This page contains a list of the ten best books on or by Nietzsche. 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 Nietzsche” 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 Nietzsche. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Nietzsche. Here are the best books on or by Nietzsche in no particular order:
Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist – Walter A. Kaufmann
Publisher description: This classic is the benchmark against which all modern books about Nietzsche are measured. When Walter Kaufmann wrote it in the immediate aftermath of World War II, most scholars outside Germany viewed Nietzsche as part madman, part proto-Nazi, and almost wholly unphilosophical. Kaufmann rehabilitated Nietzsche nearly single-handedly, presenting his works as one of the great achievements of Western philosophy.
Responding to the powerful myths and countermyths that had sprung up around Nietzsche, Kaufmann offered a patient, evenhanded account of his life and works, and of the uses and abuses to which subsequent generations had put his ideas. Without ignoring or downplaying the ugliness of many of Nietzsche’s proclamations, he set them in the context of his work as a whole and of the counterexamples yielded by a responsible reading of his books. More positively, he presented Nietzsche’s ideas about power as one of the great accomplishments of modern philosophy, arguing that his conception of the “will to power” was not a crude apology for ruthless self-assertion but must be linked to Nietzsche’s equally profound ideas about sublimation. He also presented Nietzsche as a pioneer of modern psychology and argued that a key to understanding his overall philosophy is to see it as a reaction against Christianity.
Many scholars in the past half century have taken issue with some of Kaufmann’s interpretations, but the book ranks as one of the most influential accounts ever written of any major Western thinker. Featuring a new foreword by Alexander Nehamas, this Princeton Classics edition of Nietzsche introduces a new generation of readers to one the most influential accounts ever written of any major Western thinker.
Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction – Michael Tanner
Publisher description: With his well-known idiosyncrasies and aphoristic style, Friedrich Nietzsche is always bracing and provocative, and temptingly easy to dip into. Michael Tanner’s introduction to the philosopher’s life and work examines the numerous ambiguities inherent in his writings and explodes many of the misconceptions that have grown in the hundred years since Nietzsche wrote “do not, above all, confound me with what I am not!”
Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography – Rüdiger Safranski
Publisher description: A seminal biography, essential reading for anyone studying the philosophy of history’s most enigmatic and fascinating thinker.
No other modern philosopher has proved as influential as Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and none is as poorly understood. In the first new biography in decades, Rüdiger Safranski, one of the foremost living Nietzsche scholars, re-creates the anguished life of Nietzsche while simultaneously assessing the philosophical implications of his morality, religion, and art. Struggling to break away from the oppressive burdens of the past, Nietzsche invented a unique philosophy based on compulsive self-consciousness and constant self-revision. As groundbreaking as it will be long-lasting, this biography offers a brilliant, multifaceted portrait of a towering figure.
Basic Writings of Nietzsche – Friedrich Nietzsche
Publisher description: One hundred years after his death, Friedrich Nietzsche remains the most influential philosopher of the modern era. Basic Writings of Nietzsche gathers the complete texts of five of Nietzsche’s most important works, from his first book to his last: The Birth of Tragedy, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, The Case of Wagner, and Ecce Homo. Edited and translated by the great Nietzsche scholar Walter Kaufmann, this volume also features seventy-five aphorisms, selections from Nietzsche’s correspondence, and variants from drafts for Ecce Homo. It is a definitive guide to the full range of Nietzsche’s thought.
Beyond Good & Evil – Friedrich Nietzsche
Publisher description: 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.
On the Genealogy of Morality – Friedrich Nietzsche
Publisher description: This new edition is the product of a collaboration between a Germanist and a philosopher who is also a Nietzsche scholar. The translation strives not only to communicate a sense of Nietzsche’s style but also to convey his meaning accurately―and thus to be an important advance on previous translations of this work. A superb set of notes ensures that Clark and Swensen’s Genealogy will become the new edition of choice for classroom use.
The Gay Science – Friedrich Nietzsche
Publisher description: Nietzsche called The Gay Science “the most personal of all my books.” It was here that he first proclaimed the death of God—to which a large part of the book is devoted—and his doctrine of the eternal recurrence.
Walter Kaufmann’s commentary, with its many quotations from previously untranslated letters, brings to life Nietzsche as a human being and illuminates his philosophy. The book contains some of Nietzsche’s most sustained discussions of art and morality, knowledge and truth, the intellectual conscience and the origin of logic.
Most of the book was written just before Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the last part five years later, after Beyond Good and Evil. We encounter Zarathustra in these pages as well as many of Nietzsche’s most interesting philosophical ideas and the largest collection of his own poetry that he himself ever published.
Walter Kaufmann’s English versions of Nietzsche represent one of the major translation enterprises of our time. He is the first philosopher to have translated Nietzsche’s major works, and never before has a single translator given us so much of Nietzsche.
The Birth of Tragedy – Friedrich Nietzsche
Publisher description: The first book by the author of the classic philosophical text Beyond Good and Evil.
The youthful faults of this work were exposed by the author himself in the brilliant Attempt at a Self-Criticism, which he added to the new edition of 1886. But the book, whatever its excesses, remains one of the most relevant statements on tragedy ever penned. It exploded the conception of Greek culture that was prevalent down through the Victorian era, and it analyzed themes developed in the twentieth century by classicists, existentialists, psychoanalysts, and others.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Friedrich Nietzsche
Publisher description: Nietzsche was one of the most revolutionary and subversive thinkers in Western philosophy, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra remains his most famous and influential work. It describes how the ancient Persian prophet Zarathustra descends from his solitude in the mountains to tell the world that God is dead and that the Superman, the human embodiment of divinity, is his successor. With blazing intensity and poetic brilliance, Nietzsche argues that the meaning of existence is not to be found in religiouspieties or meek submission, but in an all-powerful life force: passionate, chaotic & free.
Ecce Homo – Friedrich Nietzsche
Publisher description: In late 1888, only weeks before his final collapse into madness, Nietzsche (1844-1900) set out to compose his autobiography, and Ecce Homo remains one of the most intriguing yet bizarre examples of the genre ever written. In this extraordinary work Nietzsche traces his life, work and development as a philosopher, examines the heroes he has identified with, struggled against and then overcome – Schopenhauer, Wagner, Socrates, Christ – and predicts the cataclysmic impact of his ‘forthcoming revelation of all values’. Both self-celebrating and self-mocking, penetrating and strange, Ecce Homo gives the final, definitive expression to Nietzsche’s main beliefs and is in every way his last testament.
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 Nietzsche
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Nietzsche
If you’d like to learn more about Nietzsche, check out:
- this collection of beginner friendly resources on Nietzsche
- this collection of quotes by Nietzsche
- this short reading from Nietzsche’s ‘On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense’
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.