Over three-plus decades in the film industry, Danish-American actor Viggo Mortensen has delivered an eclectic range of performances and worked with some of the best in the business. Aside from moviemaking, the multihyphenate Mortensen’s also an accomplished author, musician, photographer, painter and poet – who started his own indie publishing house Perceval Press back in 2002.

In a list of his favorite books for NY-based bookstore One Grand, Mortensen included classic works of philosophy, spirituality, history and humor. Find his top ten below, and complement with the reading lists of Johnny Depp and Cate Blanchett.


The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (also rec’d by David Attenborough & Neil deGrasse Tyson)

“There is nothing more important than the natural world we live in, and we are bound to affect it positively or negatively by virtue of our relatively brief individual and collective presence. Darwin’s visionary study of the evolution of living beings on our planet is a crucial guide to our understanding of why we are here and what we might to do to live in harmony with our environment.” -VM

The Republic by Plato

“The notions we have in the United States and in other countries that function to a better or lesser degree as nation states with variations of democratic, representative government as their political systems would not exist without Plato’s work.” -VM

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (also rec’d by Jack Dorsey)

“For me this is as every bit as important a guide in terms of personal moral ethics as Plato’s work is. Another side of the same coin. The timeless lessons that can be had from Plato and Lao Tzu reinforce each other in many ways.” -VM

The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (also rec’d by Bruce Springsteen & Sam Harris)

“With all of its inevitable sins of omission and generalization, this great compilation of Western philosophical ideas and currents from pre-Socratic times until the middle of the 20th century is an invaluable and accessible guide to our shared social history.” -VM

Comedies, Histories & Tragedies by William Shakespeare

“There are many poets that I might have included in this list of books, but, to my mind, Shakespeare is the greatest of all in terms of the breadth of his knowledge, his lyricism, humor and the universal applicability of his work.” -VM

The Divine Comedy by Dante (also rec’d by Oscar Wilde, Patti Smith,Susan Sontag & Tina Turner)

“Right alongside Shakespeare, Dante’s work explores and highlights enduring universal truths related to the human condition as well as any writer I know of.” -VM

The Gaucho Martín Fierro by José Hernández

“I debated between Cervantes’ ‘Don Quijote’ and ‘Martín Fierro,’ because they both are great classic epic stories in the Spanish language, but ended up choosing José Hernández’s great poetic work because of my early connection with it as a child growing up in Argentina.” -VM

Faust by Goethe (also rec’d by Oscar Wilde & Susan Sontag)

“A great work of literature and an extraordinary cautionary tale, this story has much to teach us about psychology, politics and history. More than ever, it can allow us to look at ourselves and our rulers with open eyes.” -VM

Danmarks Krønike by Saxo Grammaticus

“This is the best book for understanding the early history of society, literature and politics of Northern Europe. Without Saxo’s research and extensive work in compiling ancient texts and oral stories, our knowledge of early Nordic, Germanic, Celtic and English cultures and nation-building would be far poorer than it is.” -VM

A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn (also rec’d by David Bowie)

“If every U.S. citizen could have the benefit of knowing Zinn’s collection of historical texts from a wide range of relatively known and unknown people throughout our country’s history, there would be a lot better quality in our current political class and in the style and substance of our governance.” -VM
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