10 Best Philosophy Books For Beginners

Sonia Akavan
Written by
Last update:

The purpose of this book is to introduce the reader to the work, concepts and philosophies of the contemporary American philosopher Thomas Nagel. Nagel is not an easy philosopher to read, and after having read this guide, one will certainly know the difficulty of attaining a level of understanding, let alone a degree of understanding, of Nagel.

One of the main questions that Nagel’s writing seeks to answer is that of the origin of consciousness and the self. This is controversial territory, because, just for the privilege of being able to ask yourselves that question, you must already have the consciousness and self that you are asking about. The illusion of self is a problem that plagues the theories of many intellectuals who have sought to leave their mark on the study and search for the answer to the question.

NameCategoryProduct
At the Existentialist Café: FreedomBest OverallAt the Existentialist Café: Freedom
The Problems of PhilosophyBudget PickThe Problems of Philosophy
Morality: An Introduction to EthicsUpgrade PickMorality: An Introduction to Ethics

1. At the Existentialist Café: Freedom

Our rating: 9 / 10

At the Existentialist Café: Freedom

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Interesting compilation
  • Will help you answer the question “what is life all about”
  • Unique stories and anecdotes
  • Sociological investigations of artists and intellectuals
  • Provides an understanding of the existentialist philosophy

Cons:

  • Some criticism regarding the arrangement of topics
  • Expect a different reading experience

Philosophy is a lot of talking and discussing ideas that will help you look at specific situations in a different light. My favorite parts of the book are the anthology of stories and anecdotes. There are unique issues, but they’re stuff of the real world, like The Bellboy and the Philosopher, for example.

I found myself asking questions that I hadn’t paid attention to before and I really enjoyed that. This book manages to give an overview of the existentialism philosophy while explaining what the world would look like if we did everything that the philosophers suggested.

2. The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained

Our rating: 7 / 10

The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Concise book for getting up to speed on various topics in philosophy
  • There are a lot of photographs to guide you on your way
  • Brief coverage of all the core topics in philosophy
  • Has a good number of indexes

Cons:

  • Some reviewers have found it a little too simplistic
  • There are no recommended readings in the indexes

(2nd Edition)

Is it more difficult than you imagined to get your head around the various major philosophical thinkers and why people don’t agree with them? For most people, The Philosophy Book is a great introduction to everything you might have wanted to know about philosophy and more.

It’s like a catalog for the world’s thoughts. It covers everything from the basic ideas of great thinkers to the difference between good and evil, the mind, god, politics, and more. The book also looks at why philosophers have had differing views on these topics and possible objections to those different views. The book may be a bit easy for the more academically minded, but it does a great job of providing an overview of the topic and giving you a collection of things to mull over for the next few weeks or months.

3. Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy

Our rating: 7 / 10

Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy

Check Price on Amazon

By the Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder, this philosophy novel is a must read for all those wanting to learn philosophy. Sophie's World is a book about philosophy, so it isn't going to entertain you for hours with nonstop action. But it is an incredibly smart book that you can't help but digest and learn from. While the title makes it seem like this is a huge book, it is actually a thin book. Even so, this is a book packed with philosophy that requires a dictionary and a philosophical textbook not far from reach.

4. The Myth of Sisyphus

Our rating: 7 / 10

The Myth of Sisyphus

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Addresses big existential questions
  • Introduces readers to existentialism
  • Written in simple yet erudite language

Cons:

  • Piles on one thing after another
  • It’s a difficult read

The first philosophical work of existentialism, “The Myth of Sisyphus” is also the first major publication of 20th-century philosophy. When Camus was twenty-six, he wrote this monograph, creating a literary sensation, particularly in the French-speaking world, and disrupted the canon of Western philosophy.

The book’s focal point is the problem of suicide: If life is meaningless, why should one go on living? The book considers suicide from the perspective of Orpheus, a mythological hero of Greek lore.

Orpheus succeeds in entering the underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice. But as he leads her out of Hades, she steps on a snakeskin and is sent back to the land of the dead. Orpheus must endure the world that results from the failure of his act, one marked by absurdity and endless hegira.

5. Socrates' Way: Seven Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost

Our rating: 6 / 10

Socrates' Way: Seven Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Explains the mindset of one of the world’s greatest thinkers
  • Helps to combat our tendency to overfocus on trivialities

Cons:

  • Some may not relate to the sentiments conveyed
  • Not the most engaging read

By Clare A. Murphy

I recommend this book to people who wish to develop their reasoning skills so they can become better critical thinkers, as Socrates is known to be. It is a very thoughtful and insightful book which covers how to maximize your mind's potential.

Clare Murphy interviewed Socrates' former students, friends, and complete strangers who had read about his ideas and learned about the essence of how he viewed life. The way he approached life made him a better and more resourceful person.

6. Meditations on First Philosophy

Our rating: 6 / 10

Meditations on First Philosophy

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Philosophy for Everyone
  • A Classic
  • Complete Text

The Meditations on First Philosophy is a book that Descartes himself described as containing “the best part of his philosophical career.” Now available in a newly revised edition, this book contains the complete text of Descartes’s work.

The Meditations offers a unique approach to philosophy in relation to the structure of knowledge and the nature of the self. It is a well-argued text that is certainly worth reading by anyone interested in Descartes or philosophy.

7. Fear and Trembling

Our rating: 6 / 10

Fear and Trembling

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • More philosophy than the title ”fear and trembling” may imply
  • Overlapping themes with other Philosophy classics
  • Great for those who seek and understand religious perspectives on Philosophy
  • Not boring despite it being written well over 100 years ago
  • Kierkegaard is a complex writer who writes in a very serious tone

Cons:

  • May go over the head of those seeking something light-hearted
  • Will often take a degree of interpretation

This book by Soren Kierkegaard is about The Knight of Faith, which is an individual who has complete awareness of reality, unlike the Knight of infinite resignation, who is only aware of how everything is subject to chance and external factors.

8. The Problems of Philosophy

Our rating: 6 / 10

The Problems of Philosophy

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Available in different editions
  • The volume includes letters and prefaces from the author
  • Suitable for advanced learners as well

Blood, sweat, and tears can pass for a philosophy degree. Want one but don’t have the time to work hard? Humanities scholar and Harvard-educated Dr. Bertrand Russell does all the heavy-lifting for you in this classic primer.

An accessible and informative introduction, 10 The Problems of Philosophy is ideal for those who enjoy philosophy, but don’t know how to go about studying it.

It serves as a primer that will get you started and answer questions you didn’t know you had about philosophical inquiry.

9. The Stranger

Our rating: 6 / 10

The Stranger

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Smart, comical, and sometimes quirky
  • Philosophically refreshing
  • Writing style is very enjoyable to read
  • Incisive in its criticisms of U.S.'s social, cultural, and political life

Admittedly, it's a little weird to be reviewing a book on a Philosophy 101 list, but in this case I think it's appropriate. This book helped me develop my interest in Philosophy.

The Stranger opened up the world of Philosophy for me. I was swept up by the intriguing and at times dark plot. It follows a guy named Meursault who doesn't really have a lot going on in his life. He meets a woman, likes her, and has some relationships with other people throughout the course of the novel. He eventually kills a man, and the novel follows his trial and what happens to him.

I'll try not to spoil anything, but the novel does pose many interesting questions about life and what it means to be a human being. It makes you think, and that's all I can ask out of a novel.

10. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future

Our rating: 5 / 10

Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Fairly Short (Under 100 Pages)
  • Organized in an Accessible Manner
  • Topical Coverage Through the Encyclopedic Screenplay
  • Philosophical Stylings of Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Generally Easy to Read
  • Strong Opinions about Morality
  • Philosophical Prose and Formatting

Cons:

  • Fondness for Obscure Quotes and Knowledge
  • Simple Ideas are Repeatedly Stated
  • Philosophy Written for Pseudo-aristocrats
  • A Fondness for Decadence

(Philosophy Made Simple (Paperback))

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most important Western philosophers who was also an influential cultural icon. For the average reader, Friedrich Nietzsche is probably best known as an atheist and nihilist. This may be a misguided image of Nietzsche who is best known for his idiosyncratic view of morality.

This book is divided into different sections according to the different types of morality, and Nietzsche attacks each type of morality in turn. He attempts to explain how morality is merely a social construct that is meant to control the masses and the concept of "good" and "evil" is only meaningful within this construct. The concept of morality is not universal across all cultures, so Nietzsche contends that morality itself is not universal. Meaning is not a fixed universal concept, which is what many modern Western philosophers believe.

11. Morality: An Introduction to Ethics

Our rating: 4 / 10

Morality: An Introduction to Ethics

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Short and precise
  • Written in simple language
  • Addresses many of the issues that are important to philosophers
  • Has a quick readability that can help beginners and experts alike

Cons:

  • Sometimes lacks the scope of more difficult texts
  • Does not delve into the details of arguments

This book is a really great introduction to the study of morality. It happens to be written by an important figure in the history of moral philosophy.

Morality may not be a very big book by modern standards; however, it was quite short by the standards of Oxford University Press in 1961. It does not provide many details and tends to take some positions without justifying them.

Nonetheless, this introductory approach makes this book extremely accessible, which makes it an extremely appealing book for beginners and experts alike.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What philosophy book should I start with?

This is one of the most frequently asked question by philosophy beginners. Most popular philosophy books are difficult to read because they are written for Scholars who already understand technical philosophy language.

This question is not easy to answer. Most newbies are overwhelmed by the vast amount of options. However, here is a list of 10 best philosophy books that are easy to understand and don't require any prior knowledge to read and comprehend.

Most people start with Epictetus – Handbook or Marcus Aurelius – Meditations or Seneca – Letters from a Stoic or Aristotle – Nichomachean Ethics or Marcus Aurelius – Meditations.

Which book is best for beginners?

Philosophy For Beginners 12 Questions to Live By is one of the best books for someone looking to start reading philosophy books. In other words, it is an excellent book for beginners who have general questions about the meaning of life. It has been recommended by authors and teachers as the first philosophy book to read.

This book presents philosophy as a practice, a way of life that will lead you to live a better life. It does not just deal with the questions like, 'what is life all about?' or 'what happens after death?'. It introduces concepts such as the happiness of humans, quest for meaning, and the best ways to question the society in which we live; the book deals with these questions and much more.

What is the best philosophy?

Philosophy simply means “Love for knowledge and wisdom.” Most philosophers today highlight the art of critical thinking. However, more traditionally, the definition of philosophy included providing insights into the world around us.

There is an endless amount of information on philosophy. I’ll share some of the most interesting books on philosophy for people wanting to learn more about this fascinating topic.

There are many views on the world, and learning about a few of them is going to make you a more well-rounded person. The following books are a great start to understanding some of the most prominent ideas regarding philosophy.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People- Stephen Covey- This book is for those wanting to improve their own effectiveness through self-discipline. This is a manual for living the best and most fulfilling life possible.

How do I start philosophy?

The first thing you need to become familiar with is the great philosophers. Joseph Campbell lays out the roadmap with his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. It is a wonderful introduction to philosophy that will help give you the background knowledge needed to delve deeper into the study of philosophy

Learn Thyself is the Rosetta Stone of philosophy. It is an ancient text, from early Christian times, that can take you to a place of personal wisdom and growth with short, digestible exercises. It's a great way to begin your journey.

Philosophy in a New Key is a wonderful introduction to Philosophy and Symbolic Logic for the beginning philosopher. If you can only read one book, this is the one.

Conclusion

If you've never read a philosophy book before, you'll find it much easier to get into the subject with simple introductions and explanations.

The largest part of philosophy is dedicated to the central question of existence: what is reality, our place in the universe, and how do things really work? And how can we make sense of these?

Our Recommendation

NameCategoryProduct
At the Existentialist Café: FreedomBest OverallAt the Existentialist Café: Freedom
The Problems of PhilosophyBudget PickThe Problems of Philosophy
Morality: An Introduction to EthicsUpgrade PickMorality: An Introduction to Ethics