This page contains a list of the five best books on Epicureanism. 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 Epicureanism” 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 Epicurean philosophy. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Epicureanism. Here are the best books on Epicureanism in no particular order:
The Essential Epicurus – Epicurus
Publisher description: Epicureanism is commonly regarded as the refined satisfaction of physical desires. As a philosophy, however, it also denoted the striving after an independent state of mind and body, imperturbability, and reliance on sensory data as the true basis of knowledge.
Epicurus (ca. 341-271 B.C.) founded one of the most famous and influential philosophical schools of antiquity. In these remains of his vast output of scientific and ethical writings, we can trace Epicurus’ views on atomism, physical sensation, duty, morality, the soul, and the nature of the gods.
The Nature of Things – Lucretius
Publisher description: 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 atomic theory expounded by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, and continues with an examination of sensation, sex, cosmology, meteorology, and geology, all of these subjects made more attractive by the poetry with which he illustrates them.
Epicureanism: A Very Short Introduction – Catherine Wilson
Publisher description: Epicureanism is commonly associated with a carefree view of life and the pursuit of pleasures, particularly the pleasures of the table. However it was a complex and distinctive system of philosophy that emphasized simplicity and moderation, and considered nature to consist of atoms and the void. Epicureanism is a school of thought whose legacy continues to reverberate today.
In this Very Short Introduction, Catherine Wilson explains the key ideas of the School, comparing them with those of the rival Stoics and with Kantian ethics, and tracing their influence on the development of scientific and political thought from Locke, Newton, and Galileo to Rousseau, Marx, Bentham, and Mill. She discusses the adoption and adaptation of Epicurean motifs in science, morality, and politics from the 17th Century onwards and contextualises the significance of Epicureanism in modern life.
Epicureanism – Tim O’Keefe
Publisher description: This introduction to Epicureanism offers students and general readers a clear exposition of the central tenets of Epicurean philosophy, one of the dominant schools of the Hellenistic period. Founded by Epicurus of Samos (c. 341–270 BCE), it held that for a human being the greatest good was to attain tranquility, free from fear and bodily pain, by seeking to understand the workings of the world and the limits of our desires. Tim O’Keefe provides an extended exegesis of the arguments that support Epicurean philosophical positions, analyzing both their strengths and their weaknesses while showing how the different areas of Epicurean inquiry come together to make a whole. Lucid, witty, and entertaining, Epicureanism wears its knowledge lightly while offering a wealth of stimulating and humorous examples.
The Cambridge Companion to Epicureanism – James Warren
Publisher description: This Companion presents both an introduction to the history of the ancient philosophical school of Epicureanism and also a critical account of the major areas of its philosophical interest. Chapters span the school’s history from the early Hellenistic Garden to the Roman Empire and its later reception in the Early Modern period, introducing the reader to the Epicureans’ contributions in physics, metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, ethics and politics. The international team of contributors includes scholars who have produced innovative and original research in various areas of Epicurean thought and they have produced essays which are accessible and of interest to philosophers, classicists, and anyone concerned with the diversity and preoccupations of Epicurean philosophy and the state of academic research in this field. The volume emphasises the interrelation of the different areas of the Epicureans’ philosophical interests while also drawing attention to points of interpretative difficulty and controversy.
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:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Epicurus
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Epicurus
If you’d like to learn more about Epicureanism, check out:
- this collection of beginner friendly resources on Epicurus
- this collection of quotes by Epicurus
- this short reading from Epicurus’ ‘Letter to Menoeceus’
And if you’d like to get more philosophy in your life, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to get a quote/passage from a classic work of philosophy delivered to your inbox each day. They include key passages from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, and many more. Each passage is paired with a link to a beginner friendly article, video, or podcast, so you can easily learn more about that day’s idea. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to get a little bit more philosophy into their life.