The Six Best Books on or by Plato

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This page contains a list of the best books on or by Plato. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on Plato. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about Plato. 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 Plato in no particular order.

Plato: A Very Short Introduction – Julia Annas

Category: Short Textbook | Length: 120 pages | Published: 2003

Publisher’s description: This lively and accessible book focuses on the philosophy and argument of Plato’s writings, drawing the reader into Plato’s way of doing philosophy and the general themes of his thinking. It discusses Plato’s style of writing: his use of the dialogue form, his use of what we today call fiction, and his philosophical transformation of myths. It also looks at his discussions of love and philosophy, his attitude towards women, and towards homosexual love. It explores Plato’s claim that virtue is sufficient for happiness and touches on his arguments for the immorality of the soul and his ideas about the nature of the universe.

The Cambridge Companion to Plato – Richard Kraut

Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 578 pages | Published: 1992

Publisher’s description: Plato stands as the fount of our philosophical tradition, being the first Western thinker to produce a body of writing that touches upon a wide range of topics still discussed by philosophers today. In a sense he invented philosophy as a distinct subject, for although many of these topics were discussed by his intellectual predecessors and contemporaries, he was the first to bring them together by giving them a unitary treatment. This volume contains fourteen new essays discussing Plato’s views about knowledge, reality, mathematics, politics, ethics, love, poetry, and religion. There are also analyses of the intellectual and social background of his thought, the development of his philosophy throughout his career, the range of alternative approaches to his work, and the stylometry of his writing.

Five Dialogues – Plato

Category: Anthology | Length: 168 pages | Published: ∼380 BC

Publisher’s description:

The second edition of Five Dialogues presents G. M. A. Grube’s distinguished translations, as revised by John Cooper for Plato, Complete Works. A number of new or expanded footnotes are also included along with an updated bibliography.

The Republic – Plato

Category: Classic | Length: 300 pages | Published: ∼360 BC

Publisher’s description: The revised edition of Grube’s classic translation follows and furthers Grube’s noted success in combining fidelity to Plato’s text with natural readability, while reflecting the fruits of new scholarship and insights into Plato’s thought since publication of the first edition in 1974. A new introduction, index, and bibliography by Professor Reeve are included in this new rendering.

Symposium – Plato

Category: Classic | Length: 109 pages | Published: ∼360 BC

Publisher’s description: A model of the kind of text one needs for lecture courses: the translation is extremely readable and made even more accessible by intelligent printing decisions (on dividing the text, spacing for clarification, etc.); the notes are kept to a minimum but appear when they are really needed for comprehension and are truly informative. And the introduction admirably presents both basic information and a sense of current scholarly opinion. –S. G. Nugent, Princeton University

Complete Works – Plato

Category: Anthology | Length: 1838 pages | Published: ∼360 BC

Publisher’s description: Outstanding translations by leading contemporary scholars–many commissioned especially for this volume–are presented here in the first single edition to include the entire surviving corpus of works attributed to Plato in antiquity. In his introductory essay, John Cooper explains the presentation of these works, discusses questions concerning the chronology of their composition, comments on the dialogue form in which Plato wrote, and offers guidance on approaching the reading and study of Plato’s works.

Also included are concise introductions by Cooper and Hutchinson to each translation, meticulous annotation designed to serve both scholar and general reader, and a comprehensive index. This handsome volume offers fine paper and a high-quality Smyth-sewn cloth binding in a sturdy, elegant edition.


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