The best books on Socrates, recommended by M M McCabe

The classical Greek philosopher is credited with laying the foundation of Western philosophy – without ever having written a word. Here, the eminent scholar M M McCabe recommends the best books to read to understand Socrates and engage with the eternal question: How best to live?

The Best Plato Books, recommended by Melissa Lane

Plato came from a politically active family, but renounced politics to become a philosopher. Or did he? Professor Melissa Lane of Princeton University recommends the best books to get a better understanding of the Greek philosopher Plato, including his most famous work, the Republic.

The Best Thomas Hobbes Books, recommended by Arash Abizadeh

Thomas Hobbes’s master work Leviathan, in which he argued for the need to unite under a powerful sovereign as part of a ‘social contract’, has become a cornerstone of Western political philosophy. Here, the philosopher and political scientist Arash Abizadeh selects five of the best books for understanding Hobbes’s arguments in their historical context.

The best books on Spinoza, recommended by Steven Nadler

In 1656 Baruch Spinoza was thrown out by Amsterdam’s Portuguese-Jewish congregation for ‘abominable heresies’ and ‘monstrous deeds’, ensuring he would be forever remembered as a radical thinker. Here Steven Nadler, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of a number of books on Spinoza, talks us through the life and work of the 17th century philosopher whose worldview remains, in many ways, remarkably modern.

The Best Voltaire Books, recommended by Nicholas Cronk

The eighteenth-century philosopher wielded his powers of ridicule and witticism against religious fanatics—but always championed free speech and religious toleration. He was also a historian, scientist, poet, playwright, and political activist. Nicholas Cronk, General Editor of the Complete Works of Voltaire gives a detailed look at the polymathic philosophe.

The best books on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, recommended by Chris Bertram

The 18th century composer, writer and philosopher spent his latter years “alone upon the earth, having no brother, or neighbour, or friend, or society but myself”. But he only had himself to blame, says philosophy professor and Rousseau scholar Chris Bertram. Here, he chooses the best five books on this complex man’s life and work.

The Best Hegel Books, recommended by Stephen Houlgate

G W F Hegel is one of the most divisive figures in western philosophy. He influenced Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Adorno and countless others. And yet, he is seen as perhaps the most obscure and inaccessible philosopher to read. Is he worth engaging with? How should we read him? Stephen Houlgate, a philosopher at Warwick University, gives us an in-depth look at Hegel.

The Best Adam Smith Books, recommended by Dennis Rasmussen

Adam Smith tends to be seen as the founder of capitalism and modern economics, but he was, first and foremost, a moral philosopher. Dennis Rasmussen, author of The Infidel and the Professor—a book about Smith’s friendship with David Hume—selects the best books by and about Adam Smith.

The Best Immanuel Kant Books, recommended by Adrian Moore

Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg, lived in Königsberg, and never travelled very far from Königsberg—but his mind ranged across vast territories, says Oxford philosophy professor, Adrian Moore. He selects five key texts for coming to grips with the work of “the greatest philosopher of all time.”

The best books on Arthur Schopenhauer, recommended by David Bather Woods

Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher who held a deeply pessimistic view of the world. He was also, among other things, a misogynist. And yet, he made important contributions to a number of areas of philosophy and had a deep influence on other philosophers. He wrote in a clear style that gained him a wide readership among non-philosophers as well. David Bather Woods, a Schopenhauer expert at the University of Warwick, talks us through his choice of books on the life and work of this remarkable thinker.

The best books on Søren Kierkegaard, recommended by Clare Carlisle

“It’s not surprising that he died at forty-two, because he burned himself out restlessly, relentlessly pursuing this question of how to be a human being.” Søren Kierkegaard’s latest biographer Clare Carlisle recommends five books for understanding the Danish philosopher’s life and work—and shows how his work often bears witness to the complex, fraught experience of being alive.

The best books on Marx and Marxism, recommended by Terrell Carver

Few people have had their ideas reinvented as many times as the German intellectual and political activist, Karl Marx. Professor of political theory, Terrell Carver, takes us through the most influential books, in English, about Marx, Marxism and his friend, publicist and financial backer, Friedrich Engels.

The Best Nietzsche Books, recommended by Brian Leiter

Relativist, atheist, existentialist, Nazi. All have been said of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, some with more reason than others. In 2011, we asked Nietzsche expert Brian Leiter to explain the appeal of the controversial philosopher and to recommend books by and about him. In September (2020) our philosophy editor, Nigel Warburton, asked Brian about some of the latest Nietzsche books, notable works that have come out in the decade since we first spoke to him.

The best books on Wittgenstein, recommended by Peter Hacker

A pioneering figure in analytic philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is a clear example of philosophical genius. A profoundly intense, tortured, and solitary man, he produced two masterpieces of philosophy with fundamentally opposed views of language — both of which have been wildly influential. Peter Hacker introduces us to perhaps the most important philosopher since Kant, and explains why Wittgenstein would be horrified by Noam Chomsky.

The best books on Hannah Arendt, recommended by Samantha Rose Hill

Unimpressed by the response of philosophers to the rise of Nazism in her native Germany, Hannah Arendt rejected the notion of being a philosopher and said she was a political theorist. Samantha Rose Hill, writer and formerly assistant director of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, talks us through Hannah Arendt’s life and work—and suggests which books to read if we want to learn more about her and her ideas.

The Best Books by Albert Camus, recommended by Jamie Lombardi

Albert Camus was born in northern Algeria in extreme poverty, but went on to become one of the best-known French philosophers of the 20th century. In 1957, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature for illuminating “the problems of the human conscience in our times.” Here, Camus expert Jamie Lombardi talks us through the books that best capture his work and the moral dilemmas he sought to explore.

The Best Simone de Beauvoir Books, recommended by Kate Kirkpatrick

Simone de Beauvoir is remembered today as the pioneering feminist author of The Second Sex and a close companion of Jean Paul Sartre. But the scope of her intellectual contribution has long been underestimated, argues her latest biographer Kate Kirkpatrick, who offers an introduction to the landscape of Beauvoir’s works, from fiction to philosophy to life writing.

The Best Isaiah Berlin Books, recommended by Henry Hardy

He was one of the great intellectuals of the 20th century, but a people person with little interest in publishing books. Henry Hardy, the editor who helped publish many of them, chooses the best books by (and one about) Isaiah Berlin.

The Best Philosophy Books by Women, recommended by Lisa Whiting & Rebecca Buxton

When it comes to the big names in philosophy, very few people think of women and the books that make the canon have, traditionally, almost always been written by European or American men. Here, Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting, editors of The Philosopher Queens, a book that collects together articles about the most important women philosophers, talk through their selection of the best philosophy books written by women.