From beginner-friendly introductions to classic works by Wittgenstein, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on Wittgenstein. 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 Wittgenstein 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 Wittgenstein in no particular order.
How to Read Wittgenstein – Ray Monk
Publisher description: Approaching the writing of major intellectuals, artists, and philosophers need no longer be daunting. How to Read is a new sort of introduction–a personal master class in reading–that brings you face to face with the work of some of the most influential and challenging writers in history. In lucid, accessible language, these books explain essential topics such as Wittgenstein’s determination to insist on the integrity and the autonomy of nonscientific forms of understanding.
Though Wittgenstein wrote on the same subjects that dominate the work of other analytic philosophers ― the nature of logic, the limits of language, the analysis of meaning ― he did so in a peculiarly poetic style that separates his work sharply from that of his peers and makes the question of how to read him particularly pertinent.
At the root of Wittgenstein’s thought, Monk argues, is a determination to resist the scientism characteristic of our age, a determination to insist on the integrity and the autonomy of non-scientific forms of understanding. The kind of understanding we seek in philosophy, Wittgenstein tried to make clear, is similar to the kind we might seek of a person, a piece of music, or, indeed, of a poem.
Wittgenstein – William Child
Publisher description: Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is considered by most philosophers – even those who do not share his views – to be the most influential philosopher of the 20th century. His contributions to the philosophy of language, mind, meaning and psychology – as well as to logic, mathematics and epistemology – permanently altered the philosophical landscape, and his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations continue to be studied in philosophy departments around in the world. In this superb introduction and overview of Wittgenstein’s life and work, William Child discusses:
- Wittgenstein’s early work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, including his account of language and thought
- Wittgenstein’s subsequent rejection of some of the central doctrines of the Tractatus
- Wittgenstein’s later philosophy
- intentionality and rule-following
- philosophy of mind and psychology in Philosophical Investigations
- knowledge and certainty, and Wittgenstein’s final work
- philosophy of religion
- the legacy and influence of Wittgenstein’s ideas in philosophy, and beyond.
Including a chronology, glossary, and helpful conclusions to each chapter, Wittgenstein is essential reading for anyone coming to Wittgenstein’s philosophy for the first time.
Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius – Ray Monk
Publisher description: Ludwig Wittgenstein possessed one of the most acute philosophical minds of the twentieth century. In this incisive portrait, Ray Monk offers a unique insight into the life and work of a modern genius. Wittgenstein was a tortured man who fought his calling in philosophy and never fully came to terms with his gifts. A reluctant Cambridge don, he was uncomfortable in the university setting and believed that a professor could not be an authentic philosopher. In friendship and in love, he was attracted to gentle, intelligent younger men, yet he was so troubled by his own sensuality that these attachments existed mostly in his imagination. Based on previously unpublished Wittgenstein letters and writings, this richly textured biography reveals the connection between the tormented private man and the genius who, in the epoch-making works ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’ and ‘Philosophical Investigations’, radically redirected philosophical thought in our time.
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus – Ludwig Wittgenstein
Publisher description: “Philosophy is not a theory,” asserted Austro-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), “but an activity.” In this 1921 opus, his only philosophical work published during his lifetime, Wittgenstein defined the object of philosophy as the logical clarification of thoughts and proposed the solution to most philosophic problems by means of a critical method of linguistic analysis. In proclaiming philosophy as a matter of logic rather than of metaphysics, Wittgenstein created a sensation among intellectual circles that influenced the development of logical positivism and changed the direction of 20th-century thought.
Beginning with the principles of symbolism and the necessary relations between words and objects, the author applies his theories to various branches of traditional philosophy, illustrating how mistakes arise from inappropriate use of symbolism and misuses of language. After examining the logical structure of propositions and the nature of logical inference, he discusses the theory of knowledge as well as principles of physics and ethics and aspects of the mystical. …
Philosophical Investigations – Ludwig Wittgenstein
Publisher description: Incorporating significant editorial changes from earlier editions, the fourth edition of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations is the definitive en face German-English version of the most important work of 20th-century philosophy
- The extensively revised English translation incorporates many hundreds of changes to Anscombe’s original translation
- Footnoted remarks in the earlier editions have now been relocated in the text
- What was previously referred to as ‘Part 2’ is now republished as Philosophy of Psychology – A Fragment, and all the remarks in it are numbered for ease of reference
- New detailed editorial end notes explain decisions of translators and identify references and allusions in Wittgenstein’s original text
- Now features new essays on the history of the Philosophical Investigations, and the problems of translating Wittgenstein’s text
On Certainty – Ludwig Wittgenstein
Written over the last 18 months of his life and inspired by his interest in G. E. Moore’s defense of common sense, this much discussed volume collects Wittgenstein’s reflections on knowledge and certainty, on what it is to know a proposition for sure.
The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein – Hans Sluga & David G. Stern
Publisher description: Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is one of the most important and influential philosophers in modern times, but he is also one of the least accessible. In this volume, leading experts chart the development of his work and clarify the connections between its different stages. The essays, which are both expository and original, address central themes in Wittgenstein’s writing on a wide range of topics, particularly his thinking about the mind, language, logic, and mathematics. The contributors illuminate the character of the whole body of work by focusing on key topics: the style of the philosophy, the conception of grammar contained in it, rule-following, convention, logical necessity, the self, and what Wittgenstein called, in a famous phrase, ‘forms of life’. This revised edition includes a new introduction, five new essays – on Tractarian ethics, Wittgenstein’s development, aspects, the mind, and time and history – and a fully updated comprehensive bibliography.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Wittgenstein – Cambridge University
- Wittgenstein – UC Santa Cruz
- Great Philosophers: Wittgenstein – University of Nevada
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Wittgenstein
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Wittgenstein
- Any good books for a Wittgenstein crash course?
- Best book(s) on Wittgenstein
- How should I start with Wittgenstein?
- Which secondary sources on Wittgenstein would you recommend?
If you want to learn more about Wittgenstein, 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 Books on the Philosophy of Language
The Daily Idea aims to make learning about philosophy as easy as possible by bringing together the best philosophy resources from across the internet.
- 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.