From contemporary works to classic books on utopia, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best philosophy book on utopia. 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 book 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 philosophy books on utopia in no particular order.
The Utopia Reader – Claeys & Sargeant
Publisher description: The Utopia Reader compiles primary texts from a variety of authors and movements in the history of theorizing utopias.
Utopia – Thomas More
Publisher description: In his most famous and controversial book, Utopia, Thomas More imagines a perfect island nation where thousands live in peace and harmony, men and women are both educated, and all property is communal. Through dialogue and correspondence between the protagonist Raphael Hythloday and his friends and contemporaries, More explores the theories behind war, political disagreements, social quarrels, and wealth distribution and imagines the day-to-day lives of those citizens enjoying freedom from fear, oppression, violence, and suffering. Originally written in Latin, this vision of an ideal world is also a scathing satire of Europe in the sixteenth century and has been hugely influential since publication, shaping utopian fiction even today.
Ideology and Utopia – Karl Mannheim
Publisher description: Karl Mannheim was a Hungarian-born sociologist, influential in the first half of the 20th century and one of the founding fathers of classical sociology as well as a founder of the sociology of knowledge. His essays on the sociology of knowledge have become classics in the field. In “Ideology and Utopia” he argued that the application of the term ideology ought to be broadened. He traced the history of the term from what he called a “particular” view. This view originally saw ideology as the perhaps deliberate obscuring of facts. Over time this view gave way to a “total” conception (most notably in Marx), which argued that a whole social group’s thought was formed by its social position (e.g. the proletariat’s beliefs were conditioned by their relationship to the means of production). However, he called for a further step, which he called a general total conception of ideology, in which it was recognized that everyone’s beliefs-including the social scientist’s-were a product of the context they were created in. Mannheim points out social class, location and generation as the greatest determinants of knowledge. He feared this could lead to relativism but proposed the idea of relationism as an antidote. To uphold the distinction, he maintained that the recognition of different perspectives according to differences in time and social location appears arbitrary only to an abstract and disembodied theory of knowledge.
The Grasshopper: Games Life, and Utopia – Bernard Suits
Publisher description: In the mid twentieth century the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously asserted that games are indefinable; there are no common threads that link them all. “Nonsense,” says the sensible Bernard Suits: “playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” The short book Suits wrote demonstrating precisely that is as playful as it is insightful, as stimulating as it is delightful. Suits not only argues that games can be meaningfully defined; he also suggests that playing games is a central part of the ideal of human existence, so games belong at the heart of any vision of Utopia. Originally published in 1978, The Grasshopper is now re-issued with a new introduction by Thomas Hurka and with additional material (much of it previously unpublished) by the author, in which he expands on the ideas put forward in The Grasshopper and answers some questions that have been raised by critics.
Anarchy, State and Utopia – Robert Nozick
Publisher description: In this brilliant and widely acclaimed book, winner of the 1975 National Book Award, Robert Nozick challenges the most commonly held political and social positions of our age — liberal, socialist, and conservative.
Utopia as Method – Ruth Levitas
Publisher description: Utopia should be understood as a method rather than a goal. This book rehabilitates utopia as a repressed dimension of the sociological and in the process produces the Imaginary Reconstitution of Society, a provisional, reflexive and dialogic method for exploring alternative possible futures.
Envisioning Real Utopias – Erik Olin Wright
Publisher description: Rising inequality of income and power, along with the recent convulsions in the finance sector, have made the search for alternatives to unbridled capitalism more urgent than ever. Yet there has been a global retreat by the Left: on the assumption that liberal capitalism is the only game in town, political theorists tend to dismiss as utopian any attempt to rethink our social and economic relations. As Fredric Jameson first argued, it is now easier for us to imagine the end of the world than an alternative to capitalism.
Erik Olin Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias is a comprehensive assault on the quietism of contemporary social theory. Building on a lifetime’s work analyzing the class system in the developed world, as well as exploring the problem of the transition to a socialist alternative, Wright has now completed a systematic reconstruction of the core values and feasible goals for Left theorists and political actors. Envisioning Real Utopias aims to put the social back into socialism, laying the foundations for a set of concrete, emancipatory alternatives to the capitalist system. Characteristically rigorous and engaging, this will become a landmark of social thought for the twenty-first century.
Automation and Utopia – John Danaher
Publisher description: Automating technologies threaten to usher in a workless future. But this can be a good thing―if we play our cards right.
Human obsolescence is imminent. The factories of the future will be dark, staffed by armies of tireless robots. The hospitals of the future will have fewer doctors, depending instead on cloud-based AI to diagnose patients and recommend treatments. The homes of the future will anticipate our wants and needs and provide all the entertainment, food, and distraction we could ever desire.
To many, this is a depressing prognosis, an image of civilization replaced by its machines. But what if an automated future is something to be welcomed rather than feared? Work is a source of misery and oppression for most people, so shouldn’t we do what we can to hasten its demise? Automation and Utopia makes the case for a world in which, free from need or want, we can spend our time inventing and playing games and exploring virtual realities that are more deeply engaging and absorbing than any we have experienced before, allowing us to achieve idealized forms of human flourishing. …
The following sources were used to build this list:
- Real Utopias – University of Wisconsin
- Utopia and Dystopia – University of California, Santa Cruz
- Utopian Thought, Method, and Social Design – University of Limerick
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on Political Philosophy
- The Best Books on Justice
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy readings lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
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