Philosopher’s Guide to Bookstores

Philosopher’s Guide to Bookstores


Is the best Manhattan bookstore for Nietzsche lovers East Village Books (slogan: so hardcore a bookstore that our website doesn’t work)? That’s what Stephanie Kotsikonas, a journalism student at CUNY reports in a post at her class blog, Journalistic Blogging, along with information about other bookstores in Manhattan with good philosophy sections. (UPDATE: the post has been moved here.)

Not having lived anywhere near New York for years, I’m not in a position to assess her recommendations. There’s nothing about pyramids and crystals in her descriptions, so I’m willing to give her some benefit of the doubt, but I bet there is more expert opinion available. Let’s ask the readers. Is her list a good one? Has she missed any? And let’s not limit ourselves to Manhattan—we can aim for a guide with global scope. Philosophers, which of the world’s “brick and mortar” bookstores have notably good selections of philosophy books?

books color coded 3

Related: it’s World Book Day (but not over the whole world; just in the UK and Ireland).

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Matt LaVine
Matt LaVine
5 years ago

This is probably an obvious one, but somebody has to mention it… Powell’s Books in Portland. They have a great philosophy section, pretty solid representation of “philosophy of x” books in various other sections, and usually have a couple interesting philosophy books in the rare book room.Report

Matt
5 years ago

Sadly, there are no really good used book stores in Philadelphia. The best one for philosophy books is, I think, Book Haven, on 2202 Fairmont Ave., right near the Eastern State Penitentiary (also something you should visit if you come to Philadelphia!). It’s not great, but has a decent selection of philosophy books (and philosophy of science, mixed in with the science books.)

My favorite book store for philosophy books, however, is Dove and Hudson books in Albany, NY, on the corner of Dove St. and Hudson Ave, in Albany. You should probably not go to Albany if you don’t have to, but if you do, you should go here. (It had slightly odd hours now, I think.) The owner focuses on quality and high turn-over, so there are always new and good books there.Report

SM
SM
5 years ago

Seminary Co-op in Chicago is a place every philosopher (and lover of academic books) should visit at some point in their lives. Powell’s in Chicago is also a store with a nice used selection of philosophy.Report

Lmmrmd
Lmmrmd
5 years ago

Indy Reads Books in Indianapolis has a constantly changing small selection of used philosophy books. Always very affordable, and all profits go to literacy programs (since Indy Reads is a non-profit).Report

David DiQuattro
David DiQuattro
5 years ago

Caliban books in Pittsburgh (it’s in the Oakland neighborhood near both Pitt and Carnegie Mellon) has a terrific philosophy section. Excellent selection of classics, Continental, contemporary analytic, you name it. It also has a nice collection of novels by Iris Murdoch. Decent prices and it is a great bookstore with lots of rare books and collections.Report

Ian Olasov
5 years ago

East Village Books is the best bookstore for philosophy in Manhattan, with the Strand a close second. In Brooklyn, it’s Unnameable Books. In the world, as far as I know, it’s Raven Used Books in Cambridge.Report

Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
Reply to  Ian Olasov
5 years ago

If I’m remembering correctly, I think that the Cambridge Raven is actually an offshoot of the Raven in Northampton, MA, which is also Amazing. Relatedly, The Bookmill in Montague, MA is this (not so) little, hidden gem close to the so-called “five colleges” of Western MA. An unbelievable philosophy section, there, as well as great places to sit and read for hours. And the cafe downstairs serves local beer, coffee — basically, everything you could ever want to drink with a philosophy book in your hands.

Oh, and I love their slogan: “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.” Awesome.Report

Jeroen
Jeroen
5 years ago

In Paris, the Librairie J. Vrin (on the Place de la Sorbonne) has a nice selection of philosophy books.Report

Eric
Eric
5 years ago

Book Culture on 112th is best in NYC, no contest. Best Phil section I have ever seen. Bridge Street Books in DC on Penn Ave is also really good.Report

gregor
gregor
Reply to  Eric
5 years ago

It’s been 10 years since my last trip to NYC, but back then, I tried to visit every book store recommendation I came across. And yes, Book Culture near Columbia had hands down the best, or at least the largest philosophy section. Larger than the Harvard Coop even. Strand is good for bargains. However, Paris is the real place to go for philosophy books, at least if you read French. The best philosophy book store I have ever visited anywhere, is Vrin in Paris next to the Sorbonne, with Gibert Joseph on Blvd. St. Michel a close second (and then a huge amount of other stores nearby, such as La Procure near St. Sulpice and Librairie Compagnie on Rue des Ecoles, especially their journals section – think about it: what other book stores around the world still sell journals?). The list goes on…Report

gregor
gregor
Reply to  gregor
5 years ago

Edit: Sorry, not that long, someone corrected me that it’s been 7 years since our last visit of NYC. I believe Book Culture had just changed it’s name from The Labyrinth or something like that.Report

Matt
Reply to  gregor
5 years ago

Book Culture is the successor to Labyrinth Books. (Same store, just different name and, I think, somewhat different ownership structure.) It’s great for new books in philosophy, has an active “remainders” section where you can find things for very small prices, and a huge selection of philosophy books that are not recently. Only some of these are used, though, and in my experience the prices are not very low, even for the used ones. (There is also less effort to make sure the used books are in good shape than, say, at Dove and Hudson, mentioned above.) The selection is really large, though – maybe too large. It would take all day to look at it carefully.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the philosophy selection (especially the used/remainder selection) at The Strand. It wasn’t really that big, was over-priced, and didn’t tend to turn over very often, so it would, say, have the same old over-priced anthology from 1979 on the philosophy of mind, or the semantics of morals, or whatever, for years. That seemed typical. They also buried most of the political philosophy with political science and garbage pop politics books, making it hard to find. The Strand always struck me as one of those places that New Yorkers think is really wonderful, but is actually not that good, and the opinion that it’s great is more an expression of NY’s own special provincialism than an accurate reflection of quality.Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
Reply to  Matt
5 years ago

I think the Strand is good for getting the occasional rare weirdity book, e.g., May Sinclair’s Defense of Idealism (12$), which I picked up a few months ago. But it is kind of a crapshoot, and a lot of the books there are very overpriced. I suspect for non-academic books, it is a lot better bookstore, and more people care about that then the philosophy book section per se.

And the Strand has gotten better — many of us will remember that horrible “organization system” where most of the humanities were lumped together with the social sciences under one big section. What a headache that was.

If you have kids, the kids graphic novels section is pretty neat.

I seem to remember the owner of Dove and Hudson has a Ph.D. in the history of science, and that’s why he knows a decent amount about philosophy as well. But I’m not sure I am accurately remembering that.Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
5 years ago

I will second Matt’s recommendation of Dove and Hudson’s books. The hours are odd — I think he is now only open the last two weeks of every month — but the philosophy section is good, books are always in good shape, and it is *very cheap*. The owner is nice too. I’ve been stopping there for over 11 years — every time I pass through Albany. It is my second favorite used bookstore for philosophy, behind Raven Books in Cambridge, MA, which used to be in Amherst, Ma (at the height of its glory for book lovers).Report

Preston
Preston
5 years ago

Someone mentioned Powell’s Books, but if you are in Portland, I would say Mother Foucault’s Books comes first.Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
5 years ago

Sadly, so many great bookstores are not with us anymore. And many of those that once were great have fallen on hard times. In 2002, a friend and I made a trip to Boston with a detailed and marked-up map. We hit at least 40 used bookstores that day. Only a small number of these still exist. Commonwealth books in Boston is still pretty good for philosophy still, as is Brattlebooks, but they are not as good as Raven in Cambridge. Still, worth the trip if you are hunting in Boston. I haven’t been to Lame Duck Books in a decade, but it used to be good for rare and weird stuff, most of which I could never afford. If you are in the Amherst-Northampton area, Grey Matter books is very interesting, and there is a Raven in Northampton as well. The Montague bookmill is nice to visit in the fall, but not as impressive in its stock for philosophy — though it is a big bookstore altogether and very cute. But in 1999-2004 there were something like 10-15 used bookstores in that area that were all at least good to excellent places to look for philosophy. Many of those are out of business too. Toronto and San Fran used to also be awesome for used book stores too, but they too have fallen on hard times.

Last time I was in Chicago, both of the Powell’s near the Uni and in the northerny part of Chicago were still good.

I just want to make used book stores great again.Report

Chris
Chris
Reply to  Kris McDaniel
5 years ago

For Toronto, BMV and Seeker’s, in the Annex, still have a good selection of philosophical work. Unfortunately the BMV on Queen has closed down. I don’t know of anywhere else.

Also, in Montréal, the only really good place I know of for philosophy is The Word near McGill. There’s also S.W. Welch on St. Viateur, but their selection for philosophy was rather poor last time I checked.Report

A Reader
A Reader
5 years ago

Labyrinth Books* in Princeton, NJ has a large and generally excellent selection of philosophy books, plus prominently featured new publications on tables up front. Not too surprising, given its prominence in a university town.

*According to one of the previous commenters above, Labyrinth is related in some fashion or other to Book Culture, near Columbia University, which is also quite solid.Report

JCM
JCM
5 years ago

Hodges Figgis in Dublin (of all places) has an excellent selection of philosophy for its size, and is in general an entirely respectable establishment, despite being owned by Waterstone’s these days. Books Upstairs nearby has a poor straight-philosophy section, but is good for feminist literature, critical theory, gay/lesbian literature, this manner of thing. Both stores’ proximity to Trinity is presumably the reason they stock such good academic stuff.

Edinburgh has a large Blackwell’s, as well as a wonderful cluster of second-hand bookshops in the Westport area. (Also the city’s red light district. Presumably coincidence.)

In London, there’s the LRB bookshop, which has a limited but excellent stock of the kind of stuff you find in the magazine. (Lots of leftist political philosophy.) Skoob Books has a nice selection of second-hand books, but you could never go there in the hope of finding a particular book. There’s also Waterstone’s flagship; although I can’t speak to its philosophy section, the store has six floors so must have some good stuff. And on Charing Cross you have Foyle’s and Blackwell’s and some more unusual establishments.Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
5 years ago

In Seattle, the Half Price Books near UW has a small but usually ok philosophy section. The Magus, also near UW, used to be good too. Haven’t been in a while.

I imagine there should be at least one good used academic bookstore in Duke-Chapel Hill research triangle area. Last time I was in Charlottesville, VA, there were a couple good used ones near UVA. (Can’t remember the names.) It would be great to have some sort of state by state listing for used philosophy books!Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

philosophy students seem to be strangely anomalous compared to most people I know in CS or math who prefer to use *less* physical books when possible and actually welcome having less traditional bookstores. I actually traded in about 150 physical books in my room after I learned I could download the .pdf or .epub equivalents and read them on a large tablet or monitor. the space saved was huge — probably about 10% or 20% of my room. the ultimate game-changer was being able to convert .epub files to .txt, which allowed real-time note taking at a pace far outstripping anything I can do with pen-and-paper. (and if reading too long causes eye strain, there are always computer reading glasses that can now be obtained affordably.)

a solid internet connection, a large hard drive, a comfortable monitor for reading, and access to Lib Gen and Sci Hub will fulfill more or less every philosophical need imaginable. for the rest, there’s Amazon or Smashwords or whatever sources deal in PDF/epub.

tbf, I can’t imagine ever having that many physical copies of books again, and it’s way more comforting to have the extra space and not have to figure out how to make room for a new book every time I buy one.Report