The Six Best Books on Plato

This page contains a list of the six best books on Plato. When looking for books on Plato, some people want a short and easy introduction, others would prefer a longer and more detailed analysis. This list divides each book into one of the following categories to help you choose the type of book that suits you best:

  • Short Textbook
  • Comprehensive Textbook
  • Anthology
  • Classic

This list was created by crowdsourcing required readings from university course syllabi as well as other recommendations from around the web. For more information on what these categories mean and how this list was constructed, see: Methodology and Criteria for Building Reading Lists. Links to the sources used for these recommendations are listed at the end of the post so you can view the syllabi and recommendations for yourself. Here are the six best books on Plato in no particular order:

Plato: A Very Short Introduction – Julia Annas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plato: Complete Works – Plato

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

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.


 

Sources

A good way to find introductory readings on Plato is to browse through a university course syllabus. This list of books was created using the following course syllabi and community recommendations:

Course Syllabi:

Other Recommendations:

Online forums and communities sometimes have experts that are kind enough to recommend books. Here are a few community recommendations:

Not sure if you want to commit to reading a full book on Plato? You can find a short introductory video, podcast, and article on Plato on this page.

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And if you know of any resources that should be on this list, please leave a comment below and I will add it. Or get in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

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