The best modern books on Marcus Aurelius

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an author and cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist. I am one of the founders of the Modern Stoicism nonprofit organisation and the president and founder of the Plato’s Academy Centre in Athens, Greece. I’ve published six books on philosophy and psychotherapy, mostly focusing on the Stoic philosophy and its relationship with modern psychology and evidence-based psychotherapy.


I wrote...

Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

By Donald J. Robertson,

Book cover of Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

What is my book about?

Verissimus is a full-colour graphic novel about the life and philosophy of Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, with artwork by award-winning Portuguese illustrator Zé Nuno Fraga. Marcus was the author of the Meditations, one of the most famous self-improvement classics of all time. Our graphic novel is a bit like a prequel to Gladiator (2000)—the Hollywood movie in which Marcus was portrayed by Richard Harris—but with a lot more Stoic philosophy. It’s full of epic action scenes, such as several major Roman battles, dramatic interpersonal conflict, between Marcus and many other prominent characters from his life story, and lots of references to how philosophy helped him to cope with the tremendous challenges he faced.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Meditations: The Annotated Edition

Donald J. Robertson Why did I love this book?

This is the most recent translation of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, at the time of writing but I’m mainly including it because of Robin Waterfield’s very thorough annotations, which are invaluable when it comes to understanding some of the more obscure passages. They provide historical and philosophical context that’s otherwise missing and make it much easier to appreciate what Marcus was trying to say.

By Marcus Aurelius, Robin Waterfield (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Meditations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was the sixteenth emperor of Rome -- and by far the most powerful and wealthy man in the world. Yet he was also an intensely private person, with a rich interior life and deep reservoirs of personal insight. He collected his thoughts in notebooks, gems which have come to be called his Meditations. Never intended for publication, the work survived his death and has proved an inexhaustible source of wisdom and one of the most important Stoic texts of all time. In often passionate language, the entries range from essays to one-line aphorisms, and from profundity to…


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

Donald J. Robertson Why did I love this book?

The French philosopher and historian, Pierre Hadot, was the first modern author to systematically describe the “spiritual exercises” found in ancient Greek and Roman philosophical texts. This book is the most popular scholarly analysis of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius available. It provides essential information on the underlying structure of Marcus’ writing and how it fits into the broader system of Stoic philosophy. Although an academic work, most nonacademics find Hadot very readable. 

By Pierre Hadot, Michael Chase (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Inner Citadel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are treasured today--as they have been over the centuries--as an inexhaustible source of wisdom. And as one of the three most important expressions of Stoicism, this is an essential text for everyone interested in ancient religion and philosophy. Yet the clarity and ease of the work's style are deceptive. Pierre Hadot, eminent historian of ancient thought, uncovers new levels of meaning and expands our understanding of its underlying philosophy.

Written by the Roman emperor for his own private guidance and self-admonition, the Meditations set forth principles for living a good and just life. Hadot probes…


Book cover of Marcus Aurelius: A Biography

Donald J. Robertson Why did I love this book?

Although some people assume we don’t know much about Marcus Aurelius, the truth is that we probably know more about him than most other ancient philosophers, and certainly, there are several modern biographies of Marcus Aurelius but the best is this one by the British historian, Anthony Birley. Birley adopts a scholarly approach but he also keeps quite a tight focus on the events of Marcus’ life. (Frank McLynn’s biography is more widely-read but ranges more freely over topics such as the Roman empire’s economy.)  

By Anthony Birley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Marcus Aurelius as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor who ruled the Roman Empire between AD 161 and 180, is one of the best recorded individuals from antiquity. Even his face became more than usually familiar: the imperial coinage displayed his portrait for over 40 years, from the clean-shaven young heir of Antonius to the war-weary, heavily bearded ruler who died at his post in his late fifties.
His correspondence with his tutor Fronto, and even more the private notebook he kept for his last ten years, the Meditations, provides a unique series of vivid and revealing glimpses into the character and peoccupations of this…


Book cover of Marcus Aurelius

Donald J. Robertson Why did I love this book?

John Sellars is a British academic philosopher and one of the leading modern scholars of Stoicism but he’s also a great communicator and his writings are easily accessible to nonacademics. Many readers assume, at first glance, that the Meditations consist of “random musings.” However, this recent work on the philosophy underlying Marcus Aurelius’ thought helps to expose the systematic nature of his reasoning. 

By John Sellars,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this 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.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is a perennial bestseller, attracting countless readers drawn to its unique mix of philosophical reflection and practical advice. The emperor is usually placed alongside Seneca and Epictetus as one of three great Roman Stoic authors, but he wears his philosophy lightly, not feeling the need to state explicitly the ideas standing behind the reflections that he was writing for…


Book cover of Marcus Aurelius: A Guide for the Perplexed

Donald J. Robertson Why did I love this book?

This is a short introduction to the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius written by an American professor of philosophy. A short biographical introduction is followed by chapters discussing some technical points of Marcus’ Stoic philosophy from the Meditations. I found the biography a good condensation of the details you’ll find in Birley’s book. Although this is designed as an introduction, it gets a little technical at times, so nonacademic readers might prefer to look at John Sellars’ book first. This book will help you to think more deeply about what Marcus is saying, though.

By William O. Stephens,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This title presents the exploration of the life and philosophical reflections of this complex Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor. This book is a clear and concise introduction to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. His one major surviving work, often titled 'meditations' but literally translated simply as 'to himself', is a series of short, sometimes enigmatic reflections divided seemingly arbitrarily into twelve books and apparently written only to be read by him. For these reasons Marcus is a particularly difficult thinker to understand. His musings, framed as 'notes to self' or 'memoranda', are the exhortations of an earnest, conscientious Stoic…


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The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

By Robert F. Barsky,

Book cover of The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

Robert F. Barsky Author Of Clamouring for Legal Protection: What the Great Books Teach Us about People Fleeing from Persecution

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Why am I passionate about this?

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Robert's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter—voted “most important public intellectual in the world today” in a 2005 magazine poll—Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation.

In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues—including Vietnam, Israel, East Timor, and his work in linguistics—that illustrate not only “the Chomsky effect” but also “the Chomsky approach.”

Chomsky, writes Barsky, is an inspiration and a catalyst. Not just an analyst…

The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

By Robert F. Barsky,

What is this book about?

"People are dangerous. If they're able to involve themselves in issues that matter, they may change the distribution of power, to the detriment of those who are rich and privileged."--Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter--voted "most important public intellectual in the world today" in a 2005 magazine poll--Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation. In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues--Chomsky's signature issues,…


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