Jeff’s touchstones

A shortlist of texts and music that have influenced Jeff

At Quest, we ask students to develop and read a set of ‘touchstone’ books relevant to the student’s field of study. I’ve been asked about my own touchstone texts and music. In my own development I’ve done a lot of reading and listening, making it difficult to create a shortlist. In [this documentary](], philosopher Alain Finkielkraut makes a distinction between the books we read and the books we always read. In other words, the books that we continue to return to, that continue to give us something new the more we read them. In the list below, I’ve left out massive texts and music that have been hugely influential to me, but I’ve just included those texts and music that I find myself continually returning to and finding in them something new.


  • Emmanuel Lévinas Totality and Infinity
  • Martin Heidegger Being and Time
  • Hans-Georg Gadamer Truth and Method
  • Fydor Dostoyevsky The Brothers Karamazov

Sound recordings

Book suggestions for students

Some of my personal touchstones can be difficult for students without sufficient background to access. Fortunately, there are a few books that are both accessible to undergrads PhDs that are really good. Here’s the list of books I often recommend (I was fortunate enough to have studied with three of these authors).

  • Nicholas Cook Music: A Very Short Introduction
  • Andrew Bowie German Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction
  • John Russon Human Experience
  • Jens Zimmerman: Hermeneutics: A Very Short Introduction