From beginner-friendly introductions to classic works by Thomas Hobbes, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on Hobbes. 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 Hobbes 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 Thomas Hobbes in no particular order.
Hobbes: A Very Short Introduction – Richard Tuck
Publisher description: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was the first great English political philosopher, and his book Leviathan was one of the first truly modern works of philosophy. Richard Tuck shows that while Hobbes may indeed have been an atheist, he was far from pessimistic about human nature, nor did he advocate totalitarianism. By locating him against the context of his age, we learn that Hobbes developed a theory of knowledge which rivaled that of Descartes in its importance for the formation of modern philosophy.
Hobbes – A. P. Martinich
Publisher description: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was the first great English philosopher and one of the most important theorists of human nature and politics in the history of Western thought.
This superlative introduction presents Hobbes’ main doctrines and arguments, covering all of Hobbes’ philosophy. A.P. Martinich begins with a helpful overview of Hobbes’ life and work, setting his ideas against the political and scientific background of seventeenth-century England….
Hobbes: A Biography – A. P. Martinich
Publisher description: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is now recognized as one of the fathers of modern philosophy and political theory. In his own time he was as famous for his work in physics, geometry, and religion. He associated with some of the greatest writers, scientists, and politicians of his age including Ben Jonson, Galileo and King Charles II. A. P. Martinich has written the most complete and accessible biography of Hobbes available. The book takes full account of the historical and cultural context in which Hobbes lived, drawing on both published and unpublished sources. It will be a great resource for philosophers, political theorists, and historians of ideas. The clear, crisp prose style will also ensure that the book appeals to general readers with an interest in the history of philosophy, the rise of modern science, and the English Civil War. …
The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes – Tom Sorell
Publisher description: Hobbes had distinctive views in metaphysics and epistemology, and wrote about such subjects as history, law, and religion. He also produced full-scale treatises in physics, optics, and geometry. All of these areas are covered in this Companion, most in considerable detail. The volume also reflects the multidisciplinary nature of current Hobbes scholarship by drawing together perspectives on Hobbes that are now being developed in parallel by philosophers, historians of science and mathematics, intellectual historians, political scientists, and literary theorists.
Leviathan – Thomas Hobbes
Publisher description: Written during the turmoil of the English Civil War, Leviathan is an ambitious and highly original work of political philosophy. Claiming that man’s essential nature is competitive and selfish, Hobbes formulates the case for a powerful sovereign—or “Leviathan”—to enforce peace and the law, substituting security for the anarchic freedom he believed human beings would otherwise experience. This worldview shocked many of Hobbes’s contemporaries, and his work was publicly burnt for sedition and blasphemy when it was first published. But in his rejection of Aristotle’s view of man as a naturally social being, and in his painstaking analysis of the ways in which society can and should function, Hobbes opened up a whole new world of political science. …
The Elements of Law – Thomas Hobbes
Publisher description: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was an English philosopher, remembered today for his work on political philosophy. His 1651 book Leviathan established the foundation for most of Western political philosophy from the perspective of social contract theory. He also contributed to a diverse array of fields, including history, geometry, physics of gases, theology, ethics, general philosophy, and political science. He was one of the main philosophers who founded materialism. He visited Florence in 1636 and later was a regular debater in philosophic groups in Paris, held together by Marin Mersenne. Hobbes’s first area of study was an interest in the physical doctrine of motion and physical momentum. Despite his interest in this phenomenon, he disdained experimental work as in physics. He built a good reputation in philosophic circles and in 1645, he was chosen with Descartes, Gilles de Roberval and others, to referee the controversy between John Pell and Longomontanus over the problem of squaring the circle. …
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Thomas Hobbes – PHIL 185 | Pomona College
- Sovereignty: Hobbes and his 20th and 21st Century Successors – COL 5118 | University of Toronto
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Thomas Hobbes
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Hobbes: Methodology
If you want to learn more about Hobbes, 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 Introductory Books on Political Philosophy
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- Find the best philosophy books on a wide variety of topics with this collection of over 120 philosophy reading lists.
- Find free online philosophy articles, podcasts, and videos with this organised collection of 400+ free philosophy resources.
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.