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The Six Best Books on Daoism

Lennox Johnson Books

From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on Daoism, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on Daoism. 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 pick up one of the classics.

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 Daoism in no particular order.

Dao De Jing – Laozi

Category: Classic | Length: 256 pages Dao De Jing - Lao Zi Book Cover

Publisher’s description: In 1993, archaeologists unearthed a set of ancient bamboo scrolls that contained the earliest known version of the Dao de jing. Composed more than two thousand years ago, this life-changing document offers a regimen of self-cultivation to attain personal excellence and revitalize moral behavior. Now in this luminous new translation, renowned China scholars Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall bring the timeless wisdom of the Dao de jing into our contemporary world.

In this elegant volume, Ames and Hall feature the original Chinese texts of the Dao de jing and translate them into crisp, chiseled English that reads like poetry. Each of the eighty-one brief chapters is followed by clear, thought-provoking commentary exploring the layers of meaning in the text. This new version of one of the world’s most influential documents will stand as both a compelling introduction to Daoist thought and as the classic modern English translation.

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Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings – Zhuangzi

Category: Classic | Length: 256 pages Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings - Zhuangzi Book Cover

Publisher’s description: Ideal for students and scholars alike, this edition of Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) includes the complete Inner Chapters, extensive selections from the Outer and Miscellaneous Chapters, and judicious selections from two thousand years of traditional Chinese commentaries, which provide the reader access to the text as well as to its reception and interpretation. A glossary, brief biographies of the commentators, a bibliography, and an index are also included.

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Introducing Daoism – Livia Kohn

Category: General Introduction | Length: 296 pages | Published: 2008 Introducing Daoism - Livia Kohn Book Cover

Publisher’s description: Daoism is one of the major religious traditions of the East, but in the past has not been as well known as Buddhism and Hinduism. With the increased interest in Eastern religions, and alternative spiritual traditions, interest in Daoism is increasing. Introducing Daoism is a lively and accessible introduction to this fascinating religion.

Introducing Daoism presents Daoism’s key concepts and major practices in an integrated historical survey. From Daoism’s origins in antiquity, through the Tang, Ming, and Quing dynasties, and into the present day, Livia Kohn explores Daoism’s movements and schools, including: Daoist philosophy, the organized religion, and Daoist health practices. Each chapter introduces the main historical events of the period, the leading figures in Daoism, and Daoist scriptures and practices, as well as covering a wealth of fascinating topics such as Chinese cosmology, Daoist understanding of the body, rituals and doctrine, meditation, mythology, and poetry. Livia Kohn examines the connections between the defining concepts, history, and practices of Daoism, and key issues in Asian and Western comparative religions, making this the essential text for students studying Daoism on World Religions courses.

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Daoism and Chinese Culture – Livia Kohn

Category: General Introduction | Length: 218 pages | Published: 2012 (3e) Daoism and Chinese Culture - Livia Kohn Book Cover

Publisher’s description: A long-awaited textbook that introduces the major schools, teachings, and practices of Daoism, this work presents a chronological survey that is thematically divided into four parts: Ancient Thought, Religious Communities, Spiritual Practices, and Modernity.

The work offers an integrated vision of the Daoist tradition in its historical and cultural context, establishing connections with relevant information on Confucianism, Chinese Buddhism, popular religion, and political developments.

It also places Daoism into a larger theoretical and comparative framework, relating it to mysticism, millenarianism, forms of religious organization, ritual, meditation, and modernity. The book makes ample use of original materials and provides references to further readings and original sources in translation. It is a powerful resource for teaching and studying alike.

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Taoism: Growth of a Religion – Isabelle Robinet

Category: Historical Introduction | Length: 296 pages | Published: 1997 Taoism: Growth of a Religion - Isabelle Robinet Book Cover

Publisher’s description: This is a survey of the history of Taoism from approximately the third century B.C. to the fourteenth century A.D. For many years, it was customary to divide Taoism into “philosophical Taoism” and “religious Taoism.” The author has long argued that this is a false division and that “religious” Taoism is simply the practice of “philosophical” Taoism. She sees Taoism as foremost a religion, and the present work traces the development of Taoism up to the point it reached its mature form (which remains intact today, albeit with modern innovations). The main aim of this history of Taoism is to trace the major lines of its doctrinal evolution, showing the coherence of its development, the wide varieties of factors that came into play over a long period of disconnected eras, the constant absorptions of outside. …

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The Taoist Experience: An Anthology – Livia Kohn

Category: Anthology | Length: 408 pages | Published: 1993 The Taoist Experience: An Anthology - Livia Kohn Book Cover

Publisher’s description: Containing sixty translations from a large variety of texts, this is an accessible yet thorough introduction to the major concepts, doctrines, and practices of Taoism. It presents the philosophy, rituals, and health techniques of the ancients as well as the practices and ideas of Taoists today. Divided into four sections, it follows the Taoist Path: The Tao, Long Life, Eternal Vision, and Immortality. It shows how the world of the Tao is perceived from within the tradition, what fervent Taoists did, and how practitioners saw their path and goals. The Taoist Experience is unique in that it presents the whole of Taoist tradition in the very words of its active practitioners. It conveys not only a sense of the depth of the Taoist religious experience but also of the underlying unity of the various schools and strands.

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The following sources were used to build this list:

University Course Syllabi:

Bibliographies:

Other Recommendations:

Additional Resources

You might also be interested in the following reading lists:

Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.


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