There are many philosophical novels in existence. However, many of them are difficult reads either because they are complex in language or concepts (e.g. “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” or “Faust“) or because — while readily understandable — they were badly in need of an editor (e.g. “Atlas Shrugged.”) Here are a few novels with interesting philosophical lessons that aren’t killers to read.
5.) Ishmael by Daniel Quinn: A man answers an ad that begins: “Teacher seeks pupil.” The teacher he discovers and the lessons he is taught aren’t what he bargained for. The book considers the impact of modern man versus aboriginal people, and the two groups’ respective place in the world.
4.) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: In a futuristic world, people are controlled and manipulated by genetic engineering, classical conditioning, sleep-teaching, not to mention heaping helpings of drugs and promiscuity. The book considers the role of technology in humanity’s trajectory, and it contrasts Orwell’s bleak vision of dystopian governance with one that is every bit as manipulatory — if a great deal more pleasant in appearance.
3.) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: A young prince from a far-away land comes to Earth, and shows how wise the young can be and how absurd adults often are.
2.) Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse: A man who feels out of step with humanity faces events that force him to reconsider what it means to be a man in the world of men.
A pilot crash lands in the middle of the desert and meets a little traveler who came from a tiny planet. As this “Little Prince” tells of his travels, he shares his child-like (not to be confused with “childish”) wisdom on friendship and how adults misunderstand what are “matters of consequence.” While the Little Prince takes a child’s perspective, one’s responsibility to others is an important theme. Of course, that may just be the theme intended for children. At the same time, the lesson for adults may be to reevaluate what one considers important. (The reader may be familiar with the controversy as to whether this is really a work of children’s literature.)
The book is humorous and light-hearted, but with some serious themes and moments. There are many though-provoking ideas in this classic. Some quotes that struck me as profound are:
“The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen.”
“One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets oneself be tamed.”
“’Then you shall judge yourself,’ the king answered. ‘That is the most difficult thing of all.’”
“For it is possible for a man to be faithful and lazy at the same time.”
It’s a tiny book—less than 100 pages, including the many color drawings that feature throughout the book.
I’d highly recommend this book for anyone who hasn’t read it at least once. (There may be a couple of you out there.)