The Five Best Books on Continental Philosophy

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This page contains a list of the five best books on continental philosophy. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on continental philosophy” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works of continental philosophy. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on continental philosophy. Here are the best books on continental philosophy in no particular order:

Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction – Simon Critchley

Category: Short Introduction | Length: 168 pages | Published: 2001

In this enlightening new Very Short Introduction, Simon Critchley shows us that Continental philosophy encompasses a distinct set of philosophical traditions and practices, with a compelling range of problems all too often ignored by the analytic tradition. He discusses the ideas and approaches of philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Habermas, Foucault, and Derrida. He also introduces key concepts such as existentialism, nihilism, and phenomonology, by explaining their place in the Continental tradition.

The perfect guide for anyone interested in the great philosophers, this volume explains in lucid, straightforward language the split between Continental and Anglo-American philosophy and the importance of acknowledging Continental philosophy.

Continental Philosophy: An Introduction – David West

Category: General Introduction | Length: 376 pages | Published: 2010 (2e)

This book is a fully updated and expanded new edition of An Introduction to Continental Philosophy, first published in1996. It provides a clear, concise and readable introduction to philosophy in the continental tradition. It is a wide-ranging and reliable guide to the work of such major figures as Nietzsche, Habermas, Heidegger, Arendt, Sartre, Foucault, Derrida and Žižek. At the same time, it situates their thought within a coherent overall account of the development of continental philosophy since the Enlightenment.

Individual chapters consider the character of modernity, the Enlightenment and its continental critics; the ideas of Marxism,the Frankfurt School and Habermas; hermeneutics and phenomenology;existentialism; structuralism, post-structuralism and postmodernism. In addition to the thinkers already mentioned, there is extended discussion of the ideas of Kant, Hegel, Dilthey, Husserl, Gadamer, Kierkegaard, de Beauvoir and Lyotard. The new edition includes an additional, full-length chapter on continental philosophy in the twenty-first century focusing on Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek.

Continental Philosophy: An Introduction is an invaluable introductory text for courses on continental philosophy as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences dealing with major figures or influential approaches within that tradition.

The Continental Philosophy Reader – R. Kearney & M. Rainwater

Category: Anthology | Length: 496 pages | Published: 1996

The Continental Philosophy Reader is the first complete anthology of classic writings from the major figures in European thought and provides a powerful introduction to one of the 20th century’s most influential intellectual movements.

 

The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy – B. Leiter & M. Rosen

Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 824 pages | Published: 2010

The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy is the definitive guide to the major themes of the continental European tradition in philosophy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Brian Leiter and Michael Rosen have assembled a stellar group of contributors who provide a thematic treatment of continental philosophy, treating its subject matter philosophically and not simply as a series of museum pieces from the history of ideas. The scope of the volume is broad, with discussions covering a wide range of philosophical movements including German Idealism, existentialism, phenomenology, Marxism, postmodernism, and critical theory, as well as thinkers like Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, and Foucault. This Handbook will be an essential reference point for graduate students and professional academics working on continental philosophy, as well as those with an interest in European literature, the history of ideas, and cultural studies.

Beyond Good and Evil – Friedrich Nietzsche

Category: Classic | Length: 282 pages | Originally Published: 1886

Represents Nietzsche’s attempt to sum up his philosophy. In nine parts the book is designed to give the reader a comprehensive idea of Nietzsche’s thought and style:  they span “The Prejudices of Philsophers,” “The Free Spirit,” religion, morals, scholarship, “Our Virtues,” “Peoples and Fatherlands,” and “What Is Noble,” as well as epigrams and a concluding poem. Beyond Good and Evil is one of the most remarkable and influential books of the nineteenth century.

This translation by Walter Kaufmann has become the standard one, for accuracy and fidelity to the eccentricities and grace of the style of the original. The translation is based on the only edition Nietzsche himself published, and all variant reading in later editions. This volume offers an inclusive index of subjects and persons, as well as a running footnote commentary on the text.


This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:

  • browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
  • searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
  • browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • searching for recommendations on philosophy forums

The following sources were used to build this list:

University Course Syllabi:

Other Recommendations:

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