The Five Best Books on Postmodernism

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

The Origins of Postmodernity – Perry Anderson

Category: Short Introduction | Length: 150 pages | Published: 1998

Publisher description: Where does the idea of the postmodern come from? Who first conceived, and who developed it? How have its meanings changed? What purposes do they serve? These are the questions addressed in The Origins of Postmodernity. The answers take us from Lima to Angkor, to Paris and Munich, to China and the stars. At the center of the story is the figure of Fredric Jameson, theorist supreme of postmodernism. What happens to art, time, politics, in the age of the spectacle? What has ended, and what has begun?

Postmodern Theory – Steven Best & Douglas Kellner

Category: General Introduction | Length: 324 pages | Published: 1991

Publisher description: In this timely volume, the authors systematically analyze postmodern theory to evaluate its relevance for critical social theory and radical politics today.

Best and Kellner provide:

  • An introduction and critique of the work of Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Baudrillard, Lyotard, Laclau and Mouffe, and Jameson, which assess the varying contributions and limitations of postmodern theory
  • A discussion of postmodern feminist theory and the politics of identity
  • A systematic study of the origin of the discourse of the postmodern in historical, sociological, cultural, and philosophical studies.

The authors claim that while postmodern theory provides insights into contemporary developments, it lacks adequate methodological and political perspectives to provide a critical social theory and radical politics for the present age.

French Philosophy in the Twentieth Century – Gary Gutting

Category: General Overview | Length: 419 pages | Published: 2001

Publisher description: In this book Gary Gutting tells, clearly and comprehensively, the story of French philosophy from 1890 to 1990. He examines the often neglected background of spiritualism, university idealism, and early philosophy of science, and also discusses the privileged role of philosophy in the French education system. Taking account of this background, together with the influences of avant-garde literature and German philosophy, he develops a rich account of existential phenomenology, which he argues is the central achievement of French thought during the century, and of subsequent structuralist and poststructuralist developments. His discussion includes chapters on Bergson, Sartre, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, and Derrida, with sections on other major thinkers including Lyotard, Deleuze, Irigaray, Levinas, and Ricoeur. He offers challenging analyses of the often misunderstood relationship between existential phenomenology and structuralism and of the emergence of poststructuralism. Finally, he sketches the major current trends of French philosophy.

From Modernism to Postmodernism – Lawrence E. Cahoone

Category: Anthology | Length: 638 pages | Published: 2003 (2e)

Publisher description: This revised and expanded second edition of Cahoone’s classic anthology provides an unparalleled collection of the essential readings in modernism and postmodernism.

  • Places contemporary debate in the context of the criticism of modernity since the seventeenth century.
  • Chronologically and thematically arranged.
  • Indispensable and multidisciplinary resource in philosophy, literature, cultural studies, social theory, and religious studies.

The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge – Jean-Francois Lyotard

Category: Contemporary | Length: 144 pages

Publisher description: Many definitions of postmodernism focus on its nature as the aftermath of the modern industrial age when technology developed. This book extends that analysis to postmodernism by looking at the status of science, technology, and the arts, the significance of technocracy, and the way the flow of information is controlled in the Western world.


The following sources were used to build this list:

University Course Syllabi:

Bibliographies:

Other Recommendations:

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

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