The best mostly recent books on Spinoza

Steven Nadler Author Of Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die
By Steven Nadler

Who am I?

I have immersed myself in the study of seventeenth-century philosophy for almost forty years. Over that time, I have become particularly devoted to Spinoza. This is because, first, I think he got it all pretty much right; his views on religion, on human nature, and especially on what it is to lead a good life have always struck me as correct and relevant. You can be a Spinozist today, three and a half centuries after his death, and it would make perfect sense. Second, Spinoza is endlessly fascinating. I find that every time I read him⎯and I’ve been reading and re-reading him for a long time now⎯it gets more difficult. Just when you think you know him, there are always new questions that arise and new puzzles to solve.


I wrote...

Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die

By Steven Nadler,

Book cover of Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die

What is my book about?

In 1656, after being excommunicated from Amsterdam’s Portuguese-Jewish community for “abominable heresies” and “monstrous deeds,” the young Bento (Baruch) de Spinoza abandoned his family’s import business to dedicate his life to philosophy. He soon became notorious across Europe for his views on God, free will, the Bible, and miracles, as well as for his critique of organized religion and his uncompromising defense of freedom of thought and expression. Yet the radicalism of Spinoza’s views has long obscured the fact that his primary reason for turning to philosophy was to answer one of our most urgent questions: How can we lead a good life and enjoy happiness in a world without a providential God?

In this book, I discuss Spinoza’s ideas in the context of his life and times and show how his work can provide us today with a guide to living one’s best life.

The books I picked & why

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Benedict de Spinoza: An Introduction

By Henry Allison,

Book cover of Benedict de Spinoza: An Introduction

Why this book?

My first book is an oldie but a goodie (and is due to come out soon in a third edition). Published in 1987, this is a highly readable and accessible introduction to Spinoza’s philosophy. It includes discussion of his views on God, the human being, the passions, the life of reason, and our ultimate happiness. It also covers his political thought and his views on religion. I recommend this book to anyone approaching Spinoza for the first time. Because the Ethics is such a difficult read, it is good to have a guide like this by your side.


Spinoza on Human Freedom: Reason, Autonomy and the Good Life

By Matthew J. Kisner,

Book cover of Spinoza on Human Freedom: Reason, Autonomy and the Good Life

Why this book?

Continuing on the theme of how to make Spinoza accessible to non-specialists, this is an excellent study of the many dimensions of Spinoza’s moral philosophy. For a long time, most of the literature on Spinoza was devoted to his metaphysics and epistemology, essentially Parts One and Two of the Ethics. Kisner’s was one of the first books devoted to the work’s moral dimensions in Parts Three, Four, and Five --  the ethics of the Ethics, so to speak. He covers all the right ground: freedom, happiness, responsibility, benevolence, and so on, and does so in an engaging and illuminating way.


Spinoza on Learning to Live Together

By Susan James,

Book cover of Spinoza on Learning to Live Together

Why this book?

James is one of our best Spinoza scholars, and she writes with a clarity and urgency not often found in history of philosophy literature. This is a broad study that covers a lot of ground in just over two hundred pages, with a particular emphasis on how Spinoza envisions political and social life. They are mostly previously published essays, but they all hang together under the theme of how we, as rational and passionate beings, can live together democratically, cooperatively, and in peace. An excellent contribution to envisioning Spinoza as an important moral and political thinker.


Spinoza on Reason, Passions, and the Supreme Good

By Andrea Sangiacomo,

Book cover of Spinoza on Reason, Passions, and the Supreme Good

Why this book?

This is another important contribution to our understanding of Spinoza as a moral philosopher. It is a denser read than the first three books, but fascinating nonetheless for those already with a little Spinoza under their belt. Rather than concentrating on just the latter parts of the Ethics, where most scholars interested in Spinoza’s moral philosophy focus and where we find the mature discussion of the “free person” who lives under the “guidance of reason”, Sangiacomo is especially concerned with the evolution of Spinoza’s moral thought from his earliest writings to his final, uncompleted work. He considers tensions within, and pressures upon, Spinoza’s understanding of the “Supreme Good” and how to achieve it, and the changes that that account consequently undergoes. Sangiacomo’s thesis is thus both historical and philosophical.


Potentia: Hobbes and Spinoza on Power and Popular Politics

By Sandra Leonie Field,

Book cover of Potentia: Hobbes and Spinoza on Power and Popular Politics

Why this book?

It is impossible to read Spinoza and not think often of Thomas Hobbes. Spinoza read Hobbes’s works and was clearly influenced by the English philosopher both in his account of human nature and, especially, in his political thinking. This is, as far as I know, the first book devoted explicitly to the two thinkers together. Field’s focus is on the political, and she does a beautiful job of analyzing and distinguishing different conceptions of ‘power’ (both in the individual and in the group), as well as illuminating similarities and contrasts between these two of the most important early modern thinkers on politics and the state.


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