How Do I Choose the Best Mythology Books?

Daniel Liden

Mythology books, or books that contain information or stories concerning collections of myths from particular cultures, can be useful tools for understanding a society's culture. Even if one does not need an understanding of mythology for academic purposes, such books can be very interesting. Choosing the best mythology books is important for getting the best and most accurate information about the topics of interest. Which books are the "best" depends on the preferences, goals, and prior knowledge of the reader. Clarifying one's goals and interests tends to substantially narrow down the body of relevant books, allowing the reader to choose from just a few based on reviews, writer reputations, and excerpts.

Mythology books contain information or stories about myths from particular cultures.
Mythology books contain information or stories about myths from particular cultures.

The field of mythology is vast, so arbitrarily picking mythology books from a library bookshelf is not a good way to find books specific to one's interests. The first important step in choosing the best mythology books is determining the subsection of mythology in which one is interested. If one wants a better understanding of the gods in a Greek epic, for instance, a book on Greek mythology will likely be the best option. Someone new to mythology may, on the other hand, prefer an introductory text or a comparative book on the subject, as such books tend to examine the myths of many different cultures and the relationships between them.

Choosing the best mythology books depends on the preferences, goals, and prior knowledge of the reader.
Choosing the best mythology books depends on the preferences, goals, and prior knowledge of the reader.

Upon determining the subsection of interest, it is necessary to examine what one wishes to gain from various mythology books. Some are simple collections of stories that provide a fitting introduction to a culture's mythology but lack any academic rigor. Other mythology books are complicated and extensively researched academic treatises citing countless obscure works and making novel arguments about specific aspects of a culture's mythology. If one seeks a basic introduction, the former is probably the best option. If, on the other hand, one has specific academic interests, a more in-depth, academically rigorous work may be preferable.

Specifying one's interests and goals can substantially reduce the number of suitable mythology books. Still, arbitrarily choosing from the remaining books will not necessarily return the best possible choice. Reading reviews and asking experts in the field can greatly help one to choose the best possible books. Reading a chapter, or at least a few pages, can also help one to determine if a given book is written in an acceptable style. Also, writer reputation is sometimes a good way to choose between similar works.

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Discussion Comments


If you want a good overview and aren't looking for something very technical, I would check out some mythology books for kids. Particularly the ones set up like a reference book, rather than ones that are showcasing the myths.

They will have lots of summaries and will often list references as well, so you can find some more in depth books on whatever strikes your fancy.


@pleonasm - Another tip for someone who has no clue what they are looking for, is to have a look at some lists online. There are a lot of articles based around the strangeness or awesomeness of particular myths and they will (hopefully) cover a wide range of them, rather than sticking with a particular age or area.

Don't forget to check out the modern myths and urban myths from your country as well. These are easier to find online, although I believe there are a couple of good urban myth books on the subject.


I think, if you're just generally interested in mythology, you might want to go into the library and just browse for a while to see what jumps out at you. I'm a big believer in browsing, because I don't think it's always possible to know what you don't know. In other words, if you aren't already an expert on mythology, you might not realize what kind of myths are going to interest you.

I would definitely recommend looking at Greek mythology books, if nothing else, just because so much of Western culture is based around them, from the names of the planets, to many of our modern TV shows.

If you are of a particular ethnicity, you might also want to check out the myths of your ancestors.

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