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Best Philosophy Books: 60+ Ranked & Data-Driven Philosophical Books (2020)

Best Philosophy Books
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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 ever written by the world’s best philosophers 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 no expert on philosophy. 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. 40 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.

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

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.

ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY
Mostly focussed on medieval islamic philosophy.

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

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.

40 Best Philosophical Nonfiction Books

Here are the best philosophy books (primary nonfiction) from my master 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!

  1. The Last Days of Socrates (-400), Plato
    256 pages. Rated 4.1 over 34,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  2. Apology (-380), 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.
    127 pages. Rated 4.2 over 31,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  3. Meditations (180), 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.
    303 pages. Rated 4.2 over 102,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  4. The Symposium (-385), Plato
    131 pages. Rated 4.0 over 38,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  5. The Art of War (-500), Sun Tzu
    273 pages. Rated 4.0 over 297,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  6. Letters from a Stoic (-49), 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.
    256 pages. Rated 4.3 over 18,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  7. On the Shortness of Life (-49), Seneca (Summary)
    106 pages. Rated 4.2 over 17,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  8. The Republic (-380), Plato
    416 pages. Rated 3.9 over 141,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  9. The Art of Living (125), Epictetus
    The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness
    128 pages. Rated 4.2 over 13,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  10. Fragments (-500), Heraclitus
    97 pages. Rated 4.2 over 5,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  11. The Complete Essays (1572), Michel de Montaigne
    1,344 pages. Rated 4.2 over 15,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  12. A Book of Five Rings (1645), Miyamoto Musashi
    The Classic Guide to Strategy
    192 pages. Rated 4.1 over 33,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  13. Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979), Douglas R. Hofstadter
    An Eternal Golden Braid
    777 pages. Rated 4.3 over 40,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  14. The Book of Chuang Tzu (-350), Zhuangzi
    320 pages. Rated 4.4 over 2,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  15. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (1970), Shunryu Suzuki (Summary)
    Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
    138 pages. Rated 4.2 over 34,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  16. The Nicomachean Ethics (-340), Aristotle
    329 pages. Rated 3.9 over 28,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  17. Politics (-350), Aristotle
    368 pages. Rated 3.9 over 26,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  18. Theaetetus (-369), Plato
    272 pages. Rated 4.1 over 4,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  19. Be Here Now (1971), Ram Dass
    416 pages. Rated 4.3 over 23,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  20. Phaedo (-380), Plato
    144 pages. Rated 4.0 over 8,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  21. The Gay Science (1882), Friedrich Nietzsche
    398 pages. Rated 4.3 over 13,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  22. Discourses and Selected Writings (108), Epictetus
    A transcription of a collection of intensely practical informal lectures given on the subject of happiness and freedom around 108 AD, by stoic philosopher and freed slave, Epictetus.
    276 pages. Rated 4.4 over 2,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  23. Confessions (397), Augustine of Hippo
    341 pages. Rated 3.9 over 39,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  24. The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir
    746 pages. Rated 4.1 over 28,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  25. The Discourses (108), Epictetus
    384 pages. Rated 4.2 over 3,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  26. The Analects (-429), Confucius
    249 pages. Rated 3.8 over 15,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  27. Metaphysics (-330), Aristotle
    368 pages. Rated 4.0 over 11,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  28. Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Friedrich Nietzsche
    240 pages. Rated 4.0 over 58,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  29. On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Friedrich Nietzsche
    208 pages. Rated 4.1 over 17,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  30. Discipline and Punish (1975), Michel Foucault
    The Birth of the Prison
    352 pages. Rated 4.2 over 24,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  31. Sophist (-360), Plato
    144 pages. Rated 4.1 over 1,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  32. The Art of Loving (1956), Erich Fromm
    192 pages. Rated 4.0 over 49,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  33. The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (1966), Alan W. Watts
    163 pages. Rated 4.3 over 15,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  34. Hagakure (1716), Yamamoto Tsunetomo
    The Book of the Samurai
    179 pages. Rated 4.1 over 12,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  35. Gorgias (-380), Plato
    208 pages. Rated 4.0 over 8,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  36. De Anima (-350), Aristotle
    254 pages. Rated 4.0 over 4,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  37. The Wisdom of Insecurity (1951), Alan W. Watts
    A Message for an Age of Anxiety
    152 pages. Rated 4.2 over 13,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  38. Meno (-386), Plato
    32 pages. Rated 4.0 over 5,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  39. The Prince (1513), Niccolò Machiavelli
    140 pages. Rated 3.8 over 215,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  40. Zhuangzi (-350), Zhuangzi
    The Essential Writings: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries
    256 pages. Rated 4.2 over 200 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.

Enjoyed these best philosophy books? You might also like…

II. Best Books Of All Time

These are the overall best books to read (by type).

III. Best Nonfiction Books (A-Z)

These are the best nonfiction books to read (by topic).

IV. Best Fiction Books (A-Z)

These are the best fiction books to read (by genre).

Or, you can read all my book recommendations.
Arthur Worsley
Arthur Worsley
Arthur is a thinker and writer who helps people who want more from their lives learn to be more productive, find more balance and live life more meaningfully. Want to know more? Take this 2-minute quiz to discover your Productivity Quotient (PQ) and learn how to get BIG things done. Take the Quiz →

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