From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on Socrates, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on Socrates. 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 Plato’s dialogues 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 Socrates in no particular order.
Socrates: A Very Short Introduction – Christopher Taylor
Category: Short Introduction | Length: 140 pages | Published: 2000
Publisher description: Socrates has a unique position in the history of philosophy. It is no exaggeration to say that had it not been for his influence on Plato, the whole development of Western philosophy might have bee unimaginably different. Yet Socrates wrote nothing himself, and our knowledge of him is derived primarily from the engaging and infuriating figure who appears in Plato’s dialogues. In this book, Christopher Taylor explores the relationship between the historical Socrates and the Platonic character, and examines the enduring image of Socrates as the ideal exemplar of the philosophic life – a thinker whose moral and intellectual integrity permeated every detail of his life, even in the face of betrayal and execution by his fellow Athenians.
Socrates – George Rudebusch
Category: General Introduction | Length: 240 pages | Published: 2009
Publisher description: Socrates presents a compelling case for some life-changing conclusions that follow from a close reading of Socrates’ arguments.
- Offers a highly original study of Socrates and his thought, accessible to contemporary readers
- Argues that through studying Socrates we can learn practical wisdom to apply to our lives
- Lovingly crafted with humour, thought-experiments and literary references (from the Iliad to Harry Potter), and with close reading sof key Socratic arguments
- Aids readers with diagrams to make clear complex arguments
Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher – Gregory Vlastos
Category: General introduction | Length: 342 pages | Published: 1991
Publisher description: This long-awaited study of the most enigmatic figure of Greek philosophy reclaims Socrates’ ground-breaking originality. Written by a leading historian of Greek thought, it argues for a Socrates who, though long overshadowed by his successors Plato and Aristotle, marked the true turning point in Greek philosophy, religion and ethics. The quest for the historical figure focuses on the Socrates of Plato’s earlier dialogues, setting him in sharp contrast to that other Socrates of later dialogues, where he is used as a mouthpiece for Plato’s often anti-Socratic doctrine. At the heart of the book is the paradoxical nature of Socratic thought. But the paradoxes are explained, not explained away. The book highlights the tensions in the Socratic search for the answer to the question ‘How should we live?’ Conceived as a divine mandate, the search is carried out through elenctic argument, and dominated by an uncompromising rationalism. The magnetic quality of Socrates’ personality is allowed to emerge throughout the book. Clearly and forcefully written, philosophically sophisticated but entirely accessible to non-specialists, this book will be of major importance and interest to all those studying ancient philosophy and the history of Western thought.
The Cambridge Companion to Socrates – Donald R. Morrison
Category: Overview | Length: 436 pages | Published: 2010
Publisher description: The Cambridge Companion to Socrates is a collection of essays providing a comprehensive guide to Socrates, the most famous Greek philosopher. Because Socrates himself wrote nothing, our evidence comes from the writings of his friends (above all Plato), his enemies, and later writers. Socrates is thus a literary figure as well as a historical person. Both aspects of Socrates’ legacy are covered in this volume. Socrates’ character is full of paradox, and so are his philosophical views. These paradoxes have led to deep differences in scholar’s interpretation of Socrates and his thought. Mirroring this wide range of thought about Socrates, this volume’s contributors are unusually diverse in their background and perspective. The essays in this volume were authored by classical philologists, philosophers, and historians from Germany, Francophone Canada, Britain, and the United States, and they represent a range of interpretive and philosophical traditions.
The Trial and Death of Socrates – Plato
Category: Classic | Length: 58 pages
Publisher description: The third edition of The Trial and Death of Socrates presents G. M. A. Grube’s distinguished translations, as revised by John Cooper for Plato, Complete Works. A number of new or expanded footnotes are also included along with a Select Bibliography.
Complete Works – Plato
Category: Classic | Length: 1838 pages
Publisher description: Outstanding translations by leading contemporary scholars–many commissioned especially for this volume–are presented here in the first single edition to include the entire surviving corpus of works attributed to Plato in antiquity. In his introductory essay, John Cooper explains the presentation of these works, discusses questions concerning the chronology of their composition, comments on the dialogue form in which Plato wrote, and offers guidance on approaching the reading and study of Plato’s works….
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Socrates and Plato – GREE10023 | University of Edinburgh
- A First Course in Socratic Philosophy – PHIL 211 | University of British Columbia
- Before and After Socrates – PHIL 260 | Concordia University
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Socrates
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Socrates
- Where to start with Socrates?
- Buying first books on Socrates and Plato. Advice?
- What book should I read about Socratic philosophy? I would consider Socrates a personal hero but have not read The Republic cover-to-cover or any full book about him. Where to start?
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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.