Freedom has always been, at least to some extent, the ultimate dream of mankind. Somehow, we lost it along the way, though. In between social stratification based on a myriad of what now seem to be ridiculous criteria and wars, we have lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to how we perceive freedom.
Sure, this is also the kind of concept that gets as many interpretations as there are people on Earth. But at its very basic, freedom is the lack of confinement and restriction from both a mental and a physical point of view. Each of these has its own ramifications, of course. You can be mentally “unfree” due to your own precepts, your social status, your financial situation, the debt you carry around, and so on. Likewise, you can be physically “unfree” due to a myriad of other reasons.
In essence, however, we all strive for freedom, one way or another, according to our own definition of it. And the books we have rounded up in this article might just help us get there.
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
This book is a chilling and prophetic portrait of an America under totalitarian rule, showing what lack of freedom can entail.
The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a region once known as the United States, now named Gilead. The entire land has been taken over by a fundamentalist group with roots in Christianity called Sons of Jacob who enforce their moral code through brutally discriminatory laws, including proscriptive laws on gender, sexuality, and dress code.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
Probably one of the single most famous books about authoritarianism in history, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel set in the future, following events that lead to a totalitarian society.
Despite having been written in 1948, this book is still very relevant. Many see it as a kind of prophecy on where the world could go if we allow “Big Brother” to watch and rule over us. Others just see it as a warning. Wherever on this spectrum you might fall, though, this is a book you should definitely read.
Marcus Aurelius: Stoic Quotes
Marcus Aurelius is one of the most respected Roman emperors in history and this book offers some insight into his way of thinking on how to live a happy life based on Stoicism (a “latter” form of it, but still following the basic precepts of the “original” Stoics).
Stoicism might not sound like a route to freedom (on the contrary, actually). However, our understanding of this philosophy is a bit flawed. Many see it as a stern, dry way of living life, but Stoicism has little to do with dryness and everything to do with internal freedom achieved through putting some cautious distance between yourself and everything you cannot change.
Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy, James Williams
Williams is a self-appointed “freedom fighter”, and in his book, he comments on the paradoxical battle for freedom going on between people who want to be free of distractions and others (like him) who embrace all that distraction has to offer.
We have actually discussed the main ideas in this book in a couple of different articles. Take the time to skim through our blog and check them out if you would like to see our take on it.
On Freedom, John Stuart Mill
Mill’s essay is a classic. It explores the idea of freedom and oppression, as well as what it means to be free in different contexts — such as economic freedom or intellectual freedom.
Although this was written in 1859, it’s still very much relevant to today’s society — and, for that matter, very much referred to in numerous pieces written around the topic of freedom.
Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
Harari’s Sapiens (and its subsequent continuation, Homo Deus) is not so much about freedom in a direct sense, but on how mankind could potentially achieve our next step in evolution by allowing data to flow freely. The topic is in itself highly debated, but Harari’s approach makes sense — so it’s definitely worth giving his books a read.
Gigged. The Gig Economy, the End of the Job, and the Future of Work, Sarah Kessler
Kessler’s Gigged is a recent (2017) book that discusses the rise of the gig economy and how it has become more common than ever before. Needless to say, this can have both positive and negative effects on our society – but Kessler does an excellent job in providing both sides of the story and discussing potential solutions for what could be coming our way in the (very, very) near future.
The COVID-19 crisis might have altered the way things will evolve going forward, but even so, Gigged remains one of the most appreciated books on the topic.
Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
Long Walk to Freedom is a book about the life of Nelson Mandela, one of the most famous anti-apartheid leaders. It’s not just an inspiring read but it also sheds light on how much effort goes into achieving freedom and what you need in order to hold onto that once you get there.
This book will teach you to never take freedom for granted, in any way, shape, or form you might define it. Just like getting there, staying there requires quite a lot of effort and determination. Freedom is never free, regardless of how you choose to define it or how you choose to report your life to it.
The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mahatma Gandhi
This book is a Gandhi’s autobiography, but he uses it to talk about how freedom can be obtained through truth. He talks about the independence of India and his own personal struggles in this regard.
He discusses two types of people: those who are dependent on others for their sustenance and guidance throughout life, and those who have freed themselves from others (like, for example, the author himself).
Although he is not teaching a course on how to be free, it becomes clear that this book was written from the point of view of someone who has freed themselves.
The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
This is not a book, or an essay, but a poem. At a first glance, it might not seem to have anything to do with freedom — but this concept is the very beating heart and rhythm of this entire poem.
The Road Not Taken is, in fact, an ode to being free from your own mental restraints and on taking the paths not taken precisely because they give you the freedom to create your own future.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.