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A Guide for the Perplexed

E.F. Schumacher

Self-awareness, which constitutes the difference between animal and man, is a power of unlimited potential, a power which not only makes man human but gives him the possibility, even the need, to become superhuman. As the Scholastics used to say: ‘Homo non proprie humanus sed superhumanus est‘ — which means that to be properly human, you must go beyond the merely human.

As far as books that take a first-principles approach to life, breaking the whole thing down into a systematic form that frames both what’s going on, and what we ought to do about it, this remains a favorite. Schumacher applies the analytical mind of a celebrated economist to the largest of life’s perplexities, beginning with metaphysics and concluding with the individual. He ultimately calls for, among other things, a “metaphysical reconstruction for the modern age.” 

The book has a hell of a story, too. Schumacher grew famous for his prior book, Small is Beautiful, a kind of ecological treatise on economics. He finished this book at the very end of his life, passing the manuscript to his daughter while lying on his deathbed, telling her something along the lines of, “this, this is what my life was for.” It holds up to that pressure.