The best modern books on Stoicism

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Donald Robertson

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

Why this book?

This book is an excellent introduction for those new to Stoic philosophy and a treat for those who know the Stoics well. Robertson, a psychotherapist and renowned expert on Stoic philosophy, weaves together noble Stoic insights on how to live a tranquil, happy, virtuous, socially responsible life with the most effective techniques of modern cognitive psychotherapy that grew from those insights. His deep knowledge of and respect for the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius also rings clear from these fascinating pages which bring the ancient philosopher-emperor to life as a noble guide to the good life for citizens of the 21st century.


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Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius

By Stephen Hanselman, Ryan Holiday

Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius

Why this book?

Fans of the Stoics tend to be most familiar by far with the lives and the writings of Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius, and to a lesser extent, Epictetus’ teacher, Musonius Rufus, because of the quantity and quality of their writings and teachings that survive to our day. Within this book’s pages, you will indeed find Epictetus “The Free Man,” Seneca “The Striver,” Aurelius “The Philosopher King,” and Rufus “The Unbreakable,” but you will also be introduced to the lives and ideas of twenty-two other remarkable Stoics from Stoicism’s founder, Zeno “The Prophet” to lesser known Stoics dubbed with such intriguing titles as “The Last Honest Man” and “The Iron Woman.” This book brings to life many Stoic figures mentioned briefly in the writings of our best known Stoics. I’ve found that when I reread the three major Stoics now, such honorable mentions have become so much more meaningful, and will sometimes prompt me to return to reread that person’s chapter in this book. The Stoics taught that philosophy is not just an intellectual vocation or pastime, but an art of living or way of life. Therefore, the stories of how they lived out their Stoic ideas in their own daily lives are particularly important. I absolutely love this book’s contents and the way it’s written. Informative. Intriguing. Inspiring.


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Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault

By Pierre Hadot

Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault

Why this book?

I simply had to include one of philosopher Pierre Hadot’s wise and weighty books on Stoic philosophy. The subject matter of this book is centered on Stoic thought, but draws on, compares, and contrasts Stoic ideas with other foundational ideas in ancient and more modern philosophy. The key theme, as the title suggests, is that philosophy’s highest calling is as a way to transform and improve the way one actually lives one’s life. While including chapters on Aurelius, and on Socrates, (a highly respected pre-Stoic inspiration to the Stoics), another main emphasis is on how Stoic practices serve as “spiritual exercises,” and how we can come to learn them, use them, and grow from them too as a means to make philosophy our own way of life. Not a particularly easy read, but a read well worth the effort – and repeated rereads as the years roll by.


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Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius

By Margaret Graver, A. A. Long, Lucius Seneca

Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius

Why this book?

Perhaps I’m cheating a bit on this one, since I promised to recommend best “modern” books on Stoicism and Seneca wrote his 124 famous letters almost 2,000 years ago, but since my other recommendations are Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus heavy, I wanted to make sure that any person exploring Stoicism for the first time gets a taste of Seneca too. While there are some wonderful books out there on the intriguing character of Seneca the man, such as James Romm’s wonderful Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero, I’m not aware of a particular one-volume book that examines Seneca’s philosophy with the kind of depth we see in books on Aurelius and Epictetus. Besides, while the letters are ancient, this particular translation is modern and has been done by two highly-respected scholars of Stoic thought of the very first rank. They do a wonderful job (though I must admit, I first met Seneca’s Letters through the Penguin and Loeb editions and I’ve yet to meet a translation that I don’t like.) Seneca’s Letters provide a vast assortment of humane insights from the Stoics foremost and also from other rival schools of philosophy like Epicureanism. Seneca loves truth wherever it might be found. He thinks it best to enter and borrow freely from “the other camp” of rival schools of philosophy, “not as a deserter, but as a spy.” The Letters are a world unto themselves, incredibly rich in noble, humane insights, written with elegance, and studded with countless bon mots. I encourage everyone to join Seneca’s camp through his Letters (or at least to spy on it again and again.)


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The Epictetus Club

By Jeff Traylor

The Epictetus Club

Why this book?

I wanted to include a book of fiction that brings Stoic thought to life in our modern world, and this was a tough decision for me. I absolutely love the great modern novelist Tom Wolf’s 700-plus-page masterpiece A Man in Full, but here I’d like to draw attention to a wonderful little 150-page gem that is not nearly as widely known. Traylor’s fascinating little novel is actually “fictionalized,” its characters being crafted from actual people. And who are these people? Neither philosophers nor psychologists captivated by Stoic thought, nor average Joes or Janes out on the street, but the inmates of maximum security prisons Traylor met while working as a counselor. Epictetus is the Stoic who teaches most about personal, internal, moral freedom and self-control, having once been a slave himself. This book shows how well the ex-slave’s lessons can resonate with and morally transform anyone today who strives for such freedom, even if imprisoned behind steel bars. Please do find an hour or two to read this wonderful book.


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