From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on Epicureanism, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on Epicureanism. 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 or by Epicureanism in no particular order.
Epicureanism: A Very Short Introduction – Catherine Wilson
Publisher description: Epicureanism is commonly associated with a carefree view of life and the pursuit of pleasures, particularly the pleasures of the table. However it was a complex and distinctive system of philosophy that emphasized simplicity and moderation, and considered nature to consist of atoms and the void. Epicureanism is a school of thought whose legacy continues to reverberate today.
In this Very Short Introduction, Catherine Wilson explains the key ideas of the School, comparing them with those of the rival Stoics and with Kantian ethics, and tracing their influence on the development of scientific and political thought from Locke, Newton, and Galileo to Rousseau, Marx, Bentham, and Mill. She discusses the adoption and adaptation of Epicurean motifs in science, morality, and politics from the 17th Century onwards and contextualises the significance of Epicureanism in modern life.
Epicureanism – Tim O’Keefe
Publisher description: This introduction to Epicureanism offers students and general readers a clear exposition of the central tenets of Epicurean philosophy, one of the dominant schools of the Hellenistic period. Founded by Epicurus of Samos (c. 341–270 BCE), it held that for a human being the greatest good was to attain tranquility, free from fear and bodily pain, by seeking to understand the workings of the world and the limits of our desires. Tim O’Keefe provides an extended exegesis of the arguments that support Epicurean philosophical positions, analyzing both their strengths and their weaknesses while showing how the different areas of Epicurean inquiry come together to make a whole. Lucid, witty, and entertaining, Epicureanism wears its knowledge lightly while offering a wealth of stimulating and humorous examples.
The Cambridge Companion to Epicureanism – James Warren
Publisher description: This Companion presents both an introduction to the history of the ancient philosophical school of Epicureanism and also a critical account of the major areas of its philosophical interest. Chapters span the school’s history from the early Hellenistic Garden to the Roman Empire and its later reception in the Early Modern period, introducing the reader to the Epicureans’ contributions in physics, metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, ethics and politics. The international team of contributors includes scholars who have produced innovative and original research in various areas of Epicurean thought and they have produced essays which are accessible and of interest to philosophers, classicists, and anyone concerned with the diversity and preoccupations of Epicurean philosophy and the state of academic research in this field. The volume emphasises the interrelation of the different areas of the Epicureans’ philosophical interests while also drawing attention to points of interpretative difficulty and controversy.
The Essential Epicurus – Epicurus
Publisher description: Epicureanism is commonly regarded as the refined satisfaction of physical desires. As a philosophy, however, it also denoted the striving after an independent state of mind and body, imperturbability, and reliance on sensory data as the true basis of knowledge.
Epicurus (ca. 341-271 B.C.) founded one of the most famous and influential philosophical schools of antiquity. In these remains of his vast output of scientific and ethical writings, we can trace Epicurus’ views on atomism, physical sensation, duty, morality, the soul, and the nature of the gods.
The Nature of Things – Lucretius
Publisher description: Lucretius’ poem On the Nature of Things combines a scientific and philosophical treatise with some of the greatest poetry ever written. With intense moral fervour he demonstrates to humanity that in death there is nothing to fear since the soul is mortal, and the world and everything in it is governed by the mechanical laws of nature and not by gods; and that by believing this men can live in peace of mind and happiness. He bases this on the atomic theory expounded by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, and continues with an examination of sensation, sex, cosmology, meteorology, and geology, all of these subjects made more attractive by the poetry with which he illustrates them.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Epicurus – Phil 6030 | Georgia State University
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Epicurus
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Epicurus
If you want to learn more about Epicureanism, you can find a collection of free articles, videos, and podcasts here.
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on the History of Philosophy
- The Best Philosophy Books on Happiness
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.