From beginner-friendly introductions to classic works by Lucretius, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on Lucretius. 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 Lucretius 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 Lucretius in no particular order.
Lucretius – John Godwin
Publisher description: The Roman poet Lucretius, who lived in the first century BC, composed an epic poem, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of the Universe), whose avowed purpose was to change the way we live our lives, to abandon our fear of the gods and of death, and to see what real happiness is and how to obtain it. The poem explains the atomic nature of the world and our own place in it, examining the microscopic world of atoms and the telescopic world of the universe, as well as human life in all its facets – politics, pleasure, the nature of perception, our dreams and sexual behaviour. Here John Godwin explains Lucretius’ great poem in its Roman context, assessing the literary and philosophical value of the poems and arguing the merits of the poet’s claim to change our lives. Lucretius is seen as a writer for our time, offering us a text of enormous beauty and artistry which will help us find happiness and serenity in a turbulent world.
Lucretius and the Transformation of Greek Wisdom – David N. Sedley
Publisher description: This book is designed to appeal both to those interested in Roman poetry and to specialists in ancient philosophy. In it David Sedley explores Lucretius’ complex relationship with Greek culture, in particular with Empedocles, whose poetry was the model for his own, with Epicurus, the source of his philosophical inspiration, and with the Greek language itself. He includes a detailed reconstruction of Epicurus’ great treatise On Nature, and seeks to show how Lucretius worked with this as his sole philosophical source, but gradually emancipated himself from its structure, transforming its raw contents into something radically new. By pursuing these themes, the book uncovers many unrecognised aspects of Lucretius’ methods and achievements as a poetic craftsman.
The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius – Stuart Gillespie
Publisher description: Lucretius’ didactic poem De rerum natura (‘On the Nature of Things’) is an impassioned and visionary presentation of the materialist philosophy of Epicurus, and one of the most powerful poetic texts of antiquity. After its rediscovery in 1417 it became a controversial and seminal work in successive phases of literary history, the history of science, and the Enlightenment. In this 2007 Cambridge Companion experts in the history of literature, philosophy and science discuss the poem in its ancient contexts and in its reception both as a literary text and as a vehicle for progressive ideas. The Companion is designed both as an accessible handbook for the general reader who wishes to learn about Lucretius, and as a series of stimulating essays for students of classical antiquity and its reception. It is completely accessible to the reader who has only read Lucretius in translation.
The Swerve – Stephen Greenblatt
Publisher description: One of the world’s most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.
Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius―a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions….
On 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:
- Lucretius – CLAS 3325 | Boston College
- Lucretius – University of Edinburgh
- Lucretius – University of Florida
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Lucretius
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Lucretius
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 Books on Epicureanism
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
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