This page contains a list of the best books on or by Blaise Pascal. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on Pascal. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about Pascal. 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 Blaise Pascal in no particular order.
Pascal the Philosopher: An Introduction – Graeme Hunter
Publisher description: Blaise Pascal has always been appreciated as a literary giant and a religious guide, but has received only grudging recognition as a philosopher: philosophers have mistaken Pascal’s harsh criticism of their discipline as a rejection of it. But according to Graeme Hunter, Pascal’s critics have simply failed to grasp his lean, but powerful conception of philosophy. This accessibly written book provides the first introduction to Pascal’s philosophy as an organic whole.
Hunter argues that Pascal’s aim is not merely to humble philosophy, but to save it from a kind of failure to which it is prone. He lays out Pascal’s development of a more promising and fruitful path for philosophical inquiry, one that responded to the scientific, religious, and political upheaval of his time. Finally, Hunter illuminates Pascal’s significance for contemporary readers, allowing him to emerge as the rare philosopher who is spiritual, literary, and rigorous all at once – both a brilliant controversialist and a thinker of substance.
Pascal – Ben Rogers
Publisher description: The moralist who advocated dressing up, the ascetic who liked a flutter, the devout Christian who lauded vanity, Pascal is a funnier, more ironic philosopher than his reputation as an anguished existentialist would suggest.
Yet however irreverent the terms of his ironic project, its underlying impetus is both serious and profound. In this superb new introduction to the thinker and his thought, Ben Rogers demonstrates the deep wisdom of Pascal’s defence of popular folly – a defence which he used to highlight the higher delusions of the learned.
Setting the Pensées in the context of Pascal’s life and philosophical career, Rogers reveals how their apparent frivolity underpins a fascinating, far-reaching and still challenging body of moral and political thought. His remarkable guide offers an eye-opening account of the work of a marvellous and much neglected thinker.
The Cambridge Companion to Pascal – Nicholas Hammond
Publisher description: Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) occupies a position of pivotal importance in many domains: philosophy, mathematics, physics, religious polemics and apologetics. A team of leading scholars surveys the range of his achievement and intellectual background as well as the reception of his work. New readers and nonspecialists will find a convenient and accessible guide to Pascal and advanced students and specialists, a conspectus of recent developments in the interpretation of his works.
Penseés – Blaise Pascal
Publisher description: Blaise Pascal, the precociously brilliant contemporary of Descartes, was a gifted mathematician and physicist, but it is his unfinished apologia for the Christian religion upon which his reputation now rests. The Penseés is a collection of philosohical fragments, notes and essays in which Pascal explores the contradictions of human nature in pscyhological, social, metaphysical and – above all – theological terms. Mankind emerges from Pascal’s analysis as a wretched and desolate creature within an impersonal universe, but who can be transformed through faith in God’s grace.
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:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Pascal
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Pascal
For more introductory philosophy resources and reading lists check out this collection of Resources and Reading Lists.