Popularizing Philosophers: A Selected Bibliography

Compiled by Ralph Dumain

Scope: Most of these works can be classified in what seems to be a growing genre of popular philosophical biography, much of it produced by serious scholars. Several such books take off from a relationship (often antagonistic) between two thinkers, or a specific incident or problem, or a particular thinker, perhaps with respect to a particular question. The boundary between popular and specialized works is not fixed. I have included scholarly works that are accessible and vital to an understanding of a given philosopher’s historical significance.

Early Modern Philosophers: Interactions

Nadler, Steven. The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Nadler, Steven; Nadler, Ben. Heretics!: the Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017. (Graphic novel format.)

Stewart, Matthew. The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World. New York: Norton, 2006.

René Descartes (1596–1650)

Aczel, Amir D. Descartes' Secret Notebook: A True Tale of Mathematics, Mysticism, and the Quest to Understand the Universe. New York: Broadway Books, 2005. 

Clarke, Desmond M. Descartes: A Biography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Nadler, Steven. The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter: A Portrait of Descartes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Shorto, Russell. Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason. New York: Doubleday, 2008.

Web site for this book: Descartes' Bones by Russell Shorto.

Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677)

Damasio, Antonio. Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2003.

Goldstein, Rebecca. Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity. New York: Nextbook / Schocken, 2006. Sample text.

Gullan-Whur, Margaret. Within Reason: A Life of Spinoza. New York : St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Nadler, Steven. A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.

Nadler, Steven. Spinoza: A Life. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Nadler, Steven. Spinoza's Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Schwartz, Daniel B. The First Modern Jew: Spinoza and the History of an Image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Smith, Steven B. Spinoza, Liberalism, and the Question of Jewish Identity. New Haven : Yale University Press, 1997.

Smith, Steven B. Spinoza’s Book of Life: Freedom and Redemption in the Ethics. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003.

Leventhal, Robert. “The Paradoxes of Spinoza’s Ethics and the Ethics of Reading” [Review of Smith, Steven B., Spinoza’s Book of Life: Freedom and Redemption in the Ethics]. H-German, H-Net Reviews. February, 2005.

Yovel, Yirmiyahu. Spinoza and Other Heretics: The Marrano of Reason [Volume 1]. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989

Yovel, Yirmiyahu. Spinoza and Other Heretics: The Adventures of Immanence [Volume 2]. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989. 1992 ed.


Stetter, Jack. "Spinoza and Popular Philosophy," in A Companion to Spinoza, edited by Yitzhak Melamed (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2021), pp. 568-577.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716)

See Nadler and Stewart, above.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) & David Hume (1711–1776)

Edmonds, David; Eidinow, John. Rousseau’s Dog: Two Great Thinkers at War in the Age of Enlightenment. New York: Ecco, 2006. Contents.

Zaretsky, Robert; Scott, John T. The Philosophers’ Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) & Karl Popper (1902–1994)

Edmonds, David; Eidinow, John. Wittgenstein’s Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers. New York: Ecco, 2001.

Munz, Peter. Beyond Wittgenstein’s Poker: New Light on Popper and Wittgenstein. Aldershot, Hampshire, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004.

Kurt Gödel (1906–1978)

Goldstein, Rebecca. Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.

Thelma Z. Lavine (1915–2011): American Philosopher & Popularizer

Lavine, T. Z. From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest. New York: Bantam Books, 1984.

Lavine, T. Z.; Tejera, V.; eds. History and Anti-History in Philosophy. Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989. (Nijhoff International Philosophy series; v. 34)

Plato's Philosophy - From Socrates to Sartre by Thelma Z. Lavine (video lecture series, Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting, 1979)

From Socrates to Sartre; Marx (video presentation in 4 parts, 1979) by Thelma Z. Lavine. Also on YouTube.

Thelma Z. Lavine - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Note: Most of my commentaries and reviews can be found on my Studies in a Dying Culture [down at the moment] and Reason & Society blogs.

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Uploaded 11 July 2013
Thelma Z. Lavine added 23 April 2022
Last update 23 April 2022
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