Timeless Wisdom
October 12, 2013 6:28 PM   Subscribe

Recently, a light bulb went off in my head. I've begun to appreciate a lot of classic works of non-fiction due to the timeless wisdom that they contain. I'm looking for more books that I might like.

The most recent books that I've read that fit the bill include:

  • Marcus Aurelius' Meditations

  • The Book of Chuang Tzu (loved this)

  • The Tao Te Ching (not so much)

  • Tocqueville's Democracy in America

  • Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson

  • Queued up is Thoreau's Walden.

    Despite that I've read a few Stoic/Taoist texts recently, I'm really not looking for recommendations on additional Stoic/Taoist texts, unless they are exceptional in their own right. I'd prefer this list to be broader rather than focused in terms of types of books that are recommended, and I don't identify with any particular -ism that I feel the need to indulge. All that being said, please have at it, hivemind.
    posted by prunes to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
    On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill.
    posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:30 PM on October 12, 2013

    You seem like a person who would enjoy Montaigne.
    posted by Frowner at 6:31 PM on October 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

    Confessions of St. Augustine, maybe.
    posted by aka burlap at 6:38 PM on October 12, 2013

    A bit out of left field: Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

    Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
    posted by Mizu at 7:05 PM on October 12, 2013

    The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
    posted by 256 at 7:10 PM on October 12, 2013

    Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, by John Dunne
    posted by nicwolff at 7:11 PM on October 12, 2013

    The Art of War, by Sun-Tzu, translated by Ralph D. Sawyer.

    If you want to read the Art of War, do yourself a favor and read this edition. Excellent translation and a tremendous introduction. Apparently the paperback doesn't include all the material, so try to find the hardcover.
    posted by alms at 7:15 PM on October 12, 2013

    This may be totally out in left field, but it is available for free. Thoughts and Aphorisms by Sri Aurobindo (20th century Oxford educated Indian philosopher/guru).
    posted by goethean at 7:28 PM on October 12, 2013

    The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James

    and seconding St. Augustine's Confessions
    posted by Redstart at 7:30 PM on October 12, 2013

    The Oceans: Their Physics, Chemistry, and General Biology; by Harald Sverdrup is considered a seminal oceanography textbook classic.

    Some historical context.
    posted by oceanjesse at 7:32 PM on October 12, 2013

    The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes from the Bible.
    Rudyard Kipling's Poems and Just So stories
    Aesop's Fables
    posted by bartonlong at 7:39 PM on October 12, 2013

    On the Origin of Species. It's very well written and Darwin anticipates and addresses all of the obvious objections to his theory in this Ur-text.
    posted by monotreme at 7:44 PM on October 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

    KenkĊ's Tsurezuregusa or Essays in Idleness (full PDF available in external links)

    Epictetus's Enchiridion (Stoicism, but good enough and short enough to be worth mentioning)

    Probably any Mullah Nasreddin collection

    Lichtenberg's Aphorisms
    posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:04 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

    The Book of Five Rings, by Miyamoto Musashi.

    Musashi is a very famous figure in Japanese history. The WWII-era battleship Musashi was named for him.
    posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:12 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

    I submit The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston (1928).
    posted by cairdeas at 12:11 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

    The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton
    Religio Medici, Hydriotaphia, etc. by Sir Thomas Browne
    Areopagitica by John Milton
    The Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb
    posted by misteraitch at 4:14 AM on October 13, 2013

    The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
    posted by katie at 4:15 AM on October 13, 2013

    Rumi is a classic, though pretty religious if you're ok with that. A lot of it is simply how to be a good human in a big, big world.
    posted by shesaysgo at 9:29 AM on October 13, 2013

    The Apology, Meno, Phaedrus, and Crito are the Platonic Socratic dialogues that I have like most. People respect The Republic, but I don't like it. In addition, consider the Symposium. Xenophon's Apology is also remarkable in that it differs so much from Plato's: read it too.

    Consider the Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus, which is notable because Publius Syrus was a maxim-writer but born a slave.

    Consider Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.

    Consider Levinas's Otherwise than Being. It is an amazing book, although it might literally be the case that you might need to learn philosophical French to read it properly. The same might be said of Levinas's Totality and Infinity.

    The Diamond Sutra is also a thing. The meaning of its title is that the diamond is transparent, not necessarily that it is imperishable.

    Consider Cicero's De Re Publica, or On the Commonwealth.

    Saint-Exupery is famous for The Little Prince, but his memoir, Wind, Sand and Stars, is also worth reading.

    The Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Investors are technically nonfiction and filled with domain-specific wisdom, if your interests lie that way, but there are also abstract lessons. Other domain-specific books I have found to be full of abstractable wisdom include Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programming, The Art of Electronics, Impro, Voice and the Actor, Design, Form and Chaos, Notes on the Synthesis of Form (actually, most of the things that Christopher Alexander writes, although his other books are bigger tomes), How Buildings Learn, the Design of Everyday Things, Getting to Yes, Oglivy on Advertising, and Rules of Thumb.
    posted by curuinor at 11:43 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

    oh, thought of a couple more,

    Anabasis and The Economist by Xenophon. Both are public domain and usually free to download on every e reader out there.
    posted by bartonlong at 12:08 PM on October 13, 2013

    Lila by Michael Pirsig provides a neat and jaw-droppingly robust model of the humanity and the universe.
    posted by Sebmojo at 5:27 PM on October 13, 2013

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