Book review: Philosophy’s greatest hits

“The Philosophy Book: Big ideas simply explained” by Will Buckingham et al

This is philosophy’s greatest hits, featuring all the most influential philosophers throughout the ages. It is a good summary introduction on possibly every big philosophical ideas ever conceived, a good starting point for more deep explorations.

It provides us with the environmental, cultural, and personal contexts in which the ideas came about, and it shows their gradual progressions, cross-influences, and sometimes counter arguments into what becomes a modern thinking that we have now.

The book, however, does not only cover what would be considered as “traditional” philosophers such as Socrates, Voltaire, Spinoza, Nietzsche, or Kierkegaard. But it also includes a broad spectrum of thinkers whose ideas have largely shaped their own respective fields, such as Avicenna (medicine), Machiavelli (politics), Pythagoras (math), Ludwig Wittgenstein (language), Adam Smith (economics), Charles Darwin (science), even Karl Marx (class struggle), among many, many others.

As a recovering Tsundoku-ist (only bought 2 new books this year (so far) to add into my pile of 200+ unread books), I bought this book 10 years ago when the DK Big Ideas series had only just begun with Philosophy and Psychology books. And over the years I only read it scatterly, and never devour it cover to cover like I eventually just did. However, even when reading it randomly the book had already serves me as a some kind of Wikipedia rabbit hole, where it introduces me to some of the big names that I have never heard before (and there are plenty of them in the book) that led me to do follow up readings.

One of the most profound examples is Averroes. When I first read about Averroes in this very book, it prompted me to read several articles and 2 more books about him, one of which opened up my eyes on the incredible Golden Age of Islam, which was very enlightening. This occurred several more times over the years, with the book notably became the first one that also introduced me to Stoicism (I have since read 14 books on Stoicism and live according to its principles).

All in all, it is a fairly light book that breaks down the heaviest ideas into bite-size meditations. It is a treasure trove of a book, a big book, with every sense of the word.