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Stephen Cave's Top Book Recommendations

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


The Aleph and Other Stories

Full of philosophical puzzles and supernatural surprises, these stories contain some of Borges's most fully realized human characters. With uncanny insight, he takes us inside the minds of an unrepentant Nazi, an imprisoned Mayan priest, fanatical Christian theologians, a woman plotting vengeance on her father’s “killer,” and a man awaiting his assassin in a Buenos Aires guest house.  This volume also contains the hauntingly brief vignettes about literary imagination and personal identity collected in The Maker, which Borges wrote as failing eyesight and public fame began to undermine... more
Recommended by Stephen Cave, and 1 others.

Stephen CaveThis story is about a Roman officer who finds the fountain of youth, a river that cleanses men of death, as he puts it. He becomes an immortal and meets the other immortals who have found the river, and the story is about the consequences of this – namely, madness and meaninglessness. There’s a great deal of speculation among philosophers and religious types about what it might be like to live... (Source)

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An obsession with perpetual youth may seem a particularly modern phenomenon, but it is a goal that western scientists and philosophers have aspired to (and worked towards) for the last four hundred years.

Mortal Coil explores the medical, scientific, and philosophical theories behind the quest for the prolongation of human life. It was a conundrum that intrigued Sir Francis Bacon and underpinned the scientific revolution; ideas of ultimate perfectibility, indefinite progress, and worldly rather than heavenly immortality fed directly into the spirit of the Enlightenment and...
Recommended by Stephen Cave, and 1 others.

Stephen CaveThis is very much about the first path to immortality, of just staying alive, here in this body, forever and ever. It begins with Francis Bacon – one of the founding figures of science – and the wonderful story of how he died trying to figure out how to preserve life. On a cold night, he went outside in the snow, bought a live chicken, killed it, and stuffed it full of snow in the hope of... (Source)

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Escape from Evil

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Denial of Death, a penetrating and insightful perspective on the source of evil in our world.

"A profound, nourishing book…absolutely essential to the understanding of our troubled times." —Anais Nin

"An urgent essay that bears all the marks of a final philosophical raging against the dying of the light." —Newsweek
Recommended by Stephen Cave, and 1 others.

Stephen CaveBecker was a very interesting anthropologist, working within a tradition of psychoanalysis, who tried to bring together a lot of different disciplines in the sciences and the arts, to create a kind of third culture in order to explain humanity. He thought the point of the human sciences – and indeed all science – was to stop us from being evil, and that evil resulted from our terror of death.... (Source)

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A work of social history, Life After Death illuminates different ways ancient civilizations grappled with the question of what exactly happens to the dead. Segal weaves together biblical & literary scholarship, sociology, history & philosophy. A scholar, he examines the maps of the afterlife found in Western religious texts & reveals not only what various cultures believed but how their notions reflected their societies' realities & ideals, & why those beliefs changed over time. He maintains that the afterlife is the mirror in which a society arranges its concept of... more
Recommended by Stephen Cave, and 1 others.

Stephen CaveIn a way the Segal book is the perfect accompaniment to reading Gilgamesh, because he so brilliantly puts this into a broader context. This book covers the ancient history of the near East, and the origins of the Abrahamic tradition of Western religion up until the beginnings of Islam. We tend to see religions as very monolithic, having a set doctrine that sprang from the earth or was handed down... (Source)

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The Epic of Gilgamesh

Andrew George's "masterly new translation" (The Times) of the world's first truly great work of literature

Miraculously preserved on clay tablets dating back as much as four thousand years, the poem of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, is the world’s oldest epic, predating Homer by many centuries. The story tells of Gilgamesh’s adventures with the wild man Enkidu, and of his arduous journey to the ends of the earth in quest of the Babylonian Noah and the secret of immortality. Alongside its themes of family, friendship and the duties of kings, the Epic of Gilgamesh is,...
Recommended by Ryan Holiday, Stephen Cave, and 2 others.

Ryan HolidayI read this on my honeymoon (probably the only person on the beach reading it, if I had to guess). Especially when I learned after that a new introduction paragraph had been discovered only recently. His tomb may have been found recently too. Imagine if Homer’s works had only been discovered in the mid 1800’s after being lost to history for thousands of years. How crazy would that be? Reading the... (Source)

Stephen CaveGilgamesh is a hero in the ancient mould. He’s half-god, enormously strong, a bit randy, a bit dim, and he goes through adventures which embody the human experience writ large. He starts off as the king of a small kingdom, making a nuisance of himself – enforcing droit du seigneur, sleeping with women on their marriage night, pushing other men around, being a bit of an arse. So the gods make a... (Source)

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