The Five Best Books on or by Confucius

Lennox Johnson Books

From beginner-friendly introductions to classic works by Confucius, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on Confucius. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or read Confucius for yourself.

It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.

Here are the best books on or by Confucius in no particular order.

Confucianism: A Very Short Introduction – Daniel K. Gardner

Category: Short Introduction | Length: 152 pages | Published: 2014 Confucianism: A Very Short Introduction - Daniel K. Gardner Book Cover

Publisher’s description: To understand China, it is essential to understand Confucianism. First formulated in the sixth century BCE, the teachings of Confucius would come to dominate Chinese society, politics, economics, and ethics. In this Very Short Introduction, Daniel K. Gardner explores the major philosophical ideas of the Confucian tradition, showing their profound impact on state ideology and imperial government, the civil service examination system, domestic life, and social relations over the course of twenty-six centuries. Gardner focuses on two of the Sage’s most crucial philosophical problems-what makes for a good person, and what constitutes good government-and demonstrates the enduring significance of these questions today.

This volume shows the influence of the Sage’s teachings over the course of Chinese history–on state ideology, the civil service examination system, imperial government, the family, and social relations–and the fate of Confucianism in China in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as China developed alongside a modernizing West and Japan. …

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Thinking Through Confucius – D. L. Hall & R. T. Ames

Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 416 pages | Published: 1987 Thinking Through Confucius - D. L. Hall & R. T. Ames Book Cover

Publisher’s description: Thinking Through Confucius critically interprets the conceptual structure underlying Confucius’ philosophical reflections. It also investigates “thinking,” or “philosophy” from the perspective of Confucius. Perhaps the philosophical question of our time is “what is philosophy”. The authors suggest that an examination of the Chinese philosophy may provide an alternative definition of philosophy that can be used to address some of the pressing issues of the Western cultural tradition. This book finds an appropriate language for the interpretation of traditional Chinese philosophical thought ― a language which is relatively free from the bias and presuppositions of Western philosophy.

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Confucius: The Secular as SacredHerbert Fingarette

Category: Short Introduction | Length: 84 pages | Published: 1998 Confucius: The Secular as Sacred - Herbert Fingarette Book Cover

Publisher’s description: An ideal way to discover the teachings of Confucius! Fingarette’s primary aim is to help readers discover what is distinctive in Confucius and to learn what he can teach us. Fingarette—who thinks the best way to discover Confucius’s teaching is by taking him at his word—uses original text as his principal resource in an effort to try to see what it says, what it implies and what it does not say or need not imply.

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A Concise Companion to Confucius – Paul R. Goldin

Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 408 pages | Published: 2017 A Concise Companion to Confucius - Paul R. Goldin Book Cover

Publisher’s description: A Concise Companion to Confucius offers a succinct introduction to one of East Asia’s most widely-revered historical figures, providing essential coverage of his legacy at a manageable length. The volume embraces Confucius as philosopher, teacher, politician, and sage, and curates a collection of key perspectives on his life and teachings from a team of distinguished scholars in philosophy, history, religious studies, and the history of art. Taken together, chapters encourage specialists to read across disciplinary boundaries, provide nuanced paths of introduction for students, and engage interested readers who want to expand their understanding of the great Chinese master. …

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The Analects – Confucius

Category: Classic | Length: 352 pages The Analects - Confucius Book Cover

Publisher’s description: Confucius (551-479 BCE) was born in the ancient state of Lu into an era of unrelenting, escalating violence as seven of the strongest states in the proto-Chinese world warred for supremacy. The landscape was not only fierce politically but also intellectually. Although Confucius enjoyed great popularity as a teacher, and many of his students found their way into political office, he personally had little influence in Lu. And so he began to travel from state to state as an itinerant philosopher to persuade political leaders that his teachings were a formula for social and political success. Eventually, his philosophies came to dictate the standard of behavior for all of society–including the emperor himself.

Based on the latest research and complete with both Chinese and English texts, this revealing translation serves both as an excellent introduction to Confucian thought and as an authoritative addition to sophisticated debate.

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The following sources were used to build this list:

University Course Syllabi:


Other Recommendations:

Additional Resources

You might also be interested in the following reading lists:

Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy readings list to find more philosophy book recommendations.

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