The best philosophy and social theory books

Kevin B. Anderson Author Of Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study
By Kevin B. Anderson

Who am I?

All of the books I recommend offer both a very deep reading of our socio-economic situation in all its oppressiveness and alienation, and the possibility of an alternative. Only with such philosophical digging and reappropriation of dialectical thinkers of the past, beginning with Hegel and Marx, can we construct a humanist future. These books speak to my own life as a 1960s activist in the USA who has yearned ever since for a real, humanist social transformation in the face of so many setbacks for our cause, some of them self-inflicted.

I wrote...

Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study

By Kevin B. Anderson,

Book cover of Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study

What is my book about?

Still, the only full-length study of the achievements and limitations of Lenin's extensive writings on Hegel, Hegel, Lenin, and Western Marxism has become a minor classic. In a full critical account, Anderson's book connects Lenin's 'dialectics' to his renowned writings on imperialism, anti-colonial movements, and the state. It takes up as well the debate over Lenin's writings on Hegel among Marxists such as Georg Lukács, Henri Lefebvre, C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Lucio Colletti, and Louis Althusser. With a comprehensive new introduction by the author.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution

By Raya Dunayevskaya,

Book cover of Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution

Why this book?

Dunayevskaya’s Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution. This book contained the first-ever analysis of Luxemburg as feminist, the first widely disseminated analysis of gender in Marx’s late Ethnological Notebooks, and a hard-hitting discussion of feminism, race, and revolution that pulled no punches in terms of critiquing dominant forms of feminism, especially in the U.S. The treatment of the late Marx featured a searing critique of Engels’s economistic reductionism on women’s liberation, and this was followed up by unstinting critiques of Lenin and Trotsky as well as Luxemburg herself on the failures of what Dunayevskaya termed “post-Marx Marxism” to fulfill the profound legacies left to them by Marx.  

Marx's Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism

By Peter Hudis,

Book cover of Marx's Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism

Why this book?

This is the first study ever of Marx on communism/socialism, a topic that is often considered something he refrained from writing about. Hudis ingeniously marshals a huge body of writings – on Proudhon, Lassalle, and others – where Marx elaborates his own concept of socialism/communism in the course of critiquing what he sees as vastly inadequate concepts. In so doing, Hudis connects these issues to dialectics and to economics, and above all to the critique of both capital and the state, here not even sparing Lenin’s classic work, State and Revolution.

Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory

By Herbert Marcuse,

Book cover of Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory

Why this book?

Reason and Revolution holds the important distinction of being the first Hegelian Marxist book to appear in English. In addition, it was the first systematic published analysis of Hegel’s major works from a Marxist standpoint in any language, preceding those by Georg Lukács’s The Young Hegel and Ernst Bloch’s Subjekt-Objekt by several years. To this day Reason and Revolution stands as one of the major Marxist treatments of Hegel. It views Marx’s work as grounded in Hegel’s concept of dialectic. Theoretically, Marx’s work is presented as a critique not only of capitalism, but also, at least implicitly, as the foundation for a critique of Stalinist Communism.

Not only does Marcuse’s book contain a critical analysis of Hegel’s major works such as the Phenomenology of Mind, the Science of Logic, the Philosophy of History, and the Philosophy of Right, but it also includes the first serious treatment in English of Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. This Hegelian-Marxian heritage is counterposed to what Marcuse considered to be the essentially conservative world-view of positivism, which teaches people “to view and study the phenomena of their world as neutral objects governed by universally valid laws.”

The Wretched of the Earth

By Frantz Fanon,

Book cover of The Wretched of the Earth

Why this book?

This book develops the revolutionary African socialist humanism of Frantz Fanon, who was influenced by Hegel, Sartre, the Negritude School, and above all, Marx. Published in 1961, the year so many new nations were being born in Africa, Fanon’s book did not dismiss tout court the European humanist tradition. He said that the Europeans had not practiced it – whether under Nazism or in the colonies – but predicted that the emerging Third World would be able to do so: “This new humanity cannot do otherwise than define a new humanism both for itself and for others.” This was, to be sure, a humanism drawing from European revolutionary and democratic traditions, but at the same time it was a “new humanism.” As a theoretician of the newly forming Third World, Fanon also distanced himself from the Soviet bloc and its authoritarian and dehumanizing form of industrial “development,” not only mentioning the Hungarian revolution of 1956, but also writing of the new Africa: “The pretext of catching up must not be used to push man around, to tear him away from himself or his privacy, to break and kill him.” This was nothing short of a socialist humanist third way, an alternative to both Western style capitalism and Eastern statist communism.

Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being

By Paul Mason,

Book cover of Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being

Why this book?

Paul Mason’s Clear Bright Future (the title is drawn from a declaration by Leon Trotsky), stands out as a manifesto of socialist humanism that takes on neoliberal ideology and the cyberworld of contemporary capitalism. The book also delivers a withering critique not only of their basic anti-humanism but also the anti-humanism of the academic left, still too much in the shadow of postmodernism, which Mason charges with helping to open the road toward the present state of affairs.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in colonies, Karl Marx, and capitalism?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about colonies, Karl Marx, and capitalism.

Colonies Explore 41 books about colonies
Karl Marx Explore 13 books about Karl Marx
Capitalism Explore 74 books about capitalism

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The History of Mary Prince, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, and Histories of the Hanged if you like this list.