From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on anarchism, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best philosophy book on anarchism. 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 anarchism in no particular order.
Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction – Colin Ward
Category: Short Introduction | Length: 126 pages | Published: 2004
Publisher description: What do anarchists want? It seems easier to classify them by what they don’t want, namely, the organizations of the State, and to identify them with rioting and protest rather than with any coherent ideology. But with demonstrations like those against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund being blamed on anarchists, it is clear that an explanation of what they do stand for is long overdue.
Colin Ward provides answers to these questions by considering anarchism from a variety of perspectives: theoretical, historical, and international, and by exploring key anarchist thinkers, from Kropotkin to Chomsky. He looks critically at anarchism by evaluating key ideas within it, such as its blanket opposition to incarceration, and policy of “no compromise” with the apparatus of political decision-making. Can anarchy ever function effectively as a political force? Is it more “organized” and “reasonable” than is currently perceived? Whatever the politics of the reader, Ward’s argument ensures that anarchism will be much better understood after experiencing this book.
Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism – Peter Marshall
Category: Comprehensive Overview | Length: 800 pages | Published: 2010
Publisher description: Lively and authoritative, this study of a widely misunderstood subject skillfully navigates the rough waters of anarchistic concepts—from Taoism to Situationism, ranters to punk rockers, individualists to communists, and anarcho-syndicalists to anarcha-feminists. Exploring key anarchist ideas of society and the state, freedom and equality, authority and power, the record investigates the successes and failures of anarchist movements throughout the world. Presenting a balanced and critical survey, the detailed document covers not only classic anarchist thinkers—such as Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus, and Emma Goldman—but also other libertarian figures, such as Nietzsche, Camus, Gandhi, Foucault, and Chomsky. Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand what anarchists stand for and what they have achieved, this fascinating account also includes an epilogue that examines the most recent developments, including postanarchism and anarcho-primitivism as well as the anarchist contributions to the peace, green, and global justice movements of the 21st century.
No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism – Daniel Guerin
Category: Anthology | Length: 500 pages | Published: 2005
Publisher description: The first English translation of Guérin’s monumental anthology of anarchism, published here in one volume. It details a vast array of unpublished documents, letters, debates, manifestos, reports, impassioned calls-to-arms and reasoned analysis; the history, organization and practice of the movement—its theorists, advocates and activists; the great names and the obscure, towering legends and unsung heroes.
This definitive anthology portrays anarchism as a sophisticated ideology whose nuances and complexities highlight the natural desire for freedom in all of us. The classical texts will re-establish anarchism as both an intellectual and practical force to be reckoned with. Includes writings by Emma Goldman, Kropotkin, Berkman, Bakunin, Proudhon, and Malatesta.
The Bloomsbury Companion to Anarchism – Ruth Kinna
Category: Companion | Length: 488 pages | Published: 2014
Publisher description: The Bloomsbury Companion to Anarchism is a comprehensive reference work to support research in anarchism.
The book considers the different approaches to anarchism as an ideology and explains the development of anarchist studies from the early twentieth century to the present day. It is unique in that it highlights the relationship between theory and practice, pays special attention to methodology, presents non-English works, key terms and concepts, and discusses new directions for the field. Focusing on the contemporary movement, the work outlines significant shifts in the study of anarchist ideas and explores recent debates.
The Companion will appeal to scholars in this growing field, whether they are interested in the general study of anarchism or in more specific areas. Featuring the work of key scholars, The Bloomsbury Companion to Anarchism will be an essential tool for both the scholar and the activist.
Property is Theft!: A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Reader – Iain McKay
Category: Reader | Length: 823 pages | Published: 2011
Publisher description: More influential than Karl Marx during his lifetime, Pierre-Joseph Proudon’s work has long been out of print or unavailable in English. Iain McKay’s comprehensive collection is a much-needed and timely historical corrective.
God and the State – Mikhail Bakunin
Category: Classic | Length: 94 pages
Publisher description: In God and the State, Mikhail Bakunin presents a clear and compelling argument against religion and divine authority. Bakunin looks at the ways that belief in the divine props up the temporal authority of governments, and condemns both. Finally, Bakunin addresses the theory that would give the power of government to science, demonstrating that science would become corrupted and used as a tool of power like the divine power it replaced. God and the State is an important and enduring work of anarchist thought. …
Anarchism and Other Essays – Emma Goldman
Category: Classic | Length: 304 pages
Publisher description: In the 1890s and for years thereafter, America reverberated with the name of the “notorious Anarchist,” feminist, revolutionist, and agitator, Emma Goldberg. A Russian Jewish immigrant at the age of 17, she moved by her own efforts from seamstress in a clothing factory to internationally known radical lecturer, writer, editor, and friend of the oppressed. This book is a collection of her remarkably penetrating essays, far in advance of their time, originally published by the Mother Earth press which she founded.
In the first of these essays, Anarchism: What It Really Stands For, she says, “Direct action, having proven effective along economic lines, is equally potent in the environment of the individual.” In Minorities Versus Majorities she holds that social and economic well-being will result only through “the non-compromising determination of intelligent minorities, and not through the mass.” …
The Conquest of Bread and Other Writings – Peter Kropotkin
Category: Classic | Length: 195 pages
Publisher description: Peter Kropotkin was born a Russian prince whose father owned 1,200 serfs. As he aged, he came to hate the inequality in his society, and renounced his royal title. He was imprisoned and spent decades in exile for his views, which he has laid out in this book. He points out the flaws inherent in feudalism and capitalism, and how our current economic system creates poverty and scarcity even though there are enough resources for everybody, and outlines a better system based on people working together as a society.
In Defense of Anarchism – Robert Paul Wolff
Category: Contemporary | Length: 120 pages | Published: 1970
Publisher description: In Defense of Anarchism is a 1970 book by the philosopher Robert Paul Wolff, in which the author defends individualist anarchism. He argues that individual autonomy and state authority are mutually exclusive and that, as individual autonomy is inalienable, the moral legitimacy of the state collapses.
Is There a Duty to Obey the Law? For and Against – Wellman & Simmons
Category: Introduction | Length: 216 pages | Published: 2005
Publisher description: The central question in political philosophy is whether political states have the right to coerce their constituents and whether citizens have a moral duty to obey the commands of their state. Christopher Heath Wellman and A. John Simmons defend opposing answers to this question. Wellman bases his argument on Samaritan obligations to perform easy rescues. Simmons counters that this, and all other attempts to explain our duty to obey the law, will fail.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Anarchisms – Amherst College
- Anarchist History and Thought – Pitzer College
- Early Socialist and Anarchist Thought – University of California, Santa Cruz
- The Sociology of Anarchism – University of Akron
- What to read to learn about Anarchism?
- Introductory books on Anarchist Philosophy
- Philosophy of Anarchism, starting points
- Contemporary anarchist philosophers?
- Philosophical Anarchism
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Introductory Political Philosophy Books
- The Best Philosophy Books on Socialism
- The Best Philosophy Books on Libertarianism
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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.