The most recommended political philosophy books

Who picked these books? Meet our 30 experts.

30 authors created a book list connected to political philosophy, and here are their favorite political philosophy books.
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Book cover of The Myth of Choice: Personal Responsibility in a World of Limits

Donald Barclay Author Of Disinformation: The Nature of Facts and Lies in the Post-Truth Era

From my list on understanding, untangling, and coping with problematic information.

Why am I passionate about this?

In my career as an academic librarian, I was often asked to teach students to think about the credibility of the information they incorporate into their academic, professional, personal, and civic lives. In my teaching and writing, I have struggled to make sense of the complex and nuanced factors that make some information more credible and other information less so. I don’t have all the answers for dealing with problematic information, but I try hard to convince people to think carefully about the information they encounter before accepting any of it as credible or dismissing any of it as non-credible.

Donald's book list on understanding, untangling, and coping with problematic information

Donald Barclay Why did Donald love this book?

I was impressed by author Kent Greenfield’s courage in questioning the near-sacred notion that all of our choices are free. Greenfield is not an enemy of choice, freedom, or liberty, but he understands how popular culture has reduced these complex concepts into not much more than advertising slogans.

A law professor at Boston University, the author uses relatable real-life examples, many of them personal, to illustrate how things that we think of as free choices are not as free as we would like to believe. Greenfield is not a pessimist, and I appreciate his suggestions for thinking more carefully about the extent to which our choices are truly and freely our own. 

By Kent Greenfield,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Americans are fixated on the idea of choice. Our political theory is based on the consent of the governed. Our legal system is built upon the argument that people freely make choices and bear responsibility for them. And what slogan could better express the heart of our consumer culture than "Have it your way"?

In this provocative book, Kent Greenfield poses unsettling questions about the choices we make. What if they are more constrained and limited than we like to think? If we have less free will than we realize, what are the implications for us as individuals and for…


Book cover of Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding

Dennis C. Rasmussen Author Of Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America's Founders

From my list on American founders from a political theorist.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a political theorist at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. I spent the first fifteen years or so of my career working on the Scottish and French Enlightenments (Adam Smith, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire), but in recent years I’ve been drawn more and more to the American founding. In addition to Fears of a Setting Sun, I’m also the author of The Constitution’s Penman: Gouverneur Morris and the Creation of America’s Basic Charter, which explores the constitutional vision of the immensely colorful individual who—unbeknownst to most Americans—wrote the US Constitution.

Dennis' book list on American founders from a political theorist

Dennis C. Rasmussen Why did Dennis love this book?

This book is not as acclaimed as the others on this list, but it is a hidden gem. Staloff deftly weaves together the lives and ideas of three of the most notable founders, and the ways in which they were influenced by their Enlightenment forebears. Precisely because the book is relatively little-known, I recommend it all the time to colleagues and students.

By Darren Staloff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Where The Ideas for which We Stand came from.

In this incisively drawn book, Darren Staloff forcefully reminds us that America owes its guiding political traditions to three Founding Fathers whose lives embodied the collision of Europe's grand Enlightenment project with the birth of the nation.

Alexander Hamilton, the worldly New Yorker; John Adams, the curmudgeonly Yankee; Thomas Jefferson, the visionary Virginia squire—each governed their public lives by Enlightenment principles, and for each their relationship to the politics of Enlightenment was transformed by the struggle for American independence. Repeated humiliation on America's battlefields banished Hamilton's youthful idealism, leaving him a…


Book cover of The Prince

Keith Grint Author Of Leadership: A Very Short Introduction

From my list on understanding why we get the leaders we do.

Why am I passionate about this?

There’s something about leadership that intrigues me. I was an army child and that might help explain why I was expelled from school and had a rather unorthodox pre-academic career: I had fourteen jobs in nine years between leaving school and starting university, and several of those involved significant leadership roles that clashed with managerial authority. Both my undergraduate degrees and my doctorate were focused on trying to understand how authority worked, so it was almost inevitable that I ended up as a leadership scholar. But my greatest achievements have been co-founding the journal Leadership in 2005 and its related International Studying Leadership Conference, now in its 20th year.

Keith's book list on understanding why we get the leaders we do

Keith Grint Why did Keith love this book?

Machiavelli is often despised as the man who promoted both authoritarian leaders and the notion that the ends justify the means, but this is to misunderstand the importance of the context within which he was writing: 16th century Florence – which was besieged by enemies on every side who proclaimed adherence to the Christian faith but acted as monsters. Machiavelli’s writing made two things clear to me. First, leaders and leadership cannot be understood if you abstract them from their context – when political morality is a contradiction in terms then leaders must be wary of sacrificing their followers for the sake of that same fallacious morality. Second, he lays out how dictators obtain and retain power – and in doing so establishes what we need to do to stop them or remove them. 

By Niccolò Machiavelli, Tim Parks (translator),

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Prince as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here is the world's most famous master plan for seizing and holding power.  Astonishing in its candor The Prince even today remains a disturbingly realistic and prophetic work on what it takes to be a prince . . . a king . . . a president.  When, in 1512, Machiavelli was removed from his post in his beloved Florence, he resolved to set down a treatise on leadership that was practical, not idealistic.  In The Prince he envisioned would be unencumbered by ordinary ethical and moral values; his prince would be man and beast, fox and lion.  Today, this small…


Book cover of Strangers in Our Midst: The Political Philosophy of Immigration

Ilya Somin Author Of Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom

From my list on migration rights and democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ilya Somin is a Professor of Law at George Mason University. He is the author of Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom, Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter, and The Grasping Hand: Kelo v. City of New London, and the Limits of Eminent Domain. Somin has also published articles in a variety of popular press outlets, including The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, CNN, The Atlantic, and USA Today. He is a regular contributor to the popular Volokh Conspiracy law and politics blog, affiliated with Reason.

Ilya's book list on migration rights and democracy

Ilya Somin Why did Ilya love this book?

I don’t agree with most of this book. But nonetheless it's a must-read for anyone who wants a great overview and defense of standard arguments to the effect that nation-state governments should enjoy broad power to exclude potential migrants. Miller puts the case well, and it’s easily grasped by experts and laypeople alike.

By David Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Strangers in Our Midst as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How should Western democracies respond to the many millions of people who want to settle in their societies? Economists and human rights advocates tend to downplay the considerable cultural and demographic impact of immigration on host societies. Seeking to balance the rights of immigrants with the legitimate concerns of citizens, Strangers in Our Midst brings a bracing dose of realism to this debate. David Miller defends the right of democratic states to control their borders and decide upon the future size, shape, and cultural make-up of their populations.

"A cool dissection of some of the main moral issues surrounding immigration…


Book cover of The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Fiona Sampson Author Of Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

From my list on literary biographies.

Why am I passionate about this?

Fiona Sampson is a leading British poet and writer, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, awarded an MBE for services to literature. Published in thirty-seven languages, she’s the recipient of numerous national and international awards. Her twenty-eight books include the critically acclaimed In Search of Mary Shelley, and Two-Way Mirror: The life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and she’s Emeritus Professor of Poetry, University of Roehampton.

Fiona's book list on literary biographies

Fiona Sampson Why did Fiona love this book?

The granddaddy of literary autobiography and biography, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions was written in 1769 but published posthumously in 1782. Rousseau, whose pioneering Romantic political philosophy was by then already influential, was setting out to do something equally new when he decided to study human nature, taking as his experimental model the human he knew best – himself. The rollicking result, sometimes self-flagellating, occasionally exhibitionist, deviates from its own model, St Augustine’s fourth-century religious-philosophical Confessions, in being chock-full of what nowadays we call emotional intelligence.

By Jean-Jacques Rousseau, J. Cohen (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Widely regarded as the first modern autobiography, The Confessions is an astonishing work of acute psychological insight. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) argued passionately against the inequality he believed to be intrinsic to civilized society. In his Confessions he relives the first fifty-three years of his radical life with vivid immediacy - from his earliest years, where we can see the source of his belief in the innocence of childhood, through the development of his philosophical and political ideas, his struggle against the French authorities and exile from France following the publication of Emile. Depicting a life of adventure, persecution, paranoia, and…


Book cover of Between Samaritans and States: The Political Ethics of Humanitarian INGOs

Lucia M. Rafanelli Author Of Promoting Justice Across Borders: The Ethics of Reform Intervention

From my list on Political theory books on what makes a just world.

Why am I passionate about this?

To me, political and moral questions have always seemed intertwined. My career as a political theorist is dedicated to using philosophical argument to untangle the moral questions surrounding real-world politics. I am especially interested in ethics and international affairs, including the ethics of intervention, what a just world order would look like, and how our understandings of familiar ideals—like justice, democracy, and equality—would change if we thought they were not only meant to be pursued within each nation-state, but also globally, by humanity as a whole. As faculty in Political Science and International Affairs at The George Washington University, I explore these issues with colleagues and students alike.

Lucia's book list on Political theory books on what makes a just world

Lucia M. Rafanelli Why did Lucia love this book?

This book illuminates the wrenching moral problems humanitarian international NGOs (like Oxfam and Save the Children) face.

How should NGOs balance their responsibilities to aid those who depend on them with their responsibilities to avoid entrenching that dependency? How should they react when the resources they provide are siphoned off by malicious third parties and used to fuel conflict? Given that NGOs are not democratically elected, can their power over aid recipients be justified?

Rubenstein addresses questions like these, drawing on her expertise as an ethicist and several months of fieldwork. I left this book thinking there were no easy answers to the questions Rubenstein raised—but with a much clearer understanding of the moral considerations I would need to account for if I wanted to answer them for myself.

By Jennifer C. Rubenstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book provides the first book-length, English-language account of the political ethics of large-scale, Western-based humanitarian INGOs, such as Oxfam, CARE, and Doctors Without Borders. These INGOs are often either celebrated as 'do-gooding machines' or maligned as incompetents 'on the road to hell'. In contrast, this book suggests the picture is more complicated.

Drawing on political theory, philosophy, and ethics, along with original fieldwork, this book shows that while humanitarian INGOs are often perceived as non-governmental and apolitical, they are in fact sometimes somewhat governmental, highly political, and often 'second-best' actors. As a result, they face four central ethical predicaments:…


Book cover of The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787

Katlyn Marie Carter Author Of Democracy in Darkness: Secrecy and Transparency in the Age of Revolutions

From my list on revolutionary ideas.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of the eighteenth-century Atlantic World, specializing in the American and French Revolutions. The relationship between ideas and politics has fascinated me since I worked in media relations in Washington, DC. Because I think history can help us better understand our current political controversies and challenges, I write about the origins of representative democracy in the eighteenth century. I’m also an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame where I teach classes on colonial and revolutionary America, the Constitution, and history of the media.

Katlyn's book list on revolutionary ideas

Katlyn Marie Carter Why did Katlyn love this book?

No book has done more to change my thinking about the American Revolution and Constitution.

It’s a tome, but if you want to understand the political philosophy of the American Revolution—from the Stamp Act to the ratification of the federal Constitution—then this is your book. Wood follows the evolution of and innovation in American political thought from the struggle for independence through the creation of a new nation.

In doing so, he makes the case for why the American Revolution was revolutionary and raises the possibility of seeing the Constitution as an act of counter-revolution.

By Gordon S. Wood,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This volume describes the evolution of political thought from the Declaration of Independence to the ratification of the Constitution and in the process greatly illuminates the origins of the present American political system. In a new preface, he discusses the debate over republicanism that has developed since the book's original publication by UNC Press in 1969.


Book cover of Responsibility for Justice

Kieran Setiya Author Of Life Is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way

From my list on finding solidarity in suffering.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I work on ethics and related questions about human agency and human knowledge. My interest in adversity is both personal and philosophical: it comes from my own experience with chronic pain and from a desire to revive the tradition of moral philosophy as a medium of self-help. My last book was Midlife: A Philosophical Guide, and I have also written about baseball and philosophy, stand-up comedy, and the American author H. P. Lovecraft.

Kieran's book list on finding solidarity in suffering

Kieran Setiya Why did Kieran love this book?

Although it is more academic than the others I’ve recommended, this book is both practical and urgent: it asks how we’re responsible for facing up to the structures of injustice in which we are implicated—the legacies of colonialism and slavery, the ongoing catastrophe of climate change. Young’s answer is that responsibility here is not about guilt or shame but the obligation to work for change, an obligation we can only meet through collective action, working with others to transform the systems around us. Young’s argument is rich, provocative, and inspiring.

By Iris Marion Young,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When the noted political philosopher Iris Marion Young died in 2006, her death was mourned as the passing of "one of the most important political philosophers of the past quarter-century" (Cass Sunstein) and as an important and innovative thinker working at the conjunction of a number of important topics: global justice; democracy and difference; continental political theory; ethics and international affairs; and gender, race and public policy.

In her long-awaited Responsibility for Justice, Young discusses our responsibilities to address "structural" injustices in which we among many are implicated (but for which we not to blame), often by virtue of participating…


Book cover of Placeless People: Writings, Rights, and Refugees

Peter Gatrell Author Of The Unsettling of Europe: How Migration Reshaped a Continent

From my list on the history of migration and refugees.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am interested in the history of people on the move, and in particular how migrants and refugees negotiated the upheavals of war and revolution in the 20th century. Originally, I turned to these topics as a specialist in Russian history, but I have since broadened my perspective to consider the causes and consequences of mass population displacement in other parts of the world. I have just retired from the History faculty at the University of Manchester, where I taught since 1976. In 2019 I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences.

Peter's book list on the history of migration and refugees

Peter Gatrell Why did Peter love this book?

My final choice is a scintillating work of scholarship by Lyndsey Stonebridge, Professor of Humanities and Human Rights at the University of Birmingham. Entitled Placeless People: Writing, Rights, and Refugees, it draws upon a range of reportage, political theory, poetry, and other texts to ask challenging questions about the stance that modern states and citizens in Western societies adopt towards refugees who are sometimes described as distant strangers. By engaging with authors who are relatively well known, such as George Orwell, W.H. Auden, Simone Weil, Samuel Beckett, and the political philosopher Hannah Arendt, and with those who may be less familiar, such as the American journalist Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) and the contemporary Palestinian Lebanese-born poet Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, Stonebridge insists that it is essential to portray refugees as deserving and demanding something other than charity or humanitarian concern no matter how well-intentioned. Instead, the appropriate response is to demand…

By Lyndsey Stonebridge,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1944 the political philosopher and refugee, Hannah Arendt wrote: 'Everywhere the word 'exile' which once had an undertone of almost sacred awe, now provokes the idea of something simultaneously suspicious and unfortunate.' Today's refugee 'crisis' has its origins in the political-and imaginative-history of the last century. Exiles from other places have often caused trouble for ideas about sovereignty, law and nationhood. But the meanings of exile
changed dramatically in the twentieth century. This book shows just how profoundly the calamity of statelessness shaped modern literature and thought. For writers such as Hannah Arendt, Franz Kafka, W.H. Auden, George Orwell,…


Book cover of Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought

Peter J. Verovšek Author Of Memory and the Future of Europe: Rupture and Integration in the Wake of Total War

From my list on memory and postwar Europe.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an international political and critical theorist interested in the way that key events and experiences from the past continue to affect politics in the present. I was born in the US but moved back to Slovenia when I was in high school, before returning to the states to attend Dartmouth College as an undergraduate, and Yale University for my doctoral studies in political science. This international, bi-continental background – as well as my own family’s history of migration following World War II – has fueled my interest in twentieth-century European history, collective memory and European integration. 

Peter's book list on memory and postwar Europe

Peter J. Verovšek Why did Peter love this book?

Hannah Arendt is the most important political thinker of the post-totalitarian moment. While her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism is more well-known and became a bestseller again after the election of President Donald Trump, in this collection of essays she lays out her ideas about the way that the past helps us to locate ourselves in the present by imagining and reimagining our futures. This book was hugely influential for me during my graduate studies at Yale. Unlike so many political theorists, Arendt is also a wonderfully accessible and engaging writer.

By Hannah Arendt, Jerome Kohn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the author of Eichmann in Jerusalem and The Origins of Totalitarianism, “a book to think with through the political impasses and cultural confusions of our day” (Harper’s Magazine)
 
Hannah Arendt’s insightful observations of the modern world, based on a profound knowledge of the past, constitute an impassioned contribution to political philosophy. In Between Past and Future Arendt describes the perplexing crises modern society faces as a result of the loss of meaning of the traditional key words of politics: justice, reason, responsibility, virtue, and glory. Through a series of eight exercises, she shows how we can redistill the vital…