20 Inspirational Books Jordan Peterson Recommends Reading

Jordan Peterson Book Recommendations

jordan peterson books
Photo by Gage Skidmore

For many reasons, clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson and books simply go hand in hand, whether we’re talking his favorite lesson-filled fictional classics, a dreadful literary journey into the depths of terrifying twentieth-century events, or even those written by him.

Though he is now a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, from 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He spent fifteen years writing Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (published in 1999), the book is a scholarly investigation into the nature of narrative and religious thought, the structure of perception, the regulation of emotion, and the motivation for atrocity in the service of ideology.

In 2016, shortly before the publication of 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, several of Dr. Peterson’s online lectures, videos and interviews went viral, launching him into unprecedented international prominence as a public intellectual and educator.

It goes without saying, reading has played a profound role in shaping Dr. Peterson as a person, and furthermore, this favorite educational activity of his must have had something to do with the spirited – and rewarding for that matter – approach he takes to life. Therefore, in order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of the world’s leading intellectuals to develop the ideas that have garnered him global interest, we’ve compiled a list of 20 books that Jordan Peterson has read himself and would certainly recommend to others as well.

Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

“An enduring work of survival literature,” according to the New York Times, Viktor Frankl’s riveting account of his time in the Nazi concentration camps, and his insightful exploration of the human will to find meaning in spite of the worst adversity, has offered solace and guidance to generations of readers since it was first published in 1946.

At the heart of Frankl’s theory of logotherapy (from the Greek word for “meaning”) is a conviction that the primary human drive is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but rather the discovery and pursuit of what the individual finds meaningful. Today, as new generations face new challenges and an ever more complex and uncertain world, Frankl’s classic work continues to inspire us all to find significance in the very act of living, in spite of all obstacles.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work on the subject of psychology.

Affective Neuroscience by Jaak Panksepp

Some investigators have argued that emotions, especially animal emotions, are illusory concepts outside the realm of scientific inquiry. However, with advances in neurobiology and neuroscience, researchers are demonstrating that this position is wrong as they move closer to a lasting
understanding of the biology and psychology of emotion. In Affective Neuroscience, Jaak Panksepp provides the most up-to-date information about the brain-operating systems that organize the fundamental emotional tendencies of all mammals.

Presenting complex material in a readable manner, the book offers a comprehensive summary of the fundamental neural sources of human and animal feelings, as well as a conceptual framework for studying emotional systems of the brain.

Source: “One of the best books on the neuroscience of emotion,” Dr. Peterson writes. “The book includes chapters on sleep and arousal, pleasure and fear systems, the sources of rage and anger, the neural control of sexuality, as well as the more subtle emotions related to maternal care, social loss, and playfulness.”

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley

In a bold and provocative interpretation of economic history, Matt Ridley makes the case for an economics of hope, arguing that the benefits of commerce, technology, innovation, and change – what Ridley calls cultural evolution – will inevitably increase human prosperity.

For two hundred years the pessimists have dominated public discourse, insisting that things will soon be getting much worse. But in fact, life is getting better – and at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down all across the globe. Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people’s lives as never before.

An astute, refreshing, and revelatory work that covers the entire sweep of human history – from the Stone Age to the Internet – The Rational Optimist will change your way of thinking about the world for the better.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an endearing work on the current state of world affairs.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley’s profoundly important classic of world literature, Brave New World is a searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order – all at the cost of our freedom, full humanity, and perhaps also our souls.

“A genius who spent his life decrying the onward march of the Machine” (The New Yorker), Huxley was a man of incomparable talents: equally an artist, a spiritual seeker, and one of history’s keenest observers of human nature and civilization.

Brave New Worldhis masterpiece, has enthralled and terrified millions of readers, and retains its urgent relevance to this day as both a warning to be heeded as we head into tomorrow and as a thought-provoking, satisfying work of literature.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work of literature and philosophy.

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide.

This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.

Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature – tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking – which demagogues are all too willing to exploit.

With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an endearing work on the current state of world affairs.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions on how to live. The narrator’s relationship with his son leads to a powerful self-reckoning; the craft of motorcycle maintenance leads to an austerely beautiful process for reconciling science, religion, and humanism. Resonant with the confusions of existence, this classic is a touching and transcendent book of life.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work of literature and philosophy.

The Great Code by Northrop Frye

An examination of the influence of the Bible on Western art and literature and on the Western creative imagination in general. Frye persuasively presents the Bible as a unique text distinct from all other epics and sacred writings.

“No one has set forth so clearly, so subtly, or with such cogent energy as Frye the literary aspect of our biblical heritage,” says the New York Times Book Review.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work on the subjects of religion and religious history.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families – the Trasks and the Hamiltons – whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.

The masterpiece of Steinbeck’s later years, East of Eden is a work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work of literature and philosophy.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men.

As Napoleon’s army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgrounds – peasants and nobility, civilians and soldiers – as they struggle with the problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. As the novel progresses, these characters transcend their specificity, becoming some of the most moving – and human – figures in world literature.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work of literature and philosophy.

Modern Man in Search of a Soul by Carl Jung

Considered by many to be one of the most important books in the field of psychology, Modern Man in Search of a Soul is a comprehensive introduction to the thought of Carl Gustav Jung. The writing covers a broad array of subjects such as gnosticism, theosophy, Eastern philosophy and spirituality in general.

The first part of the book deals with dream analysis in its practical application, the problems and aims of modern psychotherapy, and also his own theory of psychological types. The middle section addresses Jung’s beliefs about the stages of life and Archaic man. He also contrasts his own theories with those of Sigmund Freud.

In the latter parts of the book Jung discusses psychology and literature and devotes a chapter to the basic postulates of analytical psychology. The last two chapters are devoted to the spiritual problem of modern man in the aftermath of World War I. He compares it to the flowering of gnosticism in the 2nd century and investigates how psychotherapists are like the clergy.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work on the subject of psychology.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, The Old Man and the Sea has proven itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent twentieth-century classic.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work of literature and philosophy.

Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche accuses past philosophers of lacking critical sense and blindly accepting dogmatic premises in their consideration of morality. Specifically, he accuses them of founding grand metaphysical systems upon the faith that the good man is the opposite of the evil man, rather than just a different expression of the same basic impulses that find more direct expression in the evil man.

The work moves into the realm “beyond good and evil” in the sense of leaving behind the traditional morality which Nietzsche subjects to a destructive critique in favor of what he regards as an affirmative approach that fearlessly confronts the perspectival nature of knowledge and the perilous condition of the modern individual.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work of literature and philosophy.

1984 by George Orwell

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thought crimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can’t escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching.

A startling and haunting novel, 1984 creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions – a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work of literature and philosophy.

Panzram by Thomas Gaddis

A detailed memoir and self-analysis by a mass murderer.

Panzram was born in 1891 on a Minnesota farm and died in 1930 on the gallows at the U.S.Penitentiary, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Imprisoned for most of his life from the age of twelve and brutally punished, Panzram’s keen insight into the arbitrary cruelty of his fellow human being is graphically illustrated with a litany of prison abuses, as well as the details of his own sordid, tragic life.

Panzram arrives as a gripping warning from America’s past to the new prison-industrial complex era. The authors add a historical and sociological framework for Panzram’s words.

Source: “He made friends with this physician in the prison…and the physician encouraged him to write his autobiography,” Peterson said during a lecture. “People can have very dark motivations that are fully conscious and very well elaborated and Panzram was smart, his book was very well written, and he tells you exactly why he thought the way he thought.”

The Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas Szasz

Thomas Szasz’s classic book revolutionized thinking about the nature of the psychiatric profession and the moral implications of its practices. By diagnosing unwanted behavior as mental illness, psychiatrists, Szasz argues, absolve individuals of responsibility for their actions and instead blame their alleged illness. He also critiques Freudian psychology as a pseudoscience and warns against the dangerous overreach of psychiatry into all aspects of modern life.

Source: “It’s a classic. You should read it if you’re interested in psychology,” Peterson says.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

One of the supreme masterpieces of world literature, Crime and Punishment catapulted Dostoyevsky to the forefront of Russian writers and into the ranks of the world’s greatest novelists. Drawing upon experiences from his own prison days, the author recounts in feverish, compelling tones the story of Raskolnikov, an impoverished student tormented by his own nihilism, and the struggle between good and evil.

Believing that he is above the law, and convinced that humanitarian ends justify vile means, he brutally murders an old woman – a pawnbroker whom he regards as “stupid, ailing, greedy…good for nothing.” Overwhelmed afterwards by feelings of guilt and terror, Raskolnikov confesses to the crime and goes to prison.

There he realizes that happiness and redemption can only be achieved through suffering. Infused with forceful religious, social, and philosophical elements, the novel was an immediate success.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work of literature and philosophy.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling

There are ten instincts that distort our perspective – from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (usually some version of us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse).

Our problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and even our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases.

It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. That doesn’t mean there aren’t real concerns. But when we worry about everything all the time instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most.

Inspiring and revelatory, filled with lively anecdotes and moving stories, Factfulness is an urgent and essential book that will change the way you see the world and empower you to respond to the crises and opportunities of the future.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an endearing work on the current state of world affairs.

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski

Kosinski’s story follows a dark-haired, olive-skinned boy, abandoned by his parents during World War II, as he wanders alone from one village to another, sometimes hounded and tortured, only rarely sheltered and cared for.

Through the juxtaposition of adolescence and the most brutal of adult experiences, Kosinski sums up a Bosch-like world of harrowing excess where senseless violence and untempered hatred are the norm. Through sparse prose and vivid imagery, Kosinski’s novel is a story of mythic proportion, even more relevant to today’s society than it was upon its original publication.

Source: Listed among the most terrifying books Jordan Peterson has ever encountered, he considers this read particularly influential in his intellectual development.

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation is a three-volume non-fiction text written between 1958 and 1968 by Russian writer and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It was first published in 1973, and translated into English and French the following year.

The books cover life in what is often known as the Gulag, the Soviet forced labor camp system, through a narrative constructed from various sources including reports, interviews, statements, diaries, legal documents, and Solzhenitsyn’s own experience as a Gulag prisoner.

Source: Listed among the most terrifying books Jordan Peterson has ever encountered, he considers this read particularly influential in his intellectual development.

The Neuropsychology of Anxiety by Jeffrey Gray

This book provides an updated theory of the nature of anxiety and the brain systems controlling anxiety, combined with a theory of hippocampal function, which was first proposed thirty years ago. While remaining controversial, the core of this theory, of a ‘Behavioural Inhibition System’, has stood the test of time, with its main predictions repeatedly confirmed.

Novel anti-anxiety drugs share none of the side effects or primary pharmacological actions of the classical anti-anxiety drugs on the actions of which the theory was based; but they have both the behavioural and hippocampal actions predicted by the theory.

The second edition of the book departs significantly from the first. It provides, for the first time, a single construct – goal conflict – that underlies all the known inputs to the system; and it includes current data on the amygdala. Its reviews include the ethology of defence, learning theory, the psychopharmacology of anti-anxiety drugs, anxiety disorders, and the clinical and laboratory analysis of amnesia.

Source: Listed among his favorite books, Jordan Peterson considers this an enduring work on the subject of neuroscience.

 

If you enjoyed this guide to books Jordan Peterson recommends, be sure to check out our list of 20 Books Joe Rogan Recommends Reading!