Since the days of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, humanity’s deep thinkers have written books about philosophy to help expose deeper truths. For many years, these philosophers were the foremost thinkers, and their books about philosophy served as the moral guidelines for all of society. Throughout ancient history, from China to Greece, philosophers served as the educators of the elite, training emperors and kings in ethics and leadership; many books about philosophy were written as textbooks for the well-heeled pupils of these influential thinkers.
However, as humanity has grown and new ways of thinking have been devised, books about philosophy have become increasingly diverse. Some books about philosophy are informed by the great religions of the world and interpret philosophical traditions through the lens of Christianity, Islam or Buddhism. Other books take a more individualistic approach, arguing that meaning in the world is ultimately created by each individual human. Regardless of the author’s personal stance, studying philosophy can help readers to live an examined and rich inner life.
#1 – The Story of Philosophy
Published in 1924, The Story of Philosophy gives an in-depth analysis of some of the greatest thinkers of all time, starting with Plato and Socrates. Throughout the book, the author attempts to show a logical connection between each philosopher and how modern philosophers were influenced by earlier books about philosophy.
#2 – The Philosophy Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained)
Will Buckingham and Douglas Burnham
Although some books about philosophy are dense and challenging tomes, this book about philosophy attempts to break down the subject so that novices can understand this sometimes challenging field. The Philosophy Book uses fun graphics and typography to teach even the most challenging philosophical concepts. The book also covers the history of philosophy and includes simple charts and tables to help readers keep track of many influential philosophers throughout history.
#3 – Phenomenology of Spirit
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Phenomenology of Spirit is Hegel’s first and most influential work. The book discusses the history and understanding of consciousness, beginning with simple awareness of one’s surroundings and ultimately resulting in scientific and technological wonders. The book was first published in 1807 and continues to play a major role in shaping philosophical thought around the world.
#4 – Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy
This 1958 book about the philosophy of existentialism introduced this school of thought to the English-speaking world. William Barrett begins the book by describing how existentialism was a reaction to other philosophical thoughts and then moves on to describe the main components of existentialism. Barrett also goes into detail about many of the most influential existential philosophers, including Søren Kierkegaard.
#5 – Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy
Simon Blackburn gives a thorough introduction to Western philosophy in this book about philosophy, beginning with the early Greek philosophers. Throughout the book, Blackburn covers a number of important concepts in philosophy, including free will, identity, religion and more. The author also uses modern ideas to help novice learners understand how to apply philosophical concepts to their own lives.
#6 – Philosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers: The Ideas That Have Shaped Our World
Written in the style of an encyclopedia, this book about philosophy introduces readers to the many great thinkers that have shaped the field of philosophy from its earliest days. Each philosopher’s description includes a biography and explains the specific philosophical tradition they espoused.
#7 – The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy
This dictionary about philosophy was written by an international team numbering over 400 members, making this book an authoritative and highly respected work in the field of philosophy. The book includes extensive descriptions of major philosophers, ranging from the philosophers of antiquity to those in the modern era. The dictionary also covers a variety of philosophical fields and includes ideas from non-Western philosophers.
#8 – The Nicomachean Ethics
The Nicomachean Ethics is a collection of Aristotle’s writings on ethics and the purpose of life. The work includes 10 smaller books about philosophy that cover a number of important concepts, including moral virtues, justice, friendship, happiness and intellect. This essential work has influenced thinkers for centuries and remains an important work today.
#9 – The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
Several books about philosophy, including this volume, are written like a dictionary to help readers understand both philosophers and the terminology commonly used in other books about philosophy. This book includes over 3,000 entries and covers both Western and Eastern philosophy. The author also includes descriptions of relevant subjects that are not often covered in other philosophy dictionaries, including mathematics and biology.
#10 – Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction
This introduction to philosophy draws on the works of the major philosophers to answer important questions, including the purpose of life and how to live a good life. Craig adopts an easy conversational style in his book, easing intimidated readers into the many competing schools of philosophy in the world. Throughout the book, the author uses excerpts from other famous books about philosophy to introduce readers to the works of influential thinkers like Descartes and Hegel.