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Best Philosophy Books: 60+ Philosophical Books (Ranked)

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Best Philosophy Books

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Looking for the best philosophy books of all time? You’re in the right place.

In this set of book recommendations, I’ve gathered and ranked the best philosophical books of all time into an ultimate philosophy reading list.

It wasn’t easy. And it’s still a work in progress.

Why? Well, for a start, philosophy is a huge topic. Its texts can be primary (books of philosophy) or secondary (books about philosophy). They can be practical or theoretical. They can be fiction and nonfiction. They straddle all human history and thought.

And second, I’m not a philosophy professor. Which is why I’ve spent hours researching and gathering hundreds of philosophical books into a long list, then used a data-driven, in-house algorithm to curate the shortlist of best philosophy books below.

My goal? I’ve tried to give a holistic overview of the very best philosophy books of all time – one that doesn’t just focus on 20th Century or Western philosophy – to help me explore as much important philosophical ground and cover as much philosophical thought as I can, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Why these books and not others? Except where they’re ordered alphabetically, the best philosophy books below are the top picks from my master database, ranked by a combination of Goodreads rating, the number of Goodreads reviews and first publication date. The goal is to give a good balance of what’s most loved, what’s most popular and what’s delivered timelessly relevant advice.

And lastly, where should you start? That really depends on three things:

  1. What are you most interested in?
  2. How much do you know already? and
  3. How much time do you have?

My plan is to alternate between introductory and primary texts (probably in a 1 to 3 ratio) with some philosophical fiction thrown in for respite until I’ve got a good handle on the basics topic. At that point, I’ll regroup and reassess.

Your approach will depend on your answers to the questions above.

Whatever you decide, don’t forget: reading philosophy (and studying in general) is an incremental and iterative process.

There’s a good chance you won’t understand much of the first 5 primary texts you read – and that’s OK. By the 6th book, you’ll be starting to put things together. By the 10th book, you’ll be itching to revisit your first choices.

The secret? The only way to book 6 (and beyond) is via book 1. So get to it!

Pick a book from the list of best philosophy books below and start reading.

And I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions very soon.

P.s., For some more help on working your way through this list, make sure you check out this summary of Adler and van Doren’s awesome How To Read A Book.

Best Philosophy Books: Table Of Contents

I’ve split the best philosophy books below into 4 different sections:

  1. Best Introductions To Philosophy – Secondary introductions and guides;
  2. Religious Texts – Primary, philosophical religious texts;
  3. 60 Best Philosophical Nonfiction Books – Primary, non-religious nonfiction; and
  4. 20 Best Philosophical Fiction Books – Primary, non-religious fiction.

Think something’s missing? Leave a comment or email me and I’ll add it to the next round of updates. I honestly love hearing from you (and your suggestions benefit everyone) so please, do get in touch!

Best Introductions To Philosophy

Here are the top introductions and guides I could find to philosophy from various different parts of the world. Regions organised alphabetically.

Introductions to African Philosophy

Mostly non-Egyptian, non-Islamic and non-Christian.

Introductions to East Asian & Indian Philosophy

There are A LOT of great guides to the many, deep and varied East Asian and Indian philosophical traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism etc…). I’ve stuck to surveys here to give as broad an overview as possible.

Introductions to Islamic Philosophy

Mostly focussed on medieval islamic philosophy.

Introductions to Mesoamerican Philosophy

I couldn’t find anything great that didn’t focus on the Aztecs. Suggestions welcomed!

Introductions to Western Philosophy

The two, classic, must-read histories of Western Philosophy.

Religious Texts

I didn’t want arguments over the rankings of major philosophical religious texts in my main list so here they are, separated and in alphabetical order below.

60 Best Philosophical Nonfiction Books

Here are the best philosophy books (primary nonfiction) from my database as ranked by what’s most loved, what’s most popular and what’s remained timelessly relevant.

My data comes from Goodreads, whose votes come from an overwhelmingly western readership, hence the inevitable bias towards books of Western Philosophy. I’m not yet sure how to combat this, although at some point I may try and split this list into sections as I have for the introductory texts above.

If you feel strongly that something’s missing that deserves to be on this list of best philosophy books, leave a comment!

Books 1-10: The Top 10 Best Philosophy Books of All Time

Here are the top 10 best philosophy books from my database…

Best Philosophy Books: Apology
1. Apology – Plato (FREE Summary)
Three powerful speeches made by Socrates, a founder of Western Philosophy, in his final defence of wisdom, excellence and his life – by Socrates’s student, Aristotle’s teacher and eminent Greek philosopher, Plato.
Published -380 // 127 pages // Rated 4.2 over 31,900 reviews on Goodreads
Best Philosophy Books: Meditations
2. Meditations – Marcus Aurelius (FREE Summary)
A deeply humbling and thought-provoking insight into the stoic mindset of one of history’s greatest leaders and thinkers – by Roman emperor, philosopher and example to us all, Marcus Aurelius.
Published 180 // 303 pages // Rated 4.2 over 102,600 reviews on Goodreads
Best Philosophy Books: Letters from a Stoic
3. Letters from a Stoic – Seneca (Summary)
A powerful and practical collection of 124 letters on how to become a more devoted stoic in every aspect of life, by stoic philosopher and tutor to emperor Nero, Seneca the Younger.
Published -49 // 256 pages // Rated 4.3 over 18,200 reviews on Goodreads
Best Philosophy Books: The Symposium
4. The Symposium – Plato
Published -385 // 131 pages // Rated 4.0 over 38,600 reviews on Goodreads
Best Philosophy Books: On the Shortness of Life
5. On the Shortness of Life – Seneca (Summary)
Published -49 // 106 pages // Rated 4.2 over 17,300 reviews on Goodreads
Best Philosophy Books: The Art of War
6. The Art of War – Sun Tzu
Published -500 // 273 pages // Rated 4.0 over 297,000 reviews on Goodreads
Best Philosophy Books: The Art of Living
7. The Art of Living – Epictetus
The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness
Published 125 // 128 pages // Rated 4.2 over 13,800 reviews on Goodreads
Best Philosophy Books: Fragments
8. Fragments – Heraclitus
Published -500 // 97 pages // Rated 4.2 over 5,400 reviews on Goodreads
Best Philosophy Books: The Constitution of the United States of America
9. The Constitution of the United States of America – Founding Fathers
Published 1787 // 30 pages // Rated 4.5 over 24,500 reviews on Goodreads
Best Philosophy Books: The Complete Essays
10. The Complete Essays – Michel de Montaigne
Published 1572 // 1,344 pages // Rated 4.2 over 15,200 reviews on Goodreads

Books 11-70: More Great Philosophy Books to Read

Here are the next 50 books on my list of best philosophy books of all time…

11. The Republic – Plato
Published -380 // 416 pages // Rated 3.9 over 141,000 reviews on Goodreads
12. The Book of Chuang Tzu – Zhuangzi
Published -350 // 320 pages // Rated 4.4 over 2,000 reviews on Goodreads
13. A Book of Five Rings – Miyamoto Musashi
The Classic Guide to Strategy
Published 1645 // 192 pages // Rated 4.1 over 33,300 reviews on Goodreads
14. Euclid’s Elements – Euclid
Published -290 // 499 pages // Rated 4.3 over 2,800 reviews on Goodreads
15. Theaetetus – Plato
Published -369 // 272 pages // Rated 4.1 over 4,300 reviews on Goodreads
16. The Discourses – Epictetus
Published 108 // 384 pages // Rated 4.2 over 3,900 reviews on Goodreads
17. Phaedo – Plato
Published -380 // 144 pages // Rated 4.0 over 8,300 reviews on Goodreads
18. The Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle
Published -340 // 329 pages // Rated 3.9 over 28,900 reviews on Goodreads
19. Politics – Aristotle
Published -350 // 368 pages // Rated 3.9 over 26,900 reviews on Goodreads
20. Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin
Published 1536 // 1,810 pages // Rated 4.1 over 9,700 reviews on Goodreads
21. The Federalist Papers – Alexander Hamilton
Published 1787 // 688 pages // Rated 4.1 over 34,100 reviews on Goodreads
22. Metaphysics – Aristotle
Published -330 // 368 pages // Rated 4.0 over 11,800 reviews on Goodreads
23. Sophist – Plato
Published -360 // 144 pages // Rated 4.1 over 1,900 reviews on Goodreads
24. Confessions – Augustine of Hippo
Published 397 // 341 pages // Rated 3.9 over 39,400 reviews on Goodreads
25. De Anima – Aristotle
Published -350 // 254 pages // Rated 4.0 over 4,600 reviews on Goodreads
26. The Gay Science – Friedrich Nietzsche
Published 1882 // 398 pages // Rated 4.3 over 13,100 reviews on Goodreads
27. The Analects – Confucius
Published -429 // 249 pages // Rated 3.8 over 15,400 reviews on Goodreads
28. Laws – Plato
Published -360 // 576 pages // Rated 4.1 over 2,100 reviews on Goodreads
29. Gorgias – Plato
Published -380 // 208 pages // Rated 4.0 over 8,800 reviews on Goodreads
30. The Declaration of Independence – Thomas Jefferson
Published 1776 // 106 pages // Rated 4.6 over 3,000 reviews on Goodreads
31. Hagakure – Yamamoto Tsunetomo
The Book of the Samurai
Published 1716 // 179 pages // Rated 4.1 over 12,500 reviews on Goodreads
32. The Discourses – Niccolò Machiavelli
Published 1531 // 544 pages // Rated 4.1 over 7,900 reviews on Goodreads
33. Meno – Plato
Published -386 // 32 pages // Rated 4.0 over 5,800 reviews on Goodreads
34. Summa Theologica – Thomas Aquinas
Published 1274 // 3,020 pages // Rated 4.1 over 3,200 reviews on Goodreads
35. Gödel, Escher, Bach – Douglas R. Hofstadter
An Eternal Golden Braid
Published 1979 // 777 pages // Rated 4.3 over 40,400 reviews on Goodreads
36. The Way Things Are – Lucretius
Published -55 // 265 pages // Rated 4.0 over 10,300 reviews on Goodreads
37. Zhuangzi – Zhuangzi
The Essential Writings: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries
Published -350 // 256 pages // Rated 4.2 over 200 reviews on Goodreads
38. The Consolation of Philosophy – Boethius
Published 524 // 192 pages // Rated 4.0 over 11,100 reviews on Goodreads
39. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind – Shunryu Suzuki (Summary)
Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
Published 1970 // 138 pages // Rated 4.2 over 34,800 reviews on Goodreads
40. Ethics – Baruch Spinoza
Published 1677 // 186 pages // Rated 4.0 over 11,300 reviews on Goodreads
41. On the Genealogy of Morals – Friedrich Nietzsche
Published 1887 // 208 pages // Rated 4.1 over 17,600 reviews on Goodreads
42. Be Here Now – Ram Dass
Published 1971 // 416 pages // Rated 4.3 over 23,900 reviews on Goodreads
43. Euthyphro – Plato
Published -399 // 128 pages // Rated 3.9 over 5,600 reviews on Goodreads
44. The Prince – Niccolò Machiavelli
Published 1513 // 140 pages // Rated 3.8 over 215,400 reviews on Goodreads
45. Beyond Good and Evil – Friedrich Nietzsche
Published 1886 // 240 pages // Rated 4.0 over 58,200 reviews on Goodreads
46. Human, All Too Human – Friedrich Nietzsche
A Book for Free Spirits
Published 1878 // 428 pages // Rated 4.2 over 9,700 reviews on Goodreads
47. Phaedrus – Plato
Published -370 // 144 pages // Rated 3.9 over 6,100 reviews on Goodreads
48. Crito – Plato
Published -360 // 116 pages // Rated 3.9 over 5,600 reviews on Goodreads
49. Capital, Vol. 1 – Karl Marx
A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production
Published 1867 // 1,152 pages // Rated 4.2 over 7,800 reviews on Goodreads
50. Democracy in America – Alexis de Tocqueville
Published 1840 // 992 pages // Rated 4.0 over 20,400 reviews on Goodreads
51. Either/Or – Søren Kierkegaard
A Fragment of Life
Published 1843 // 640 pages // Rated 4.2 over 7,100 reviews on Goodreads
52. The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir (Summary)
Published 1949 // 746 pages // Rated 4.1 over 28,300 reviews on Goodreads
53. Parmenides – Plato
Published -340 // 96 pages // Rated 4.0 over 1,600 reviews on Goodreads
54. Discipline and Punish – Michel Foucault (Summary)
The Birth of the Prison
Published 1975 // 352 pages // Rated 4.2 over 24,600 reviews on Goodreads
55. Physics – Aristotle
Published -340 // 384 pages // Rated 4.0 over 3,400 reviews on Goodreads
56. Critique of Pure Reason – Immanuel Kant
Published 1781 // 796 pages // Rated 3.9 over 24,600 reviews on Goodreads
57. The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are – Alan W. Watts (Summary)
Published 1966 // 163 pages // Rated 4.3 over 15,400 reviews on Goodreads
58. Essays and Aphorisms – Arthur Schopenhauer
Published 1851 // 240 pages // Rated 4.2 over 6,400 reviews on Goodreads
59. Poetics – Aristotle
Published -335 // 138 pages // Rated 3.8 over 15,500 reviews on Goodreads
60. The Wisdom of Insecurity – Alan W. Watts
A Message for an Age of Anxiety
Published 1951 // 152 pages // Rated 4.2 over 13,700 reviews on Goodreads

20 Best Philosophical Fiction Books

I am DEFINITELY going to get into trouble here.

When does a piece of fiction become a piece of philosophical fiction and when is it just a piece of fiction that contains some philosophy? I’ll think more on this later.

In the meantime, if you feel strongly about a title that’s missing from this list, leave a comment!

  1. Crime and Punishment (1866), Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    671 pages. Rated 4.2 over 580,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  2. The Brothers Karamazov (1879), Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    796 pages. Rated 4.3 over 226,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  3. The Little Prince (1943), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
    93 pages. Rated 4.3 over 1,232,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  4. The Prophet (1923), Kahlil Gibran
    127 pages. Rated 4.2 over 219,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  5. Siddhartha (1922), Hermann Hesse
    152 pages. Rated 4.0 over 542,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  6. 1984 (1949), George Orwell
    237 pages. Rated 4.2 over 2,886,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  7. The Stranger (1942), Albert Camus
    123 pages. Rated 4.0 over 580,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  8. The Trial (1925), Franz Kafka
    255 pages. Rated 4.0 over 192,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  9. The Metamorphosis (1915), Franz Kafka
    201 pages. Rated 3.8 over 511,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  10. Animal Farm (1945), George Orwell
    144 pages. Rated 3.9 over 2,307,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  11. Candide (1759), Voltaire
    129 pages. Rated 3.8 over 206,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  12. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), Milan Kundera
    320 pages. Rated 4.1 over 285,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  13. In the Penal Colony (1919), Franz Kafka
    52 pages. Rated 4.0 over 14,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  14. No Exit (1944), Jean-Paul Sartre
    60 pages. Rated 4.1 over 23,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  15. The Fountainhead (1943), Ayn Rand
    704 pages. Rated 3.9 over 275,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  16. The Plague (1947), Albert Camus
    308 pages. Rated 4.0 over 133,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  17. The Castle (1926), Franz Kafka
    316 pages. Rated 4.0 over 38,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  18. The Fall (1956), Albert Camus
    147 pages. Rated 4.0 over 70,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  19. Nausea (1938), Jean-Paul Sartre
    178 pages. Rated 3.9 over 73,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  20. Utopia (1516), Thomas More
    135 pages. Rated 3.5 over 53,900 reviews on Goodreads.

Frequently Asked Questions

The best way to start with (and get enthusiastic about) philosophy is to find ways to apply it to your life. That’s why I’d recommend starting your philosophy reading with e.g., Seneca’s Letters From a Stoic or Aurelius’s Meditations. And when you’re done? Check out this list of the best philosophy books of all time for ideas on what to read next.

A good philosophy book should be well-structure, well-written and consistent in the way it approaches the question(s) it’s tackling. Beyond that, the best books on philosophy are those that change the way you see, think about and act in the world around you. For a selection, check out this free list of the best philosophy books of all time.

If you’re studying (Western) philosophy, start with Will Durant’s History of Philosophy. If you’re looking for practical ways to apply philosophy to your life, start with Seneca’s Letters From a Stoic. To see where it (Western Philosophy) all began, start with Plato’s Apology. And for more ideas, check out this full list of the best philosophy books of all time.

Enjoyed these best philosophy books of all time?

You might also like…

More Best Books of All Time (by Type)

These are some lists of overall best books to read...

More Best Nonfiction Books (by Topic)

These are some lists of best nonfiction books to read...

More Best Fiction Books (by Genre)

These are some lists of best fiction books to read...

Or, you can read all my book recommendations.

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  1. Br. Stephen Camara says:

    I know it’s not the most popular book around, but Josef Pieper’s “Leisure: the Basis of Culture” (Alexander Dru, translator) is one of the best little books I know. Pieper draws widely from Western philosophy, particularly Medieval and German, to answer the totalitarian (and also capitalist) ideal of “total work”. He argues for a true “de-proletarianization” of those who are “fettered to work” by opening up space for leisurely contemplation (not simply “break-time”) in their lives. Everyone I know who has read this book said: “It changed my life”.

    • Arthur Worsley says:

      Hey Ali, this was a great spot. Thank you! I’ve recently done a major overhaul of the list and Summa is now at #34.

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