From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on political philosophy, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best introduction to political philosophy. 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 introductions to political philosophy in no particular order.
An Introduction to Political Philosophy – Jonathan Wolff
Category: Short Introduction | Length: 250 pages | Published: 2016
Publishers description: An ideal introduction for students with no background in the subject, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, Third Edition, combines clarity and a conversational style with a thought-provoking account of the central questions in political philosophy.
Author Jonathan Wolff explores the subject through a series of enduring and timeless questions, jumping centuries and millennia to explore the most influential answers and demonstrate how political philosophy is relevant to contemporary issues.
Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction – Will Kimlicka
Category: Comprehensive Introduction | Length: 512 pages | Published: 2001
Publishers description: This new edition of Will Kymlicka’s best selling critical introduction to contemporary political theory has been fully revised to include many of the most significant developments in Anglo-American political philosophy in the last 11 years, particularly the new debates over issues of democratic citizenship and cultural pluralism. The book now includes two new chapters on citizenship theory and multiculturalism, in addition to updated chapters on utilitarianism, liberal egalitarianism, libertarianism, socialism, communitarianism, and feminism. The many thinkers discussed include G. A. Cohen, Ronald Dworkin, William Galston, Carol Gilligan, R. M. Hare, Chandran Kukathas, Catherine Mackinnon, David Miller, Philippe Van Parijs, Susan Okin, Robert Nozick, John Rawls, John Roemer, Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor, Michael Walzer, and Iris Young. Extended guides to further reading have been added at the end of each chapter, listing the most important books and articles on each school of thought, as well as relevant journals and websites. Covering some of the most advanced contemporary thinking, Will Kymlicka writes in an engaging, accessible, and non-technical way to ensure the book is suitable for students approaching these difficult concepts for the first time. This second edition promises to build on the original edition’s success as a key text in the teaching of modern political theory.
Arguing About Political Philosophy – Matt Zwolinski
Category: Anthology | Length: 740 pages | Published: 2014 (2e)
Publishers description: This second edition of Arguing About Political Philosophy is the most complete, up-to-date, and interdisciplinary anthology of its kind. Its selections cover both classic philosophical sources such as Hobbes and Rousseau, and contemporary figures such as Robert Nozick and G.A. Cohen. But additional excerpts from economists, psychologists, novelists, and legal theorists help students from diverse intellectual backgrounds to connect with and appreciate the problems and distinctive methodology of political philosophy.
This second edition also goes beyond any other anthology on the market in its coverage of traditionally under-represented views such as libertarianism, neo-socialism, feminism, and critical race theory. And it is one of the only anthologies to go beyond A Theory of Justice in its coverage of the political thought of John Rawls.
The Republic – Plato
Category: Classic | Length: 300 pages | Published: 381 BC
Publishers description: The revised edition of Grube’s classic translation follows and furthers Grube’s noted success in combining fidelity to Plato’s text with natural readability, while reflecting the fruits of new scholarship and insights into Plato’s thought since publication of the first edition in 1974. A new introduction, index, and bibliography by Professor Reeve are included in this new rendering.
Politics – Aristotle
Category: Classic | Length: 289 pages | Published: 350 BC
Publishers description: No other English-language translation comes close to the standard of accuracy and readability set here by Reeve. This volume provides the reader with more of the resources needed to understand Aristotle’s argument than any other edition. An introductory essay by Reeve situates Politics in Aristotle’s overall thought and offers an engaging critical introduction to its central argument. A detailed glossary, footnotes, bibliography, and indexes provide historical background, analytical assistance with particular passages, and a guide both to Aristotle’s philosophy and to scholarship on it.
The Prince – Niccolò Machiavelli
Category: Classic | Length: 448 pages | Published: 1532
Publishers description: To investigate the imaginative leaps of so agile and incisive a mind as Machiavelli’s one needs as much commentary about history, political theory, sources, and language as possible. I have gradually come to realize that readers who remain unaware of these topics frequently finish reading The Prince, put down their copies, and wonder what the shouting was all about. Thus commented eminent Machiavelli scholar James B. Atkinson thirty years ago in justifying what remains today the most informative English-language edition of Machiavelli’s masterpiece available.
Second Treatise of Government – John Locke
Category: Classic | Length: 124 pages | Published: 1689
Publishers description: The Second Treatise is one of the most important political treatises ever written and one of the most far-reaching in its influence.
In his provocative 15-page introduction to this edition, the late eminent political theorist C. B. Macpherson examines Locke’s arguments for limited, conditional government, private property, and right of revolution and suggests reasons for the appeal of these arguments in Locke’s time and since.
Early Writings – Karl Marx
Category: Classic | Length: 464 pages | Published: 1833-4
Publishers description: Written in 1833-4, when Marx was barely twenty-five, this astonishingly rich body of works formed the cornerstone for his later political philosophy. In the Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State, he dissects Hegel’s thought and develops his own views on civil society, while his Letters reveal a furious intellect struggling to develop the egalitarian theory of state. Equally challenging are his controversial essay On the Jewish Question and the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, where Marx first made clear his views on alienation, the state, democracy and human nature. Brilliantly insightful, Marx’s Early Writings reveal a mind on the brink of one of the most revolutionary ideas in human history – the theory of Communism. This translation fully conveys the vigour of the original works. The introduction, by Lucio Colletti, considers the beliefs of the young Marx and explores these writings in the light of the later development of Marxism.
On Liberty – John Stuart Mill
Category: Classic | Length: 112 pages | Published: 1859
Publishers description: Discussed and debated from time immemorial, the concept of personal liberty went without codification until the 1859 publication of On Liberty. John Stuart Mill’s complete and resolute dedication to the cause of freedom inspired this treatise, an enduring work through which the concept remains well known and studied.
The British economist, philosopher, and ethical theorist’s argument does not focus on “the so-called Liberty of the Will…but Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.” Mill asks and answers provocative questions relating to the boundaries of social authority and individual sovereignty. In powerful and persuasive prose, he declares that there is “one very simple principle” regarding the use of coercion in society — one may only coerce others either to defend oneself or to defend others from harm. …
The following sources were used to create this list:
- Political Philosophy – Phil 122 | California State University, Sacramento
- Introduction to Political Theory: The Moral Basis of Politics – Poli 231 | McGill University
- Political Philosophy – Cambridge University
- Introduction to Political Philosophy – Duke University
- Introduction to Political Theory – POL 10a | Brandeis University
- An Introduction to Political Theory – POLS 110 | Amherst College
- Introduction to Political Philosophy – Phil 265 | University of Toronto
- Introduction to Political Philosophy – POSC 2401 | Fordham University
- Intro to Political Philosophy?
- Best book for political philosophy?
- What must I read to become familiar in political philosophy?
- The best books on Political Philosophy recommended by Jonathan Wolff
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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.