The most recommended ancient philosophy books

Who picked these books? Meet our 10 experts.

10 authors created a book list connected to ancient philosophy, and here are their favorite ancient philosophy books.
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Book cover of Why Cicero Matters

Paul Allen Miller Author Of Foucault's Seminars on Antiquity: Learning to Speak the Truth

From Paul's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Classicist Literature professor Reader Writer

Paul's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Paul Allen Miller Why did Paul love this book?

This is a wonderful book. It makes the case for Cicero’s continuing importance to us all, especially in an era in which democratic values are under threat. 

Written in a clear accessible style that avoids technical jargon and any need to have a detailed knowledge of Roman history, this is a book that will appeal to anyone interested in either today’s political situation or the legacy of Rome.

By Vittorio Bufacchi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Why Cicero Matters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why Cicero Matters shows us how the Roman philosopher and statesman Marcus Tullius, better known as Cicero, can help realize a new political world. His impact on humanitarianism, the Enlightenment and the Founding Fathers of America is immense. Yet we give Julius Caesar all our attention. Why? What does this say about modern politics and political culture? This book gives us Cicero as an antidote to the myth of the strong man of history. Reading Cicero's On Duties alongside two more introspective philosophical texts, On Friendship and On Old Age, we see how Cicero turned politics into a higher, intellectual…


Book cover of The Symposium

Richard Jenkyns Author Of Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond

From my list on classical literature.

Who am I?

I spent my career teaching Classics, mostly at Oxford University, where I was a fellow of Lady Margaret Hall and Professor of the Classical Tradition. I have worked on the influence of the ancient world on British literature and culture, especially in the Victorian age, and when being a conventional classicist have written mostly about Latin literature and Roman culture. I have also written short books on Jane Austen and Westminster Abbey.

Richard's book list on classical literature

Richard Jenkyns Why did Richard love this book?

The participants at a drinking party disclose their ideas about love: a doctor is a bit pompous, Aristophanes tells a wacky pseudo-myth, Socrates unveils ‘the truth about love,’ which has supposedly been revealed to him by a priestess. "Plato was mad," an eminent scholar told me once. "But he was a genius." "Maybe, but a mad genius." Well, the Platonic theory of love does seem miles from our own experience, but there are extraordinary insights along the way—into the creative impulse, sexuality, and human psychology. It may have influenced Freud. It is also a literary treat, with details that you would expect more in a novel than a work of philosophy. And after Socrates seems to have wrapped things up, Alcibiades crashes in tipsy …

By Plato, Christopher Gill (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Symposium as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Perhaps the most entertaining work of philosophy ever written ... the first really systematic and serious attempt to say what love is' John Armstrong, Guardian

In the course of a lively drinking party, a group of Athenian intellectuals exchange views on eros, or desire. From their conversation emerges a series of subtle reflections on gender roles, sex in society and the sublimation of basic human instincts. The discussion culminates in a radical challenge to conventional views by Plato's mentor, Socrates, who advocates transcendence through spiritual love. The Symposium is a deft interweaving of different viewpoints and ideas about the nature…


Book cover of The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies

Rande Brown Author Of Geisha: A Life

From my list on what the West can learn from the East.

Who am I?

I’m an American Jewish girl who was born knowing that I had been Japanese in my previous lifetime. After graduating with a degree in Japanese studies from Princeton University, I moved to Japan at 21 and became a well-known translator. One day the Geisha Mineko Iwasaki, the inspiration behind Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, asked me to co-author the story of her life. Published in 2002, Geisha, a Life became a bestseller. Writing Geisha awakened memories of my past life as a courtesan in fourteenth-century Kyoto. I began a deep study of reincarnation, which has led me to study the intersection of Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. Please look out for my forthcoming book, Reincarnation Karma.

Rande's book list on what the West can learn from the East

Rande Brown Why did Rande love this book?

This is the best book in English that illuminates the intensive interpenetration of Eastern and Western thought that took place in the ancient world, when half-naked yogis wandered the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, and Greek philosophers traveled to the Hindu Kush to study Buddhism. This brilliant book helped me make sense of the Eastern and Western parts of myself, reflections of my former incarnations in Greece, Tibet, and Japan, and helped me to understand that we are all of one mind.  

By Thomas C. Mcevilley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shape of Ancient Thought as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This revolutionary study by the renowned classical philologist reveals the interplay of Greek and Indian thought at the roots of Western culture.

Thomas C. McEvilley’s magisterial work demonstrates that Eastern and Western civilizations have not always had separate, autonomous metaphysical schemes, but have mutually influenced each other over a long period of time. Examining ancient trade routes, imperialist movements, and migration currents, he shows how some of today’s key philosophical ideas circulated freely in the triangle between Greece, India, and Persia, leading to an intense metaphysical interchange between Greek and Indian cultures.

While scholars have sensed a philosophical kinship between…


Book cover of The Complete Works of Plato, Volume I

James Fallon Author Of The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey Into the Dark Side of the Brain

From my list on philosophies.

Who am I?

Philosophy is defined as “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.” Put another way, it is not so much the study of things and phenomena, but the derivative question below the veneer of what things are. I am interested in everything, how everything works, but also why it, and all of nature, including the mind and eyelashes, exist in the first place. I can remember back to childhood always thinking like this. This involves grasping for knowledge of both the details and global contexts of everything, whether it’s biology, chemistry, religion, neuroscience, horticulture, violence, goodness, hockey, or even what Plato was trying to say.

James' book list on philosophies

James Fallon Why did James love this book?

After 2,400 years, Plato finally won the battle against Socrates, Aristotle, Avicenna, Rousseau, Locke, Freud, French and Neo-Liberalism, and most parents of two-year-olds. According to 21st-century neuroscientists, as Plato provided in the Allegory of the Cave, the prescient idea is that we are not born as blank slates, but rather have the basic knowledge of beauty, good and evil baked into our prenatal brain (genetically preformed circuits!)

By Plato,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Complete Works of Plato, Volume I as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Collected here in two volumes are the complete works of Plato, in the classic translation by Benjamin Jowett. One of the most influential thinkers of Ancient Greece or any other era, Plato formed the basis of Western philosophy. Mostly written in the form of dialogues with his teacher Socrates as the protagonist, his works address themes as varied as metaphysics, psychology, pedagogy, politics, and ethics. Despite the weighty subject matter, Plato's writing remains accessible to the general reader, and infused with wit and humor. Why is Plato worth reading today? His dialogues are vitally concerned with how we should live.…


Book cover of The Nature of Things

Richard Wakefield Author Of Terminal Park: Poems

From my list on meaning and mutability.

Who am I?

I grew up in an area that had been forest, then became farms, then became a suburb. The world around me was a palimpsest, the old stories always vaguely discernable beneath the new ones, and always in some way part of the new ones. Until recently there was always a working farm in my life as well, two in Oregon and one in North Central Washington, where I saw the daily labor of trying to make the earth say “wheat” or “cattle” instead of “dust” or “sagebrush.” My poems try to preserve that experience.

Richard's book list on meaning and mutability

Richard Wakefield Why did Richard love this book?

It’s the oldest book I know of that tries to explain the mutable material world in strictly material terms. Appropriately, or maybe paradoxically, Lucretius puts his treatise into the form of poetry, following strict rules of prosody, as if the conventions of verse could create order out of chaos. Two thousand years later, the master poet A.E. Stallings translates it into formal English poetry. Nothing remains fixed, especially not language, and yet we never quit trying.

By Lucretius, Coralie Bickford-Smith (illustrator), A.E. Stallings (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nature of Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of a major new Classics series - books that have changed the history of thought, in sumptuous, clothbound hardbacks.

Lucretius' poem On the Nature of Things combines a scientific and philosophical treatise with some of the greatest poetry ever written. With intense moral fervour he demonstrates to humanity that in death there is nothing to fear since the soul is mortal, and the world and everything in it is governed by the mechanical laws of nature and not by gods; and that by believing this men can live in peace of mind and happiness. He bases this on the…


Book cover of The Art of Happiness

John Sellars Author Of The Pocket Epicurean

From my list on Epicureanism and its teachings.

Who am I?

John Sellars is a Reader in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of multiple books on ancient philosophy, including Hellenistic Philosophy. He is also a founding member of Modern Stoicism and The Aurelius Foundation, both non-profit companies devoted to bringing Stoicism to a wider audience and showing how it can benefit people today.

John's book list on Epicureanism and its teachings

John Sellars Why did John love this book?

Epicurus wrote a series of letters summarizing his philosophy and we also have a couple of sets of short aphorisms that report key ideas. All of these are translated in this volume, along with the ancient biography of Epicurus and a substantial introduction. For any one keen to learn more about Epicureanism, the first thing to reader are his letters, especially the Letter to Menoeceus and the Letter to Herodotus.

By Epicurus,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Art of Happiness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The teachings of Epicurus-about life and death, religion and science, physical sensation, happiness, morality, and friendship-attracted legions of adherents throughout the ancient Mediterranean world and deeply influenced later European thought. Though Epicurus faced hostile opposition for centuries after his death, he counts among his many admirers Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Jefferson, Karl Marx, and Isaac Newton. This volume includes all of his extant writings-his letters, doctrines, and Vatican sayings-alongside parallel passages from the greatest exponent of his philosophy, Lucretius, extracts from Diogenes Laertius' Life of Epicurus, a lucid introductory essay about Epicurean philosophy, and a foreword by Daniel Klein, author of…


Book cover of Plato: Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo

Scott Soames Author Of The World Philosophy Made: From Plato to the Digital Age

From my list on western philosophy: what it is and how to do it.

Who am I?

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, I was educated at Stanford and MIT. I taught for four years at Yale and 24 years at Princeton before moving to USC, where I am Chair of the Philosophy Department. I specialize in the Philosophy of Language, History of Philosophy, and the Philosophy of Law. I have published many articles, authored fifteen books, co-authored two, and co-edited two. I am fascinated by philosophy's enduring role in our individual and collective lives, impressed by its ability to periodically reinvent itself, and challenged to bring what it has to offer to more students and to the broader culture.

Scott's book list on western philosophy: what it is and how to do it

Scott Soames Why did Scott love this book?

These dialogues introduce the ideas that gave birth to western philosophy and its contributions to civilization. Providing the foundations of rational thought and theoretical knowledge in multiple domains, Greek philosophers, especially Socrates and Plato, imbued the search for truth with the urgency of both a personal, and a communal, quest for meaning. Just as the advances of Greek mathematics required concepts that are precisely defined or rigorously governed by axioms, so, the dialogues teach, advances in our knowledge of the world, and of ourselves, require well-regulated concepts like truth, knowledge, justice, virtue, and happiness. In these dialogues, we see the birth of philosophy's two great projects--providing concepts needed to advance theoretical knowledge in every domain and charting the path to wisdom in leading a good and meaningful life.

By Plato, John M. Cooper, G.M.A. Grube

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Plato as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The second edition of Five Dialogues presents G. M. A. Grube's distinguished translations, as revised by John Cooper for Plato, Complete Works . A number of new or expanded footnotes are also included along with an updated bibliography.


Book cover of On the Nature of Things

John Sellars Author Of The Pocket Epicurean

From my list on Epicureanism and its teachings.

Who am I?

John Sellars is a Reader in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of multiple books on ancient philosophy, including Hellenistic Philosophy. He is also a founding member of Modern Stoicism and The Aurelius Foundation, both non-profit companies devoted to bringing Stoicism to a wider audience and showing how it can benefit people today.

John's book list on Epicureanism and its teachings

John Sellars Why did John love this book?

Lucretius’ poem De rerum natura is the longest ancient work we have outlining Epicurean ideas. It’s also a masterpiece in its own right, covering everything from the origins of the cosmos, the rise and fall of civilizations, and the development of human culture to the nature of sensation and how to think about death. There are numerous translations out there; this one is a reliable translation into prose that has the original Latin verse on the facing page, along with helpful notes.

By Lucretius, W.H.D. Rouse (translator), Martin F. Smith (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Nature of Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus) lived ca. 99 ca. 55 BCE, but the details of his career are unknown. He is the author of the great didactic poem in hexameters, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). In six books compounded of solid reasoning, brilliant imagination, and noble poetry, he expounds the scientific theories of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, with the aim of dispelling fear of the gods and fear of death and so enabling man to attain peace of mind and happiness.

In Book 1 he establishes the general principles of the atomic system, refutes the views of rival…


Book cover of Meditations

Brian E. Johnson Author Of The Role Ethics of Epictetus: Stoicism in Ordinary Life

From my list on Stoicism through the eyes of a philosophy professor.

Who am I?

I am an associate professor of philosophy at Fordham University. I earned my Ph.D. at the University of Chicago (the same institution where the fictional Indiana Jones is said to have earned his doctorate!). I specialize in Greek and Roman ethics with a particular emphasis on Stoicism.

Brian's book list on Stoicism through the eyes of a philosophy professor

Brian E. Johnson Why did Brian love this book?

While riding on the New York subway one day, the young woman sitting next to me was reading from the so-called “Little Black Book” (a collection of daily thoughts often read by members of Alcoholics Anonymous). After closing the book, she pulled out this very edition of Marcus Aurelius and I could not help but comment to her that she had made a great choice. Not only does the theme of the “Serenity Prayer” go back to Stoics, but Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (literally titled “To Himself”) show the thoughtful and meditative side of Stoicism. In addition, Marcus Aurelius seems to be practicing what we now call spiritual exercises. Last, what is especially striking is that the Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote many of these entries while he was stuck on military campaigns; thus, we see up close a man utilizing Stoicism to grapple with the messiness of life.

By Marcus Aurelius, Martin Hammond (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Meditations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Their icy blasts are refreshing and restorative. They tell you the worst. And having heard the worst, you feel less bad' Blake Morrison

Written in Greek by the only Roman emperor who was also a philosopher, without any intention of publication, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius offer a remarkable series of challenging spiritual reflections and exercises developed as the emperor struggled to understand himself and make sense of the universe. While the Meditations were composed to provide personal consolation and encouragement, Marcus Aurelius also created one of the greatest of all works of philosophy: a timeless collection that has been…


Book cover of Lectures on Ancient Philosophy

Keefe R.D. Author Of Royal Arcanum

From my list on veracious fantasy and strange reality.

Who am I?

I’m an Indonesian writer who loves the idea of supernatural fantasy. I’ve always liked daydreaming. It started when a story suddenly kept playing inside my head like a movie. And that story now became my first fantasy book, Royal Arcanum. Never I imagined I’ll be a full-time writer now. I feel blessed that my family supported my writing career.

Keefe's book list on veracious fantasy and strange reality

Keefe R.D. Why did Keefe love this book?

Hey, this non-fiction book I’ve read has a lot to offer. Great study for those who wants to understand more about metaphysical world!

This is his fourth book that I’ve read besides Reincarnation, The Secret Teaching of All Ages, and The Wisdom of the Knowing Ones. I love his books, because can I learn a lot of mystical things which is related to the fantasy series that I’ve been working on. And it has a great impact on my writing for the first book in my series.

It taught me that we are not alone in this world. There are a lot that we don’t know about spiritual dimension that can’t be seen with our mundane eyes. As within, so without. Our inner wisdom creates the reflection of our reality.
I feel contented with the knowledge shared in this book. It helped me to enlighten my perspective…

By Manly P. Hall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lectures on Ancient Philosophy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Complete in itself, this volume originated as a commentary and expansion of Manly P. Hall's masterpiece of symbolic philosophy, The Secret Teachings of All Ages.
In Lectures on Ancient Philosophy, Manly P. Hall expands on the philosophical, metaphysical, and cosmological themes introduced in his classic work, The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Hall wrote this volume as a reader's companion to his earlier work, intending it for those wishing to delve more deeply into the esoteric philosophies and ideas that undergird the Secret Teachings. Particular attention is paid to Neoplatonism, ancient Christianity, Rosicrucian and Freemasonic traditions, ancient mysteries, pagan rites…