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Film

Bruce Lee once named his favourite books of all time

One of the most iconic figures of the 20th century, Bruce Lee revolutionised the martial arts genre by managing to bridge the unfathomable chasm between Asian culture and Western audiences. Contributing to the widespread acceptance and celebration of Eastern thought through unforgettable action flicks, Lee showed the world that Asian cinema was entertaining as well as profound.

In his early years, he was dismissed from school due to alleged disciplinary issues and reportedly poor academic performance. It was around this time that he was engaging in a lot of street fights and the police even threatened possible jail time. Not afraid of anyone at all, Lee even gave a proper beating to a triad boss’s relative without caring about the serious consequences of such an act.

With time and training, Lee put himself in a seriously rigorous and demanding routine which helped him with self-discipline. A major part of this self-discipline was the education he continued to attain throughout his life, be it through institutional methods or self-study. He had even joined the University of Washington to study drama, psychology and philosophy but dropped out to pursue other endeavours.

When he was young, Lee spent his time reading kung-fu comic books and wuxia novels but his tastes matured with age. Even though he publicly stated that his major was philosophy, Lee actually majored in dramatic arts but spent most of his time in philosophy and psychology classes while taking extensive notes on the subjects. It was these issues that continued to influence his intellectual journey later in his life.

At the age of 32, Lee’s personal library had more than 2500 books on a wide variety of subjects and from different parts of the world. Although it is a difficult task to select favourite texts from such a huge collection, Lee managed to make a list of some of the books that he classified as essential reading.

Check the entire list of Bruce Lee’s favourite books below, categorised into various subsections according to the subjects.

Bruce Lee named his favourite books of all time:

Western Philosophy:

  • Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume
  • Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes
  • The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung
  • On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers
  • The Works of Bertrand Russell
  • The Works of Plato
  • Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian
  • Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (and other Campbell titles)
  • Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza
  • Maxims and Reflections by Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

Eastern Philosophy:

  • The Works of Jiddu Krishnamurti (“one of his more important influences”)
  • Tao-Te-Ching by Lao-Tzu
  • The Way of Chuang-Tzu
  • The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
  • The Works of Alan Watts
  • The Analects of Confucius
  • Art of War by Sun-Tzu
  • Bushido: The Soul of the Samurai
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (and many other Hesse titles)
  • Buddhism by Christmas Humphreys (and dozens of other Buddhism-related titles)
  • The Chinese Classics compiled by James Legge (all 5 volumes)
  • Living Zen by Robert Linssen (and many other Zen-related titles)

Martial Arts/Fencing/Boxing:

  • On Fencing by Aldo Nadi (plus at least 60(!) other books on fencing and fencing theory)
  • Aikido: The Art of Self-Defence by Koichi Tohei
  • Advanced Karate by Mas Oyama (and many other Oyama titles)
  • A Beginner’s Book of Gymnastics by Barry Johnson
  • Championship Fighting by Jack Dempsey
  • Book of Boxing and Bodybuilding by Rocky Marciano
  • How to Box by Joe Louis
  • US Army Boxing Manual
  • Efficiency of Human Movement by Marion Ruth Broer
  • Physiology of Exercise by Laurence Morehouse
  • Wing Chun by James Lee
  • Acupuncture: The Ancient Chinese Art of Healing by Felix Mann
  • Esquire’s The Art of Keeping Fit 
  • Combat Training of the Individual Soldier by the US Army
  • Modern Bodybuilding by Oscar Heidenstam

American Self-Help:

  • The Amazing Results of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale (and many other Peale titles)
  • Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
  • Dynamic Thinking by Melvin Powers
  • The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz
  • As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
  • The Success System That Never Fails by Clement Stone
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger

Miscellaneous:

  • Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • Playboy’s Party Jokes & More Playboy’s Party Jokes
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (one of the few novels)
  • The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis
  • The Story of Civilization by Will Durant (all 11 volumes!)
  • The Viking Book of Aphorisms
  • The Works of Shakespeare

Many of his colleagues and the people who knew him described Lee as a highly intelligent individual, including Chuck Norris who said: “His confidence and wit were dazzling, and sometimes even debilitating to others. Lee was lightning fast, very agile and incredibly strong for his size.” According to Norris, Lee’s intellect contributed to his strength as a fighter.

From Lee’s reading list, it is evident that he was an extremely well-rounded student of philosophy who was well-versed with Confucius and Lao-Tzu as well as Bertrand Russell and Carl Jung. Maybe that is why he was able to bridge the gap between the East and the West so effortlessly, one iconic action masterpiece at a time.