A room without books is like a body without a soul.
—Marcus Tullius Cicero

Philosophy & Psychology

Peter Godfrey-Smith (2016)

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Johann Hari (2022)

Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention- and How to Think Deeply Again

Richard David Precht (2021)

Freiheit für alle: Das Ende der Arbeit wie wir sie kannten

In his latest book, German philosopher Richard David Precht undertakes nothing less than a comprehensive review of the history, presence, and future of work. His primary concern is the pressing question whether the Second Machine Age, as once proclaimed by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, will have as profound an impact on the nature of work as often predicted. In the thoughtful style typical for his writing, Precht dedicates entire chapters arguing for and against many of the prevalent opinions: That countless high-skill professions will become obsolete due to the rise of AI and automation. That these jobs will be replaced by equal, if not better, occupations, as had happened during the first and second industrial revolution. That “this time is different,” and thus mass unemployment an inevitable consequence, and so on.

This interesting journey of pros and cons, of objections raised and refuted, of arguments built and destroyed, takes the reader through many centuries of human history. From laborare and facere in ancient Rome via the feudal system of medieval times up to the backbreaking conditions of England’s factories in the 1800s we learn about the varying role that work and labour had played in people’s lives, and what contemporary thinkers had to say about that at each stage.

As the book progresses, Precht’s reasoning crystallizes into a distinctive conclusion: That, all things considered, the band between employment and income which come to define our understanding of work for the last 150 years, would have to be severed once and for all. In an economy capable of generating material abundance for everyone, it’s neither necessary nor desirable to keep up the futile policy aim of “full employment”. Quite the contrary, forcing people to take on meaningless jobs that are often increasingly pointless, as once emphasized by David Graeber, would be both cruel and unjust.

Precht’s argument therefore culminates in a call for the installment of a universal basic income (UBI) scheme. Again, he goes to great lengths to sketch the different proposal that are out there, ranging from merely beefing up existing social security systems to a full-fledged guaranteed existence for everyone. He also gives ample room to possible counterarguments and, typical for the philosopher, immediately has intelligent replies to them at the ready: No, the majority of people will most likely not stop working altogether. Yes, concepts for the sustainable financing of a UBI do exist. No, the small-scale experiments that have been conducted so far cannot be viewed as representative. Yes, a strategy can be mapped out for how such a fundamental societal transformation can be achieved, and so forth.

Finally, Precht tries to connect the dots between his envisioned “society of meaning” (“Sinngesellschaft”) and the changes to the educational system that would have to go along with its establishment. Here he builds on a slightly adapted and amended version of the principles he laid out in his 2013 book “Anna, die Schule und der liebe Gott”.

Regardless of whether or not one is willing to follow his conclusions all the way, reading Precht is always an enlightening experience. Undoubtedly, great societal transformations await us. And, who knows, maybe all of us will have significantly more time for philosophizing in the future!

Mark Manson (2019)

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope

Buckle up, reader! Mark Manson once again will take us on a wild rollercoaster ride through history, psychology, and philosophy. Of course, the trolley is going at least 400mph. And of course it’s on fire. And it’s headed towards a cliff. And deep down in the abyss awaits… the Singularity.

Wait. What?

Much like in “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”, Manson eloquently weaves a tapestry of philosophical threads ranging from Plato and Buddha to Nietzsche and Kant, from Schopenhauer and Durkheim to Bostrom and Musk. And while coherence is sometimes sacrificed in favour of pace, the resulting DIY-approach to life, happiness, meaning, and the future, feels surprisingly harmonious for the most part.

“Why are we unhappy?” Mason asks. Because we hope. For something better that somehow never arrives. And even if it does, we’re quickly bored with it and begin longing for the next shiny thing. The bigger house, the faster car, the sexier girlfriend. Thus, the cycle starts anew. Repeat ad nauseam.

This unsatisfiable hunger is so deeply ingrained in our nature that it’s essentially what defines the human condition. And that we need to break this cycle of hope, achievement, and disappointment in order to reach anything resembling happiness—or at least, equanimity—has been codified and taught for at least a couple of thousand of years. But Mason, equipped with his familiar toolbox of four-letter swearwords and cultural references, for sure has a better shot at making this insight accessible to a generation of frustrated Millennials and Gen-Zs that a bunch of bald guys in orange robes.

What about the Singularity though? Well, Mason, like so many these days, holds strong views on AI, on where that technology is headed, and to what heights it’ll lift humanity in its wake. The book thus closes with a somewhat hopeful—albeit that’s debatable—outlook on our collective future which, maybe, just maybe, would have been better left out. Not that I want to downplay the importance of this topic, quite the contrary. But for a book like “Everything is F*cked”, which is practically a guide to personal ethics based on Buddhist philosophy and Kantian values, visions of a collective hive-mind in which the individual dissolves in a puddle of sweet-smelling happiness just feels a touch misguided.

Lynn Rossy (2021)

Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy

Mindfulness is a miraculously broad field, and the aspects of our lives that can be improved by it are virtually endless. I was therefore curious to learn what Lynn Rossy, psychologist, researcher, and yoga- and meditation teacher, had to say on the topic of mindful eating.

Undoubtedly, the book is intended for people who struggle with their food intake and regularly (and unwillingly) overeat. For this audience, Rossy offers techniques and practices to help cultivate a healthier relationship with the body and its physiological needs. Simply put, by savoring instead of wolfing down one’s meals, we almost automatically eat less and enjoy more. This principle is true for everything though, and what Rossy prescribes is useful far beyond the dinner table.

In her short book, she doesn’t stop to surprise the reader by broadening the discussion to encompass a variety of topics: How do feelings and emotions arise in the mind? What are they, in the first place, and how can we deal with them in helpful, intentional ways rather than falling back on intuitive and often harmful behaviors? What about happiness and self-acceptance when the media and everyone around us tells us how we should look, talk, and behave? How can we find a healthy balance between changing for the better without striving for unrealistic and unachievable ideals?

This breadth of issues makes Rossy’s book useful and actionable also for those of us who don’t necessarily struggle with their eating. I was a bit disappointed though, that the author spends relatively little time on each individual topic she tries to cover. Whilst that makes most chapters concise and easy to digest (no pun intended!), I believe that some of them would have benefitted from a bit more depth. The “practice” sections attached to each of them however do make up for some of these shortcomings. They guide the curious reader in how to explore their own minds and its quirks and idiosyncrasies first-handedly—provided one is willing to give them a try.

Cal Newport (2019)

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

How can one stay focused when our mind is under constant attack from the supremely well engineered attention-grabbing machines that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many others have become? The insight that the primary purpose of these services is not to improve the lives of us, their users, but rather to maximize the time we spend interacting with them is not new. The premise of Newport’s book therefore is almost self-evident: We need a novel approach to dealing with these highly addictive tools if we want to extract the (marginal) value that can be gained from them whilst avoiding most of their detrimental consequences.

Digital Minimalism offers such a “philosophy of technology use” beyond the simple, but oftentimes unhelpful, advice that we should just stop engaging with social media altogether. Newport rather suggests that we deal with them more intentionally, starting with a rigorous “digital declutter” process to help us better understand in which circumstances we get which benefits out of them and consciously evaluate if that’s really the best way to attain those benefits. Using Facebook to stay in touch with relatives living overseas for example may seem like quite a reasonable idea, but under close scrutiny one could easily find out that a regular phone call instead would provide space for much deeper interactions while avoiding all the negative consequences of extensive use of the platform.

Newport provides countless examples along those lines, combined with “practices” that the reader is asked to try out on their own. He’s cautious against prescribing a simplistic ten-step-program though, and instead tries to showcase many different techniques that have proven helpful to some.

Interestingly, the book oscillates between the concrete problems provided by 21st century social media use, and age-old philosophical questions. The former may or may not be a huge obstacle to a fulfilled life for the individual reader, but the latter is doubtlessly insightful for anyone. Increasing one’s time for reflection in solitude (i.e., without “input from other minds”, as Newport defines the term) for example, or actively engaging in value-creating leisure activities such as learning a craft or seeking out social interactions through “joining things”, are worthwhile pursuits that will almost automatically reduce the time one spends on-screen but at the same time are surefire ways to increase life satisfaction in general.

It is this general-purpose usefulness that I enjoyed most about Digital Minimalism. The surprising shortness of the book and its sudden ending at a point where I felt much more was to be said on the topic was a bit of a downer though. Let’s hope, that Newport will follow-up with another publication along the same lines soon.

Volker Kitz (2021)

Konzentration: Warum sie so wertvoll ist und wie wir sie bewahren

Volker Kitz’ exploration of the minds’ capacity for concentration covers many interesting aspects of our current best understanding of the enigma which is human consciousness. He manages to balance psychological research with relatable personal experiences, historical facts and notable anecdotes (did you know that Franz Kafka was among the first bodybuilders, for example?).

The events during a ten day silent mediation retreat in India, which the author attended primarily in order to strengthen his own capacity for concentration, provide the general backbone of his story. Whilst mindfulness meditation is seldomly mentioned explicitly, it becomes clear that his is the primary technique he and his fellow attendants trained in. Kitz touches briefly on the Buddhist concepts they were introduced to (emptiness, and no-self most prominent among them), but neither the organizers of the retreat, nor he himself in writing the book, sound proselytizing at any point. Much more, he uses them in the spirit of many other authors of secular mindfulness literate, merely as tools and concepts that should help the reader to better understand the human condition.

I highly recommend the book for everyone looking for a compact and entertaining introduction into the current state of the science of concentration in particular and consciousness in general. While experienced readers who are already familiar with other books on the topic (see below) may not find much novelty in Kitz’ work, they will nevertheless be able to take some things away from it—a handful of funny cocktail party anecdotes at the very least.

Oliver Burkeman (2021)

Four Thousand Weeks

How can we make the most of the little time we have? Not by using time management tools to squeeze more productivity out of every second, argues Oliver Burkeman. Instead, he confronts us with the fundamental flaw of human existence: There’s always more to do than we have time for. Helping the reader accept that fact and circumventing the traditional productivity traps that come with it makes up the bulk of Four Thousand Weeks.

Definitely a recommendation for anyone who feels drowning in ToDo-lists, e-mails, and tasks!

Heidi Kastner (2021)


Nancy Sherman

Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience

Thomas Erikson (2014)

Surrounded by Idiots

Chris Bosh (2021)

Letters to a Young Athlete

I’ve never followed professional basketball closely, so I wasn’t really familiar with Chris Bosh’s backstory when I picked up his book. The hype-and-bust-cycles that characterized his high-profile career though can serve as inspiring parables for life in general: To achieve outstanding results, you’ll need a vision that goes beyond money or fame, for example. And the strength required to follow through with it often has to come from places within that you didn’t even know existed. Oversized egos on the one side, or a reluctance to take care of oneself on the other, can quickly destroy what’s taken years and years to construct. And, despite hard work and no fault of one’s own, things don’t always play out the way we might want them to. Sometimes, like in the case of the medical issues that prematurely ended his career, all we can do is accept the facts and move on.

Bosh’s clear and concise writing, as well as the refreshingly unconventional structure of the book (slightly reminiscent of Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”) makes it easy to digest and comprehend. But what surprised me most was the depth of philosophical reasoning that went into at, ranging from Stoic thinking to ancient eastern wisdom.

Amishi P. Jha (2021)

Peak Mind

Read my full review over here.

William B. Irvine (2008)

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Angela Duckworth (2016)

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Shaila Catherine (2008)

Focused and Fearless: A Meditator's Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity?

Sam Harris (2021)

Making Sense: Conversations on Consciousness, Morality and the Future of Humanity

This book is a collection of the best interviews Sam Harris did for his Making Sense podcast. They cover a wide range of topics, from neuroscience and psychology to philosophy of mind, morality, artificial intelligence, and existential threats to life on earth.

I’ve been following Sam Harris for a long time now, and this book perfectly summarizes what makes him so unique: The deep thinking and personal experience he brings into conversations with some the greatest thinkers of our time—including David Chalmers, Thomas Metzinger, Timothy Snyder, Daniel Kahneman, Nick Bostrom, and Max Tegmark—is truly outstanding. If you’re even slightly interested in any of the areas mentioned above and prefer reading to listening, I highly recommend this book.

Adam M. Grant (2021)

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know

Susan Blackmore (2005)

Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

Lisa Feldman Barrett

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

Viktor E. Frankl (1985)

Der Mensch vor der Frage nach dem Sinn: Eine Auswahl aus dem Gesamtwerk

Barbara Tversky (2019)

Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought

Bill Burnett, Dave Evans (2020)

Designing Your Work Life

Read my full review over here.

Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

George Mumford (2015)

The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance

Catherine Wilson (2019)

How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang (2016)

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

Alan W. Watts (1957)

The Way of Zen

Daniel H. Pink (2012)

To Sell is Human

Cal Newport (2016)

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Martin E.P. Seligman (2011)

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being

Daniel Kahneman (2011)

Thinking, Fast and Slow

David Epstein (2019)

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Read my full review over here.

Annaka Harris (2019)

Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind

Michael Pollan (2018)

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Sam Harris (2014)

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

Barry Schwartz (2004)

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

Daniel H. Pink (2009)

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us