The best books on Marcus Aurelius and his desire to live a good life

John Sellars Author Of Marcus Aurelius
By John Sellars

Who am I?

John Sellars is a Reader in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of multiple books on Stoicism. 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...

Marcus Aurelius

By John Sellars,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius

What is my book about?

In this new study, John Sellars offers a fresh examination of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations as a work of philosophy by placing it against the background of the tradition of Stoic philosophy to which Marcus was committed. 

Challenging claims that Marcus Aurelius was merely an eclectic thinker, that the Meditations do not fit the model of a work of philosophy, that there are no arguments in the work, and that it only contains superficial moral advice, Sellars shows that he was in constant dialogue with his Stoic predecessors, engaging with themes drawn from all three parts of Stoicism: logic, physics, and ethics. The image of Marcus Aurelius that emerges is of a committed Stoic, engaging with a wide range of philosophical topics, motivated by the desire to live a good life.

The books I picked & why

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Meditations: The Annotated Edition

By Marcus Aurelius, Robin Waterfield (translator),

Book cover of Meditations: The Annotated Edition

Why this book?

There are numerous translations of the Meditations available at the moment? Which one is best? And given there are so many, surely there’s no point in anyone translating it again. Well, there’s now another, brand new version available, and I think there are good reasons for it to become people’s first choice. It’s by Robin Waterfield who is a highly experienced and accomplished translator of both Greek history and philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, Herodotus, Plutarch, and more). Robin doesn’t just know his Greek; he has a thorough command of Greek philosophy too. What this volume gives, then, is an excellent translation informed by the latest scholarship on Marcus along with a substantial introduction and detailed notes that are helpfully printed as footnotes on the page. While there are other translations out there that are just fine, this is now the one I’d recommend.

A Companion to Marcus Aurelius

By Marcel van Ackeren,

Book cover of A Companion to Marcus Aurelius

Why this book?

This is a large and expensive academic book containing over thirty chapters by different authors (disclaimer: two of them are by me). It’s perhaps not the sort of thing that a typical general reader is likely to buy. But taken together these chapters constitute the fullest discussion of Marcus Aurelius available in English and most questions that people are likely to have about Marcus or his philosophy are probably answered somewhere in its five hundred plus pages.

The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

By Pierre Hadot, Michael Chase (translator),

Book cover of The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Why this book?

Pierre Hadot is famous for arguing that in antiquity philosophy was understood as above all a way of life. Although some scholars have pushed back against his account, it’s a really fruitful way to approach Marcus’s Meditations, which clearly isn’t a typical theoretical philosophical text. Hadot approaches the Meditations as a series of written ‘spiritual exercises’ through which Marcus is trying to transform himself. In the process of writing my own book on Marcus I came to disagree with a number of the claims that Hadot makes, but even so The Inner Citadel remains a highly stimulating and engaging book.

Marcus Aurelius in Love

By Amy Richlin, Marcus Aurelius,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius in Love

Why this book?

This book contains a selection of letters from the correspondence between Marcus Aurelius and his rhetoric teacher Fronto. Most of these letters date from Marcus’s youth and show a quite different side to his character. Richlin argues – controversially – that some of these letters give evidence of a homosexual relationship between Marcus and Fronto. Although I’m not convinced by that claim, this volume remains a really helpful way to access these letters in a modern translation with helpful notes. The youthful Marcus we meet is a nice counterpoint to the older Marcus of the Meditations.

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

By Donald Robertson,

Book cover of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Why this book?

Part biography, part self-help book, Donald Robertson draws on his own professional experience as a psychotherapist to draw out of the Meditations a series of practical techniques that people can use today. For readers new to Marcus Aurelius, this book is a great place to start, introducing the man himself, the Stoic philosophy on which he drew, and shows how people might draw on and make use of ideas in the Meditations in their own lives.

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