Gang Leader For A Day is based on author Sudhir Venkatesh’s ten years of personal, in-depth research conducted on-site at the notorious Robert Taylor Homes public housing projects in Chicago. Ignored by city government and law enforcement, residents in the close-knit community rely only on local gangs and each other for basic services and social support.
Discipline & Punish (1975) is a celebrated work of renowned French philosopher and sociologist Michel Foucault. Foucault studies the history of forms of power, punishment, discipline and surveillance from the French Ancien Régime through to more modern times, seeing it as a reflection of a changing society.
Madness and Civilization (1961) explores the bumpy road taken by European society in learning how to understand and treat mental illness. Famed philosopher and critic Michel Foucault offers insight into civilization’s troubled history of treating the mentally ill as social outcasts, wild animals and misbehaving children.
The Broken Ladder (2017) explores the psychological, physical, and social ramifications of rising inequality. As the rich get richer, it powerfully demonstrates, everyone else feels poorer, regardless of material circumstances – with devastating consequences for all.
In an age where science and atheism seek to explain everything we are, The Soul of the World (2014) argues for the continued importance of religion. It doesn’t preach for a particular doctrine; rather, it claims that in art, music, architecture, and interpersonal relations, there is a striving toward the sacred that science alone can’t explain or fulfill. Finally, it argues that by devaluing or ignoring the transcendent, we are willfully giving up one of the very things that makes us human.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) presents a succinct summary of Hume’s empirical and skeptical philosophy, and is one of the most influential texts of the early modern period. In calling for the use of reason in rejecting the “superstitions” of metaphysical philosophy and religion, this text helped to furnish the philosophical basis for the scientific method that was then coming to prominence in Enlightenment Europe. Even today, Hume’s Enquiry remains one of the best introductions to modern philosophy.
Wanting (2021) provides a riveting, philosophical answer to the question Why do we want the things we want? Drawing on theories originally developed by the celebrated polymath René Girard, it reveals an uncomfortable truth: that our desires are all ultimately a product of other people’s desires. The point isn’t to eliminate them, but rather to choose, carefully and consciously, which ones we should actually strive for.
The Social Contract (1762) is a seminal work of political and social theory, and is Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s most important and influential text. In the book, Rousseau lays out the conditions required for the legitimate founding and governing of a nation state. Playing a role in both the French Revolution and the founding of the US Constitution, The Social Contract is a cornerstone of modern political thought and essential reading for anyone interested in political theory.
How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997) melds literary biography with a self-help structure to argue that reading the work of twentieth-century French author Marcel Proust is not only culturally enriching, but potentially life-enhancing. Botton’s close reading of Proust’s masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, offers up surprising and delightful insights into how to live better.
A Room of One's Own (1929) is a perceptive rumination on gender and self-expression. This extended essay explores the social and structural barriers women face when creating art.
The Quick Fix (2021) is a skeptical study of recent trends in behavioral psychology. Academic studies and TED talks may appear to make a convincing case for the power of positive thinking or the impact of implicit bias, but sometimes the evidence just isn’t there. In a complex world, the explanations for human behavior are often more nuanced than some modern psychologists would have you believe.
What We Owe the Future (2022) makes the case for longtermism – the idea that people today have an obligation to create a good future for successive generations. Using philosophical reasoning, historical anecdotes, and social science research, it argues that the current moment could decide whether future people will live happy, flourishing lives or extraordinarily miserable ones. By carefully considering our actions with respect to issues like AI safety, biotechnology, and value lock-in, we increase the chances that future people will thrive – just as many of us do, now, thanks to people from the past.
Longpath (2022) is written to change the way you think about humankind. By teaching the lessons of the Longpath mentality, it shows how to break the bad habit of short-term thinking and embrace a mentality that helps connect humanity’s past, present, and future in order to make a better world.
Rogues (2022) is a compilation of veteran journalist Patrick Radden Keefe’s most famous profiles for the New Yorker Magazine. Keefe delves into the lives of notorious criminals and con artists, exploring their complex motivations. He examines the societies that made them and the systems we have for bringing people to justice.
Starry Messenger (2022) is about a way of looking at the world called the cosmic perspective. It’s the view that opens up when we think about human life in its largest possible context – that of the universe itself. This isn’t an exercise in making our worldly affairs seem small and trivial, though. It’s about unlocking insights that can help us live more happily and meaningfully on the cosmic anomaly we call Earth.
The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is (2022) offers startlingly new ways of understanding the world wide web, and strongly challenges us to examine our long-held beliefs about the supremacy of human cognition. It confronts our most closely-held (and least examined) ideas about the internet and social media, and weaves together observations from centuries of philosophy, mathematics, science and history.
Future Stories: What’s Next? (2022) explains the roots of how we make decisions about the future and illuminates the urgent responsibility on humanity’s shoulders today, with a multidisciplinary approach to time informed by biology, philosophy, and cosmology.
Macbeth (1606) is the Shakespearean tragedy of Scottish general Macbeth and his doomed attempt to seize his country’s throne. His ambitions ignited by a prophecy spoken to him by three witches, Macbeth’s path to power begins with anxiety and reticence and ends with callousness and cruelty. His story is a timeless exploration of guilt, paranoia, madness, prophecy, and the evils of ambition.
What’s Our Problem (2023) offers a fun and unique perspective on the strange state of the modern world in which we live. Using the author’s iconic comedic style, it draws on observations from political theory, psychology, history, and modern-day events to explain what is going on in our society, and what we can potentially do to fix it.
Lord of the Flies (1954) is the allegorical story of a group of young boys stranded on a deserted island and left to fend for themselves and create a society. As the boys struggle with the complexities of leadership, cooperation, and survival, they are forced to face some fundamental questions about human nature and the fragility of civilization.
Selfless (2023) explores the concept of the self as an entity formed by relationships and society in general. It tackles the roles of family, social groups, the country, and technology in shaping the self.
Humanly Possible (2023) traces the roots of humanism in literature and science back through history. While telling the stories of the great humanist thinkers, it sheds light on humanity today as well as how we can better relate to our lives and environment through humanist beliefs and pursuits.
Devil in the Grove (2012) tells the true story of four young Black men falsely accused of rape in 1949 Florida. It follows lawyer Thurgood Marshall’s tireless efforts to save their lives in the face of racial hatred, obstruction, violence, and injustice at every turn. Ultimately, Marshall exposed devastating flaws in the case, achieving some semblance of justice despite a system aligned against the defendants.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883) is a philosophical novel by Friedrich Nietzsche that explores the themes of religion, morality, culture, and society. It follows the journey of Zarathustra, a prophet who leaves his cave to share his wisdom with humanity. Along the way he encounters various characters who test his vision, and grapples with his own shortcomings.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) argues that the work ethic and values of early Protestant sects like Calvinism strongly influenced the development of capitalism in Western Europe. Weber's classic text traces these cultural origins, exploring how religious changes catalyzed the rise of modern economic systems by reshaping mindsets surrounding work, enterprise, and the accumulation of wealth.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013) offers a deep dive into the historical trends and dynamics of income and wealth inequality. Drawing from centuries of data, it examines how capital concentration perpetuates inequality and proposes bold solutions to address this growing divide.
Killing the Witches (2023) revisits one of the most frightening episodes in American history: the Salem Witch Trials, which saw over 200 people accused of witchcraft and 20 killed. This dramatic history reveals how Puritan tradition shaped early America and examines its repercussions to this very day.
Being and Nothingness (1943) is a seminal work of existentialist philosophy. It explores the major themes of existentialism, such as the intricacies of human consciousness, free will, and the interplay of objectivity and subjectivity.
Social Justice Fallacies (2023) unravels the myths and misconceptions driving today's social justice movement. It turns out that many popular beliefs about how society should be improved often conflict with concrete facts. This exploration sheds light on the perilous path of good intentions paired with fallacious assertions.