A Flowchart of Philosophical Novels and Stories


Ben Roth, a philosopher who teaches in the Harvard College Writing Program, has put together a kind of flowchart recommending philosophical novels and stories.

With categories like “about a philosopher”, “by a Ph.D.,” “horror”, “the complications of history,” and many more, the chart is pretty big:

It may be easier to view if you open the image above in a new tab and zoom in.

Or you could view it as a PDF, either in the window below (which should allow you to zoom in or scroll across)

or as a separate file here.

You can search for and buy the books here (the link will take you to what Dr. Roth deems “the most underrated philosophical novel of all time.”

Suggestions for additional works and categories welcome.


Related: “Philosophers in Fictional Works

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Phoenix, Son of Amyntor
Phoenix, Son of Amyntor
1 year ago

That is an impressive piece of labor. I was delighted to see Robert Musil make the list. The description of him, “And I want the pure, uncut stuff” was very apt.
I would plead that Hermann Hesse needs to be on the list. But don’t ask me which book to pick because it would be like choosing among my children.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
1 year ago

This is very cool!Report

Merilyn Jackson
1 year ago

Wonderful accomplishment! I’ve got and read at least half of them. But I think some works by the likes of Brecht, Grass, Solshenitsyn, Gombrowicz, and Milosc, especially The Captive Mind, should be included. Also, not really a novel but reads like a thriller, and could easily be slipped in here: Eric Viullard’s The Order of the Day.Report

Red Allover
Red Allover
1 year ago

Modernism without Ulysses?
Existentialism without Hemingway or Beckett?
Post modernism with no Thomas Pynchon?
Americanism with no Zora Neale Hurston?
Well, “degustibus non disputatum”!Report

laxcolimit
laxcolimit
Reply to  Red Allover
1 year ago

I agree, but Thomas Pynchon is there, with Gravity’s Rainbow.Report

Nathaniel Parr
Nathaniel Parr
1 year ago

The Tartar Steppe is one of my favorite books of all time, I’ve read it twice and will read again. I read it because it was on Borges’ list. It is a beautiful, strange novel that exists perfectly on two levels, simultaneously a biting satire of militarism as well as an absurdist depiction of life itself. I may be one of the rare Dino Buzzati stans. His short stories are among my favorite works too.Report

hirsch
hirsch
1 year ago

Hello Nathaniel Parr
the tartar steppe is also one of my favourite novel. But top with me is” l’écroulement de la Baliverne” (dont know the title in english). It is a very special novel for neuroscientists: you one thing at one precise time and everything falls apartReport

Rob
Rob
1 year ago

Nothing by Olaf Stapledon, a novelist who actually had a Ph.D. in philosophy??? And whose best works are infinitely superior to almost everything else on this list? Sorry, prof, but I give you at “D+” for this list.Report

Reader
Reader
1 year ago

Such an awesome idea! A few thoughts:
– great to see Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse mentioned. Such an incredible book.
– Woolf’s Orlando could also be added, a philosophical work that deals with gender, sexuality, identity
– Nancy Kress’s Beggars in Spain Trilogy is another speculative fiction option that deals with genetic enhancements and the question of what we owe each other/haves/have-nots
– Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samuraui – deals with creativity, intelligence, identity. Also it’s totally incredible.
– Octavia Butler’s Kindred (or, really any of her novels) as a ‘what if we went back in time to the pre-Civil War South’ (or something like that) [her other novels are all philosophical and speculative]
– Ursula Le Guin The Dispossessed – political philosophy

Thanks again to Ben for sharing this!Report

Nicole
Nicole
1 year ago

Some surprising negativity in the comments here!

I doubt Ben meant for this to be exhaustive.

But it does make for an interesting larger project/website idea… Report

Catherine Brown
Catherine Brown
1 year ago

Where is Kafka?Did I miss it? Also Camus’s The Plague (my favourite philosophical novel.)Report

Aaron
Aaron
1 year ago

If you like a bit of metaphysics mocking The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien is amazing.Report