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50 Philosophy Classics: Thinking, Being, Acting, Seeing: Profound Insights and Powerful Thinking from Fifty Key Books

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For over 2000 years, philosophy has been our best guide to the experience of being human, and the true nature of reality.

From Aristotle, Plato, Epicurus, Confucius, Cicero and Heraclitus in ancient times to 17th century rationalists Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza, from 20th-century greats Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Baudrillard and Simone de Beauvoir to contemporary thinkers Michael Sandel, Peter Singer and Slavoj Zizek, 50 Philosophy Classics explores key writings that have shaped the discipline and had an impact on the real world.

Philosophy can no longer be confined to academia, and 50 Philosophy Classics shows how powerful it can be as a tool for opening our minds and helping us think. Whether you are fascinated or daunted by the big questions of how to think, how to be, how to act and how to see, this is the perfect introduction to some of humanity's greatest minds and their landmark books.

325 pages, Paperback

Published January 4, 2013

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Tom Butler-Bowdon

47 books278 followers

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5 stars
282 (36%)
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332 (42%)
3 stars
139 (17%)
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18 (2%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 93 reviews
Profile Image for Magdalena Golden.
189 reviews12 followers
December 28, 2018
Solid 5* for the content. The book is a wonderful introduction to the major philosophical works and certainly got me more interested in reading more, especially as far as modern philosophers are concerned.

However, I was not convinced by the alphabetic order right from the start and only got progressively more annoyed it as I was reading. I decided to read the chapters in chronological order so first I had to come up with it (I'm attaching a list at the bottom of this review for those of you who want to do the same).

That in itself was an annoying task but then having to always consult my list after every chapter and synchronising progress across my reading devices was a pain each and every time. And that jumping was made even more annoying by the fact that I found it easier to associate ideas with philosophers' names but the chapters are named after particular books which further contributed to the nuisance. It also meant I was not able to easily go back to refresh my memory which, again, was annoying because by far most of the references are chronologically anaphoric so would have made no sense to me had I decided to read the book in the order that it is presented in.

In any case, here is the chronological order:
The number in brackets refers to chapter number
1. (21) Heraclitus - Fragments - 6th century BC (mistakenly written AD in the book)
2. (12) Confucius - Analects - 5th century BC
3. (38) Plato - The Republic - 4th century BC
4. (2) Aristotle - Nicomachean Ethics - 4th century BC
5. (15) Epicurus - Letters - 3rd century BC
6. (11) Cicero - On Duties - 44 BC
7. (31) Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince (1513)
8. (34) Michel de Montaigne - Essays (1580)
9. (13) René Descartes - Meditations on First Philosophy (1641)
10. (37) Blaise Pascal - Pensées (1660)
11. (47) Baruch Spinoza - Ethics (1677)
12. (30) John Locke - Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689)
13. (29) Gottfried Leibniz - Theodicy (1710)
14. (22) David Hume - An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)
15. (41) Jean-Jacques Rousseau - The Social Contract (1762)
16. (25) Immanuel Kant - Critique of Pure Reason (1781)
17. (7) Jeremy Bentham - Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789)
18. (19) G.W.F. Hegel - Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)
19. (45) Arthur Schopenhauer - The World as Will and Representation (1818)
20. (26) Søren Kierkegaard - Fear and Trembling (1843)
21. (33) John Stuart Mill - On Liberty (1859)
22. (14) Ralph Waldo Emerson - Fate (1860)
23. (36) Friedrich Nietzche - Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
24. (8) Henri Bergson - Creative Evolution (1907)
25. (23) William James - Pragmatism (1907)
26. (20) Martin Heidegger - Being and Time (1927)
27. (42) Bertrand Russel - The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
28. (39) Karl Popper - The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934)
29. (3) A.J. Ayer - Language, Truth and Logic (1936)
30. (44) Jean-Paul Sartre - Being and Nothingness (1943)
31. (6) Simone de Beauvoir - The Second Sex (1949)
32. (49) Ludwig Wittgenstein - Philosophical Investigations (1953)
33. (1) Hannah Arendt - The Human Condition (1958)
34. (28) Thomas Kuhn - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)
35. (16) Michel Foucault - The Order of Things (1966)
36. (32) Marshall McLuhan - The Medium Is the Massage (1967)
37. (35) Iris Murdoch - The Sovereignty of Good (1970)
38. (40) John Rawls - A Theory of Justice (1971)
39. (27) Saul Kripke - Naming and Necessity (1972)
40. (9) David Bohm - Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980)
41. (5) Jean Baudrillard - Simulacra and Simulation (1981)
42. (10) Noam Chomsky - Understanding Power (2002)
43. (17) Henry Frankfurt - On Bullshit (2005)
44. (48) Nassim Nicholas Taleb - The Black Swan (2007)
45. (46) Peter Singer - The Life You Can Save (2009)
46. (43) Michael Sandel - Justice (2009)
47. (50) Slavoj Žižek - Living in the End Times (2010)
48. (4) Julian Baggini - The Ego Trick (2011)
49. (24) Daniel Kahneman - Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011)
50. (18) Sam Harris - Free Will (2012)
Profile Image for Tim Krete.
6 reviews1 follower
September 27, 2016
I throughly enjoyed this book. The attempt to make philosophy accessible is refreshing and has opened up a renewed interest in it for me personally
Profile Image for Craig.
316 reviews
December 24, 2014
*Goodreads First Reads advanced copy*

The author did a wonderful job bringing these 50 philosophies to a level of explanation where everyone can understand them. He did so in a non-judgemental/non-favoritist way, allowing the reader to decide which makes sense to them and which sounds completely foolish. The way the author presented each philosophy, with a section listing other similar philosophies adds to the readers understanding.

I definitely have a desire to check out some of these classics for myself now. I would recommend 50 Philosophy Classics to anyone interested in an introductory book on some of the most influential philosophies throughout history.
Profile Image for Dr Osama.
331 reviews76 followers
July 31, 2022
يقدم الكتاب ملخصا جيدا لأشهر خمسين فلسفة عالمية، ويوفر مقدمة عامة ممتعة لمن يرغب بكسر حاجز الرهبة تجاه دراسة الفلسفة.
From Aristotle, Plato, Epicurus, Confucius, Cicero and Heraclitus in ancient times to 17th century rationalists Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza, from 20th-century greats Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Baudrillard and Simone de Beauvoir to contemporary thinkers Michael Sandel, Peter Singer and Slavoj Zize.
Profile Image for Cav.
625 reviews77 followers
February 10, 2021
"Perhaps the greatest divide in philosophy is between those who believe that all our information must come from the senses (the empirical, materialist view) and those who believe that truth can be arrived at through abstract reasoning (the rationalists and idealists).
The first camp has a long lineage, from the second-century skeptic Sextus Empiricus to the Englishman Francis Bacon and Scottish Enlightenment thinker David Hume, and to the twentieth-century “logical positivists,” including A.J. Ayer and philosopher of science Karl Popper.
The second camp counts among its number Plato (his theory of nonphysical “Forms” that undergird the universe), Descartes (his famous separation of mind and matter), and Kant (who resurrected the idea of “moral law” in modern philosophy).
The purpose of this book is not to tell you who is “right,” but to lay out some of the ideas and theories of note to help you make up your own mind."

Despite the above quote which captured my interest early-on here, this one ended up a bit of a mixed bag for me...
Author Tom Butler-Bowdon is a non-fiction author based in Oxford, England.

Tom Butler-Bowdon:

I don't generally like philosophy, and this book didn't really change my experience with it, sadly.
I went into this one with high hopes. I thought that the short length paid to each of the philosophers covered here might alleviate some of my frustration with this field. It didn't. I almost put this one down multiple times...

My dislike of philosophy aside, 50 Philosophy Classics is formatted well. The book goes through each of the 50 historical philosophers in an alphabetical fashion, spending five or 6 pages on each. This made the material presented easy to absorb.

Despite my best efforts, I just couldn't get past my general dislike of this topic. Unfortunately, most philosophical works I have read tend to be incredibly lengthy, dry and arduous treks of long-winded esoteric navel-gazing. Sadly, despite only dwelling on each of the 50 philosophers presented here for a few pages - much of the writing here fell in line with my previous experiences.

I don't want my personal dislike of this discipline to cause me to give an otherwise good book a bad review. However, I didn't really enjoy the writing here; neither the style, nor the content.
So, I think I'll give this one a 3-star rating, as I'm sure this book will make a great resource for those who are actually interested in philosophy...
Profile Image for maria .
5 reviews29 followers
January 12, 2019
Summarises these 50 vital philosophical texts efficiently and with very accessible language, making complex ideas relatively easy to understand. I found it to be a great introduction to the field, and the succinct biographies a nice touch.
Profile Image for Don Mario.
213 reviews27 followers
October 26, 2018
It really keeps its promise of "insights" and "thinking". Very thought provoking, and good motivation for further reading. I think I'll get back to this book every some time.
Profile Image for The  Conch.
278 reviews16 followers
October 22, 2019
Theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas wrote in On the Heavens: “the study of philosophy has as its purpose to know not what people have thought, but rather the truth about the way things are.”

I saw the series of 50 books of author Tom Butler at airport. The attractive point of the 50 series is that it is act like capsule containing 50 globules of knowledge and on swallowing one more access of knowledge will open.

As the name suggests, this book summarizes thoughts of fifty major western and Greek philosophers. However, except Confucius, no other occidental philosophers are given place.

The reader will find him/herself floating in the river of thoughts from ancient philosophers Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Epicurus, Heraclitus etc. to modern Daniel Kahneman, Chomsky, Peter Singer, Taleb and Slavoj Zizek.
Profile Image for Steve.
7 reviews1 follower
March 10, 2019
A average of 6 pages dedicated to each Philosopher makes for easy reading, especially if you are not familiar with them.
The first theme of "Discover life's meaning" was enough to draw me to this book. I was not disappointed either.

I like the format of 50 different stories, where I can read a chapter, put the book down and return to it some weeks later, and start another story. Liken it to a short story book.
Profile Image for Alexandru.
220 reviews10 followers
April 13, 2018
Excellent selection of philosophers and a neutral presentation of various issues tackled by the selected 50. I really appreciated the modern philosopher's analysis, because the classics are already known to me. Another good point is the inclusion of various philosophers with opposable opinions on various issues. A worthy read for sure, even though often people do not like books that have in the title 100 or 50 of the best minds and so on...

My favourite parts that left a deep impact are as follows: the scepticism of A.J. Ayer; the myths of human dignity and character and the influence of situational factors of Julian Baggini; the modern era of plenty of information and lack of meaningful data described by Jean Baudrillard; Henri Bergson's optimism, a new light on Epicurus and his human hedonism, which is different from the modern definition of hedonism (being more of a Stoic it was intersting to see a new insight on hedonism); Michel Foucault relatvism; Harry Frankfurt on bulshiting in this century; Sam Harris on the illusion of free will; Williams James pragmatism; Daniel Kahneman on the importance of psychology in the finding of truth; Nassim Nicholas Taleb on the wanted "mediocristan" vs the real "extremistan"; and finally Zizek and his criticism of the capitalism with the human face and the charity as the price for consumaristic sins.

Do not get me wrong all 50 chapters of the book are worth reading, especially for those that are beginners in philosophy.
Profile Image for Ozan Gencer.
8 reviews
May 30, 2020
10 yıldız olsa 10 yıldız verirdim. Okuduğum en kıymetli 4-5 şeyden biriydi diyebilirim. Tek kelimeyle muhteşem.

Çok uzun süreye yayılmış bir okuma oldu. Yavaş okuma yaptığım zaman, bilgiyi çok daha tatmin edici bir şekilde içselleştiriyorum. Bu kadar hayran olmamın sebebi bu da olabilir tabi.
Profile Image for Maddy.
200 reviews33 followers
October 15, 2022
If your interested in Philosophy, and you simply don't know where to start, then I suggest you start here. This book introduces the reader to fifty of the greats in small bite size paragraphs. Each Philosopher gets 5-6 Pages, and in that, is a synopsys of their type of philosophy with a small section called "In a Nutshell" which I found helpful, especially the ones I was not that interested in. It's basically easy access to a subject that most find intimidating and inaccessible.
Some of my Favourites:
- Immanuel Kant - My personal favourite
- Peter Singer - Because he's Alturistic
- Plato - Classic that never gets old
- Noam Chomsky - Modern Philosophy/Politics
- John Locke - A must for everyone
- John Stuart Mill - On Liberty
- Aristotle - Happiness, A Meaningful Life
Profile Image for Ashik Uzzaman.
225 reviews11 followers
March 24, 2020
I finished the audiobook today and overall liked it. I didn't like the fact that the philosophers were presented in the order of their last name. I think it would be very appropriate to order them in terms of their birth or death time to have a sequence how various ideas in philosophy developed over time. Another thing I am not clear is what was the criteria to pick the below 50 philosophers. For example, how come Averroes (Ibn Rush) and his theory of the unit of the intellect did not get a place in this list? Despite that, I think this book is a great start for people who are thinking to get familiar with the history of philosophy.

Below is the list of books covered in 50 Philosophy Classics.

1. Hannah Arendt - The Human Condition (1958)
2. Aristotle Nicomachean - Ethics (4th century BC)
3. AJ Ayer - Language, Truth and Logic (1936)
4. Julian Baggini - The Ego Trick (2011)
5. Jean Baudrillard - Simulacra and Simulation (1981)
6. Simone de Beauvoir - The Second Sex (1952)
7. Jeremy Bentham - Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789)
8. Henri Bergson - Creative Evolution (1911)
9. David Bohm - Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980)
10. Noam Chomsky - Understanding Power (2002)
11. Cicero - On Duties (44 BC)
12. Confucius - Analects (5th century BC)
13. Rene Descartes - Meditations (1641)
14. Ralph Waldo - Emerson Fate (1860)
15. Epicurus - Letters (3rd century BC)
16. Michel Foucault - The Order of Things (1966)
17. Harry Frankfurt - On Bullshit (2005)
18. Sam Harris - Free Will (2012)
19. GWF Hegel - Phenomenology of Spirit (1803)
20. Martin Heidegger - Being and Time (1927)
21. Heraclitus - Fragments (6th century)
22. David Hume - An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748)
23. William James - Pragmatism (1904)
24. Daniel Kahneman - Thinking: Fast and Slow (2011)
25. Immanuel Kant - Critique of Pure Reason (1781)
26. Søren Kierkegaard - Fear and Trembling (1843)
27. Saul Kripke - Naming and Necessity (1972)
28. Thomas Kuhn - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)
29. Gottfried Wilhelm - Leibniz Theodicy (1710)
30. John Locke - An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
31. Marshall McLuhan - The Medium is the Massage (1967)
32. Niccolo Machiavelli - The Prince (1532)
33. John Stuart - Mill On Liberty (1859)
34. Michel de Montaigne - Essays (1580)
35. Iris Murdoch - The Sovereignty of Good (1970)
36. Friedrich Nietzsche - Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
37. Blaise Pascal - Pensees (1670)
38. Plato - The Republic (4th century BC)
39. Karl Popper - The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934)
40. John Rawls - A Theory of Justice (1971)
41. Jean-Jacques Rousseau - The Social Contract (1762)
42. Bertrand Russell - The Conquest of Happiness (1920)
43. Michael Sandel - Justice (2009)
44. Jean Paul Sartre - Being and Nothingness (1943)
45. Arthur Schopenhauer - The World as Will and Representation (1818)
46. Peter Singer - The Life You Can Save (2009)
47. Baruch Spinoza - Ethics (1677)
48. Nassim Nicholas Taleb - The Black Swan (2007)
49. Ludwig Wittgenstein - Philosophical Investigations (1953)
50. Slavoj Zizek - Living In The End Times (2010)
Profile Image for Daline Ly.
73 reviews5 followers
March 1, 2020
As a young amateur entering the world of philosophy, I can't stress enough how much this book have helped me wrap my head around, some of the most complex ideas and put it in four pages so eloquently. The world of philosophy can be overwhelming as one is bombarded with many philosophers: where do i even begin? what is my philosophy? who should I know?

Although Bowdon tried to summarize each philosopher's idea in a "nutshell" there are times when i wish it could be further elaborated due to its complexity, nonetheless his writing and explanation makes philosophy accessible for anyone as long as he/she has an interest in this field. Because of how dense the content of this book is, I have spent months reading this book, and there are times when my brain feel completely drained after (definitely worth it though).
Profile Image for Moira McPartlin.
Author 9 books39 followers
September 11, 2017
I am starting to take baby steps into the world of philosophy, but a look at the philosophy shelves in my local bookshop bamboozle me. There is so many different strands, and they all seem to disagree with each other. I found this book in my local library and it saved me. The author has chosen 50 wide ranging books of philosophical works and explains in very accessible language what the books and authors are about. Each chapter begins with some quotes, there is an 'In a nutshell' sentences and also an 'In a similar vein' list to allow you to group the works into their strands. At the end he lisys a further 50 works for consideration. So I now have 100 philosophy books to add to my toppling 'to be read' pile.
Profile Image for Kanske Svartfors.
123 reviews36 followers
January 1, 2019
I've read quite a few books of this kind that try to convey the ideas of philosophers in a nutshell, and I have to say that this book does it perfectly. The author balances the amount of information on any given philosopher very well: not too little, not too much. Also, the author has the ability to explain complex ideas extremely well.

A lot of times books like this are very frustrating, mostly because they try to morally judge the philosophers they are talking about. Also, most of them are just too academic.

This book is perfect for the purpose it was made for!

6/5 (because it actually succeeds in doing what it set out to do)
Profile Image for Seth.
4 reviews
August 11, 2019
A really good way to pick up on all the philosophy classes your education system failed to provide. A good variety of thought, some wacky ideas, a few that really hit the nail on the head. Obviously depending on the reader. A couple of that was so deep you had to just stare at the page whilst you tried to navigate through space and time to come to some remote understanding of what they were on about. All in all a great exploration of thought throughout the history of humankind, just enough to scratch the surface.
182 reviews
May 17, 2020
Great synthesis of the most famous philosophers, presenting some of their cardinal ideas. The only aspect that I did not enjoy about this book is the inclusion of too many contemporary personalities, who in my opinion are not nearly as valuable for the field of philosophy as their predecessors, whose contributions shaped society as we know it. Maybe some of those philosophers of our time will become "classic" in the future, but I felt that they have been included in this book to early, their ideas not being completely assimilated into this field yet.
Profile Image for Book Grocer.
1,190 reviews26 followers
October 2, 2020
Purchase 50 Philosophy Classics here for just $12!

This is a fantastic book for anyone who is interested in learning some philosophy but is not quite sure where to start. With his concise summaries of both classical and modern philosophical texts, Tom Butler-Bowdon has taken content that is normally quite difficult to wrap your head around and unpacked it in a way that is accessible and easy to follow.

Leea - The Book Grocer
Profile Image for Zlati.
24 reviews1 follower
June 22, 2020
I enjoyed this book so much. Concise and to the point concepts from some of the brightest minds in the field. The only thing I wished for was diversity- too much western, not enough world philosophy. For example, no Russian or African thought, very little Eastern and Middle Eastern thought. Nonetheless lovely and efficiently structured read.
Profile Image for Joshua Lawson.
Author 3 books15 followers
November 23, 2017
This is a great overview of some of the major western philosophers from the past 2500 years. I wasn't familiar with all the names but every chapter held my interest. It also struck me for the first time while going through this list how few female philosophers there have been throughout history.
Profile Image for DanteH.
2 reviews
May 19, 2021
Same as before, but this one was more to my liking, have it been the way it was written or the complexity of it, I enjoyed it a lot.
1,695 reviews52 followers
May 30, 2021
A let down compared to other books in this series
Profile Image for George Vernon.
34 reviews9 followers
January 4, 2023
5/10, a nice overview. The author fortunately does not attempt to bend Baudrillard's hyperreality or anything else in the book into yet another unnecessary self-help manual like the title threatens. I did read the fifty sections in chronological order as is necessary to follow the references in each to contemporaries and previous influences. The alphabetical order which the book actually follows is stupid. The selection seems reasonable, which is not to say unimpeachable, to me.

At least twice, the author unironically refers to ideas as left- or right- brained, which is a ridiculously stupid bit of pop-psychology that should have been left in the 1980s. I also spotted one line of biography in the section on Marshall McLuhan (The Mechanical Bride (1951), was an examination of the effect of advertising on society and culture.) which is word-for-word identical to the 2011 (probably earlier still, but I have better things to do in life than chase plagiarised sentences all the way back to their conception) revision of the Marshall McLuhan Wikipedia article.

Those irritations aside, the book is well written and delivers what it promises to be.
Profile Image for  Dr G Bhas.
13 reviews30 followers
October 20, 2022
An interesting introduction to philosophical themes . Essentially insights in a nutshell from the worlds thinkers that expand and diversify our ideosphere on being, truth and existence.
The author expresses the broad idea in a nutshell with suggestions of ideas in a similar vein with succint expansion of key concepts and the flow of thought

For example if you have wondered
1) What is the nature of being human?
2) What is happiness?
3) How do we understand language and truth?
4)How do we understand truth in a world of signs and symbols?
5) What is the concept of the Other
6)What is a just society
7)How is reality viewed through life and time?
8) Is reality fragmented or undivided
9) What is right and how has these ideas evolved?
10) What is personhood? What is real
11)What is value in a belief or idea?

And much more
Read and reflect . Let our ideosphere expand to the vast questions of life.
Profile Image for Jay Best.
179 reviews3 followers
November 13, 2022
Decent enough book. Several of the philosophers I am blown away by but many seem to be involved in intellectual mastication. Eg over thinking and making overly elaborate mental models of the world.

I love the Stoics. I love many of the quotes from many philosophers but quite a few just irritate me.

Listened at 2.5x via Libby
107 reviews
December 29, 2022
Disclosure: I am a philosophy junkie. This book is like a power fix. I got the audiobook because it was the only one available in my library, and even with attention problems I stayed focused. The is a really good read. Now I am going to get one of my very own to enjoy.
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