The Seven Best Books on or by Hannah Arendt

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This page contains a list of the best books on or by Hannah Arendt. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on Arendt. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about Arendt. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring books that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.

Secondly, this is not a list of personal recommendations. It was created by compiling recommendations from a variety of online sources including bibliographies, course syllabi, and community recommendations. You can find out more about this process here. Links to the sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a wider range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.

Here are the best books on or by Hannah Arendt in no particular order.

Arendt: A Guide for the Perplexed – Karin A. Fry

Category: Short introduction | Length: 176 pages | Published: 2009

Publisher description: Hannah Arendt is considered to be one of the most influential political thinkers of the twentieth century. The enormous breadth of her work places particular demands on the student coming to her thought for the first time.

In Arendt: A Guide for the Perplexed, Karin Fry explores the systematic nature of Arendt’s political thought that arose in response to the political controversies of her time and describes how she sought to envision a coherent framework for thinking about politics in a new way. Thematically structured and covering all of Arendt’s key writings and ideas, this book is designed specifically to meet the needs of students coming to her work for the first time.

Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World – Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

Category: Biography | Length: 620 pages | Published: 2004 (2e)

Publisher description: This highly acclaimed, prize-winning biography of one of the foremost political philosophers of the twentieth century is here reissued in a trade paperback edition for a new generation of readers. In a new preface the author offers an account of writings by and about Arendt that have appeared since the book’s 1982 publication, providing a reassessment of her subject’s life and achievement.

The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt – Dana Villa

Category: Overview | Length: 324 pages | Published: 2001

Publisher description: Hannah Arendt was one of the foremost political thinkers of the twentieth century, and her particular interests have made her one of the most frequently cited thinkers of our time. This volume examines the primary themes of her multi-faceted work, from her theory of totalitarianism and her controversial idea of the “banality of evil” to her classic studies of political action and her final reflections on judgment and the life of the mind. Each essay examines the political, philosophical, and historical concerns that shaped Arendt’s thought.

The Portable Hannah Arendt – Hannah Arendt

Category: Anthology | Length: 575 pages | Published: 2003

Publisher description: A collection of writings by a groundbreaking political thinker, including excerpts from The Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem

She was a Jew born in Germany in the early twentieth century, and she studied with the greatest German minds of her day—Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers among them. After the rise of the Nazis, she emigrated to America where she proceeded to write some of the most searching, hard-hitting reflections on the agonizing issues of the time: totalitarianism in both Nazi and Stalinist garb; Zionism and the legacy of the Holocaust; federally mandated school desegregation and civil rights in the United States; and the nature of evil.

The Portable Hannah Arendt offers substantial excerpts from the three works that ensured her international and enduring stature: The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, and Eichmann in Jerusalem. Additionally, this volume includes several other provocative essays, as well as her correspondence with other influential figures.

The Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt

Category: Classic | Length: 576 pages

Publisher description: Hannah Arendt’s definitive work on totalitarianism and an essential component of any study of twentieth-century political history

The Origins of Totalitarianism begins with the rise of anti-Semitism in central and western Europe in the 1800s and continues with an examination of European colonial imperialism from 1884 to the outbreak of World War I. Arendt explores the institutions and operations of totalitarian movements, focusing on the two genuine forms of totalitarian government in our time—Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia—which she adroitly recognizes were two sides of the same coin, rather than opposing philosophies of Right and Left. From this vantage point, she discusses the evolution of classes into masses, the role of propaganda in dealing with the nontotalitarian world, the use of terror, and the nature of isolation and loneliness as preconditions for total domination.

The Human Condition – Hannah Arendt

Category: Classic | Length: 370 pages

Publisher description: A work of striking originality bursting with unexpected insights, The Human Condition is in many respects more relevant now than when it first appeared in 1958. In her study of the state of modern humanity, Hannah Arendt considers humankind from the perspective of the actions of which it is capable. The problems Arendt identified then—diminishing human agency and political freedom, the paradox that as human powers increase through technological and humanistic inquiry, we are less equipped to control the consequences of our actions—continue to confront us today. This new edition, published to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of its original publication, contains an improved and expanded index and a new introduction by noted Arendt scholar Margaret Canovan which incisively analyzes the book’s argument and examines its present relevance. A classic in political and social theory, The Human Condition is a work that has proved both timeless and perpetually timely.

Eichmann in Jerusalem : A Report on the Banality of Evil – Hannah Arendt

Category: Classic | Length: 336 pages

Publisher description: The controversial journalistic analysis of the mentality that fostered the Holocaust, from the author of The Origins of Totalitarianism

Sparking a flurry of heated debate, Hannah Arendt’s authoritative and stunning report on the trial of German Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann first appeared as a series of articles in The New Yorker in 1963. This revised edition includes material that came to light after the trial, as well as Arendt’s postscript directly addressing the controversy that arose over her account. A major journalistic triumph by an intellectual of singular influence, Eichmann in Jerusalem is as shocking as it is informative—an unflinching look at one of the most unsettling (and unsettled) issues of the twentieth century.


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For more introductory philosophy resources and reading lists check out this collection of Resources and Reading Lists.

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