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Best philosophy books to read in 2023: Explore politics, science, religion and more

Expand your intellectual horizons with our top picks of the best philosophy books to get your mental gears turning

Although it can seem like a daunting subject, the best philosophy books aren’t just for the academically minded. Philosophy is an immensely broad field, addressing issues in politics, science, ethics and metaphysics, to name just a few disciplines.

Consequently, there’s a huge library of philosophy books ready for you to pick up and read, from beginners’ introductions to dense, near-impenetrable treatises; ancient classics to contemporary think pieces; and even philosophical novels.

So where’s the best place to start? Below, we’ve put together a buying guide to help you better understand where your interests lie and what you want from philosophy, providing a rough outline of the topics available. Following that is our own roundup of some of the best philosophy books you can read.

If you’re ready to take a deep dive into your subject of choice, expanding your mind to think beyond the surface, then read on to discover the best philosophy books to read in 2023.

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How to choose the best philosophy book for you

What types of philosophy books are there?

As we’ve mentioned, there’s a whole host of different subjects when it comes to philosophy. Ultimately, it would take too long to list every single one of these, but here are some of the big, meaty topics:

  • Political philosophy
  • Metaphysics
  • Ethics
  • Philosophy of science
  • Philosophy of logic
  • Aesthetics
  • Philosophy of religion

There’s a good chance you already know roughly the sort of philosophical field in which you’re interested. But if you’re an absolute beginner, or you’re feeling lost, it may be good to start with a broad introductory guide, one that will outline some of the key schools of thought and provide a better idea of what you want to explore further.

On that point, if you’re not much of a reader or you’re apprehensive about approaching philosophy books for the first time, books such as these are an accessible introduction that won’t overwhelm or alienate you from philosophy from the get-go. Indeed, it might not be the best idea to jump straight into the deep end with a title such as Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Sartre’s Being and Nothingness or Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit. If you prefer novels, there’s also plenty of fiction that addresses philosophical issues such as freedom and morality, driven by engaging narratives and characters.

While we don’t claim this to be an exhaustive list by any means, our roundup below aims to provide a well-balanced selection of books for a range of audiences.

The best philosophy books to buy

1. A Little History of Philosophy (Nigel Warburton): The best introduction to western philosophy

Price when reviewed: £9 | Buy now from Amazon

The widely read popular philosopher Nigel Warburton presents this broad overview of some of the main ideas and thinkers of Western philosophy. A Little History of Philosophy introduces the reader to figures such as Aristotle, Kant, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, as well as Darwin, Marx and Freud, exploring their lives and beliefs in an accessible and engaging way.

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive history, and you’ll find gaps if you look hard enough. For instance, no attempt is made to discuss Eastern philosophy in any great depth compared to the likes of Hegel or Bentham (if you’re after a less Western-centric account, see Baggini’s How The World Thinks below). But as an easy-to-digest introduction to the world of philosophy, A Little History is a fantastic starting place.

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Key features – Publisher: Yale University Press; Date: 11 September 2012; Length: 288 pages; Formats: Paperback, hardback, audiobook, Kindle

2. The Republic (Plato): The best ancient philosophy book

Price when reviewed: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

Alongside Socrates and Aristotle, Plato is one of the Big Three of ancient Greek philosophy. His most famous and influential text, The Republic, is his vision of the ideal political state, although he also addresses issues of ethics, metaphysics, aesthetics and even war.

Plato’s writing style makes The Republic reasonably straightforward to read and follow: many of his works are written as dialogues. The central figure of these is Socrates, who serves as the voice of Plato’s own philosophical arguments. Desmond Lee’s translation is clear and accurate, and Melissa Lane’s introduction is useful in providing context and background to the text.

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Key features – Publisher: Penguin; Date: 31 May 2007; Length: 462 pages; Formats: Paperback, Kindle

3. How The World Thinks (Julian Baggini): An exploration of thought across the globe

Price when reviewed: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

Julian Baggini has travelled the globe, interviewing experts and examining how the world thinks outside the tradition of Western philosophy. The result is his Sunday Times bestseller, How The World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy, in which he explores Eastern philosophies of India, China and Japan as well as some lesser-known traditions, including those of Australia’s indigenous people.

If you’re up to your ears in Kant, Hume and Descartes, then this might just be the book for you.

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Key features – Publisher: Granta; Date: 3 October 2019; Length: 432 pages; Formats: Paperback, hardback, Kindle, audiobook

4. The Outsider (Albert Camus): Best philosophical fiction

Price when reviewed: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

If the idea of fiction sounds more palatable and appealing than formal structured arguments and dense essays, then there’s plenty of literature out there addressing philosophical themes (although the components that need to be present to class a work as a “philosophical novel” aren’t always clear).

The Outsider (originally published in French as L’Étranger) is one of the most famous works by Albert Camus, a French philosopher who, alongside the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, helped spearhead the 20th-century existentialist movement in France: a philosophy that puts an emphasis on individual freedom. The novella tells the story of a man who is detached from the norms of society, believing life to be inherently absurd. The story is beautifully written, and is an engaging entry into Camus’ wider philosophy of absurdism.

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Key features – Publisher: Penguin; Date: 31 October 2013; Length: 128 pages; Formats: Paperback, Kindle

5. The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life (AC Grayling): An accessible collection of essays for beginners

Price when reviewed: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

Much like Nigel Warburton’s A Little History of Philosophy, AC Grayling’s The Meaning of Things is an accessible introduction to philosophy, although perhaps with less of an emphasis on the history itself. It examines broad, abstract topics such as courage and fear, love and hate, faith, art and capitalism.

The book is written as a series of very short bitesize essays, making it very easy to read, whether you work through it from start to finish in short bursts, or pick out sections that are of most interest to you. If this appeals, it’s worth also checking out Grayling’s follow-up books, The Reason of Things and The Mystery of Things.

Also consider:

Key features – Publisher: Penguin; Date: 1 March 2001; Length: 272; Formats: Paperback, Kindle, audiobook

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