Maria Popova's favorite books

  • Desert Solitaire

    Desert Solitaire

    Edward Abbey
    Biography & Autobiography

    An account of the author's existence, observations and reflections, as a seasonal park ranger in southeast Utah

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    A miraculously beautiful book, originally published in 1968, which I discovered through a passing mention by the wonderful Cheryl Strayed.

     — Source

  • The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861

    A book I continue to consider an existential Bible of secular scripture, replete with the great transcendentalist philosopher and poets wisdom on the myth of productivity, the greatest gift of growing old, the sacredness of public libraries, the creative benefits of keeping a diary, and the only worthwhile definition of success.

     — Source

  • On the Move

    On the Move

    Oliver Sacks
    A Life
    Biography & Autobiography

    Physician and writer Oliver Sacks recounts his experiences as a young neurologist; his physical passions--weight lifting and swimming; his love affairs, both romantic and intellectual; his guilt over leaving his family to come to America; his bond with his schizophrenic brother; and the writers and scientists--Thom Gunn, A. R. Luria, W. H. Auden, Gerald M. Edelman, Francis Crick--who influenced him.

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    He dedication page of which reads simply for Billy, is unsynthesizably transcendent in its totality so immensely rewarding, so rich in private human truth and shared human wisdom, that compressing it into anything less than the full 416 pages is an injustice.

     — Source

  • On science, necessity, and the love of God

    The essay considers how the advent of two theories relativity (a very simple theory, so long as one does not try to understand it) and quantum mechanics

     — Source

  • Man's Search for Meaning

    Man's Search for Meaning

    Viktor E Frankl
    Existential psychotherapy

    A prominent Viennese psychiatrist before the war, Viktor Frankl was uniquely able to observe the way that he and other inmates coped with the experience of being in Auschwitz. He noticed that it was the men who comforted others and who gave away their last piece of bread who survived the longest - and who offered proof that everything can be taken away from us except the ability to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances. The sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not of camp influences alone. Only those who allowed their inner hold on their moral and spiritual selves to subside eventually fell victim to the camp's degenerating influence - while those who made a victory of those experiences turned them into an inner triumph. Frankl came to believe that man's deepest desire is to search for meaning and purpose. This outstanding work offers us all a way to transcend suffering and find significance in the art of living.

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    A meditation on what the gruesome experience of Auschwitz taught him about the primary purpose of life: the quest for meaning, which sustained those who survived.

     — Source

  • Still Writing

    Still Writing

    Dani Shapiro
    The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
    Biography & Autobiography

    Examines the process of creative writing and storytelling through the author's personal stories and experiences of living a writer's life and offers lessons and insights to aspiring authors.

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    Is soul-quenching in its entirety, with famous writers advice on the craft

     — Source

  • Stumbling on Happiness

    Stumbling on Happiness

    Daniel Gilbert

    Bringing to life scientific research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, this bestselling book reveals what scientists have discovered about the uniquely human ability to imagine the future, and about our capacity to predict how much we will like it when we get there. • Why are lovers quicker to forgive their partners for infidelity than for leaving dirty dishes in the sink? • Why will sighted people pay more to avoid going blind than blind people will pay to regain their sight? • Why do dining companions insist on ordering different meals instead of getting what they really want? • Why do pigeons seem to have such excellent aim; why can’t we remember one song while listening to another; and why does the line at the grocery store always slow down the moment we join it? In this brilliant, witty, and accessible book, renowned Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert describes the foibles of imagination and illusions of foresight that cause each of us to misconceive our tomorrows and misestimate our satisfactions. With penetrating insight and sparkling prose, Gilbert explains why we seem to know so little about the hearts and minds of the people we are about to become.

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    Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think theyre finished.

     — Source

  • A Rap on Race

    Weve got to be as clear-headed about human beings as possible, because we are still each others only hope.

     — Source

  • On the Shortness of Life

    On the Shortness of Life

    Charles Desmond Nuttall Costa,Lucius Annaeus Seneca
    Health & Fitness

    Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves--and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives--and destroyed them. Now, Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization, and helped make us who we are. Penguin's Great Ideas series features twelve groundbreaking works by some of history's most prodigious thinkers, and each volume is beautifully packaged with a unique type-drive design that highlights the bookmaker's art. Offering great literature in great packages at great prices, this series is ideal for those readers who want to explore and savor the Great Ideas that have shaped the world. The Stoic writings of the philosopher Seneca offer powerful insights into the art of living, the importance of reason and morality, and continue to provide profound guidance to many through their eloquence, lucidity and timeless wisdom.

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    Is a sublime read in its pithy totality.

     — Source

  • Gathering Moss

    Gathering Moss

    Robin Wall Kimmerer
    A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

    Living at the limits of our ordinary perception, mosses are a common but largely unnoticed element of the natural world. Gathering moss is a mix of science and personal reflection that invites readers to explore and learn from the elegantly simple lives of mosses. In this series of linked personal essays, Robin Kimmerer leads general readers and scientists alike to an understanding of how mosses live and how their lives are intertwined with the lives of countless other beings. Kimmerer explains the biology of mosses clearly and artfully, while at the same time reflecting on what these fascinating organisms have to teach us. Drawing on her experiences as a scientist, a mother, and a Native American, Kimmerer explains the stories of mosses in scientific terms as well as in the framework of indigenous ways of knowing. In her book, the natural history and cultural relationships of mosses become a powerful metaphor for ways of living in the world.

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    Is a glittering read in its entirety.

     — Source