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The Best Philosophy Books from Modern Library

These thought-provoking reads have influenced readers for centuries.


New books can have enviable momentum, from coveted front-and-center placement in bookstores to social media buzz. But what about the classics? There are so many great reads that may not currently be considered popular, but have had an undeniable influence on hearts and minds throughout the years.

The Modern Library seeks to preserve these books and bring them to a new generation of readers. The imprint was originally founded in 1917 by the publisher Boni and Liveright, and it was intended to provide affordable reprints of European modernist books, plus the work of a few contemporary Americans. The Modern Library is now an imprint of Random House; over a century after its founding, it’s still focused on treasured books from the past, with the mission to “remind readers that today’s classics are often the works of yesterday’s avant-garde”.

Among the Modern Library’s offerings are several philosophy books that have shaped the way we think and perceive the world around us. The best philosophy books from the imprint shouldn’t be missed by anyone seeking a thorough understanding of history.

best philosophy books from modern library


By Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius ruled Rome for nearly 20 years as the last of the so-called Five Good Emperors, during which time he quashed several rebellions. His Meditations contains a series of spiritual exercises and reflections on the wisdom he gained throughout his lifetime. Filled with sage insights and advice, anyone can learn something new from reading Meditations, even nearly two thousand years after it was first published. Gregory Hays’ new translation is the first in 35 years, bringing the ancient Greek to life in an accessible and intimate way.

best philosophy books from modern library

The Basic Works of Aristotle

By Aristotle

Aristotle’s thoughts, research, and teachings have influenced philosophy and academics all over the globe, from the ancient world to today. Medieval Muslim scholars called him "The First Teacher", while medieval Christians knew him simply as "The Philosopher". For a deep dive into the works of the man who scarcely needs an introduction, The Basic Works of Aristotle can’t be missed. Edited by Richard McKeon, this version has long been considered the definitive one-volume compilation of Aristotle’s works, and includes his musings on science, religion, the arts, philosophy, and more.

best philosophy books from modern library

Basic Writings of Nietzsche

By Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the best-known philosophers to emerge from the last few centuries. Readers who have encountered the German philosopher recall his sarcasm and sharp wit while dissecting topics as varied as poetry and nihilism. This volume collects five of his most essential writings in chronological order: The Birth of TragedyBeyond Good and EvilOn the Genealogy of MoralsThe Case of Wagner, and Ecce Homo. The collection gives readers a deeper understanding of Nietzsche and his ideas.

best philosophy books from modern library

The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Ralph Waldo Emerson

As a leader of the Transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the first writers to emerge with a distinctly American style. With commentary from his contemporaries, including Henry James, Robert Frost, and Henry David Thoreau, this volume collects his major speeches, essays, and poetry. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s unique voice emerges and will hold you in thrall until the end.

best philosophy books from modern library

Basic Writings of Existentialism

By Gordon Marino

This unique volume by the Modern Library brings together different voices from the 19th and 20th century, united by one theme: the maddening question of human existence, and what it can mean. Among the talented authors here you can find Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and many more. This volume has been reviewed positively by several esteemed professors of philosophy, including Merold Westphal, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University, who wrote, “With superb selections and strongly supportive introductory biographies, this is in my judgment the best existentialism anthology out there.”

best philosophy books from modern library


By Gordon Marino

Ethical matters affect every single person, from sweeping social policies to how you interact with your community. If you’ve ever wanted to engage with these ideas in a structured way, Ethics is a superlative introduction to the topic. Representing 2,500 years of philosophical thought, this book explores the basis for many of the debates we’re having today, such as animal rights, environmental concerns, gender issues, and more. Ethics will certainly expand your mind and maybe even change it.

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