Missives from a fly bottle
barang dot sg
Last revised 17 March 2018
Philosopher biographies – From Socrates to Colin McGinn. Listed backwards, down the centuries.

132. Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist (2012)
by Christof Koch
Part scientific overview, part memoir: one man’s quest for an explanation for consciousness.
131. The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey Through Twentieth-Century Philosophy (2002)
by Colin McGinn
The self–portrait of a penetrating mind over a life on both sides of the Atlantic.
130. The Philosophical I: Personal Reflections on Life in Philosophy (2002)
by George Yancy et al
Fascinating self-portraits by 16 philosophers in the United States and Canadian academy.
129. A Life in the Academy (2013)
by Robert Paul Wolff
A delightful self-portrait that includes an inside look at a variety of institutions of higher learning in the United States and South Africa.
128. Philosopher: A Kind Of Life (2001)
by Ted Honderich
The story of a perilous progress from boyhood in Canada to the Grote Professorship of Mind and Logic in London.
127. Derrida: A Biography (2012)
by Benoit Peeters
The story of a Jewish boy from Algiers who went on to become the most widely translated French philosopher in the world.
126. Confessions of a Philosopher (1997)
by Bryan Magee
In this infectiously exciting book, Bryan Magee tells the story of his own discovery of philosophy.
125. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives (2007, 2010)
by François Dosse
The prolific if improbable relationship between two men of distinct and differing sensibilities.
124. Habermas: A Biography (2014)
by Stefan Müller-Doohm
Traces the intellectual development of one of the most important public intellectuals of our time.
123. Jürgen Habermas: A Philosophical-Political Profile (2001)
by Martin Joseph Matuštík
A lively and dramatic engagement with major themes of Habermas’ adult life in postwar Germany.
122. The Passion of Michel Foucault (1993)
by James Miller
A startling portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most influential philosophers.
121. The Lives of Michel Foucault (1993)
by David Macey
The richest account to date of Michel Foucault’s life and work.
120. Mary Warnock: A Memoir (2000)
by Mary Warnock
Mary Warnock reflects on her life as a woman philosopher in Oxford and Cambridge.
119. Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend (1995)
by Paul Feyerabend
The self-portrait of one of the century’s most original and influential intellectuals.
118. Iris Murdoch as I Knew Her (2003)
by A. N. Wilson
A brilliant, controversial and insightful biography.
117. Iris Murdoch: A Life (2001)
by Peter Conradi
A magisterial biography, fully authorized, of one of the twentieth century’s most perceptive and influential English writers.
116. Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch (1998)
by John Bayley
John Bayley’s account of his long and loving marriage to the great novelist Iris Murdoch.
115. A Philosopher’s Story (1999)
by Morton White
Professional philosophers seldom write their memoirs and, when they do, they rarely produce books as engaging as this one.
114. Alan Turing: The Enigma (1983)
by Andrew Hodges
A bestselling biography: the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life.
113. A. J. Ayer: A Life (1999)
by Ben Rogers
A powerful biography of a provocative and unforgettable man whose ideas changed the landscape of Western thought.
112. More of My Life (1984)
by A. J. Ayer
A picture of a rich public and private life: the second of two autobiographies written by Ayer.
111. Part of My Life (1977)
by A. J. Ayer
A picture of a remarkably precocious boy: the first of two autobiographies written by Ayer.
110. A Mind and its Time: The Development of Isaiah Berlin’s Political Thought (2013)
by Joshua L. Cherniss
The genesis and development of Berlin’s political thought, philosophical views, and historical understanding.
109. Isaiah Berlin: A Life (1998)
by Michael Ignatieff
Berlin agreed to talk about himself, and so for ten years, he allowed Michael Ignatieff to interview him.
108. The Time of My Life: An Autobiography (1985)
by Willard Van Orman Quine
One of the world’s most famous philosophers as no one else has seen him before.
107. A Life of H. L. A. Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble Dream (2004)
by Nicola Lacey
A chronicle of a life which made an impact far greater than many of us realize.
106. Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (1982)
by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl
Prize-winning biography of one of the foremost political philosophers of the twentieth century.
105. Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (2005)
by Rebecca Goldstein
An unforgettable account of one of the great moments in the history of human thought.
104. Sartre: A Philosophical Biography (2014)
by Thomas R. Flynn
An extensive work and a major contribution to Sartre studies.
103. Words (1964)
by Jean-Paul Sartre
Sartre’s brilliant recollection of growing up within the confines of French provincialism in the period before the First World War.
102. Adorno: A Biography (2005)
by Stefan Müller-Doohm
This outstanding biography will be the standard work on Adorno for years to come.
101. Frank Ramsey (1903-1930): A Sister’s Memoir (2012)
by Margaret Paul
Margaret Ramsey’s memoir of her prodigious brother and the era in which they lived.
100. Karl Popper: The Formative Years, 1902-1945 (2000)
by Malachi Haim Hacohen
A compelling portrait of the young Popper as socialist reformer and revolutionary philosopher.
99. Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography (1976)
by Karl Popper
At the age of 8, Popper was puzzling over infinity and by 15 taking a keen interest in his father’s lavish library.
98. Alfred Tarski: Life and Logic (2004)
by Anita Burdman Feferman & Solomon Feferman
The first full-length biography of one of the greatest logicians of all time.
97. Hans-Georg Gadamer: A Biography (2003)
by Jean Grondin
Gadamer’s life and his ideas in the context of some of the century’s darkest and most complex historical events.
96. Leo Strauss: An Intellectual Biography (2007)
by Daniel Tanguay
Indispensable for anyone seeking to understand Strauss’s philosophy and legacy.
95. Wittgenstein’s Poker (2001)
by David Edmonds & John Eidinow
In a crowded Cambridge room, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper came face to face for the first and last time.
94. Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil (1998)
by Rüdiger Safranski
The best intellectual biography of Heidegger ever written: a best-seller in Germany.
93. Portraits of Wittgenstein (1999, 2015)
by F. A. Flowers III & Ian Ground (eds.)
Scores of recollections of one of the most influential and elusive personalities in the history of modern philosophy.
92. Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (1990)
by Ray Monk
Deeply intelligent and generous to the ordinary reader. A beautiful portrait of a beautiful life.
91. Ludwig Wittgenstein - A Student’s Memoir
by Theodore Redpath
The reminiscences of a student at the philosopher’s Cambridge seminars from 1934-1940.
90. Wittgenstein: A Life – Young Ludwig 1889-1921 (1988)
by Brian McGuinness
Traces the life of Wittgenstein from his privileged childhood to the appearance of the Tractatus.
89. Wittgenstein (1973)
by William Warren Bartley III
The portrait that emerges from this account is human, all too human, but the author’s respect for Wittgenstein is never in doubt.
88. Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (1958, 1984)
by Norman Malcolm
A classic memoir, updated with a biographical sketch by G. H. von Wright and Wittgenstein’s letters to Malcolm.
87. An Autobiography (1939)
by R. G. Collingwood
The self-told life-story of an English academic, seen from Oxford just before the Second World War.
86. The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke
by Jeffrey C. Stewart
The definitive biography of the father of the Harlem Renaissance, based on the extant primary sources of his life and on interviews with those who knew him personally.
85. Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher (2008)
by Leonard Harris & Charles Molesworth
Reclaims Locke’s place in the pantheon of America’s most important minds.
84. Ernst Cassirer: The Last Philosopher of Culture (2008)
by Edward Skidelsky
The first extensive intellectual biography of Cassirer in English in two decades.
83. Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness 1921-1970 (2001)
by Ray Monk
Volume 2 of a penetrating portrait of one of the century’s most eminent intellectuals.
82. Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude 1872-1921 (1996)
by Ray Monk
Volume 1 of a penetrating portrait of one of the century’s most eminent intellectuals.
81. Bertrand Russell: Autobiography (1967-9)
by Bertrand Russell
A most compelling memoir by one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century.
80. Gandhi: Autobiography, or The Story of My Experiments with Truth (1927)
by M. K. Gandhi
Gandhi offers his life story as a reference for those who would follow in his footsteps.
79. The Life and Thought of Josiah Royce (1985, 1999)
by John Clendenning
A revealing portrait of this remarkable intellectual figure.
78. Josiah Royce: An Intellectual Biography (1972)
by Bruce Kuklick
A biography of Josiah Royce the philosopher known as the founder of the Harvard school of logic.
77. Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography (2002)
by Rüdiger Safranski
No other modern philosopher has proved as influential as Nietzsche and none is as poorly understood.
76. Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy (1965, 1999)
by R. J. Hollingdale
A classic biography of Nietzsche reissued with its text updated in the light of recent research.
75. William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism (2006)
by Robert D. Richardson
Eldest sibling in an extraordinary family, the story of an immensely complex and curious man.
74. His Glassy Essence: An Autobiography of Charles Sanders Peirce (1998)
by C. S. Peirce & Kenneth Laine Ketner
Entertaining and illuminating insights into Peirce’s life and world.
73. Four Reasonable Men: Marcus Aurelius, John Stuart Mill, Ernest Renan, Henry Sidgwick (1984)
by Brand Blanshard
A fascinating biographical study of what it means to be reasonable.
72. Henry Sidgwick: Eye of the Universe (2004)
by Bart Schultz
A magisterial overview of this great Victorian sage.
71. Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life (2013)
by Jonathan Sperber
A magisterial biography that promises to become the defining portrait of a towering figure.
70. Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution (2011)
by Mary Gabriel
The heartbreaking and dramatic story of Karl and Jenny Marx’s marriage.
69. Kierkegaard: A Single Life (2016)
by Stephen Backhouse
A welcome new understanding of Kierkegaard’s thought and his life: a story filled with romance, betrayal, humor, and riots.
68. Kierkegaard: A Biography (2001)
by Alastair Hannay
The first biography to reveal the delicate imbrication of Kierkegard’s life and thought.
67. John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand (2007)
by Richard Reeves
A riveting and authoritative biography of a man whose life was spent in the pursuit of truth and liberty for all.
66. John Stuart Mill: A Biography (2004)
by Nicholas Capaldi
A special feature of this biography is the attention devoted to Mill’s relationship with Harriet Taylor.
65. The Life of John Stuart Mill (1954)
by Michael St. John Packe
Will undoubtedly remain the standard life of Mill for a long time to come.
64. John Stuart Mill: Autobiography (1873)
by John Stuart Mill
The life of one of the most influential English-speaking philosophers of the nineteenth century.
63. Pending ...
62. Auguste Comte: An Intellectual Biography, Vols. 1-3 (1993-2009)
by Mary Pickering
The most complete work on Comte’s life and thought available in any language.
61. Schopenhauer: A Biography (2010)
by David E. Cartwright
The first complete biography of Schopenhauer in English.
60. Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy (1990)
by Rüdiger Safranski
Brings to life an intriguing figure in philosophy and the intellectual battles of his time.
59. Hegel: A Biography (2000)
by Terry Pinkard
The story of an ambitious, powerful thinker living in a period of great tumult dominated by the figure of Napoleon.
58. Solomon Maimon: An Autobiography (1888)
by Solomon Maimon
Indelibly portrays one man’s devotion to truth on his own terms regardless of the cost to himself or others.
57. Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (1973)
by Alexander Altmann
First published in 1973, its stature as the definitive biography of Mendelssohn remains unquestioned.
56. Kant: A Biography (2001)
by Manfred Kuehn
The first full-length biography of Immanuel Kant in more than fifty years.
55. Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (2010)
by Nicholas Phillipson
The one book which anyone interested in the founder of economics must read.
54. The Authentic Adam Smith: His Life and Ideas (2006)
by James Buchan
Breathes new life into Adam Smith’s legacy and the beginnings of modern economics.
53. The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought (2017)
by Dennis C. Rasmussen
The story of the remarkable friendship of these towering Enlightenment thinkers.
52. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius (2005)
by Leo Damrosch
An extraordinary life, traced with novelistic verve.
51. The Solitary Self: Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Exile and Adversity (1997)
by Maurice Cranston
Volume 3 of a monumental trilogy – the last tempestuous years.
50. The Noble Savage: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1754-1762 (1991)
by Maurice Cranston
Volume 2 of a monumental trilogy – eight key years of Rousseau’s life.
49. Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1754 (1982)
by Maurice Cranston
Volume 1 of a monumental trilogy – youthful wanderings.
48. The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)
by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The memoirs of one of the most influential and controversial of the Enlightenment thinkers.
47. Rousseau’s Dog: Two Great Thinkers at War in the Age of Enlightenment (2006)
by David Edmonds & John Eidinow
The bitter quarrel that made Hume and Rousseau mortal foes.
46. Hume: An Intellectual Biography (2015)
by James Harris
The first extensive overview of the career of one of Britain’s greatest men of letters.
45. The Life of David Hume (1954)
by E. C. Mossner
The standard biography of this great thinker and writer.
44. My Own Life (1777)
by David Hume
One of the shortest but also one of the most celebrated autobiographies ever written.
43. Voltaire: A Life (2010)
by Ian Davidson
The definitive biography of Voltaire’s life― from his scandalous love affairs and political machinations to his brilliant philosophy.
42. Voltaire Almighty: A Life in Pursuit of Freedom (2005)
by Roger Pearson
Roger Pearson’s brilliant biography brings Voltaire vividly to life.
41. Montesquieu: A Critical Biography (1961)
by Robert Shackleton
Will hold a high place among the books likely to be read by any scholar seeking a clear and authoritative account of Montesquieu’s life and thought.
40. George Berkeley: Idealism and the Man (1994)
by David Berman
Examines the full range of Berkeley’s work and links it with his life, focusing in particular on his religious thought.
39. The Life of George Berkeley: Bishop of Cloyne (1949)
by A. A. Luce
The standard biography of one of the great philosophers of the early modern period.
38. Leibniz: An Intellectual Biography (2008)
by Maria Rosa Antognazza
A unified portrait of this unique thinker and the world from which he came.
37. The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World (2006)
by Matthew Stewart
Rescues both men from a dusty academic shelf and brings them to life.
36. Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (2006)
by Rebecca Goldstein
Rediscovers the flesh-and-blood man beneath the veneer of rigorous rationality.
35. Spinoza: A Life (1999)
by Steven Nadler
The first complete biography of Spinoza in any language, based on detailed archival research.
34. Locke: A Biography (2007)
by Roger Woolhouse
This will be the authoritative biography for years to come of this truly versatile man.
33. John Locke: A Biography (1957)
by Maurice William Cranston
“Locke is an elusive subject for a biographer because he was an extremely secretive man.”
32. Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher (2004)
by Sarah Hutton
An insight into both the personal life of a very private woman and the richness of seventeenth-century intellectual culture.
31. Boyle: Between God and Science (2009)
by Michael Hunter
The first biography of Robert Boyle in a generation and the culminating achievement of a world-renowned expert on the man.
30. The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter: A Portrait of Descartes (2013)
by Steven Nadler
A unique combination of philosophy, biography, and art history.
29. Descartes: A Biography (2006)
by Desmond Clarke
Descartes’ unique contribution was to construct a philosophy sympathetic to the emerging new sciences of his time.
28. Descartes: The Life of René Decartes and Its Place in His Times (2005)
by A.C. Grayling
A stunningly accessible and fascinating portrait of the man and the era in which he lived.
27. Cogito, Ergo Sum: The Life of René Descartes (2002)
by Richard Watson
Impeccably researched and amazingly readable, Watson brings Descartes and his milieu to life as never before.
26. Descartes: An Intellectual Biography (1995)
by Stephen Gaukroger
The first intellectual biography of Descartes in English.
25. Descartes: His Life and Thought (1995)
by Geneviève Rodis-Lewis
Illuminates many aspects of Descartes’s life from his early years to his death, his burial, and the fate of his remains.
24. Hobbes: A Biography (1999)
by A. P. Martinich
The most complete and accessible biography of Hobbes now available.
23. Kepler and the Universe: How One Man Revolutionized Astronomy (2015)
by David K. Love
A colorful, well-researched biography of a pivotal figure in the history of astronomy.
22. The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Kepler’s Fight for His Mother (2015)
by Ulinka Rublack
The tale of an extraordinary episode in Kepler’s life.
21. Kepler’s Witch (2004)
by James A. Connor
An astronomer’s discovery of cosmic order amid religious war, political intrigue, and the heresy trial of his mother.
20. Galileo (2010)
by John L. Heilbron
A masterpiece, far surpassing all previous biographies of Galileo.
19. Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic (2008)
by Ingrid D. Rowland
In a sixteenth-century Europe where everything was in question, a valiant man defends his ideas to the end.
18. How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (2011)
by Sarah Bakewell
A brilliant tale of Montaigne’s life through the questions he posed and the answers he explored.
17. Montaigne (1948)
by Stefan Zweig
Written during the Second World War, Zweig’s biography of his hero is also a passionate argument for humanity in times of barbarity.
16. Erasmus and the Age of Reformation (1924)
by Johan Huizinga
A very readable biography: a classic work on the sixteenth-century scholar/humanist.
15. Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography (2018)
by Robert Irwin
The definitive account of the life and thought of the medieval Arab genius who wrote the Muqaddima.
14. Ibn Khaldun: Life and Times (2010)
by Allen James Fromherz
Tells the life story of Ibn Khaldun in an accessible way and introduces readers to the fourteenth-century Mediterranean world.
13. Ibn Khaldūn: His Life and Work (1941)
by Mohammad Abdullah Enan
Tells of the turbulent period of unrest in Ibn Khaldun’s life marked by political rivalries and the writing of the Muqadimmah.
12. Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox (1933)
by G. K. Chesterton
Chesterton’s brilliant sketch of Aquinas is as relevant today as when it was first published.
11. Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography (2003)
by James Burge
New revelations about one of the greatest romances in history.
10. Abelard: A Medieval Life (1997)
by M. T. Clanchy
Introduces the reader to medieval life through the experience of Peter Abelard, the master of the Paris schools.
9. The Story of My Misfortunes (c. 1132)
by Peter Abelard
A brilliant thinker paints an absorbing portrait of monastic and scholastic life in twelfth-century Paris.
8. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (1967, 2000)
by Peter Brown
An acclaimed portrait of the bishop of Hippo.
7. St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies (1963, 2002)
by Gerald Bonner
The considered reflection of a lifetime’s study of one of the towering figures of church history.
6. The Confessions of Saint Augustine (c. 400)
by Augustine of Hippo
A deeply personal yet timeless story of sin, regret, and redemption.
5. Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (c. 200-250)
by Diogenes Laërtius
A rich source of invaluable insights into the private lives of the Greek sages.
4. Marcus Aurelius: A Life (2009)
by Frank McLynn
One of the great figures of antiquity still speaks to us two thousand years after his death.
3. Philo of Alexandria: An Intellectual Biography (2018)
by Maren R. Niehoff
The first biography of this Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who left behind one of the richest bodies of work from antiquity.
2. Seneca: A Life (2014)
by Emily Wilson
A riveting and complete picture of Seneca’s complex and compromised life.
1. The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life (2010)
by Bettany Hughes
A brilliantly vivid portrait of Socrates and of Athens in its Golden Age.
132. Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist (2012)

by Christof Koch

Part scientific overview, part memoir: one man’s quest for an explanation for consciousness.