What is the Best Carl Jung Book to Start with?

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961) has written an extensive number of books. Interestingly, these books differ a lot when it comes to their difficulty. Some books are, therefore, clearly more suitable to those who are just starting to get familiar with Carl Jung’s theories. What then is the best Carl Jung book to start with?

There are a few ways to answer this question and it depends a lot on your own personal preference. Below I have listed four options, including the reasons why you might want to choose for one of these options.

Best Carl Jung Book to Start with #4: The Red Book (1914-1930, published in 2009)

The Red Book is Jung’s most interesting and most important book in my opinion. Throughout the Red Book Jung is interacting with his own unconscious. Even though the Red Book may be a bit mysterious, and perhaps even a bit bizarre, Jung would himself later argue that it was the source of all of his most important ideas.

As such, if you feel a bit adventurous and want to acquire a good understanding on how Jung developed his ideas, then the Red Book is a great place to start. After reading the Red Book, all of Jung’s other works will make more sense because you know the origin of the ideas discussed in these books as well.

However, it must be noted that Jung used his later works to further develop the ideas from the Red Book, as well as to find a scientific basis for these ideas. As such, if you are someone who is not quick to be convinced of some more mystical and spiritual ideas, then it may be better to begin with one of the other three books on this list.  

Best Carl Jung Book to Start with #3: Man and His Symbols (Published in 1964)

Man and His Symbols is the book which is most commonly recommended to those wanting to start reading Jung. This is not without reason since the aim of Man and His Symbols was to provide its reader with a clear overview of Jung’s most important and complicated ideas.

However, only the first part of this book was written by Jung himself, while the other parts were written by Jung’s associates. As such, if you really want to learn about Jung’s ideas in Jung’s own words, then Man and His Symbols may not be the best place to start.

Best Carl Jung Book to Start with #2: The Portable Jung (Edited by Joseph Campbell)

The Portable Jung was also not written by Jung himself but by one of the most important contributors to the development of Jung’s ideas after Jung’s death, Joseph Campbell. However, what makes this book different from Man and His Symbols, is the fact that Joseph Campbell’s book is a collection of Jung’s own essays compiled in a specific order.  

As a result, you are still reading about Jung’s ideas in Jung’s own words. Moreover, Joseph Campbell promises the reader of The Portable Jung that, due to the specific selection of essays and the order in which Campbell has placed them, this book prepares its reader properly for a succesful further exploration of Jung’s ideas.

Best Carl Jung Book to Start with #1: Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961)

Memories, Dreams, Reflections is Jung’s autobiography. Throughout the book the reader will get a clear overview on who Jung was, how he developed his ideas, and what some of his most important ideas were. As such, I think it is a great place to start for those interested in starting to read about Carl Jung’s ideas.

Not only will Memories, Dream, Reflections provide you with a good and easy to understand overview of Jung’s ideas in Jung’s own words, but it will also provide you with a good understanding of who Jung was as a person. Such an understanding is extremely useful when you start to read other, more complicated books written by Carl Jung


There are many different opinions when it comes to the best Carl Jung book for beginners. In the end I think it mostly depends on your own personal preferences. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and the Portable Jung, are the best options in case you want to acquire a clear overview of Jung’s ideas and want to learn about Jung in Jung’s own words.

In case you do not mind learning about the ideas of Jung from the perspective of other associates of Jung, then Man and His Symbols is a great place to start. In case you want to go right to the core of Jung’s ideas, then the Red Book is definitely worth a try. Personally I believe that any of these books will prepare you for Jung’s more complicated works.

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