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Book Recs: Philosophy and Religious Studies

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Been pondering the human condition? You're not the first! Here's some book recommendations from the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, which will help you along your journey.

Brought to us by the Mortola and Birnbaum libraries, "The Librarian Is In" seeks to answer the age-old questionwhat should I read next? This month we have some recommendations from our Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, for anyone looking to immerse themselves in significant works that investigate some of the more complex aspects of humanity.

Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural DevastationJonathan Lear
Recommended by: James David Reich, PhD, Assistant Professor, Philosophy and Religious Studies

This book is a thoughtful and fascinating work of "philosophical anthropology," as Lear calls it. In it, Lear tries to think through the broader significance of a particular historical tragedythe destruction of the traditional way of life of the Crow Nation by American encroachment in the 19th century. Analyzing this event, Lear asks what it means for us, now, that human beings only live meaningful lives within frameworks that are necessarily contingent and always potentially subject to destruction and breakdown. He also looks at the leader of the Crow tribe, Plenty Coups, and the resources he relied on to lead his people through this breakdown into a world that was both completely new and still somehow connected to the Crow past.

The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary AbolitionistMarcus Rediker
Recommended by: Robert Chapman, PhD, Director of Philosophy and Religious Studies

I just finished a fascinating biography about a radical vegetarian Quaker and the abolitionist movement in the USRediker has written extensively on abolitionism, i.e. The Slave Ship, and is a first-class historian. Rediker catalogues the life of this obscure diminutive figure in religious history in great detail and with clarity. Good read!

Spinoza: Practical Philosophy—Gilles Deleuze
Recommended by: Daniel Barber, PhD, Assistant Professor, Philosophy and Religious Studies

This book is both an account of Spinoza's thought and a reinvention of such thought by the prominent twentieth century philosopher, Gilles Deleuze. I admire and often recommend it because of the way that it combines theoretical precision with attention to the practice of existing. What does it mean to practice existence? It means, at the very least, to understand and to experiment with the paradox of finite experience: one must persevere, or one must pursue one's desire, but one will do this most powerfully only in so far as one is able to be radically affected by what is outside oneself.

The NotebookAgota Kristof
Recommended by: Eddis Miller, PhD, Department Chair, Philosophy and Religious Studies

My recommendation is a novel called The Notebook by Agota Kristof. (It is the first volume of a trilogy, and the edition that is currently in print with Grove Press has all three novels. All three parts are good, but the other two do not match the power of the first.) Kristof was born in Hungary and at 21 years old fled the war to Switzerland. Only then did she begin learning French, which remarkably is the language in which she wrote the award-winning The Notebook. It is an eerie account of twin boys, Klaus and Lucas, who are sent to their grandmother's home in the countryside to escape war in the city. Faced with the realities of war and a masochistic grandmother, the boys undertake a disturbing project of self-education and self-discipline that they record, step-by step, in the "notebook" of the title. The end of the book is a surprise, to say the least.

The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with HappinessEmily Esfahani Smith
Recommended by: Len Mitchell, PhD, Lecturer, Philosophy and Religious Studies

My Philosophy of Happiness class and I read this book last semester. The author makes a distinction between hedonic happiness and eudaimonic happiness and then develops a case for striving for the latter. Her writing is interesting and clear, and she enlivens the book with reports on her original research in various part of the country and among various demographics that makes the book relevant to a broad group of readers. It was my students' favorite book of the ones we read, and I recommend it as well.

Do you have a book you would like the Pace Library to buy? Please send your book recommendations to Michelle Lang at