Best books on Stoicism

In this post, I want to list the best books on Stoicism, that I have encounter so far.

Besides the classic three Stoic authors that have come down to us (i.e. Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus), I have also listed the most influential contemporary authors that are contributing to bringing Stoicism back to the general public.

This is of course not an exhaustive list of all books out there, but I hope that this could help you to discover, internalize and practice a philosophy and school of life that can help you live a fulfilled life.

Modern Authors

Recently (in the last 20 years or so) , many philosophers and authors have rediscovered Stoicism as a way through life.

While ancient sources are the authorities to quote, a modern beginner interested in Stoicism should probably start with one of the most recent books on the topic.

These books are wrote in plain English, and they give a 360 degree explanation of the philosophy and its history. As such they offer an accessible introduction to the philosophy, and provide a good foundation from which to develop ones understanding.

A Guide to the Good Life

A guide to the good life: the ancient art of Stoic joy, by William B Irvine

Truly one of my favourite books on Stoicism. The author, William Irvine, explains how he discovered Stoicism, in the later part of his life despite being a university professor of philosophy, and how by applying it he managed to improve his life.

Not only does he give his take of Stoicism in a very beautiful style, but he also develops it forward, exploring new techniques and redefining the old ones. Truly beautiful, strongly suggested.

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness: Practical wisdom for everyday life: embrace perseverance, strength and happiness with stoic philosophy (Teach Yourself: Philosophy & Religion) by Donald Robertson

Donald Robertson is one of the most prolific authors on Stoicism. He is a counsellor with a background in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). In his books he often describes how ancient Stoic techniques are present and taught in modern CBT.

He describes the history of Stoic philosophy and he explains all its parts and components.

Believe me, you will not stop reading it and will be picking it back up time and time again. This was the book that converted me into Stoicism.

How To Be A Stoic

How To Be A Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living by Massimo Pigliucci

Together with Robertson, Pigliucci is one of the most vocal supporters of Stoicism. In addition to his written work he also produces videos, available on YouTube,  and runs a Stoic podcast with daily episodes.

Pigliucci is a professor of philosophy and, in this book, he tries to give a short but comprehensive introduction to Stoicism. While, most other authors focus only on the ethical aspect of Stoicism, he gives an all-round explanation of the philosophy focusing also on logic and physics and how these three disciplines combine together.

The Daily Stoic

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living: Featuring new translations of Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

The daily Stoic is a collection of 366 quotes from the ancient Stoic sources.

In each month, there are quotes for a different aspect of Stoicism, and for each quote there is a short explanation.

This book is a perfect example that Stoicism is a life-long-journey rather that something to study for a test.

The Little Book of Stoicism

The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and Calmness Kindle Edition by Jonas Salzgeber

This book has been a little (sic!) surprise for me, for how accurately, the author, Salzgeber gives a summary of all disciplines and techniques of Stoicism.

This book is probably not the most suitable first book for those starting to read about Stoicism. However, he has collected a wide range of information spanning across all areas of Stoicism, and this is an amazing “cheat-sheet” on Stoicism.

Philosophy for Life

Philosophy for Life: And other dangerous situations by Jules Evans

This and the next book are not direct explanations of Stoicism, but they outline what many philosophers have said on how to live a good and fulfilling life.

In this book, Evans focuses on the Pre and Post-Socratic school of life, and their answers on the problems of life.

This is recommended to those who are interested in exploring classical philosophy.

The Consolations of Philosophy

The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton

As we said for the previous book, this book does not focus specifically on Stoicism, but it discusses all kind of philosophy in human history with a nice and well-aimed reference to modern art and lifestyle.

de Botton structured this book on real life topics, like; poverty, broken heart, etc, and for each of these issues he explains what philosophers have to say.

Ancient Source

In this section there are the three main ancient Stoic sources that have survived to this day.

The texts from these three authors are a minuscule selection of all books we know, to have been written on Stoicism. And I break into a cold sweat every time I think that we could easily have lost all knowledge if wasn’t for these three texts. These three classics are, as much now as they were then, incredibly relevant for the common person and a must-read for everyone.

Unfortunately, they are not an easy read. Epictetus and Marcus wrote in Greek and it is not easily translated in English.  Seneca, wrote in Latin and his text is easier to read, although he wrote extensively. In summary, this is good book but on the other hand is not a short reading.

Here I have listed the version that has a translation closest to plain English.

Discourses and Selected Writings

Discourses, fragments and Enchiridion by Epictetus

This book is a collection of all the texts of Epictetus.

It includes the Enchiridion, the manual of Stoic philosophy.

Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae Morales Ad Lucilium

Letters to Lucilium, chosen letters by Seneca

This book presents some of the most important letters written by Seneca to Lucilium. A true masterpiece of literature and philosophy.

The entire book is massive, and its size would probably discourage anyone.

Seneca wrote extensively, but I would recommend starting with the ‘letters’ and move to his other works.

Meditations

Meditations (or To himself) by Marcus Aurelius

The internal discussion of the emperor Marcus Aurelius is the most intimate, lonely and rational diary that you will ever encounter.

If he is not your hero it means you have not read his meditation yet.

Biographical accounts

In this section I want to list two books on the people that “talked the talk and walked the walk”.  The people that lived through the worst possible situation in life and got out of it, developing a truly inspiring, moral and ethical resilience.

Hopefully, you and I will never have to experience such horrible life experiences. However, Stoicism tells us to train ourselves for the worst. You know, just in case!

Man’s Search For Meaning

Man’s Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust by Viktor E Frankl

Viktor E. Frankl was a Nazi survivor, and in his book,  he describes his five year internment in Auschwitz and the technique and rationalisation he developed from the worst experience that any human has ever encountered.

Frankl was also a psychologist and an academic. In style and theme this book may not be an easy digestion, especially for those who have just started their philosophical journey.

Courage Under Fire

Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (Hoover Essays) by James Bond Stockdale

In this short book (32 pages), Stockdale recall his seven years of internment in a Vietcong prisoner camp.

In here, Stockdale explains how his knowledge of Stoicism and in particular of Epictetus, allowed him to survive tortures and famine, and how by teaching philosophy he helped other POWs to survive.

Novels

In conclusion, two “stoic” novels. These are more casual books, recommend for an easy bed-time read.

A man in full

A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe

In this book, the main character accidentally discovers Stoicism and he starts applying it to his life more and more

This is one of the first novels of the modern time that focuses on Stoicism. Definitely worth a read.

Antifragile

Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder Paperback by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In his novel, Taleb explores the concept of fragility and how to become anti-fragile.

Thus, if anything fragile can easily break, like a glass falling from the table, an anti-fragile object does not  into pieces but becomes stronger after the fall.

A very intriguing book!

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