Jordan B. Peterson Shares The 5 Books That Had The Biggest Influence On Him

Last week I had the incredible fortune to meet the one and only Dr. Jordan B. Peterson–a Canadian clinical psychologist, professor of psychology and author of the bestselling book “12 Rules for Life.”

Peterson has been a virtual mentor of mine and was one of the key reasons I started Alex & Books. He also influenced me to stop wasting time on TV, video games and other distractions (Peterson has a great video on that topic here).

I met Dr. Peterson while he was in NYC for his book tour.

Incredibly humbled to have met the one and only Jordan Peterson.

Incredibly humbled to have met the one and only Jordan Peterson.

Since I bought the VIP meet and greet tickets, I had the chance to briefly speak with Dr. Peterson, pose for a picture and participate in the VIP Q&A session (read about the full event here).

About 100 people stayed for the VIP Q&A, it only lasted about 20 minutes since Peterson had a plane to catch. Four people had the chance to ask him a question, luckily I was the fourth and last person he picked.

I wrote down my question on my phone earlier so I wouldn’t stutter or go blank if I got the chance to ask a question.

Jordan Peterson during the VIP Q&A, about 100 people stayed for this part of the show.

Jordan Peterson during the VIP Q&A, about 100 people stayed for this part of the show.

I asked:

You recommend over 100 books on your website, so I wanted to ask if you could apply the Pareto Principle to that list and share the 5 books that had the biggest influence on you?

Here is Peterson’s answer:

1) The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

It likely isn’t a surprise for JBP fans to learn that Dr. Peterson ranked “The Gulag Archipelago” as the No. 1 book that influenced him. Peterson constantly shares stories from the book during his lectures, as well as talking about Solzhenitsyn’s other great books. Peterson even wrote the foreword to the new 50th anniversary edition of “The Gulag Archipelago.”

Book Summary:

“The Gulag Archipelago” is a three-volume, non-fictional text written by Russian writer and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It was first published in 1973 and covers life in the gulag (the Communist Soviet forced labour camp system) through a narrative constructed from various sources including reports, interviews, statements, diaries, legal documents, and Solzhenitsyn's own experience as a gulag prisoner.


2) Crime and Punishment & The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Tie)

Peterson said “Crime and Punishment” along with “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky would tie for second place as the books that most influenced him. Peterson is constantly referencing Dostoevsky’s work during his lectures and has called Dostoevsky one of his favorite authors and recommends reading all five of his great novels.

Book Summary:

“Crime and Punishment” focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in Saint Petersburg who formulates a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her money. Before the killing, Raskolnikov believes that with the money he could liberate himself from poverty and go on to perform great deeds. However, once it is done he finds himself racked with confusion, paranoia, and disgust for what he has done. His moral justifications disintegrate completely as he struggles with guilt and horror and confronts the real-world consequences of his deed.

Book Summary:

“The Brothers Karamazov” is a passionate philosophical novel set in 19th-century Russia, that enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality. It is a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, judgment, and reason, set against a modernizing Russia, with a plot which revolves around the subject of patricide. Dostoevsky composed much of the novel in Staraya Russa, which inspired the main setting. Since its publication, it has been acclaimed as one of the supreme achievements in world literature.


3) The Road To Wigan Pier by George Orwell

Peterson ranked “The Road To Wigan Pier” as number three and although he didn’t add why this book influenced him, Peterson has talked about this book in his lectures and said “He would highly recommend this book” and called it “A truly great book” in a Facebook post.

Book Summary:

“The Road to Wigan Pier” is a book by the British writer George Orwell, first published in 1937. The first half of this work documents his sociological investigations of the bleak living conditions among the working class in Lancashire and Yorkshire in the industrial north of England before World War II. The second half is a long essay on his middle-class upbringing, and the development of his political conscience, questioning British attitudes towards socialism. Orwell states plainly that he himself is in favor of socialism, but feels it necessary to point out reasons why many people who would benefit from socialism, and should logically support it, are in practice likely to be strong opponents.

4) Affective Neuroscience by Jaak Panksepp

Peterson ranked “Affective Neuroscience”as number four and commented that it is the best book on neuroscience that he’s read.

Book Summary:

Affective Neuroscience” by Jaak Panksepp provides the most up-to-date information about the brain-operating systems that organize the fundamental emotional tendencies of all mammals. The book offers a comprehensive summary of the fundamental neural sources of human and animal feelings. The book includes chapters on sleep and arousal, pleasure and fear systems, the sources of rage and anger, and the neural control of sexuality, as well as the more subtle emotions related to maternal care, social loss, and playfulness. This book will be one of the most important contributions to understanding the biology of emotions since Darwins’ “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.”

5) The Neuropsychology of Anxiety by Gray & McNaughton

Fifth place belongs to “The Neuropsychology of Anxiety” by Jeffrey Gray and Neil McNaughton. Peterson said that this book was fascinating but also incredibly dense and each chapter would require the reader to take time to soak in all of the information. He added that it would take the average person probably a year or so to read, and even with Peterson’s background in psychology, he said it took him over 6 months to finish reading.

Book Summary:

“The Neuropsychology of Anxiety” first appeared in 1982 as the first volume in the Oxford Psychology Series, and it quickly established itself as the classic work on the subject. This completely updated and revised edition is essential for postgraduate students and researchers in experimental psychology and neuroscience, as well as for all clinical psychologists.


To summarize, here are the 5 (or technically the 6) books that had the biggest influence on Dr. Jordan B. Peterson:

  1. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  2. Crime and Punishment & The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Tie)

  3. The Road To Wigan Pier by George Orwell

  4. Affective Neuroscience by Jaak Panksepp

  5. The Neuropsychology of Anxiety by Gray & McNaughton


Thank you everyone for reading my article, I hope you’ve found it helpful!

If you’re a fan of Jordan Peterson, I would definitely recommend going to one of his events, and for those who haven’t yet read Peterson’s book, I would highly recommend doing so.

You can get it here.


If you want to check out my list of recommended books, you can find it here.

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