From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on the philosophy of history, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on the philosophy of history. 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 the philosophy of history in no particular order.
The Philosophy of History: An Introduction – Mark Day
Category: Introduction | Length: 268 pages | Published: 2008
Publisher description: This is the definitive companion to the study of the philosophy of history. It provides an accessible and comprehensive introduction to all the major philosophical concepts, issues and debates raised by history. Ideal for undergraduate students in philosophy and history, the structure and content closely reflect the way the philosophy of history is studied and taught.
The book offers a lucid treatment of existing approaches to the philosophy of history and also breaks new ground by extending the major debates in this area of growing philosophical interest. Subjects examined include: the centrality of historical language; objections to historical truth and realism; the relationship between the philosophy of history and the philosophy of science; historical interpretation and narrative; philosophical accounts of historical reasoning from the evidence. The text clearly presents and criticizes the arguments of the major philosophers and historians who have contributed to our understanding of the philosophy of history.
The Philosophy of History (Oxford Readings in Philosophy) – Patrick Gardiner
Category: Anthology | Length: 230 pages | Published: 1974
Publisher description: The aim of this series is to bring together important recent writings in major areas of philosophical inquiry, selected from a variety of sources, mostly periodicals, which may not be conveniently available to the university student or the general reader. The editor of each volume contributes an introductory essay on the items chosen and on the questions with which they deal. A selective bibliography is appended as a guide to further reading. Patrick Gardiner is a Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy of Magdalen College, Oxford.
A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historigraphy – Aviezer Tucker
Category: Companion | Length: 576 pages | Published: 2010
Publisher description: The philosophy of historiography examines our representations and knowledge of the past, the relation between evidence, inference, explanation and narrative. Do we possess knowledge of the past? Do we just have probable beliefs about the past, or is historiography a piece of convincing fiction? The philosophy of history is the direct philosophical examination of history, whether it is necessary or contingent, whether it has a direction or whether it is coincidental, and if it has a direction, what it is, and how and why it is unfolding? The fifty entries in this companion cover the main issues in the philosophies of historiography and history, including natural history and the practices of historians. Written by an international and multi–disciplinary group of experts, these clearly written entries present a cutting–edge updated picture of current research in the philosophies of historiography and history. This companion will be of interest to philosophers, historians, natural historians, and social scientists.
Lectures on the Philosophy of History – G. W. F. Hegel
Category: Classic | Length: 442 pages
Publisher description: This is the first complete translation in over 150 years of what many consider to be Hegel’s most accessible work. The Lectures on the Philosophy of History are a tour-de-force, an audacious attempt to summarize world history and the purpose behind it. Was Hegel the progenitor of the power-state that unified Germany became? The Lectures, the mature fruit of Hegel’s thought, provide many relevant clues. Hegel saw the growth of freedom as the purpose behind history, but he also argued that such freedom could not take root and flourish apart from a state able to impose and enforce the rule of law.
Selected Writings – Karl Marx
Category: Classic | Length: 338 pages
Publisher description: Featuring the most important and enduring works from Marx’s enormous corpus, this collection ranges from the Hegelian idealism of his youth to the mature socialism of his later works. Organized both topically and in rough chronological order, the selections (many of them in the translations of Loyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat) include writings on historical materialism, excerpts from Capital, and political works.
Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defense – G. A. Cohen
Category: Contemporary | Length: 430 pages | Published: 1978
Publisher description: First published in 1978, this book rapidly established itself as a classic of modern Marxism. Cohen’s masterful application of advanced philosophical techniques in an uncompromising defense of historical materialism commanded widespread admiration. In the ensuing twenty years, the book has served as a flagship of a powerful intellectual movement–analytical Marxism. In this expanded edition, Cohen offers his own account of the history, and the further promise, of analytical Marxism. He also expresses reservations about traditional historical materialism, in the light of which he reconstructs the theory, and he studies the implications for historical materialism of the demise of the Soviet Union.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Philosophy of History – Southeastern Louisiana University
- Philosophy of History – Oxford University
- Philosophy of History – Chinese University of Hong Kong
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Philosophy of History
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Philosophy of History
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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.