In this article:
- Easy philosophy books are a rare find and entertaining ones even more so which is why this list tries to give you recommendations for easy, readable, yet thoughtful philosophy books.
- This list contains easy philosophy books and collections of essays from influential thinkers.
- Some of them aren’t strictly “philosophy” books but are included because they give a good overview and/or approachable intro to a branch of philosophy.
- If you still find these books hard to get into, because they’re hard to read or it’s hard to pay attention, you’ll find recommendations at the end for YouTube channels, games, and other media that make philosophy more layman-friendly.
Easy philosophy books are difficult to find, mainly because philosophy itself is a challenging field of study to simplify. But part of why it’s so hard to get into philosophy is because philosophy books are boring and are written for a strictly academic audience.
While listicles recommending good “starter” philosophy books have been around for ages, few of them count entertainment as part of what makes a philosophy book good.
In this list, you’ll find philosophy books that are easy to read, give you a decent intro to philosophy, and are actually fun.
Of course, this list assumes that you can read beyond a third-grade level. But hey, that’s learning how to think for you.
Easy Philosophy Books That Make a Tough Subject More Engaging
1. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
“The most subversive people are those who ask questions.”Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder is one of the most recommended books for beginner armchair philosophers. It’s not a dry philosophy book about philosophy itself, but a story about a young girl who starts learning about philosophy through her conversations with Alberto Knox, a philosopher.
The two main characters teach and study philosophy through the letters they write to each other, allowing the reader to be slowly introduced to philosophical concepts gradually while also learning about the history of philosophy.
Since Sophie is a young girl who has limited life experience and few opinions on the world, she serves as a great stand-in for you, the reader, who also has a limited understanding of philosophy.
The book starts with folklore and myths, giving the reader time to think about how we used to explain the world around us back when we had no way of knowing better, before shifting to the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
It continues onto philosophy in the Middle Ages, specifically St. Aquinas (of Summa Theologica fame), and ends with the 20th-century philosophers.
You can get a copy of Sophie’s World here.
2. Maxims by François de La Rochefoucauld
“The love of justice is simply in the majority of men the fear of suffering injustice.”François de La Rochefoucauld
If Sophie’s World is “Baby’s First Philosophy Book”, François de La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims is best described as “Philosophy If You Had to Fit It In the Twitter Text Box.” Each maxim is short, precise, and in some places, not as nuanced as it could be.
After getting shot through the head, losing his eye, and being a victim of fake news that ruined his reputation, La Rochefoucauld retreated to the salons of intellectual patrons who would let him, and other artists and writers, join them for snacks and conversation.
We have his inattentive crowd to thank for Maxims, a collection of short “Tweets” that are meant to be conversation starters for thinking about things. They’re specific enough that you know where to start, but leave enough room for you to go “Hey, that reminds me of this other thing.”
You can get a copy of Maxims here.
3. The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
If there’s one thing the existence of self-help books tells us about our society, it’s that no one knows what the hell they’re doing in life, whether you’re a Millennial who still can’t figure out adulting or a parent who can’t connect with their Gen Z slang-speaking child.
The Meditations is one of the rare easy philosophy books that tell us even Roman emperors famous for being good at their job don’t know what they were doing either.
The Meditations isn’t a lecture book or an academic paper, it’s the internal dialogue of Marcus Aurelius, then an emperor and philosopher, as he gives himself advice on how to stay grounded and live the good life according to the tenets of Stoic philosophy.
And it’s bloody good advice.
The book is full of actionable tips on how to act like a good person, not what it means to be one. It also nudges the reader to start healthy habits, like meditation, to help regulate one’s thoughts.
Once you read The Meditations, you’ll notice that everybody else who has written a self-help book in the past century is just regurgitating what Marcus Aurelius wrote, in some form or another. It’s really the self-help philosophy book to end all self-help books.
You can get a copy of The Meditations here.
4. The Complete Essays by Michel de Montaigne
“Kings and philosophers shit—and so do ladies.”Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays
The Complete Essays are a collection of essays written by Michel de Montaigne, the guy who invented the essay as we know it today.
Michel de Montaigne’s prose is easy to read even by modern standards which is impressive since he was writing in the 1500s. But what makes it even better is how moving his work is.
While The Meditations cuts to the chase and has the literary austerity you’d expect from a Stoic, reading The Complete Essays feels like being read to by a friend on a quiet summer afternoon.
It’s deeply profound but easy to absorb and intimate because Montaigne often speaks in terms of personal anecdotes, grounding his philosophical ideas in more humble and relatable events of daily life.
Which is how you get pearls like this:
“I want death to find me planting my cabbages, neither worrying about it nor the unfinished gardening.”Michel de Montaigne, That to Philosophize Is to Die
Montaigne’s essays are primarily concerned with living an examined life, learning to become yourself, understanding friendship and love, integrity, and everything in between.
You can get a copy of The Complete Essays here.
5. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards.”Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus is a lot like Montaigne and Marcus Aurelius’ work in the sense that if you read it, there is little else other self-help books can help you with.
A word of warning, though: This is one of the harder books on this list if you’re jumping in with zero experience reading academic texts of “serious” literature. Or, as one Redditor explained to another person having a hard time with it:
Honestly, it’s a pretty simple read as long as you focus. No need for a thesaurus.
Once you adjust to Camus’ writing, though, you’ll find that he advocates for an incredibly freeing way of life that very bluntly admits that the world sucks, running around in circles philosophizing about it doesn’t really solve things, and it’s ultimately up to you to figure out what your life means.
You can get a copy of The Myth of Sisyphus here.
6. Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel
““The way things are does not determine the way they ought to be.”Michael J. Sandel, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?
Justice by Michael J. Sandel is a great read if you liked To Kill A Mocking Bird or if you’re planning to go to law school. But it’s an even better book if you’re really just sick of the Man™ and/or the System™ that keeps us poor ordinary folk under its heel.
Justice is an all-in-one intro to legal philosophy, ethics, and political philosophy — probably because Sandel teaches at Harvard University Law School. The book encourages you to question your ideas on justice, understand the implications of judicial decisions on ordinary lives, and distinguish between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.
But, maybe most importantly, Justice provides a guide to building a critical lens for navigating political and societal issues.
Sandel touches on the hottest sociopolitical issues of the 21st century including same-sex marriage, abortion, national service, the economy, affirmative action, and physician-assisted suicide.
You can get a copy of Justice here.
7. Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life by Haider Warraich
“Many talk about defeating death with drugs or devices, but these have only served to delay death and prolong dying. Perhaps the best way to beat it is to talk to death.”Haider Warraich, Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life
Speaking of physician-assisted suicide, Haider Warraich’s Modern Death asks us to consider: What does it mean to say someone is “alive”? As you can tell from that, this is a book about ethics, life, and death that tries to give us an answer using both philosophy and medical science.
Much like Montaigne, Warraich frames his philosophizing with anecdotes from his years of working as a physician.
There are a lot of moments in this book that make you feel for the patients, their families, and even Warraich as they all try to grapple with the legal, moral, and medical gray areas of death.
You can get a copy of Modern Death here.
8. The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
“For legends attract the very best in our times, just as ideologies attract the average, and the whispered tales of gruesome secret powers behind the scenes attract the very worst.”Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
Epictetus notwithstanding, it’s pretty easy for guys like Marcus Aurelius to just “chill” with the state of things because they had advantageous societal positions. Their “suck it up” advice doesn’t answer why we ostracize certain groups of people and how that feeds into the power of the Man™.
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt gives us an insight into how and why strongmen politicians promise one-size-fits-all solutions to a nation’s problems in the form of targeting a group of people.
You can get a copy of The Origins of Totalitarianism here.
What if I Don’t Feel Like Reading a Philosophy Book?
We get it. Even easy philosophy books can be a bit boring, time-consuming, or “no thoughts, head empty” inducing.
If you’re having a hard time acclimating to these books and need a guide, check these non-book options out:
- Crash Course Philosophy is a web show that takes a Philosophy 101 class and cuts it into 46 episodes that are about 10 minutes each. For free.
- Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? plops you in Sandel’s lecture hall where he walks you through the key parts of his book in 12 episodes.
- Virtual Reading Group Lectures: The Origins of Totalitarianism lets you join Roger Berkowitz, Director of the Hannah Arendt Center, as he explains the book’s main and fine points. This is best enjoyed as a companion to reading the book yourself, but you can still listen to it on its own.
- Contrapoints is a YouTuber that writes and performs video essays on topics relating to philosophy, pop culture, and social issues. You won’t always agree with what she says, but the essays are well-thought-out, provide multiple perspectives on an issue, and are very entertaining.