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09. 03. 2018.

15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

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15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart

People to Read

Many people have written to me asking what they should read to properly educate
themselves. Here is a list of books that I found particularly influential in my intellectual
development. I wrote number thirteen, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief
( It was published in 1999. It was heavily influenced by the authors
of all the books listed below.

Trigger warning: These are the most terrifying books I have encountered.

— Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

1. Brave New World ( by Aldous Huxley

( Huxley was a genius of incomparable talents: an artist, spiritual
enthusiast, and laser-eyed observer of the human condition. Brave New World
( is Huxley’s masterpiece. The story is set in a technologically-advanced
future where human beings are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically
anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order—all at the cost of our freedom, full
humanity, and perhaps also our souls.

Martijn Schirp, the co-founder of HighExistence, had this to say about the book: 1/14
09. 03. 2018. 15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

Huxley’s Brave New World ( is the

utopia nobody in their right mind would want to live in. With his
literary genius’ imagination, Huxley successfully paints an
interpersonal, futuristic technotopia, with all the ingredients our
impulse-driven minds desires. The problem with this vision,
however, is that it would come at a cost that is too high to pay:
the reduction of that inexpressible thing that makes us human.

2. 1984 ( by George

( have written about George Orwell’s
opposition to totalitarianism, Stalinism, fascism, and social injustice
many times (
make-it-stop/) on HighExistence. In 1984 (,
Orwell’s most well known book, he paints a truly chilling prophecy
about the future. In the story, the dystopian government will do
anything to control the narrative of the society. The plot has served
as the basis for many sci- lms since its release in 1948, but there is
nothing quite like reading Orwell himself.

What’s particularly intriguing about 1984 is that it hasn’t just stood

the test of time, it’s improved over time. In January 2017, the book shot unexpectedly to the top of
Amazon bestseller list. If you want to gain a striking and precise vision of the dangers
governments pose, read 1984 ( today.

3. The Road To Wigan Pier ( by

George Orwell

A truly great book.

— Jordan Peterson

( Road to Wigan Pier ( is split into two halves.

In the rst half, Orwell documents his investigations into the despicable living conditions of the
working class in Lancashire and Yorkshire. We read about miners who had to crawl three miles,
unpaid through tunnels before even beginning their shift. 2/14
09. 03. 2018. 15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

The second half of the book consists of a long essay on Orwell’s

own middle-class upbringing and how his political thoughts
developed. He also questions British attitudes towards socialism.
The second half of the book was not appreciated by many anti-
socialists and moves were even taken by publisher Victor Gollancz
to persuade Orwell to only publish the rst half. Luckily, the
second half was still published.

Read this book ( if you want to see Orwell

at his best acting as an investigative journalist and political
commentator on British politics in 1937. As always, Orwell’s work is

4. Crime And Punishment ( by Fyodor


“’What I mean is that if you were successful in persuading a man that there was nothing for
him to cry about, he’d stop crying, wouldn’t he? That’s obvious. You think he wouldn’t?’

‘Life would be much too easy then,’ replied Raskolnikov.”

— Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (

(’s dif cult to explain the way in which I

was so completely swept up in the torrent of psychological
desolation that characterizes Crime and Punishment
( Utterly torturous in its suffocating
examination of the deterioration of the protagonist,
demoralizingly tragic in its fearless portrayal of the suffering of
righteous individuals, and unapologetically depressing in its vision
of despair and hopelessness, the book is hardly for the faint of
heart. Truthfully it haunted me. I couldn’t put it down, and I
became so attached to the protagonist, Raskolnikov—a murderer
suffering the terrible wrath of his own conscience—that I literally
began to experience his confusion, anxiety, and guilt as if they
were my own. This novel is the work of a master and possibly my favorite book of all time. I
literally named my rap alter-ego after Dostoevsky after reading this book. If you’re feeling
courageous, read it.

This review was taken Jordan Bates’ article 12 Life Changing Books that Destroyed and Rebuilt My
Mind ( 3/14
09. 03. 2018. 15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

5. Demons ( by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoyevsky… his novels just absolutely flatten me. He’s so brilliant, and I’ve never read
anyone who takes moral questions so seriously.

— Jordan Peterson

Demons is a story about the potentially catastrophic consequences

of embodying the philosophy of nihilism, which  was becoming
popular in Russia in the 1860s. In the plot, a ctional town descends
into chaos as it becomes the focal point of an attempted revolution.

According to Ronald Hingley, Demons ( is

Dostoyevsky’s “greatest onslaught on Nihilism”, and “one of
humanity’s most impressive achievements—perhaps even its
supreme achievement—in the art of prose ction.”

6. Beyond Good And Evil

( by Friedrich Nietzsche
Jordan Peterson on Beyond Good and Evil (

“Beyond Good and Evil—to think of it as a book is a really foolish framework. Because this is
what a book is when people think about a book:” 4/14
09. 03. 2018. 15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

“It’s like a material entity. It’s eight inches high and six inches wide and two inches thick and
weighs a pound, and it’s made out of paper and its between two covers. And that’s the
materialist’s a priori sort of axiomatic view of a book. But Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil
isn’t a book at all. It’s a series of bombs, and each sentence is a bomb. And each sentence
blows things up that people didn’t even know exist.”

Watch Jordan Peterson talk for 45 minutes on a single paragraph of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and
Evil here (

7. Ordinary Men ( by Christopher Browning

“Ordinary Men is the best book of its type—maybe it’s the only book of its type.”

— Jordan Peterson

Ordinary Men in a nutshell is a a historical document showing how ordinary men ended up
becoming murderers under the nazi regime.

Jordan Peterson on why you should read Ordinary Men (

How Ordinary Men Became Nazi Killers - Prof. Jordan Peterson

8. The Painted Bird ( by Jerzy Kosinski

( Quora (
book-you-have-ever-read/answer/Jordan-B-Peterson?share=342f148e&srid=zI7t), Jordan
Peterson was asked the following question:

What is the most shocking book you have ever read?

His answer: 5/14
09. 03. 2018. 15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

The Painted Bird ( by Jerzy Kosinski.

Hands down. I’m no fan of trigger warnings. Ever. But this book is
shocking enough to produce seizures. I’m not joking. You’ve been

It’s a semi-autobiographical account of Kosinski’s post-war

experiences in Eastern Europe as he wandered through the
wreckage as a child.

Read The Painted Bird ( here.

9. The Rape of Nanking ( by Iris Chang

Iris Chang begins The Rape of Nanking ( bK) with the following passage:

This book provides only the barest summary of the cruel and barbaric acts committed by the
Japanese in the city, for its aim is not to establish a quantitative record to qualify the event as
one of the great evil deeds of history, but to understand the event so that lessons can be
learned and warnings sounded. Differences in degree, however, often reflect differences in
kind, and so a few statistics must be used to give the reader an idea of the scale of the
massacre that took place sixty years ago in a city named Nanking. One historian has
estimated that if the dead from Nanking were to link hands, they would stretch from Nanking
to the city of Hangchow, spanning a distance of some two hundred miles. Their blood would
weigh twelve hundred tons, and their bodies would fill twenty-five hundred railroad cars.
Stacked on top of each other, these bodies would reach the height of a seventy-four-story

( bK)When I rst came across Jordan

Peterson’s reading list, I downloaded a bunch for Kindle. The Rape of
Nanking ( bK) was at the top of the list, and so
that’s where I began. I would describe The Rape of Nanking
( bK), as one third revolting horror story, one
third scandalous historical document, and one third a saga of hope
and goodness.

Naturally, the thing that remains the most memorable about the
book was the horror. The Rape of Nanking ( bK)
is not for the weak stomached. You will read in all-too-graphic detail
about how tens of thousands of women were raped, often while tied
to chairs or in-front of their family, then murdered afterwards; how Japanese soldiers enjoyed
removing fetuses from the bellies of fully conscious pregnant women with bayonets and inging 6/14
09. 03. 2018. 15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

them into heaps; and how young men were lined up in the hundreds and decaptitated for fun in
killing contests. Peterson encourages people to read this book so that you can see the shadow
present in human beings, and then to realize how each of us has within us the capacity of great

As I read this book, I sincerely tried to imagine myself as a Japanese soldier carrying out the
atrocities to Chinese innocents. What were they thinking? What were their rationalizations? This
thought exercise deepened my understanding of evil and expanded my wisdom about the human
condition. I could not recommend The Rape of Nanking ( bK) enough.

10. Gulag Archipelago ( (Vol. 1

(, Vol. 2 (, & Vol. 3
( – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
( Peterson on why you should
read Gulag Archipelago (

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had every reason to question the

structure of existence when he was imprisoned in a Soviet
labour camp, in the middle of the terrible twentieth century. He
had served as a soldier on the ill-prepared Russian front lines in
the face of a Nazi invasion. He had been arrested, beaten and
thrown into prison by his own people. Then he was struck by
cancer. He could have become resentful and bitter. His life had
been rendered miserable by both Stalin and Hitler, two of the
worst tyrants in history. He lived in brutal conditions. Vast stretches of his precious time were
stolen from him and squandered. He witnessed the pointless and degrading suffering and
death of his friends and acquaintances. Then he contracted an extremely serious disease.
Solzhenitsyn had cause to curse God. Job himself barely had it as hard.

But the great writer, the profound, spirited defender of truth, did not allow his mind to turn
wrote The Gulag Archipelago, a history of the Soviet prison camp system. 115 It’s a forceful,
terrible book, written with the overwhelming moral force of unvarnished truth. Its sheer
outrage screamed unbearably across hundreds of pages. Banned (and for good reason) in the
USSR, it was smuggled to the West in the 1970s, and burst upon the world. Solzhenitsyn’s
writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of communism, as ideology or
society. He took an axe to the trunk of the tree whose bitter fruits had nourished him so
poorly— and whose planting he had witnessed and supported.

One man’s decision to change his life, instead of cursing fate, shook the whole pathological
system of communist tyranny to its core. It crumbled entirely, not so many years later, and
Solzhenitsyn’s courage was not the least of the reasons why. 7/14
09. 03. 2018. 15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

11. Man’s Search for Meaning ( – Viktor

( Schirp, listed Man’s Search for
Meaning as one of the 25 books you must read before you die
you-need-to-read-before-you-turn-25/). This is what he said
about the book:

For three years Viktor Frankl labored in four different Nazi

concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He tells us about his
experience and that of his fellow prisoners. Both chilling and
uplifting, confronted with the idea that they would be trapped
there for the rest of their lives, he gives us an account of those
who found meaning and those who succumbed to nihilism. A
blend between a memoir, a psychological investigation, and a self-help book, Frankl delivers a
powerful message: finding meaning lies at the core of being human. From his own experience
as a psychiatrist combined with anecdotes from his time in the concentration camps, he tells
us how important it is to find meaning in our own lives and what we can become if we don’t.
Suffering, he conveys to us, is inevitable. But as to how we cope with it is dependent on
ourselves. If we can find meaning, even in the worst acts our species has ever inflicted upon
his fellow man, we will be able to move forward with renewed purpose.

Just want the insights? Read Man’s Search for Meaning in 15 minutes on Blinklist
offer_id=2&aff_id=1715&source=25sel mprov&
en.html%3Faff_id%3D{af liate_id}%26offer_id%3D{offer_id}%26transaction_id%3D{transaction_id}).

12. Modern Man in Search of A Soul ( –

Carl Jung 8/14
09. 03. 2018. 15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

Jung was a tremendously insightful clinician and he was a strange person: introverted
visionary. High introversion, very, very, very, very, very high in openness, like off the charts.
And god only knows what his IQ was. Every time I read Jung, it’s like reading Nietzsche. It’s
terrifying because he’s so damn smart that he can think up answers to questions that—it’s not
like you don’t understand the answers, it’s that you’ve never conceptualized the damn
questions. It’s really something to read someone like that, right, who says, “Well here’s a
mystery.” And you’re like, “Wow, I never thought of that as a mystery.” Now, “Here’s the
solution.” It’s like okay… that’s something.

— Jordan Peterson

( Man in Search of a Soul

( covers a broad array of subjects such
as gnosticism, theosophy, Eastern philosophy and spirituality in
general. The book is divided into three main sections. In the rst
part of the book, Jung focuses on dream analysis, the problems of
psychotherapy, and his theory of psychological types. The second
part, Jung talks about the Archaic man and how his own views
differ from Freud’s. In the nal part, Jung talks about man’s
spiritual problems following World War I.

Jordan Peterson is a huge Carl Jung fan, and this is the only Jung
book of his on this list. That should point you toward the
signi cance of this particular book on Peterson’s views.

13. Maps Of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief

( – Jordan B. Peterson
( have not read Maps of Meaning yet. I
am a little bit intimidated by the book because I know that
Peterson worked on it for over fteen years and he himself
describes the book as “dif cult.” I have, however, listened to the
entire 2017 Maps of Meaning lectures
which is the lecture version of the book. I got an incredible
amount of value from these lectures. I remember listening to them
in Prague, where I was living, walking through the park each day,
feeling the sun bouncing off my skin, and hearing the distant dog
barks and bird chirps as a background to Peterson’s passionate projections. Over the month or so I
listened to the lectures, I entered into a new psychological paradigm. I was feeling quite nihilistic
at the time and without any sacred aim. After listening to the entire series, I now have a much 9/14
09. 03. 2018. 15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

deeper appreciation for religion, myth, and I know how my own mind works to a far greater
degree. If you are not too well acquainted with dif cult texts, perhaps it is also best you start with
the lectures before moving onto the book.

If you’d like to learn more about this book speci cally, you can listen to Jordan Peterson talk about
it in the following video:

Jordan Peterson: Extended Interview on Maps of Meaning

14. A History of Religious Ideas ( (Vol. 1

(, Vol. 2 (, Vol. 3
( – Mircea Eliade
( is a three-volume set. Volume 1
( lays out everything from The Stone Age
to the Eleusinian, Volume 2 ( focuses on
everything from Buddha to Christianity, and Volume 3
( focuses on Muhammed to the age of

Peterson says of the set:

Mircea Eliade wrote a book called A History of Religious Ideas (, which
I would strongly recommend. It’s a three-volume set. It’s quite readable, and it’s brilliant. It’s
brilliant. I really like it.

— Jordan Peterson

15. Affective Neuroscience ( – Jaak

Panksepp 10/14
09. 03. 2018. 15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

( referred to Jaak Panksepp as a “genius” and called him a “great,

creative scientist” when Panksepp died in May, 2017. In Affective
Neuroscience (, Jaak Panksepp discusses
in-depth the brain-operating systems of mammals. While the
material is complex, Panksepp writes in a readable way.

The book does an incredible job of covering the whole range of

emotions, including anger, pleasure, playfulness, fear, sexual
desire, and social loss. He synthesizes vast amounts of
neurobehavioral knowledge into a book that leaves you with a
better understanding of the human mind, including yours.

Bonus: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

( —Jordan B. Peterson
I bought both the book and the audiobook for 12 Rules for Life ( when it
came out. My general feelings about it can be summarized in the following meme: 11/14
09. 03. 2018. 15 Terrifying Books Jordan Peterson Urges All Smart People to Read | High Existence

I ended up listening to the audiobook within a few days (Peterson narrates it), and my god it’s
great. It’s probably the best self-improvement book I’ve ever read. The word that best describes
this book for me is “epic” because it ties together religion, myth, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis
and combines those elds with Peterson’s deep experience as a father, husband, and clinical
psychologist into something that anyone who can read can bene t from reading.

Jordan Peterson wrote 12 Rules for Life ( over a 5-year period and to
give the respect it deserves I plan on listening to it many more times over the coming years.

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