49 Best Philosophy Books of All Time for Beginners
The best philosophy books transform your understanding of the world.
Philosophy teaches you how to live, how to improve, how to lead, and how to be a good person. It helps you navigate a sometimes difficult and painful world.
To help you get started on your journey with philosophy, I’ve curated a list of 49 of the best philosophy books for beginners and well-read philosophers that you can read to deepen your mind and understanding of the world.
Before we dive in: If you want quickly get insights from great philosophy books, check out Foundations, a growing and searchable digital collection of 100+ book summaries.
1. A Theory of Justice by John Rawls
“Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.”
Why it’s Great: “The classic book A Theory of Justice by John Rawls is about the political philosophy and ethical belief system, in which a moral theory is created by the author to explore the ideas of ‘distributive justice’ Distributive justice according to Rawls is a an idea in which society should fairly distribute goods in a society. Rawls says throughout the book that Justice is Fairness and he posits a rules based system in which participants agree on how goods should be distributed based on not knowing their position in life before they are born. As such, a rules based system can be agreed to by participants behind such a ‘veil of ignorance’ in which rules that benefit members of society are agreed to beforehand without any knowledge of our actual status, class or place in society.”
2. Man’s Search for Meaning By Viktor Frankl
“We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”
Why it’s Great: “The author is a holocaust survivor who used his experience to find his purpose in life. We are taught from a young age that we should make big plans and work our way toward achieving them. We expect certain things from life. While this is a reasonable outlook, it doesn’t paint a complete picture of reality: Life doesn’t always live up to our expectations, and many spirits are broken. In these moments, we should remember that life also expects something from us. It will challenge us; and we can find as much meaning in our times of struggle as we can in our successes.”
3. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
Why it’s Great: “It is a great book for how to live a good life and especially helpful for entrepreneurs and business people. Requires some amount of patience but definitely worth it.”
4. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing By Marie Kondo
“We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.”
Why it’s Great: “Organizing your home isn’t just about making it look presentable. As Marie Kondo explains in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, it can have a huge effect on your productivity, your self-esteem, and other aspects of your life. This book is a how-to guide for anyone struggling with a clutter problem, whether it’s physical clutter, mental clutter, or both. It’s a very practical philosophy book that’s easy to read and easy to apply to your own life.”
5. The Solitaire Mystery: A Novel About Family & Destiny By Jostein Gaarder
“How terribly sad it was that people are made in such a way that they get used to something as extraordinary as living.”
Why it’s Great: “This book is a really easy-going read. It touches on most of the important information and philosophy history all wrapped up in a great plot. This book will give you a thirst for reading more philosophical works and will help you understand the areas that interest you the most. A wonderful start along the path of better philosophical thinking.”
6. The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*Ck By Mark Manson
“Because once we become comfortable with the fact of our own death—the root terror, the underlying anxiety motivating all of life’s frivolous ambitions—we can then choose our values more freely, unrestrained by the illogical quest for immortality, and freed from dangerous dogmatic views.”
Why it’s Great: In this engaging and philosophical read, writer Mark Manson provides philosophical and candid thoughts on how we can live a better life.
7. 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos By Jordan Peterson
“Conscious human malevolence can break the spirit even tragedy could not shake.”
Why it’s Great: A profound and deeply philosophical read that shows us why we do what we do and how we can all live better, more fulfilling lives.
8. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less By Greg McKeown
“Play expands our minds in ways that allow us to explore: to germinate new ideas or see old ideas in a new light. It makes us more inquisitive, more attuned to novelty, more engaged. Play is fundamental to living the way of the Essentialist.”
Why it’s Great: A practical philosophy about living consciously, focusing on the essential, and creating a life to achieve your highest point of contribution.
9. Golf and Philosophy: Lessons from the Links (Philosophy Of Popular Culture) By Andy Wible
“No man is a failure who has friends.”
Why it’s Great: “Just like the actual journey of a round of golf from hole 1 to hole 18, this book takes you on a journey through philosophical questions and tries to look at them through the lens of a golfer. Once you get a deep understanding of anything you love, you will be able to see a lot of essential questions reflected in this hobby or profession. This book might not be for everyone. But if a deep interest in golf and philosophy describes you well, then this book will help you tackle some of the most human questions from a new angle and with new impulses.”
10. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World By The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“It is not happiness that makes us grateful, it’s gratefulness that makes us happy.”
Why it’s Great: “Although the truths and philosophies in this book are of great depth, the presentation is easy to read and understand. The 14th Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have each had more than their fair share of hardship and loss and yet each has found true joy throughout. This book documents their week spent together in their later years and even though their worldviews are vastly different, they both, together, have the answer and inspiration for experiencing joy.”
11. The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph By Ryan Holiday
“The Greeks had a word for this: apatheia. It’s the kind of calm equanimity that comes with the absence of irrational or extreme emotions. Not the loss of feeling altogether, just the loss of the harmful, unhelpful kind. Don’t let the negativity in, don’t let those emotions even get started. Just say: No, thank you. I can’t afford to panic.”
Why it’s Great: “Inspired by the Stoic philosophy of the ancient world, Ryan Holiday introduces readers to this philosophy in an accessible and easy to read manner. The book is particularly timely right now because it is focused on overcoming disappointments and problems. We have all had plenty of those problems due to the pandemic crisis in 2020. This book equips you with practical examples and stories to regain perspective and find a way to preserve in the face of problems.”
12. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
Why it’s Great: What a wonderfully heavy and moving read. In it, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi confronts the question of what makes life meaningful in the face of death. He wrote the book after being diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at the peak of his career.
13. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
“No content will satisfy you, as long as the egoic structure remains in place. No matter what you have or get, you won’t be happy.”
Why it’s Great: This book will save your soul in difficult times. In it, Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron provides a guide to thriving in the face of a fundamentally groundless and painful world.
14. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance By Robert M. Pirsig
“What makes his world so hard to see clearly is not its strangeness but its usualness). Familiarity can blind you too.”
Why it’s Great: “This book is a great first read in the Philosophy genre. The book follows the journey of a father and son across America. The story is broken by philosophical ideas which range from easy to challenging to understand. Certainly, this book makes you challenge your thought process and look at how you yourself affect the outcomes of your life and the world around you.”
– Ryan Raffel
15. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
“Whenever you feel superior or inferior to anyone, that’s the ego in you.”
Why it’s Great: Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle is a master of exploring difficult spiritual and philosophical topics like the ego, presence, and consciousness. In this enlightening and uplighting guide, he explores how we can all loosen the toxic grip of the ego and enter a fulfilling state of full presence. Pair this with the Power of Now to go deep on the subject.
16. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
“Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.”
Why it’s Great: “You will learn deep insights into one’s egoistic nature, master powerful emotions and how to recognize them, the importance of humility, and how to always stay a student and that ego if not controlled can destroy a person. Also the greats he mentioned like like Howard Hughes, Genghis Khan, Socrates, and what we can learn from them. Must read for someone who wants to discover and win ones’ self.”
17. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha By Tara Brach
“When we believe something is wrong with us, we are convinced we are in danger. Our shame fuels ongoing fear, and our fear fuels more shame.”
Why it’s Great: If you have ever struggled with self-compassion, this book is for you. Clinical psychologist and meditation teacher, Tara Brach, introduces a fantastic approach to better relating to your experiences and emotions.
18. The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty by Peter Singer
“Putting yourself in the place of others…is what thinking ethically is all about.”
Why it’s Great: Princeton professor Peter Singer’s book will transform the way you think about giving. Through a compelling moral argument, Singer shows us why and how we can all do more to help alleviate unnecessary suffering and death in this world.
19. The Power Of Now: A Guide To Spiritual Enlightenment By Eckhart Tolle
“To complain is always non-acceptance of what is.”
Why it’s Great: Eckhart Tolle takes you on a journey that explores presence, thinking, spirituality, and how to reduce pain in your life.
20. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life By Jon Kabat-Zinn
“Meditation is neither shutting things out nor off. It is seeing things clearly, and deliberately positioning yourself differently in relationship to them.”
Why it’s Great: A complete introduction to how and why to practice meditation and mindfulness that will help you live with more clarity, acceptance, and presence.
21. Beyond Good and Evil By Friedrich Nietzsche
Madness is something rare in individuals – but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule.
Why it’s Great: “If moral insight is what you are after, then Beyond Good and Evil, is not probably what you are looking for. Rather read it for Nietzsche’s insights into the nature of truth and value, and how naked we humans are without the natural law, reasoning, government, etc. Read it to enjoy the deconstruction of an artificial, ridiculous world where it is up to you to create yourself.”
– Deb Pati
Other great books on Philosophy…
- A History of Western Philosophy By Bertrand Russell
- A Treatise of Human Nature By David Hume
- An Essay Concerning Human Understanding By John Locke
- Being and Nothingness By Jean-Paul Sartre
- Confessions By Augustine of Hippo
- Consolation of Philosophy By Boethius
- Critique of Pure Reason By Immanuel Kant
- Discourses, Fragments, Handbook By Epictetus
- Essays and Aphorisms By Arthur Schopenhauer
- Ethics By Benedict de Spinoza
- Fragments By Heraclitus
- Letters from a Stoic By Seneca
- Nature and Selected Essays By Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Nicomachean Ethics By Aristotle
- On the Shortness of Life By Seneca
- Reasons and Persons By Derek Parfit
- Sophie’s World By Jostein Gaarder
- Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu
- The Complete Essays of Montaigne By Michel de Montaigne
- The Denial of Death By Ernest Becker
- The Essential Epicurus By Epicurus
- The Last Days of Socrates — Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo By Plato
- The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus By Publius Syrus
- The Myth Of Sisyphus and Other Essays By Albert Camus
- The Prince By Niccolò Machiavelli
- The Republic By Plato
- Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings By Thomas Aquinas
- Three Philosophical Dialogues: On Truth, On Freedom of Choice, On the Fall of the Devil By Anselm
Final Thoughts and Tips on How to Get Started
- For more good book recommendations and lessons, check out Foundations, a growing digital notebook with lessons from 100+ timeless books across categories.
- Check out How to Read a Nonfiction Book if you want to learn more about how to get more out of the books you read.
- Check out 28 Books that Will Open Your Mind, 11 Books That Will Improve Your Decision Making Skills, and 40 Greatest Self-Help Books of All-Time for more recommendations.
- I think everyone should own a Kindle and use Amazon Audible, so if you don’t already, consider both.
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