he calls awe. (Source)

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Americans are a "positive" people—cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: this is our reputation as well as our self-image. But more than a temperament, being positive, we are told, is the key to success and prosperity.

In this utterly original take on the American frame of mind, Barbara Ehrenreich traces the strange career of our sunny outlook from its origins as a marginal nineteenth-century healing technique to its enshrinement as a dominant, almost mandatory, cultural attitude. Evangelical mega-churches preach the good news that you only have to want something to get it, because God...
Recommended by Oliver Burkeman, Elaine Fox, and 2 others.

Oliver BurkemanThis is a brilliant political polemic and a critique of the problematic effects of positive thinking. Ehrenreich argues, among other things, that the idea that nothing can go wrong is a terrible philosophy to adopt in the world of business. (Source)

Elaine FoxThis, again, is quite a personal book. She talks about her own experiences of when she developed breast cancer. When she discovered she had breast cancer she was extremely concerned and worried about it. Then she was completely horrified by the deluge of messages and emails she got from people telling her that it was a good thing it had happened to her, and that it was really going to help her... (Source)

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In this fascinating book, Alan Watts explores man's quest for psychological security, examining our efforts to find spiritual and intellectual certainty in the realms of religion and philosophy. The Wisdom of Insecurity underlines the importance of our search for stability in an age where human life seems particularly vulnerable and uncertain. Watts argues our insecurity is the consequence of trying to be secure and that, ironically, salvation and sanity lie in the recognition that we have no way of saving ourselves. less
Recommended by Oliver Burkeman, Antonio Eram, and 2 others.

Oliver BurkemanThis is a very thin book but a mind-blowing one. In many ways it was part of my motivation to write my book. Alan Watts was a philosophical populariser. He called himself a “spiritual entertainer”, and went around the world giving lectures and writing popular books about Eastern philosophies such as Zen Buddhism and Taoism. This book is about non-dualism – the theory that in some sense,... (Source)

Antonio EramThis book was recommended by Antonio when asked for titles he would recommend to young people interested in his career path. (Source)

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At the heart of our current moment lies a universal yearning, writes David Zahl, not to be happy or respected so much as enough--what religions call "righteous." To fill the void left by religion, we look to all sorts of everyday activities--from eating and parenting to dating and voting--for the identity, purpose, and meaning once provided on Sunday morning.In our striving, we are chasing a sense of enoughness. But it remains ever out of reach, and the effort and anxiety are burning us out. Seculosity takes a thoughtful yet entertaining tour of American "performancism" and its cousins,... more
Recommended by Oliver Burkeman, Nadia Bolzweber, and 2 others.

Oliver BurkemanDavid Zahl’s basic argument is that this idea that we’re not religious these days is mistaken; we’ve just transferred our religious urges onto things other than conventional organized religion. (Source)

Nadia Bolzweber@davidsharvey @mockingbirdmin Brilliant book! (Source)

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Letters from a Stoic

I feel, my dear Lucilius, that I am being not only reformed, but transformed. I do not yet, however, assure myself, or indulge the hope, that there are no elements left in me which need to be changed. Of course there are many that should be made more compact, or made thinner, or be brought into greater prominence. And indeed this very fact is proof that my spirit is altered into something better, - that it can see its own faults, of which it was previously ignorant. In certain cases sick men are congratulated because they themselves have perceived that they are sick. less

Timothy FerrissThis is a letter from Stoic heavyweight Seneca the Younger — who lived a mere 2,000 years or so ago — to his friend Lucilius. It’s from a collection of letters that comprise, effectively, my favorite book of all time. I’ve read it dozens of times, and I loved it so much that I turned it into The Tao of Seneca, a three-volume set of audiobooks. (Source)

Ryan HolidayAfter Marcus Aurelius, this is one of my favorite books. While Marcus wrote mainly for himself, Seneca had no trouble advising and aiding others. In fact, that was his job—he was Nero’s tutor, tasked with reducing the terrible impulses of a terrible man. His advice on grief, on wealth, on power, on religion, and on life are always there when you need them. (Source)

Oliver BurkemanIt’s important to stress that I take a completely mercenary attitude towards Stoicism, picking and choosing the bits that seem to me to be useful techniques for the present day. There are aspects of Stoicism that are very hard to stomach today. For example, the underlying principle that the universe as a whole is in some sense God, with a will or agency of its own, and that rational behaviour... (Source)

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One day, Lori Gottlieb is a therapist who helps patients in her Los Angeles practice. The next, a crisis causes her world to come crashing down. Enter Wendell, the quirky but seasoned therapist in whose office she suddenly lands. With his balding head, cardigan, and khakis, he seems to have come straight from Therapist Central Casting. Yet he will turn out to be anything but.

As Gottlieb explores the inner chambers of her patients' lives -- a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen threatening to end her life on her...

Arianna HuffingtonThis is a daring, delightful, and transformative book. Lori Gottlieb takes us inside the most intimate of encounters as both clinician and patient and leaves us with a surprisingly fresh understanding of ourselves, one another, and the human condition. Her willingness to expose her own blind spots along with her patients’ shows us firsthand that we aren’t alone in our struggles and that maybe we... (Source)

Oliver BurkemanGottlieb is a journalist and a writer, but she’s a working psychotherapist, and this is the story of a crisis in her own life, intertwined with a whole cast of characters based on her patients. They ring so incredibly true. (Source)

Andrea BarberMy new favorite book 😍😍 @LoriGottlieb1 (Source)

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