The History of Western Philosophy - Bertrand Russell
Russell's account of Western philosophy is wonderfully readable. His style is remarkably clear and often funny:
"Let us begin with what little is known of his life. He was a native of the island of Samos, and flourished about 532 B.C. Some say he was the son of a substantial citizen named Mnesarchos, others say that he was the son of the god Apollo; I leave the reader to take his choice between these alternatives."
And later... "Pythagoras is one of the most interesting and puzzling men in history. Not only are the traditions concerning him an almost inextricable mixture of truth and falsehood, but even in their barest and least disputable form they present us with a very curious psychology. He may be described, briefly, as a combination of Einstein and Mrs Eddy."
"He founded a religion, of which the main tenets were the transmigration of souls and the sinfulness of eating beans. His religion was embodied in a religious order, which, here and there, acquired control of the State and established a rule of the saints. But the unregenerate hankered after beans, and sooner or later rebelled.
Some of the rules of the Pythagorean order were:
1. To abstain from beans.
2. Not to pick up what has fallen. [No five second rule then?]
3. Not to touch a white cock. [No need to discriminate!]
4. Not to break bread.
5. Not to step over a crossbar. [Presumably the birth of limbo]
6. Not to stir the fire with iron.
7. Not to eat from a whole loaf. [Talk about a Spartan diet]
8. Not to pluck a garland. [She loves you not]
9. Not to sit on a quart measure.
10. Not to eat the heart.
11. Not to walk on highways.
12. Not to let swallows share one's roof.
13. When the pot is taken off the fire, not to leave the mark of it in the ashes, but to stir them together. [Is there a doctor in the house?]
14. Not to look in a mirror beside a light.
15. When you rise from the bedclothes, roll them together and smooth out the impress of the body. [This reads like a Python script]"