Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1946, philosopher and bioethicist Peter Singer has spent five decades contributing to the fields of applied ethics, animal liberation and global poverty. A renowned figure in contemporary moral philosophy, his pioneering works have challenged conventional norms and ignited widespread debate on a range of social and political issues.

In 1972, Singer was propelled into the global intellectual arena with the publication of his groundbreaking essay Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Advocating for effective altruism, he champions the idea that individuals should maximize their efforts to alleviate suffering worldwide. Three years later, his influential book Animal Liberation catalyzed the modern animal rights movement, underscoring the moral significance of extending ethical considerations to non-human beings.

A luminary in bioethics, Singer also delves into controversial topics like abortion, euthanasia, and genetic engineering, melding philosophical rigor with real-world implications. Whether challenging deep-seated assumptions or advocating compassion to all sentient life, his radical scholarship continues to stimulate contemplation and reshape ethical paradigms worldwide.

In a 2001 reading list for The Guardian, Singer shared 10 books that have most impacted his life and work. From John Stuart Mill to Jane Goodall, explore his recommendations below, and complement with the bookshelves of Christopher Hitchens, E.O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Steven Pinker.

Peter Singer’s Reading List

The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin

“Together with Darwin’s The Origin of Species – and a better read – this book ushered in the modern understanding of what we are, and our relationship to other animals.” -PS

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (also rec’d by Marlon James, Martin Amis, Norman MailerNora Ephron & Richard E. Grant)

“If this is not the best novel ever written, I don’t know what surpasses it for fine observation of manners, character and passions, all told with the most delightfully delicate sense of humour.” -PS

The Methods of Ethics by Henry Sidgwick

“After 100 years, this remains the most careful, thorough and accurate study of ethics I know.” -PS

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

“Mill’s defence of individual liberty and freedom of expression is a model of political argument, and a pleasure to read.” -PS

Reasons and Persons by Derek Parfit (also rec’d by Sam Harris)

“Parfit’s penetrating thought and spare prose make this one of the most exciting, if challenging, works by a contemporary philosopher.” -PS

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (also rec’d by Charlie Munger)

“A highly readable theory about how we came to be as we are. Dawkins is always stimulating and full of ideas, even if he needs to be read in a questioning frame of mind.” -PS

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (also rec’d by Cameron Diaz, Jane Goodall & Rebecca Solnit)

“Probably the most important book on the environment ever written, and once you read it, it is easy to see why.” -PS

In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall

“The classic study of our closest relative, the chimpanzee.” -PS

Humanity by Jonathan Glover

“A philosopher’s look at the moral history of the 20th century, full of remarkable information and wise reflections.” -PS

Final Exit by Derek Humphry

“Unlike all the other books on this list, this is one that I hope you’ll never want to read. But if the day comes when you need to be in control of how your life ends, and you can’t find a doctor who will help, this is the book to get.” -PS

(via The Guardian; photo by Alletta Vaandering)

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