Recommended reading for ACTION PHILOSOPHERS #1
Plato, Nietzsche, Bodhidharma and Zen Buddhism

Friedrich Nietzsche. On the Genealogy of Morals / Ecce Homo. Translated from the German by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1967.
Though not as famous as Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Morals, a "sequel" to Beyond Good and Evil, contains some of Nietzsche's funniest writing and most lucid (for lack of a better word) reasoning. (The guy writes very elliptically.) In this edition you get two books for the price of one. As for Ecce Homo, Nietzsche's auto-history of his own philosophy, how could you not love any book that contains the chapters "Why I Am So Wise", "Why I Am So Clever", and "Why I Write Such Good Books"?

Plato and Aristophanes. Four Texts on Socrates. Translated from the Greek with Notes by Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Talk about bang for the buck: three of Plato's most famous dialogues starring his railroaded teacher (Euthyphro, Crito, and of course Socrates' fictionalized defense at his trial, The Apology); and, for the dissent, Aristophanes' comedy The Clouds, a satirical assault on Socrates' ideas that would have made Ayn Rand proud. In the play, Socrates renounces Zeus, takes the ever-shifting clouds as his gods (Get it? You can project whatever forms you want onto them? Get it?) and teaches his neighbor's son that incest and father-beating are terrific ideas. All the Farrelly Brothers need to make it into a movie is Jim Carrey as Socrates.

Morihei Ueshiba. The Art of Peace. Translated from the Japanese by John Stevens. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1992.
Though not by or about Bodhidharma, I'm not aware of Bodhidharma having written anything you can order on Amazon. So, in keeping with our theme of the interrelation between kung fu and Zen Buddhism, here's a book of aphorisms from Ueshiba, the inventor of Aikido. Ueshiba was a martial arts master and instructor at Japanese military academies who renounced violence during World War II; the title of the book is a quite conscious inversion of Sun Tzu's militaristic classic The Art of War. A series of simple teachings, in tiny paragraphs or a few lines of free verse, about how the Way of the Warrior is to control aggression, not initiate it. Good stuff.

Recommended reading for ACTION PHILOSOPHERS #2
Thomas Jefferson, Saint Augustine and Ayn Rand

E.M. Halliday. Understanding Thomas Jefferson. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
The essays in this book tackle all the major controversies of Jeffersonia (of which there are many) in a straightforward and convincing fashion. From the Sally Hemmings affair to the writing of the Declaration itself, there's something for everyone.

St. Augustine. Confessions. Translated from the Latin by Henry Chadwick. Oxford University Press, 1991.
For a 1,500 year-old book Confessions is quite fun and engaging, assuming you can get past, y'know, all that Jesus stuff. An autobiography as told from the dim privacy of the confessional, in which Auggie details all his sins from, literally, birth (coveting Mom's teat is gluttonous to the Lord, apparently) to baptism at age 32. The last third is far less personal, in which Augustine tries to force the Creation as told by Genesis to make something resembling coherent sense, which I can't recommend to anyone except students of mythology and adherents of "Intelligent Design." Oh wait, sorry: those are the same people.

Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism. New York: Signet Library, 1964.
Essays on the Objectivist stance toward ethics, human rights, government, racism, psychology and more by Rand and her disgraced lover, Branden. To be frank I find Rand's novels turgid and dated (the plot of Atlas Shrugged hinges upon the centrality of passenger railroads to the American economy, for example), but she is perhaps the most entertaining writer of philosophy since Nietzsche (whom she rejects as a non-rational pseudo-hedonist).

Recommended reading for ACTION PHILOSOPHERS #3
Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell

Sigmund Freud. The Interpretation of Dreams. Translated from the German by A. A. Brill.
Do we here at ACTION PHILOSOPHERS hook you up or what? Not only do we tell you which books to read, but we also tell you how to get 'em for free ON-LINE! Please, no applause. Just throw money.

Like many incredible influential thinkers, Freud's popularity wasn't hurt at all by his ability to write rippingly good and entertaining books, including Dreams, which contains much of his own self-analysis, including the famed "Irma" dream adapted in this issue.

And Freud was no dummy: some of the earliest editions were illustrated with COMICS! Check it out at the Library of Congress site. Winsor McCay, eat your heart out!

Carl G. Jung (ed.) Man and His Symbols. New York: Anchor Books, 1964.
Toward the end of his life, Jung had a dream that he was giving a lecture to a bunch of common people who actually understood what the hell he was talking about. Apparently this was something of a novel experience for him, and he liked it. After waking up he threw together this lavishly illustrated collection of essays from him and his followers putting the precepts of analytical psychology down in simple terms for dumb-asses like you and me.

As condescending as that project may be, it works: this is a fun explication of the elements of the archetypes and the unconscious and illustrated (in FULL-COLOR!) on every page from art and photography from all of the world. Jung's own contribution, "Approaching the unconscious", forms the basis of the story in this issue.

Joseph Campbell. The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
Campbell's last book, and the most straightforward explication of his application of Indian religious thought to the sacred symbols and stories of Western culture. Couldn't hurt to score as well the terrific Bollingen Commemorative Edition of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, published in 2004.

Recommended reading for ACTION PHILOSOPHERS #4
Karl Marx, Machiavelli, Isaac ben-Luria and The Kabbalah

Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party. Translated from the German by Engels.
Frankly, I'd prefer everyone read Marx's true masterwork, Capital, but this column is advertised as being for the genius on the go. The Manifesto is probably among the top five most influential documents ever produced, and there's good reason why: it succinctly merges Marx's theories of class struggle and dialectical materialism with stirring proletariat propaganda.

Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince. Translated from the Italian by Luigi Ricci.
Due to its scant length, The Prince is usually combined in book form with Machiavelli's other major theoretical work, The Discourses, which is another product of the exiled diplomat's two-way conversations with his farm's library ... specifically with the first ten books of Titus Livius's monumental history of Rome, Ab Urbe Condita. Machiavelli found the Roman Empire so much more honorable than his own era, and given the hypocrisy, scandals and perpetual warfare of the Late Renaissance, who can argue with him?

Moses de Leon. The Zohar. Translated from the Hebrew by Michael Berg (I think).
There's been enough hooey written about the Kabbalah to make P.T. Barnum blush. It's tough for me to recommend any of the sources I used to write this story since they vary between feel-good self-help fluff (Rabbi Berg's The Way) and impenetrable scholastic dirges (Scholem's On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism). In fact, the best discourse I ever read on the subject was by some British guy on a Usenet site that I printed out around 1997 and haven't been able to locate since. Oh, well.

So, for want of a better option, I'll send you straight to the horse's mouth. The folks at Rabbi Berg's Kabbalah Centre have uploaded the entirety of the "Book of Radiance" on-line in hypertext format. Enjoy! Assuming you can make heads or tails of it, that is...

Recommended reading for ACTION PHILOSOPHERS #5
Rene Descartes, Jean-Paul Sartre and Jaques Derrida

Rene Descartes. Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated from the French and Latin by Donald A. Cress. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998.
Not much to add to this other than what is in our story, which is a synthesis and combination of these two books: the first written in French for the common people, the second a Latin expansion for the muckety-mucks at the Sorbonne. Descartes is great fun to read, and I highly recommend this tiny little tome (103 pages) to any and all. Believe you me when I say it will change the way you think about thinking!

Jean-Paul Sartre. No Exit and Three Other Plays. Translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert and Lionel Abel. New York: Vintage International, 1989.
Of all of Sartre's many hats, I prefer his dramatist chapeau the most; I don't think I'm alone in that. The Flies, summarized in our story, is also in this collection.

Derrida. Dirs. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman. Jane Doe Films, 2002.
Our first movie in Recommending Reading, and that's because I am pretty sure that telling people to go out and actually read Derrida is a violation of the Geneva Convention.

Seriously, though by writing this story my stance toward Derrida has softened from the absolute contempt and hatred I had for his work in undergrad, I still cannot help but think of him as The Annoying Five-Year-Old of Western Thought: constantly arguing with and questioning everything that comes out of other people's mouths, while not adding much by way of substance to the conversation himself. It is the philosophy equivalent of constantly asking "Why?" "Why?" "Why?" "Why?" (Hence the 5 year-old analogy.) Derrida's only setting is Attack the Establishment Mode, and that is largely why I think Americans love him so much. I just find it all rather tedious and simplistic...and that is just when I can figure out what the hell he's talking about, which is not often.

So, that said: Check out this documentary, completed only a couple years before Derrida died. See Derrida butter a muffin! See Derrida cross the street while a middle-aged American in a leather jacket complains about Americans! See Derrida's wife tell him not to forget his keys! See Derrida refuse to expound extemporaneously about love!

The film accurately synthesizes the experience of reading Derrida. If you can cinematically put up with the man for more than ten minutes, go back and check out his books. For you gluttons for punishment, I'd suggest starting with Speech and Phenomena, which contains the famous essay "Differance."

Recommended reading for ACTION PHILOSOPHERS #6
Ludwig Wittgenstein, St. Thomas Aquinas and Soren Kierkegaard

David Edmonds & John Eidinow. Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers. New York: Ecco, 2002.
This is a fun, unique little intellectual enterprise (not unlike Action Philosophers, come to think of it) that explores, in minutest detail, a confrontation between Luki and the anti-totalitarian philosopher Karl Popper at Cambridge's Moral Science Club in 1946 in which the famously hot headed Luki supposedly threatened his colleague with a poker from the fireplace. While I was annoyed by the narrative's bouncing back-and-forth through time, presumably a device to drag out the climax of what was, literally, a ten minute squabble, the authors do a great job of invoking the turn-of-the-century Vienna milieu into which both thinkers were born, as well as setting up what was at stake in the argument: Popper despised Wittgenstein's dismissal of philosophical problems as, essentially, preferring frivolous "language games" to solving the real ethical dilemmas posed by fascism and Stalinism.

This suggests, I would argue, that Popper missed the point of Wittgenstein's ideas entirely, and if the authors falter anywhere it's in getting across the sublime depth of Luki's thought. For that I would direct readers to the Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus itself. Its staggered, numbered propositions lend themselves perfectly to hypertext format, and software engineer Oliver Smith hosts just such a "Hyper Tractatus" at his web site.

Peter Kreeft. (ed.) A Shorter Summa: The Essential Philosophical Passages of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica Edited and Explained. Translated from the Latin by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (1920). San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993.
Hey, I'll admit, I was raised Dutch Presbyterian, so I didn't understand this until I started this series: The Catholic Church really thinks it knows everything, doesn't it? I mean: Everything. The Vatican has a snappy answer for every question about life, the universe, and you-know-what, and even for the answers that contradict each other.

I bring this up not just because of the amount of mail we receive from Catholics "solving" various philosophical problems posed by this comic through some pithy piece of Church wisdom, but because, while Kreeft does a great service to us geniuses-on-the-go by condensing Aquinas's voluminous Summa down to a breezily readable 161 pages (down from Kreeft's earlier edition, Summa of the Summa, which was 500), it also boasts the most condescending footnotes I've ever read, in which the editor expounds about how Aquinas's arguments are unassailable, the saint is the greatest thinker ever, and today's modern (you know, post-Medieval) philosophers are idiots.

Soren Kierkegaard. Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death. Translated from the Danish by Walter Lowrie. Garden City: Doubleday, 1954.
This is as tepid a recommendation as you'll find in this column, since I find reading Kierkegaard torture landing somewhere between getting my eyelids peeled off and reading Derrida (see above). Kierkegaard was one of Wittgenstein's favorite philosophers, though I don't see why, since Luki's opinion of the guy is the same as mine: "He is too long-winded; he keeps on saying the same thing over and over again. When I read him I always wanted to say, 'Oh all right, I agree, I agree, but please get on with it.'"

There's no better example of what Wittgy's talking about than this book-length examination of the first three paragraphs of Genesis, chapter 22, in which God commands Abraham to kill Isaac, but then - Psych! - sets a bush on fire to show Abe he's been Punk'd.

What do I know, maybe it sounds better in Danish...

Recommended reading for ACTION PHILOSOPHERS #7
The Pre-Socratics, Aristotle and Epictetus the Stoic

Aristotle. Metaphysics. Translated from the Greek by W.D. Ross.
Much of what we know about the Pre-Socratics, since they wrote very little down that has survived, comes from the stories told about them by those philosophers who followed them, such as Plato, Diogenes the Cynic, and AP#7 featured thinker Aristotle. In Metaphysics, the greatest polymath of the ancient world describes the systems of "first principles" that preceded him, including those developed by Thales, Pythagoras, Parmenides, Empedocles, the "Anax"-ie gang and more, and pretty much demolishes them single-handedly, along with his own teacher's Theory of Forms ... thereby earning him the enmity of Platonists for generations to come. Aristotle then proceeds to outline his own logic-based system, inexorably linking the two disciplines  in fact, I'd strongly recommend tackling Aristotle's primary treatise on Logic, Analytical Posteriora, before attempting Metaphysics. Mad props to the Aussie academics at Adelaide U. for uploading Aristotle's oeuvre in downloadable eBook format.

William Messner-Loebs and Sam Keith. Epicurus the Sage. La Jolla, CA: DC/Wildstorm, 2003.
Hey, you didn't think we wouldn't give love to our legendary antecedent? This wonderful odd duck from DC's first stab at high-falutin' funnybooks for grown-ups, Piranha Press, has been, along with the Kyle Baker classic Why I Hate Saturn, its most memorable effort. Though billed as a satire of Greek philosophy, it's more of an anarchic (and anachronistic) farce in the vein of a Mel Brooks film, with Epicurus rubbing elbows with all of ancient Greece's heavy thinkers as well as tangling with major figures of Greek mythology, especially that can't-keep-it-in-his-pants horndog, Zeus. (Epicurus fans no doubt noted that the relationship between Aristotle and young Alexander the Great in this issue was heavily influenced by Loebs and Keith's seminal graphic work.)

The historical Epicurus espoused the Pleasure Principle: that the good can be known through the feeling of pleasure it elicits in those who give and receive it, and by that standard, the Wildstorm edition, which collects the two Piranha Press GN's into one volume, is unequivocally good.

Epictetus the Stoic. Virtue and Happiness: The Manual of Epictetus. Translated from the Greek by Francois Thurot. Boston: Shambhala, 2003.
Calligraphist Claude Mediavilla illustrates this beautiful abridgement (though not by much) of Epictetus's classic work on ethics and self-discipline. If you ever need to buy a "self-help" book for a neurotic friend, this would be the one: as we went to lengths to demonstrate in the AP story, Epictetus' simple teachings are as true today as they were two thousand years ago.

Recommended reading for ACTION PHILOSOPHERS #8
Kant, John Stuart Mill, Hegel, Schopenhauer

Immanuel Kant. Critique of Practical Reason. Translated from the German by Lewis White Beck. Upper Saddle Hall, NJ: Library of the Liberal Arts, 1993.
Next to Plato, whom Ayn Rand said was the worst thing that ever happened to philosophy, Kant was top of her Hit List: His whole project, she contended, was to carve out with sophistry a protected space where the mystical could co-exist with the scientific. If Kant is really an apologist for theology, then this book is his Apologia, in which he argues that belief in God is, as the title implies, practically necessary for moral living. It's much shorter (171pp) than its mammoth predecessor, Critique of Pure Reason, which is kind of like reading VCR instructions for your brain.

And I don't mean that in a bad way...

John Stuart Mill. Autobiography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969.
I found this slim (185pp) tome weirdly fascinating, almost like - if you'll forgive the analogy - a 19th century MySpace page, in which Mill relates his life from the point of view of all the influences (writings, people, music, poetry) that informed his life and philosophy, from being home-schooled by his control-freak father - he learned to read Greek by age three, but was an emotional basket case - up until his falling in love with a married woman, whom he married when her husband died, and influenced his lobbying for women's suffrage. You cheap bastards can also read it for free at this on-line clearinghouse for Utilitarian resources.

Ozamu Tezuka. Buddha Vol. 6: Ananda. Translated from the Japanese by Yuji Oniki. New York: Vertical, 2005.
Hey, since Schopenhauer himself said that the only three people worth knowing were Kant, Buddha, and his dog, let's take him at his word, shall we? And besides, we need more comics in this column! (Kant is covered above, and Schopenhauer's dog's masterpiece, World as Fetch and Food Dish, will be covered in a later issue.)

Tezuka's brilliant, eight-volume explication of the life of Siddhartha is a comics masterpiece, a historical epic of love, war, and spiritual fulfillment; in this volume the Enlightened One delivers a sermon about how quenching the fire within leads to inner peace, which is more or less what ol' Artie Schopenhauer was talking about in terms of butting Will out of the driver's seat and taking control of your own life. Most of the Buddha volumes by Tezuka, who basically invented manga as we know it, are self-contained, so any book is a good jumping-on point, and this book, which focuses the title character, an unstoppable bandit sent by a demon to destroy Buddha, is no exception.

Recommended reading for ACTION PHILOSOPHERS #9
A Whole Lot of Dudes

Lao Tzu. Tao te Ching. Translated from the Chinese by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. 25th Anniversary Edition Vintage Books Edition, 1997.
I actually got a little choked up when, in preparation for writing AP #9, I stumbled across this edition of Lao Tzu's spiritual classic on Amazon. I bought an earlier printing years ago at the local New Age bookstore in Syracuse, my freshman year of college. This big, floppy book, with its elegant black and white nature photographs; the Chinese original on one page of a spread, the English translation on the other, with a chapter per spread, is the perfect way to experience the Tao for the first time. Lao Tzu was real revelation to me when I was 18 years old, and I was not surprised to read in the new introduction that this version has sold 500,000 copies since it was first published in 1972 (the year I was born).

Re-reading a book as old as I am, almost a decade later, and at the end of this series, reinforced my firm belief that 80% of the problems of two-plus millennia of Western philosophy can be solved by one month of studying Eastern philosophy.

Matthew Stewart. The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza and the Fate of God in the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton 2006.
A perfectly serviceable entry in the ever-growing popular historio-philosophy genre pioneered by - well, me and Ryan - and most famously by Edmonds & Eidinow's Wittgenstein's Poker (E&E's less successful Rousseau's Dog informed the Rousseau and Hume stories in this issue), Courtier and Heretic refers to Leibniz and Spinoza, respectively, and is structured around an afternoon-long encounter between the two thinkers not long before the latter's death. It employs the psuedo-suspenseful-crosscutting-to-drag-out-what-was-a-fairly-minor-historical-episode technique that bugged the hell out of me in Wittgenstein's Poker. But about halfway through Stewart really takes off, doing a terrific job of explaining Spinoza's "God-intoxicated" philosophy and relating it to the later movements of Western thought.

He's less successful explicating Leibniz, but I don't blame Stewart for that – I blame Leibniz. You know you have a crappy philosophy when even Hegel thinks it's stupid.

Tom Morris. The Bluffer's Guide to Philosophy. South Bend, IN: Diamond Communications, Inc., 1989.
We here at ActPhilo headquarters have been lucky to have a booster from the very beginning in the form of Tom Morris, author of Philosophy for Dummies and many other popular philosophy books and the co-editor of Superheroes and Philosophy. He kindly sent us a signed copy of the latter book when AP #1 first solicited, along with this fun little tome that has been on my desk ever since. One humorous page per philosopher, it served me well as a handy guide to choosing which thinkers to profile in the series, not to mention a great quick-reference for dates, titles of major works and such. Tom was kind enough to lend us pull quotes you've seen on the back of our collected works, so we'll return the favor by giving him a shout-out here!