This page contains a list of the eight best books on or by Søren Kierkegaard. 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 Kierkegaard” 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 by Kierkegaard. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Kierkegaard. Here are the best books on Kierkegaard in no particular order:
Kierkegaard: An Introduction – C. Stephen Evans
Publisher description: C. Stephen Evans provides a clear, readable introduction to Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) as a philosopher and thinker. His book is organised around Kierkegaard’s concept of the three ‘stages’ or ‘spheres’ of human existence, which provide both a developmental account of the human self and an understanding of three rival views of human life and its meaning. Evans also discusses such important Kierkegaardian concepts as ‘indirect communication’, ‘truth as subjectivity’, and the Incarnation understood as ‘the Absolute Paradox’. Although his discussion emphasises the importance of Christianity for understanding Kierkgaard, it shows him to be a writer of great interest to a secular as well as a religious audience. Evans’ book brings Kierkegaard into conversation with western philosophers past and present, presenting him as one who gives powerful answers to the questions which philosophers ask.
Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction – Patrick Gardiner
Publisher description: Scholars have largely misunderstood Soren Kierkegaard, remembering him chiefly in connection with the development of existentialist philosophy in this century. In a short and unhappy life, he wrote many books and articles on literary, satirical, religious and psychological themes, but the diversity and idiosyncratic style of his writing have contributed to a misunderstanding of his ideas. In this book–the only introduction to the full range of Kierkegaard’s thought–Patrick Gardiner demonstrates how Kierkegaard developed his ideas and examines his thoughts in light of the doctrines on society developed by his contemporaries Marx and Feuerbach. Finally, he assesses the profound importance of Kierkegaard’s ideas on the development of modern ways of thinking.
Kierkegaard: A Biography – Alastair Hannay
Publisher description: Written by one of the world’s preeminent authorities on Kierkegard, this biography is the first to reveal the delicate imbrication of Kierkegard’s life and thought. To grasp the importance and influence of Kierkegaard’s thought far beyond his native Denmark, it is necessary to trace the many factors that led this gifted but (according to his headmaster) ‘exceedingly childish youth’ to grapple with traditional philosophical problems and religious themes in a way that later generations would recognize as amounting to a philosophical revolution. Although Kierkegaard’s works are widely tapped and cited they are seldom placed in context. Nor is due attention placed to their chronology. However, perhaps more than the work of any other contributor to the Western philosophical tradition, these writings are so closely meshed with the background and details of the author’s life that knowledge of this is indispensible to their content. Alastair Hannay solves these problems by following the chronological sequence of events and focusing on the formative stages of his career from the success of his first, pseudonymous work Either/Or through to The Sickness Unto Death and Practice in Christianity.
This book offers a powerful narrative account which will be of particular interest to philosophers, literary theorists, intellectual historians, and scholars of religious studies as well as any non-specialist looking for an authoritative guide to the life and work of one of the most original and fascinating figures in Western philosophy. Alastair Hannay is Professor Emeritus in the department of philosophy at the University of Oslo. He is the co-editor of The Cambridge Companion of Kierkegaard (1998) and is also translator of several works by Kierkegaard in Penguin Classics.
Fear and Trembling – Søren Kierkegaard
Publisher description: Writing under the pseudonym of “Johannes de silentio,” Kierkegaard expounds his personal view of religion through a discussion of the scene in Genesis in which Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s command. Believing Abraham’s unreserved obedience to be the essential leap of faith needed to make a full commitment to his religion, Kierkegaard himself made great sacrifices in order to dedicate his life entirely to his philosophy and to God. The conviction shown in this religious polemic—that a man can have an exceptional mission in life—informed all Kierkegaard’s later writings. His “teleological suspension of the ethical” challenged the contemporary views of Hegel’s universal moral system, and was also hugely influential for both protestant theology and the existentialist movement.
Alastair Hannay’s introduction evaluates Kierkegaard’s philosophy and the ways in which it conflicted with more accepted contemporary views. This edition also includes detailed notes to complement this groundbreaking analysis of religion, and a new chronology.
Either/Or – Søren Kierkegaard
Publisher description: In Either/Or, using the voices of two characters—the aesthetic young man of part one, called simply “A,” and the ethical Judge Vilhelm of the second section—Kierkegaard reflects upon the search for a meaningful existence, contemplating subjects as diverse as Mozart, drama, boredom, and, in the famous Seducer’s Diary, the cynical seduction and ultimate rejection of a young, beautiful woman. A masterpiece of duality, Either/Or is a brilliant exploration of the conflict between the aesthetic and the ethical – both meditating ironically and seductively upon Epicurean pleasures, and eloquently expounding the noble virtues of a morally upstanding life.
The Sickness unto Death – Søren Kierkegaard
Publisher description: Writing under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus, Kierkegaard explores the concept of “despair,” alerting readers to the diversity of ways in which they may be described as living in this state of bleak abandonment—including some that may seem just the opposite—and offering a much-discussed formula for the eradication of despair. With its penetrating account of the self, this late work by Kierkegaard was hugely influential upon twentieth-century philosophers including Karl Jaspers, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The Sickness unto Death can be regarded as one of the key works of theistic existentialist thought—a brilliant and revelatory answer to one man’s struggle to fill the spiritual void.
The Concept of Anxiety – Søren Kierkegaard
Publisher description: Describes the nature and forms of anxiety, placing the domain of anxiety within the mental-emotional states of human existence that precede the qualitative leap of faith to the spiritual state of Christianity.
The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard – A. Hannay & G. Marino
Publisher description: This companion probes the full depth of Kierkegaard’s thought revealing its distinctive subtlety. The topics covered include Kierkegaard’s views on art and religion, ethics and psychology, theology and politics, and knowledge and virtue. Much attention is devoted to the influence of Kierkegaard on twentieth-century philosophy. New readers will find this the most convenient and accessible guide to Kierkegaard currently available. Advanced students and specialists will find a conspectus of recent developments in the interpretation of Kierkegaard.
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 Søren Kierkegaard
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Søren Kierkegaard
If you’d like to learn more about Kierkegaard, check out this collection of beginner friendly resources on Kierkegaard.
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