This page contains a list of the six best books on or by Plato. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on Plato” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works by Plato. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Plato. Here are the best books on or by Plato in no particular order:
Plato: A Very Short Introduction – Julia Annas
Publisher’s description: This lively and accessible book focuses on the philosophy and argument of Plato’s writings, drawing the reader into Plato’s way of doing philosophy and the general themes of his thinking. It discusses Plato’s style of writing: his use of the dialogue form, his use of what we today call fiction, and his philosophical transformation of myths. It also looks at his discussions of love and philosophy, his attitude towards women, and towards homosexual love. It explores Plato’s claim that virtue is sufficient for happiness and touches on his arguments for the immorality of the soul and his ideas about the nature of the universe.
The Cambridge Companion to Plato – Richard Kraut
Publisher’s description: Plato stands as the fount of our philosophical tradition, being the first Western thinker to produce a body of writing that touches upon a wide range of topics still discussed by philosophers today. In a sense he invented philosophy as a distinct subject, for although many of these topics were discussed by his intellectual predecessors and contemporaries, he was the first to bring them together by giving them a unitary treatment. This volume contains fourteen new essays discussing Plato’s views about knowledge, reality, mathematics, politics, ethics, love, poetry, and religion. There are also analyses of the intellectual and social background of his thought, the development of his philosophy throughout his career, the range of alternative approaches to his work, and the stylometry of his writing.
Five Dialogues – Plato
The second edition of Five Dialogues presents G. M. A. Grube’s distinguished translations, as revised by John Cooper for Plato, Complete Works. A number of new or expanded footnotes are also included along with an updated bibliography.
The Republic – Plato
Publisher’s 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.
Symposium – Plato
Publisher’s description: A model of the kind of text one needs for lecture courses: the translation is extremely readable and made even more accessible by intelligent printing decisions (on dividing the text, spacing for clarification, etc.); the notes are kept to a minimum but appear when they are really needed for comprehension and are truly informative. And the introduction admirably presents both basic information and a sense of current scholarly opinion. –S. G. Nugent, Princeton University
Complete Works – Plato
Publisher’s description: Outstanding translations by leading contemporary scholars–many commissioned especially for this volume–are presented here in the first single edition to include the entire surviving corpus of works attributed to Plato in antiquity. In his introductory essay, John Cooper explains the presentation of these works, discusses questions concerning the chronology of their composition, comments on the dialogue form in which Plato wrote, and offers guidance on approaching the reading and study of Plato’s works.
Also included are concise introductions by Cooper and Hutchinson to each translation, meticulous annotation designed to serve both scholar and general reader, and a comprehensive index. This handsome volume offers fine paper and a high-quality Smyth-sewn cloth binding in a sturdy, elegant edition.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Plato
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Plato