Reading list

Jordan B. Peterson: 12 books that changed my life

12 Rules for Life draws very heavily on books I have loved and that have devastated and rebuilt me. I discuss these works repeatedly throughout the manuscript, in my first book, Maps of Meaning, and in my online lectures and podcasts. I have promoted the most influential books I have encountered on my website, jordanbpeterson.com, and I know from the thousands of letters than I am receiving than many people are learning about these works for the first time and reading them and undergoing the same transformations I experienced.

Here is a list of 12 the most surprising, significant, compelling and powerful.
 

Author Jordan B. Peterson with George Orwell statue
 

Beyond Good and Evil

Friedrich Nietzsche (and others)

Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil is translated from the German by R.J. Hollingdale with an introduction by Michael Tanner in Penguin Classics.

Beyond Good and Evil confirmed Nietzsche's position as the towering European philosopher of his age. The work dramatically rejects the tradition of Western thought with its notions of truth and God, good and evil. Nietzsche demonstrates that the Christian world is steeped in a false piety and infected with a 'slave morality'. With wit and energy, he turns from this critique to a philosophy that celebrates the present and demands that the individual imposes their own 'will to power' upon the world.

This edition includes a commentary on the text by the translator and Michael Tanner's introduction, which explains some of the more abstract passages in Beyond Good and Evil.

Frederich Nietzsche (1844-1900) became the chair of classical philology at Basel University at the age of 24 until his bad health forced him to retire in 1879. He divorced himself from society until his final collapse in 1899 when he became insane. A powerfully original thinker, Nietzsche's influence on subsequent writers, such as George Bernard Shaw, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann and Jean-Paul Sartre, was considerable.

If you enjoyed Beyond Good and Evil you might like Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, also available in Penguin Classics.

'One of the greatest books of a very great thinker'
Michael Tanner

Man's Search For Meaning

Viktor E Frankl (and others)

A prominent Viennese psychiatrist before the war, Viktor Frankl was uniquely able to observe the way that both he and others in Auschwitz coped (or didn't) with the experience. 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 concentration camp 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 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.

The Road to Wigan Pier

George Orwell (and others)

A searing account of George Orwell's observations of working-class life in the bleak industrial heartlands of Yorkshire and Lancashire in the 1930s, The Road to Wigan Pier is a brilliant and bitter polemic that has lost none of its political impact over time. His graphically unforgettable descriptions of social injustice, cramped slum housing, dangerous mining conditions, squalor, hunger and growing unemployment are written with unblinking honesty, fury and great humanity. It crystallized the ideas that would be found in Orwell's later works and novels, and remains a powerful portrait of poverty, injustice and class divisions in Britain.

Published with an introduction by Richard Hoggart in Penguin Modern Classics.

'It is easy to see why the book created and still creates so sharp an impact ... exceptional immediacy, freshness and vigour, opinionated and bold ... Above all, it is a study of poverty and, behind that, of the strength of class-divisions'
Richard Hoggart

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

WITH INTRODUCTIONS BY MARGARET ATWOOD AND DAVID BRADSHAW

Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress...

Huxley's ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Tom Wolfe (and others)

Tom Wolfe's genre-defining ride through the 1960s published in Vintage Classics for the first time to mark its fiftieth anniversary

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY JARVIS COCKER

In the summer of 1964, author Ken Kesey and his Merry Band of Pranksters set out on a trip like no other. Blazing across America in their day-glo schoolbus, doped up and deep ‘in the pudding’, the Pranksters’ arrival on the scene – anarchic, exuberant and acid-infused – would turn on an entire counter-culture, and provide Tom Wolfe with the perfect free-wheeling subject for this, his pioneering masterpiece of New Journalism.

'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is not simply the best book on the hippies, it is the essential book...the pushing, ballooning heart of the matter' New York Times

Notes from Underground and the Double

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (and others)

Collected here in Penguin Classics are two of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's shorter works, Notes from Underground and The Double, translated by Ronald Wilks with an introduction by Robert Louis Jackson.

Alienated from society and paralysed by a sense of his own insignificance, the anonymous narrator of Dostoyevsky's groundbreaking Notes from Underground tells the story of his tortured life. With bitter irony, he describes his refusal to become a worker in the 'anthill' of society and his gradual withdrawal to an existence 'underground'. The seemingly ordinary world of St Petersburg takes on a nightmarish quality in The Double when a government clerk encounters a man who looks exactly like him - his double, perhaps, or possibly the darker side of his own personality. Like Notes from Underground, this is a masterly tragicomic study of human consciousness.

Ronald Wilks's extraordinary new translation is accompanied here by an introduction by Robert Louis Jackson discussing these pivotal works in the context of Dostoyevsky's life and times. This edition also contains a chronology, bibliography, table of ranks and notes on each work.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) was born in Moscow. From 1849-54 he lived in a convict prison, and in later years his passion for gambling led him deeply into debt. His other works available in Penguin Classics include Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot and Demons.

If you enjoyed Notes from Underground and The Double, you might like Dostoyevsky's Demons, also available in Penguin Classics.

'Notes from Underground, with its mood of intellectual irony and alienation, can be seen as the first modern novel ... That sense of meaninglessness of existence that runs through much of twentieth-century writing - from Conrad and Kafka, to Beckett and beyond - starts in Dostoyevsky's work'
Malcolm Bradbury

Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (and others)

A thrilling study of guilt and power, the Penguin Classics edition of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is translated with an introduction and notes by David McDuff.

Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, wanders through the slums of St Petersburg and commits a random murder without remorse or regret. He imagines himself to be a great man, a Napoleon: acting for a higher purpose beyond conventional moral law. But as he embarks on a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Porfiry, a suspicious detective, Raskolnikov is pursued by the growing voice of his conscience and finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck. Only Sonya, a downtrodden prostitute, can offer the chance of redemption. As the ensuing investigation and trial reveal the true identity of the murderer, Dostoyevsky's dark masterpiece evokes a world where the lines between innocence and corruption, good and evil, blur and everyone's faith in humanity is tested.

This vivid translation by David McDuff has been acclaimed as the most accessible version of Dostoyevsky's great novel, rendering its dialogue with a unique force and naturalism. This edition also contains a new chronology of Dostoyevsky's life and work.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) was born in Moscow. From 1849-54 he lived in a convict prison, and in later years his passion for gambling led him deeply into debt. His other works available in Penguin Classics include The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot and Demons.

If you enjoyed Crime and Punishment, you might like Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, also available in Penguin Classics.

'McDuff's language is rich and alive'
The New York Times Book Review

Ordinary Men

Christopher R Browning

Ordinary Men has been admired all over the world and is now published in the UK for the first time. It takes as its basis the detailed records of one squad from the Nazis' extermination groups and explores in detail its composition, its actions, andthe methods by which it was trained to perform acts of genocide on an industrial scale. He introduces us to cheerful, friendly, ordinary men who killed without hesitation or apparent remorse for years on end, in docile obedience to an authority theyhappily accepted as legitimate. It is a valuable corrective to the idea of German uniqueness and offers a much more chilling picture of human beings as avidly suggestible and desperate for an organising purpose in their lives, however disgusting.

The Gulag Archipelago

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Gulag Archipelago is Solzhenitsyn's masterwork, a vast canvas of camps, prisons, transit centres and secret police, of informers and spies and interrogators and also of heroism, a Stalinist anti-world at the heart of the Soviet Union where the key to survival lay not in hope but in despair.

The work is based on the testimony of some two hundred survivors, and on the recollection of Solzhenitsyn's own eleven years in labour camps and exile. It is both a thoroughly researched document and a feat of literary and imaginative power. This edition has been abridged into one volume at the author's wish and with his full co-operation.

Wuthering Heights

Emily Brontë (and others)

Emily Brontë's only novel, a work of tremendous and far-reaching influence, the Penguin Classics edition of Wuthering Heights is the definitive edition of the text, edited with an introduction by Pauline Nestor.

Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before; of the intense relationship between the gypsy foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw; and how Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class. As Heathcliff's bitterness and vengeance at his betrayal is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.

In this edition, a new preface by Lucasta Miller, author of The Brontë Myth, looks at the ways in which the novel has been interpreted, from Charlotte Brontë onwards. This complements Pauline Nestor's introduction, which discusses changing critical receptions of the novel, as well as Emily Brontë's influences and background.

Emily Brontë (1818-48), along with her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, was one of the most significant literary figures of the 19th century. She wrote just one strikingly innovative novel, Wuthering Heights, but was also a gifted and intense poet.

If you enjoyed Wuthering Heights, you may like Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, also available in Penguin Classics.

'Wuthering Heights is commonly thought of as "romantic", but try rereading it without being astonished by the comfortableness with which Brontë's characters subject one another to extremes of physical and psychological violence'
Jeanette Winterson

'As a first novel, there is very little that can compare to it. Even Shakespeare took over a decade to reach the clifftop extremities of King Lear'
Sarah Waters

Modern Man in Search of a Soul

Carl Jung

Modern Man in Search of a Soul is the perfect introduction to the theories and concepts of one of the most original and influential religious thinkers of the twentieth century. Lively and insightful, it covers all of his most significant themes, including man's need for a God and the mechanics of dream analysis. One of his most famous books, it perfectly captures the feelings of confusion that many sense today. Generation X might be a recent concept, but Jung spotted its forerunner over half a century ago. For anyone seeking meaning in today's world, Modern Man in Search of a Soul is a must.

 

The Sacred and the Profane

Mirecea Eliade

In The Sacred and the Profane, Mircea Eliade observes that while contemporary people believe their world is entirely profane, or secular, they still at times find themselves connected unconsciously to the memory of something sacred. It's this premise that both drives Eliade's exhaustive exploration of the sacred--as it has manifested in space, time, nature and the cosmos, and life itself--and buttresses his expansive view of the human experience.

 

More about the author

12 Rules for Life

Jordan B. Peterson

The #1 Sunday Times and International Bestseller from 'the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now' (New York Times)

'Everyone must read 12 Rules For Life ... The most enlightening book I have read in ages' Chris Evans

Acclaimed psychologist Jordan Peterson has become one of the most influential public thinkers to emerge on the world stage for many years, with his lectures on topics from the Bible to romantic relationships to mythology drawing an unprecedented following of tens of millions of viewers. In an era of unprecedented change and polarizing politics, his frank and refreshing message about the value of individual responsibility has resonated powerfully around the world.

In this #1 international bestseller, he provides twelve profound and practical principles for how to live a meaningful life, from setting your house in order before criticising others to comparing yourself to who you were yesterday, not someone else today. Drawing on vivid examples from Peterson's clinical practice and personal life, cutting edge psychology and philosophy, and lessons from humanity's oldest myths and stories, 12 Rules for Life offers a deeply rewarding antidote to the chaos in our lives: eternal truths applied to our modern problems.

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