The best books about Socrates

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Socrates and why they recommend each book.

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The Unknown Socrates

By Stephen M. Trzaskoma, William M. Calder, Bernhard Huss, Marc Mastrangelo, R. Scott Smith

Book cover of The Unknown Socrates

This book provides a series of translations of ancient texts relating to the life of Socrates, raising questions about his earlier trajectory among other things. The scattered sources gathered in this volume tell a very different story about the philosopher from that normally obtained by concentrating almost exclusively on his trial and death.


Who am I?

I have studied the ancient world for over 50 years and have found that there are always new things to discover. Everyone thought that all that was known about Socrates had already been said, so I was excited to discover new evidence for his relationship with Aspasia - a woman of extraordinary influence and intellect - hiding in plain sight. I am a Professor of Classics at Oxford University and Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Jesus College, Oxford


I wrote...

Socrates in Love

By Armand D’Angour,

Book cover of Socrates in Love

What is my book about?

Socrates: the philosopher whose questioning gave birth to the ideas of Western thought, and whose execution marked the end of the Athenian "Golden Age". But what was he like as a younger man, and what impelled him to take the path of philosophy? My book investigates these questions, and unravels the evidence for a surprising and overlooked influence on Socrates' life and thought - the brilliant and unfairly defamed Aspasia of Miletus.

Theaetetus

By Plato,

Book cover of Theaetetus

When people think of the great rock bands, they think of the hits, the songs that raced to #1. True fans know that there are some great, even better songs, on the flip sides of the albums, the so-called deep cuts. The same is true with writers like Plato. Few are familiar with his Theaetetus, but it is my favorite. It explores how we know what we know and proves the error of a slogan that is as popular today as it was in his time, “Man is the measure of all things.” Plato shows how logically silly that is, and in a fairly humorous way…if you like philosophical wit, that is.


Who am I?

I like books to grab and hold my attention. That’s what I like about music, too, which is why I co-host a heavy metal podcast when I’m not teaching Latin or writing books and articles. Having taught Latin and Classics for over thirty years from middle school through undergrad, I know what people enjoy about the Greco-Roman world and what they often missed out on in school. I love reading this stuff, too, whether prepping for class, doing research for my next publication, or while listening to head-banging greats of the ‘70s and ‘80s, so dig in and get ready to rock with the Romans and groove with the Greeks!


I wrote...

Latin for Dummies

By Clifford A. Hull, Steven R. Perkins,

Book cover of Latin for Dummies

What is my book about?

Earn-lay atin-Lay? No, not that kind of Latin! You can learn true Latin, with conjugations, declensions, and all those extra syllables - and it's easier than you think. In fact, most people mistakenly think of learning Latin as perhaps the most useless, tedious, and difficult thing to do on earth. They couldn't be more wrong.

Latin For Dummies takes you back for a quick jaunt through the parlance of ancient Rome, as well as discussing the progress of Latin into church language, and its status today as the"dead" language that lives on in English, Spanish, Italian, and most other Western tongues. Written for those with zero prior knowledge of Latin, this snappy guide puts the basics at your fingertips and steers clear of the arcane, schoolmarm stereotype of endless declensions and Herculean translations.

Why Socrates Died

By Robin Waterfield,

Book cover of Why Socrates Died

Socrates’ trial and death together are a famous moment in classical history. This is a vigorous and authoritative scholarly investigation into the historical circumstances that led to Socrates being charged with impiety and corrupting the youth.


Who am I?

I have studied the ancient world for over 50 years and have found that there are always new things to discover. Everyone thought that all that was known about Socrates had already been said, so I was excited to discover new evidence for his relationship with Aspasia - a woman of extraordinary influence and intellect - hiding in plain sight. I am a Professor of Classics at Oxford University and Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Jesus College, Oxford


I wrote...

Socrates in Love

By Armand D’Angour,

Book cover of Socrates in Love

What is my book about?

Socrates: the philosopher whose questioning gave birth to the ideas of Western thought, and whose execution marked the end of the Athenian "Golden Age". But what was he like as a younger man, and what impelled him to take the path of philosophy? My book investigates these questions, and unravels the evidence for a surprising and overlooked influence on Socrates' life and thought - the brilliant and unfairly defamed Aspasia of Miletus.

Sophie's World

By Jostein Gaarder, Paulette Møller (translator),

Book cover of Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy

In this masterpiece, Jostein Gaarder presents the whole history of philosophy in the form of a novel. This is by far the most interesting historical presentation of philosophy I have ever come across. The genius of Jostein Gaarder could be clearly seen in the narrative as he does not just explain the ideologies of the philosophers across the decades, but also picks some ideas, visualize them, and smoothly integrate them into the story. 


Who am I?

Mahmoud Elsayed has always been interested in finding rational answers to the big existential questions. This could clearly be noticed in his writings and philosophy. He has also worked in various and somehow diverse fields of engineering and science which allowed him to smoothly, flexibly, and knowledgeably jump from a field of expertise to another in order to make his philosophical arguments comprehensive. 


I wrote...

The Bitter Truth of Reality: The route to skepticism and the case against objective reality

By Mahmoud Elsayed,

Book cover of The Bitter Truth of Reality: The route to skepticism and the case against objective reality

What is my book about?

Reality is the one word that describes everything we live in, everything we know, knew, and will. It represents time, space, and all the other possible dimensions. But what exactly is reality? In his book, The Bitter Truth of Reality, author Mahmoud Elsayed attempts to answer this complex query by taking a journey through physics, biology, human anatomy, history, philosophy, and even religions. Hopefully, by the end of this book, the reader will find an answer to this question that sits at the top of the existential questions list.

A Little History of Philosophy

By Nigel Warburton,

Book cover of A Little History of Philosophy

Nietzsche said; “Today’s philosophers enjoy the divine principle of incomprehensibility.” This clearly written book takes the opposite tack. If you’re terrified of philosophy, this is the book for you. A great book to get the kids interested in the subject.


Who am I?

I am fascinated by humanity’s search for meaning. That is what I am exploring as I read philosophy and as I write my biographies of extraordinary individuals. Sue Prideaux has written award-winning books on Edvard Munch and his painting The Scream, the playwright August Strindberg, and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. She acted as consultant to Sotheby’s when they sold The Scream for a record-breaking $120 million.


I wrote...

I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche

By Sue Prideaux,

Book cover of I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche

What is my book about?

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most enigmatic figures in philosophy, and his concepts—the Übermensch, the will to power, slave morality—have fundamentally reshaped our understanding of the human condition. But what do most people really know of Nietzsche—beyond the mustache, the scowl, and the lingering association with nihilism and fascism? Where do we place a thinker who was equally beloved by Albert Camus, Ayn Rand, Martin Buber, and Adolf Hitler?

Philosophy as a Way of Life

By Pierre Hadot,

Book cover of Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault

I simply had to include one of philosopher Pierre Hadot’s wise and weighty books on Stoic philosophy. The subject matter of this book is centered on Stoic thought, but draws on, compares, and contrasts Stoic ideas with other foundational ideas in ancient and more modern philosophy. The key theme, as the title suggests, is that philosophy’s highest calling is as a way to transform and improve the way one actually lives one’s life. While including chapters on Aurelius, and on Socrates, (a highly respected pre-Stoic inspiration to the Stoics), another main emphasis is on how Stoic practices serve as “spiritual exercises,” and how we can come to learn them, use them, and grow from them too as a means to make philosophy our own way of life. Not a particularly easy read, but a read well worth the effort – and repeated rereads as the years roll by.


Who am I?

Kevin Vost earned his doctorate in clinical psychology at Adler University with internship and dissertation work at the Southern Illinois University’s Alzheimer Center. He first came to know and love the Stoics in the 1980s through his studies in cognitive psychotherapy. He has taught psychology and gerontology at the University of Illinois at Springfield and Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of twenty books on psychology, philosophy, physical fitness, and theology, with three more books in press, including Memorize the Stoics! The Ancient Art of Memory Meets the Timeless Art of Living.


I wrote...

The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living

By Kevin Vost,

Book cover of The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living

What is my book about?

Regardless of their sometimes ambiguous concepts of God, the Roman Stoic philosophers did acknowledge Him, but on the basis of reason alone, because they had not met Christ. Nonetheless, they did deduce from God's existence our need to live lives of virtue, honor, tranquility, and self-control--and they developed effective techniques to help us achieve this. Musonius Rufus the teacher, Epictetus the slave, Seneca the adviser to emperors, and Marcus Aurelius, the emperor himself, produced a practical technology we can use to integrate Christian ethics into our own daily practice. As Kevin Vost so wonderfully illustrates in his new book, The Porch and the Cross, the Stoics can help us learn--and remember--what is up to us, and what is up to God alone.

Epictetus

By A.A. Long,

Book cover of Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life

Another Stoic classic. Written, again, in a highly accessible, conversational style. In fact, the only teachings by Epictetus that we know of today were recorded from his lectures by his disciple Arrian.  This book has given great solace to many people over the years. It is said that Frederick the Great never campaigned without it. And, the war hero Admiral James Stockdale credits Epictetus with helping him endure seven and a half years in a North Vietnamese military prison—including torture—and four years in solitary confinement. “No man is free who is not master of himself.”


Who am I?

I received my first introduction to the Stoics when completing a Master’s in Philosophy. It was enough to spark a life-long interest. Later in life I read Stoicism widely, along with classical history, including Gibbon and Durant. What struck me about Gibbon’s work was how the ancient “golden age,” with the enlightened rule of its “five good emperors,” including Marcus Aurelius, closely mirrored the trajectory of the contemporary American empire. Today, pundits sometimes casually refer to the US as a reincarnation of the Roman Empire. They talk of Pax Americana, imperial presidencies, and American exceptionalism. I wondered how far one could take that idea and this led me to begin work on The Last Stoic.


I wrote...

The Last Stoic

By Morgan Wade,

Book cover of The Last Stoic

What is my book about?

The Last Stoic is a story of appetite and fear, both modern and ancient. Half of the story's narrative occurs in the time and place of the ancient Roman Empire; the other half occurs in the present-day United States. The parallels between the two eras are so strong that the narrative continues uninterrupted as the setting shifts from historic Rome to modern America, alternating from chapter to chapter. 

Marcus, a young man from a northern provincial border town, journeys deep into the heart of the empire and witnesses first-hand the excesses that can lead to ruin, both personal and political. In both eras, the writings of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius (The Meditations) insinuate themselves unexpectedly into Marcus' life. Ultimately, it is this unanticipated instruction that gives the young man the strength he requires to survive. It becomes evident that the words of the venerable Stoic emperor have as much relevance to our own era as they did to his.

Plato's Symposium

By Seth Benardete, Allan Bloom, Plato

Book cover of Plato's Symposium

Plato’s scintillating dialogue on the meaning of Love (as purveyed by a group of fifth-century Athenians including Socrates) is one of the key biographical texts about the philosopher. Allan Bloom provides an insightful essay on the central notion of the dialogue attributed to the ‘clever woman’ Diotima: the Ladder of Love.


Who am I?

I have studied the ancient world for over 50 years and have found that there are always new things to discover. Everyone thought that all that was known about Socrates had already been said, so I was excited to discover new evidence for his relationship with Aspasia - a woman of extraordinary influence and intellect - hiding in plain sight. I am a Professor of Classics at Oxford University and Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Jesus College, Oxford


I wrote...

Socrates in Love

By Armand D’Angour,

Book cover of Socrates in Love

What is my book about?

Socrates: the philosopher whose questioning gave birth to the ideas of Western thought, and whose execution marked the end of the Athenian "Golden Age". But what was he like as a younger man, and what impelled him to take the path of philosophy? My book investigates these questions, and unravels the evidence for a surprising and overlooked influence on Socrates' life and thought - the brilliant and unfairly defamed Aspasia of Miletus.

Socrates in Love

By Christopher Phillips,

Book cover of Socrates in Love: Philosophy for a Die-Hard Romantic

This book really captures what it’s like to do philosophy in an informed but informal way. Philosophy as Socrates practiced it, and as it often is at its best, is a dialogue among several interlocutors. Different people share their different views on a topic, compare them, scrutinize and criticize them, and hopefully improve them. Phillips started a movement of Socratic cafés where people got together to do just that. The topics recorded here analyze love in its various forms (erotic, familial, friendly, hospitable, spiritual, and philosophical). Love is, in fact, basic to philosophy, which, as the word philosophia implies, is the love of wisdom. Read this in conjunction with Plato’s dialogues about Socrates’ trial and death: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo.


Who am I?

I’m a philosopher who’s taught mostly undergraduates for over thirty years at small liberal arts colleges in the US, and I’ve held research fellowships at the University of Edinburgh and Williams College. I’ve co-authored three “toolkit” books – The Philosopher’s Toolkit, The Ethics Toolkit, and The Critical Thinking Toolkit. My more scholarly work, however, has focused on skepticism, for example in Hume’s Scepticism. I also like to write about pop culture, especially for collections like my Big Lebowski and Philosophy. Fundamentally, though, I’m just a lover of dialectic and an explorer in the world of ideas. Nothing, for me, is more enjoyable.


I wrote...

The Philosopher's Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods

By Peter S. Fosl, Julian Baggini,

Book cover of The Philosopher's Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods

What is my book about?

Most books about philosophy focus on famous figures and movements, such as Plato, Hume, existentialism, rationalism, etc. Their central purpose is to convey the basic ideas developed by those philosophers and those streams of thought. The public philosopher Julian Baggini and I, however, thought it might be a good idea to write a book organized instead around what philosophers actually do when they philosophize. We asked ourselves, “How do philosophers of all kinds generate and justify ideas? How is philosophy like and unlike the sciences? How does it compare to literary criticism, fiction, and poetry? What’s its relationship to religious practice? How can more advanced philosophers refine their thinking?” It was a kind of a hit and now appears in over seven languages.

Rescuing Socrates

By Roosevelt Montás,

Book cover of Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation

This book assesses the value of liberal education, and the importance of (re) reading the so-called ‘classics,’ rather than resorting to short snippets of articles, YouTube videos, or chapters which make short and pointed arguments about specific issues. The great classics have changed Roosevelt Montás’s life in ways that are to me familiar, since I’ve enjoyed watching the fruits of liberal education as they transformed his life of my own students over the years.


Who am I?

I have taught a broad array of humanities and social sciences courses over the years, sometimes employing case studies from the realm of law, most notably stories about undocumented migrants, refugees, or homeless people. I’ve also had occasion to teach in law schools, usually in ways that bridge the gap between the legality of forced displacement, and the lived experiences of those who have done it. I won a Rockefeller Foundation grant to write my newest book, Clamouring for Legal Protection, in which I considered the idea that we can learn a lot about refugees and vulnerable migrants with references to people we know well: Ulysses, Dante, Satan, and even Alice in Wonderland.


I wrote...

Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us about People Fleeing from Persecution

By Robert F. Barsky,

Book cover of Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us about People Fleeing from Persecution

What is my book about?

In this novel approach to law and literature, Robert Barsky delves into the canon of so-called great books, and discovers that many beloved characters therein encounter obstacles similar to those faced by contemporary refugees and undocumented persons. The struggles of Odysseus, Moses, Aeneas, Dante, Satan, Dracula, and Alice in Wonderland, among many others, provide surprising insights into current discussions about those who have left untenable situations in their home countries in search of legal protection. Writing this book, I found that the great ‘classics’ soddenly came back to life, in a new form. Beloved characters, in well-known stories, were suddenly resurrected as narratives about characters we know and love as they struggle to gain recognition or find safety.

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