Similar to Which of Kant's writings would be a good introduction to his work? I've been planning to read some of Nietzsche's work for a while, but have no idea where to start. Which of his writings would be a good initial introduction to his philosophical views?

Should I try one of his writings or perhaps a summary/critique written by others?

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    One best approaches Nietzsche with a healthy dose of scepticism. His rhetorical skill is impressive but half the benefit of reading Nietzsche for me, anyway, is seeing nonsense for what it is despite being dressed in moving language. (Exactly what Nietzsche intended for the reader consider and reject and what he intended the reader to be persuaded by remains puzzling to me personally.)
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 19:51
  • @RexKerr yeah. I found this quote by him - "After coming into contact with a religious man I always feel I must wash my hands." and another that "God created woman and that was the end of boredom-but of other things too! Woman was God's second mistake". Was he a misogynist or not. He had lady friends. He was a non-believer but what that first quote could mean is highly controversial for me even though I am not religious also. He was a complex man, I guess! Aren't we all, anyways.! Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 19:55
  • what do you hope to gain? Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 17:58
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    @BhaskarVashishth a larger context for the quote is maybe more informative - "And with it all there is nothing of the founder of a religion in me. Religions belong to the rabble; after coming into contact with religious people I always feel that I must wash my hands. I do not want "believers”, I think that I am too full of malice to believe even in myself; I never speak to masses." et al from Ecce Homo. Arguing against soundbite fragments torn out from books is rather futile, as they are interpreted through making random assumptions.
    – Peteris
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 20:30

9 Answers 9


If you think you'll manage reading Nietzsche himself, I would certainly recommend it - it'll give you a very direct image of his philosophy. I personally started with Beyond Good and Evil, and would recommend it as one of the first things you read; you will get right into Nietzsche's epistemology, his concept of will to power, and some fairly amusing attacks on other groups of thought (especially when he calls democrats sheep; I'll never forget that).

However, having read On the Genealogy of Morals later on, I would caution against starting immediately with Beyond Good and Evil, and instead recommend reading at least the first essay, if not the second of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. This is why:

It has long been clear what my aim [in writing On the Genealogy of Morals] is, what the aim of that dangerous slogan is that is inscribed at the head of my last book Beyond Good and Evil. - At least this does not mean "Beyond Good and Bad." - [Genealogy of Morals, first essay, section 17]

So, reading those first two essays should give you a lot of insight into what you later read in Beyond Good and Evil, and give you a little taste of Nietzsche's general philosophy.

Once you read Beyond Good and Evil, I think Thus Spake Zarathustra might be an appropriate direction to head in, although the book itself can get pretty climactic and heavy. It may be better if you read a few of his other works (e.g. The Gay Science, a useful introduction to a few important concepts) before.

On a side note, if you're looking for something more along the lines of an autobiography (and also excellent literature), Ecce Homo is great, and regardless of what order you choose to read Nietzsche, this has to be pretty high on your list.


I would argue that book 1 of Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a pretty good place to start. It's a little overly allegorical and rhetorical but that is part of Nietzsche's style and appropriate for an introduction. I personally started reading Nietzsche this way and found this study guide helpful as I read:


Books 2 and 3 get a little overwhelming and without more background into Nietzsche's history I think these might be confusing for a beginner.

I also really enjoyed Bertrand Russell's introduction to Nietzsche in his Introduction to Western Philosophy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_Western_Philosophy Russell's treatment of Nietzsche is particularly unfair but I found it incredibly useful to get some background into the criticism that Nietzsche has gotten post World War II. Additionally, I thought that Will Durant gave him some good introductory treatment in his book "The Story of Philosophy"


It's a nice to read Bertrand Russell's "A History of Western Philosophy" chapter about Nietzsche.

"Thus Spoke Zarathustra" is both philosophical and literary work. It is relatively simple to read, but relatively hard to understand (figurative meaning). Maybe it is not a best first book to read.

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    agree. Zarathustra is very nice from literal point of view.. but it just feels like a poem, and (don't throw rotten tomatoes) the taste of Coello's Alchemist / Bach's Sea-gull would fend of many people who seek real philosophy. imho. (I was not able to force myself into reading it past first 20-30 pages) But for people who happen to like pop-philosophy, it might happen to be just fine..
    – c69
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 10:33
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    Also, Stefan Zweig's 'Nietzsche' book gives many insights on the life this outstanding man and how it contrasts with his writings.
    – c69
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 11:13

A lot of Nietzsche's works are in an aphoristic style. This usually makes them somewhat less accessible for first time readers, because you're will miss context.

  1. Since you're interested in God, The Antichrist is probably the best start. It is not about God directly, but about Christ/Christianity, but is usual for Nietzsche. As a later work, it is quite hyperbolic which may or may not be off putting to you.

  2. My next choice would be The Birth of Tragedy, famous for his discussion of the apollonian and dionysian, i.e. Greek Gods. This is his first work, in a more balanced style. Some foreknowledge of Greek Tragedy is however helpful. I would stick to the first paragraphs 1-15, the rest is less interesting/more specifically on Wagner.

  3. Then On the Genealogy of Morals, also a running text and quite readible, altough difficult in the details. In English probably the most widely read text.

Then you'll have a quite clear view of Nietzsche basic ideas. And decide which you want to pursue.

  • Human all to human and The Dawn are somewhat similar aphoristic works. From what is usually called his 'enlightenment' period: more pro science, rationalistic.

  • Beyond Good and Evil is quite close in contents with the Genealogy.

  • I personally like The Gay Science best, but some extra companion literature is helpful. Some aphorisms can be quite puzzling.

  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra is even more puzzling. Apart from the introduction, which is quite readibly and interesting, I would certainly not recommend the rest for a first time reader. In contents close to The Gay Science.

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    Excellent answer. You can bet, I've printed your answer and placed it in the front of my copy of Jung's Nietzsche's Zarathustra: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1934-1939 (in two volumes: 1988). I highly recommend a thorough reading of Jung's title. Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 22:10

Why do not start with some introduction :

Then you can try with :

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    How about "Human, all too human" by Nietzsche. I found it on google. It looks good. How is it? These books you have mentioned are too advanced for me right now. Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 18:05

I enjoyed "The Birth of Tragedy: from the Spirit of Music", it is one of his earlier works. My procedure was to read Nietzsche mostly in the chronological order he wrote his books. Remember that Nietzsche's health and mental condition degraded by time so his latest works are more tough and aggressive.



In order to begin to assess any thinker, especially a thinker as powerful as Nietzsche, one ought to proceed chronologically with her or his published worked. Begin with Nietzsche's first published book,

  1. The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music.

This book was scandalous for academics at the time, for its polemical and un-academic style. Nietzsche also was the youngest professor appointed ever in Germany ; his colleagues were expecting a book which conformed to their standards and filled with quotations (probably to the aesthetician* Schiller) Anyway, you should read next

  1. The Pre-Platonic Philosophers, University of Illinois Press
  2. Philosophy and Truth, translated by Daniel Breazeale
  3. Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, Gateway

Having a solid understanding of the importance of Greek tragedy for Nietzsche is crucial for understanding, a. the genesis of his thought and b. the end of his philosophical thinking.

I've found for reading philosophy carefully, one shouldn't read a thinker out of order. Or if you choose to do so, proceed with caution.

References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Nietzsche_bibliography, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nietzsche/#Bib

*, in the philosophical and artistic senses of "aesthetics"


I tried The Antichrist but it was too complex to me (I was between 18 and 20 years old). I tried Zarathustra, but since each part has a different style (in one he speaks frankly, in the other he is completely ironic, etc), I couldn't get it until I found a succinct commentary some years later (I was about 25 then). When I had 23 I found Ecce Homo, and only then I could finally understand what his main goals were. From this point on I could read him without bigger problems. The books I considered more easy to grasp (because there was a clear line of thought) were Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morality and The Antichrist. To read other rationalist, materialist, revolutionary thinkers also helped a lot (people like Schopenhauer, Russell, Dostoyevsky, Mark Twain, Thoreau).

Long story short: begin with Ecce Homo.


"Law Against Christianity" from his work "The Anti-Christ" is a very short read that will give you a good sense of what to expect from Nietzsche. It has been described as Nietzsche at his most virulent. In terms of both his vernacular, his reasoning and rhetoric, it is a toe in the waters of his angst.

Secondary sources are certainly worthwhile, as are different translations, but in general he is readable if not at times dense (imho).

For a collection of several of his books, see "The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings" eds. Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman, trans. Judith Norman (New York: Cambridge University Press,2005). "Laws against Christianity is on pages 66-67. Have fun!

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