I am almost completely illiterate on the topic of philosophy and philosophers and I would like to change that. I of recognize the names but don't know a thing about most of them. I was perusing the 50% off bin at Barnes and Noble yesterday, found some books by authors I recognized but in the end didn't buy them because I assumed that if they are in the bargain bin there's a good chance they aren't the best works to start with.

Can anyone here help me out. I would like a good overview/history of philosophy book. Something that the average person can read and understand. There wasn't much in the store for overviews. I did see Stephen Law's Philosophy: History, Ideas... which caught my eye because I've read some of his blog. But I didn't want to take a chance on it. I guess I'm looking mainly for Western philosophy for now.

The irony of my asking this question is that my husband has a BA in Philosophy and yet doesn't have any suggestions for me.

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Read Will Durant's "The Story of Philosophy" ,it was written in 1926 and is considered a classic in introductory philosophy
and then you can try Bertrand Russell's "History of Western Philosophy",another classic written way back in 40s.
From then onwards you can explore philosophy on your own whim
should decide which subject areas they want to explore.

This is what I'm thinking too. There's going to be a lot in the field that is just not of interest (to me) or is completely over my head. Once I figure out where to start I can go from there. I'm also interested in ethics. I bought Kurtz "Forbidden Fruit: The Ethics of Secularism" after reading just a few pages of the prologue because it was relevant and seemed easy enough to follow. Haven't read much of it yet.
As an Atheist, I think you might enjoy Baruch Spinoza (although he wasn't quite an atheist). I'd get a Spinoza reader or something because Ethics can get very very tedious. Sarte is also a good choice.
Thanks so much for the suggestions! "The Story of Philosophy" sounds like just what I'm looking for as a start.
The best introduction to philosophy I've ever read, is Sophies World.

It's a book that describes the history of philisophical thought, in the form of a novel IE Fiction.

It's gives a very good overview of the different branches and is fun to read.
Thanks Anette. I'm looking at the reviews of Sophie's World on Amazon.
You're welcome. I like it, because it really is a great overview of everything and it's quite a fun read(like a mystery novel, with a philosophical twist) and it's not heavy at all.

Trying to dive into philosophy without any background is difficult because knowlege is usually assumed by the author, especially if the author is a well known philosopher like Russell.

So try something light and fun to get the mental juices flowing :)

Edited to say: If you are looking also for something that is more about the "why" of philosophy rather than the history(since you are starting down a learning path), a book I'm currently reading which is excellent, is "The questions of Life" - an invitation to Philosophy, by Fernando Savater.

I'm liking it, because it really invites you into the world of philisophical thinking, and what this can do for you in your own life. Why do we have this discipline of study in our socieities? It is not however a book on the history of philosophy, but it's a lovely read and also gets you thinking about why this subject is so interesting.

Cheers
I too recommend Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy.

Spinoza is one of my favorites. If he wasn't an atheist he was pretty damn close. He believed in a "God existing in only a philosophical sense".
I second, or "third," the recommendation of Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy. Russell is a bit dismissive of philosophers he doesn't especially like (Kant, for instance), but he's clear and succinct.

I also agree with Nate and mthoreau that Spinoza is marvelous, but his writing is hard--and I say that as a diligent reader of thorny prose. He was writing not to be understand by all of his readers. In the seventeenth century, it was dangerous to express unorthodox views in a straightforward manner, even in the relatively tolerant country of Holland, where Spinoza lived; so he was deliberately cryptic in his work. I would suggest that you read some other philosophers first.

I heartily agree! Spinoza is difficult reading. I wouldn't start with him. 

As a basic and enjoyable primer, pick up a copy of the novel, Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder.

"Mostly consisting of dialogues between Sophie Amundsen and a mysterious man named Alberto Knox, interwoven with an increasingly bizarre and mysterious plot, Sophie's World acts as both a novel and a basic guide to philosophy."

It's a fun read and also educational.
I think Thomas is "far too biased to be truly useful".

Just kidding, Thomas.

Mostly.

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