The best books on Epicureanism and its teachings

Who am I?

John Sellars is a Reader in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of multiple books on ancient philosophy, including Hellenistic Philosophy. He is also a founding member of Modern Stoicism and The Aurelius Foundation, both non-profit companies devoted to bringing Stoicism to a wider audience and showing how it can benefit people today.


I wrote...

The Pocket Epicurean

By John Sellars,

Book cover of The Pocket Epicurean

What is my book about?

A short, smart guide to living the good life through an introduction to the teachings of Epicurus. As long as there has been human life, we've been in search of what it means to be happy. More than two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Epicurus came to his own answer: all we really want in life is pleasure. Though today we tend to associate the word "Epicurean" with indulgence in the form of food and wine, the philosophy that Epicurus established was about a life well lived even in the hardest of times. As John Sellars shows in this concise, approachable guide, the vision of an ideal life developed by Epicurus and his followers was a life much more concerned with mental pleasures and the avoidance of pain. Their goal, in short, was a life of tranquillity or contentment.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Art of Happiness

John Sellars Why did I love this book?

Epicurus wrote a series of letters summarizing his philosophy and we also have a couple of sets of short aphorisms that report key ideas. All of these are translated in this volume, along with the ancient biography of Epicurus and a substantial introduction. For any one keen to learn more about Epicureanism, the first thing to reader are his letters, especially the Letter to Menoeceus and the Letter to Herodotus.

By Epicurus,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Art of Happiness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The teachings of Epicurus-about life and death, religion and science, physical sensation, happiness, morality, and friendship-attracted legions of adherents throughout the ancient Mediterranean world and deeply influenced later European thought. Though Epicurus faced hostile opposition for centuries after his death, he counts among his many admirers Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Jefferson, Karl Marx, and Isaac Newton. This volume includes all of his extant writings-his letters, doctrines, and Vatican sayings-alongside parallel passages from the greatest exponent of his philosophy, Lucretius, extracts from Diogenes Laertius' Life of Epicurus, a lucid introductory essay about Epicurean philosophy, and a foreword by Daniel Klein, author of…


Book cover of On the Nature of Things

John Sellars Why did I love this book?

Lucretius’ poem De rerum natura is the longest ancient work we have outlining Epicurean ideas. It’s also a masterpiece in its own right, covering everything from the origins of the cosmos, the rise and fall of civilizations, and the development of human culture to the nature of sensation and how to think about death. There are numerous translations out there; this one is a reliable translation into prose that has the original Latin verse on the facing page, along with helpful notes.

By Lucretius, Martin F. Smith (translator), W.H.D. Rouse (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Nature of Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus) lived ca. 99 ca. 55 BCE, but the details of his career are unknown. He is the author of the great didactic poem in hexameters, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). In six books compounded of solid reasoning, brilliant imagination, and noble poetry, he expounds the scientific theories of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, with the aim of dispelling fear of the gods and fear of death and so enabling man to attain peace of mind and happiness.

In Book 1 he establishes the general principles of the atomic system, refutes the views of rival…


Book cover of Epicureanism: A Very Short Introduction

John Sellars Why did I love this book?

Wilson’s Very Short Introduction is a great overview of the central themes in Epicurean philosophy. If you want to learn more about Epicurean atomism, knowledge, the nature of the mind, politics, and ethics, then this book will give you a solid foundation and references to further academic reading.

By Catherine Wilson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Epicureanism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Epicureanism is commonly associated with a carefree view of life and the pursuit of pleasures, particularly the pleasures of the table. However it was a complex and distinctive system of philosophy that emphasized simplicity and moderation, and considered nature to consist of atoms and the void. Epicureanism is a school of thought whose legacy continues to reverberate today.

In this Very Short Introduction, Catherine Wilson explains the key ideas of the School, comparing them with those of the rival Stoics and with Kantian ethics, and tracing their influence on the development of scientific and political thought from Locke, Newton, and…


Book cover of How to Be Content: An Ancient Poet's Guide for an Age of Excess

John Sellars Why did I love this book?

The Roman poet Horace was influenced by Epicurean ideas and they often feature in his work. This book forms a nice introduction to Horace and his works, with carefully chosen selections in both English and the original Latin. Horace might not be the first place that someone curious about Epicureanism would look, but he’s well worth reading, both in his own right and as a Epicurean author. 

By Stephen Harrison, Horace,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Be Content as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What the Roman poet Horace can teach us about how to live a life of contentment

What are the secrets to a contented life? One of Rome's greatest and most influential poets, Horace (65-8 BCE) has been cherished by readers for more than two thousand years not only for his wit, style, and reflections on Roman society, but also for his wisdom about how to live a good life-above all else, a life of contentment in a world of materialistic excess and personal pressures. In How to Be Content, Stephen Harrison, a leading authority on the poet, provides fresh, contemporary…


Book cover of The Library of the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum

John Sellars Why did I love this book?

In the first century BC an Epicurean community developed in the Bay of Naples area. A key figure in this community was Philodemus, an Epicurean philosopher originally from Jordan who had studied at the Epicurean Garden in Athens. His patron owned a villa near the town of Herculaneum and his library contained numerous works by both Philodemus and Epicurus himself. When Vesuvius erupted in the next century the villa was buried, only to be discovered in the eighteenth century. Since then, scholars have recovered and deciphered the burnt papyri from the villa’s library, discovering a whole host of otherwise lost Epicurean texts. David Sider’s wonderful book tells this story in a detailed by accessible way, all lavishly illustrated.

By David Sider,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Library of the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii in A.D. 79 also buried nearby Herculaneum. Over time the location of the small town was forgotten, but shortly after its rediscovery in the 1730s, "excavations" - more properly, treasure hunts - were organized to unearth ancient sculpture. The richest finds were from a villa that came to be called the Villa dei Papiri, because it also yielded upward of a thousand papyrus rolls - the only library ever to have been recovered from the classical world. To the great excitement of contemporaries, the papyri held out the tantalizing possibility of the…


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Book cover of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

Michael Ruse Author Of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

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What is my book about?

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Being social is biology’s way of ensuring survival and reproduction. With the coming of agriculture 10,000 years ago, new conditions – primarily much-increased population numbers – meant that sociality broke down as we battled for our share of much-reduced resources. But, as cultural change brought about our troubles, so culture offers prospects of a future where our social natures can emerge and thrive again.

Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

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An insightful and probing exploration of the contradiction between humans' enormous capacity for hatred and their evolutionary development as a social species

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Interested in epicureanism, ancient philosophy, and stoicism?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about epicureanism, ancient philosophy, and stoicism.

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