The best books to understand Stoicism from multiple perspectives

Why am I passionate about this?

In my series on Ways of the World, my aim is to let the founder of each way tell us of their way in their words: the destination that they suggest we all seek; the directions that they offer to help us to reach the destination, and the strategies that they offer to help us to successfully follow their directions. I find it marvelous that we can listen to people, such as Epictetus, who lived thousands of years ago; people whose words can help us to improve our ways. You would be right if you have guessed that the books I recommend are primary sources.


I wrote...

Exploring the Way of Epictetus: His Destination, Directions, and Strategies

By Gary W. Cross,

Book cover of Exploring the Way of Epictetus: His Destination, Directions, and Strategies

What is my book about?

Epictetus was born a slave in Hierapolis (in present-day Turkey). He studied Stoic philosophy while still a slave. After attaining his freedom, he taught philosophy in Rome before being banished by Emperor Domitian (along with other philosophers) in 89 CE.  Epictetus went to Nicopolis (in present-day Greece) where he continued to teach philosophy. I suggest it is to Epictetus that we must turn to best understand the way of the Stoic. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Stoics Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia

Gary W. Cross Why did I love this book?

A good place to start the exploration into Stoicism. This book introduces the main characters of Stoicism, and the main areas they focused on, such as Physics and Ethics. Importantly, the book provides sources from ancient sources to expound the different areas.

By Lloyd P. Gerson, Brad Inwood,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This volume gathers together the most important evidence about Stoic thought surviving from the ancient world. It is an expanded version of the section on Stoicism in Inwood and Gerson's Hellenistic Philosophy, consolidating related texts into larger, more continuous selections, adding material on the skeptical attack on Stoicism, and a short section that introduces the reader to some of the more interesting texts on Stoic ethics from the Roman imperial period. Inwood and Gerson provide lucid, accurate translations, an Introduction that sets the works included in historical and philosophical context, a glossary of terms, a glossary of philosophers and philosophical…


Book cover of Discourses, Fragments, Handbook

Gary W. Cross Why did I love this book?

It is by listening to Epictetus that we best learn the way of the ancient Stoics. Epictetus’ Discourses and Handbook are, arguably, the works that have most shaped Stoicism for the last two thousand years. Listening to Epictetus, we become aware of our ways (our thoughts, beliefs, concepts, and behaviours) that have been shaped by the ancient Stoics. Listening to Epictetus, we learn of a way that offers much that can still help us to improve our own way to a better life.

By Christopher Gill, Robin Hard (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Discourses, Fragments, Handbook as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'About things that are within our power and those that are not.'

Epictetus's Discourses have been the most widely read and influential of all writings of Stoic philosophy, from antiquity onwards. They set out the core ethical principles of Stoicism in a form designed to help people put them into practice and to use them as a basis for leading a good human life. Epictetus was a teacher, and a freed slave, whose discourses have a vivid informality, animated by anecdotes and dialogue. Forceful, direct, and challenging, their central message is that the
basis of happiness is up to us,…


Book cover of Letters from a Stoic

Gary W. Cross Why did I love this book?

Lucius Seneca was the most prolific writer of the later Stoics. Included in his works are one hundred and twenty-four letters that he wrote to his friend Lucilius which not only offer many insights into stoicism, but also insights into the mind of Seneca and more generally into the then Roman way of life.

By Lucius Seneca, Robin Campbell (translator),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Letters from a Stoic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'It is philosophy that has the duty of protecting us ... without it no one can lead a life free of fear or worry'

For several years of his turbulent life, in which he was dogged by ill health, exile and danger, Seneca was the guiding hand of the Roman Empire. This selection of Seneca's letters shows him upholding the ideals of Stoicism - the wisdom of the self-possessed person immune to life's setbacks - while valuing friendship and courage, and criticizing the harsh treatment of slaves and the cruelties in the gladiatorial arena. The humanity and wit revealed in…


Book cover of Meditations

Gary W. Cross Why did I love this book?

Meditations is a collection of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor (at the other extreme, Epictetus was born a slave). The original title is unknown, and over the years many titles have be used, such as ‘The Book of Marcus’ and ‘Things to one’s self’. I suggest that the latter title, more accurately reflect its contents.

By Marcus Aurelius, A.S.L. Farquharson (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A timely book for today's world, Marcus Aurelius's Meditations explores how to endure hardship, how to cope with change and how to find something positive out of adversity.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket-sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition is translated by A. S. L. Farquharson and features an introduction by John Sellars.

The Meditations are a set of personal reflections by Marcus Aurelius. He writes about the vicissitudes of his own life and explores how…


Book cover of Hellenistic Philosophy

Gary W. Cross Why did I love this book?

This book not only provides excellent texts of early Stoicism, but also provides texts of Epicureanism, and Scepticism, the other dominant philosophies at the time, and thus places Stoicism in the context of the time.

By Brad Inwood, Lloyd P. Gerson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This new edition of Hellenistic Philosophy --including nearly 100 pages of additional materia--offers the first English translation of the account of Stoic ethics by Arius Didymus, substantial new sources on Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Scepticism, expanded representation of Plutarch and Cicero, and a fuller presentation of papyrological evidence. Inwood and Gerson maintain the standard of consistency and accuracy that distinguished their translations in the first edition, while regrouping some material into larger, more thematically connected passages. This edition is further enhanced by a new, more spacious page design.


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Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

Book cover of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

Rebecca Wellington Author Of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am adopted. For most of my life, I didn’t identify as adopted. I shoved that away because of the shame I felt about being adopted and not truly fitting into my family. But then two things happened: I had my own biological children, the only two people I know to date to whom I am biologically related, and then shortly after my second daughter was born, my older sister, also an adoptee, died of a drug overdose. These sequential births and death put my life on a new trajectory, and I started writing, out of grief, the history of adoption and motherhood in America. 

Rebecca's book list on straight up, real memoirs on motherhood and adoption

What is my book about?

I grew up thinking that being adopted didn’t matter. I was wrong. This book is my journey uncovering the significance and true history of adoption practices in America. Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women’s reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, I am uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption.

The history of adoption, reframed through the voices of adoptees like me, and mothers who have been forced to relinquish their babies, blows apart old narratives about adoption, exposing the fallacy that adoption is always good.

In this story, I reckon with the pain and unanswered questions of my own experience and explore broader issues surrounding adoption in the United States, including changing legal policies, sterilization, and compulsory relinquishment programs, forced assimilation of babies of color and Indigenous babies adopted into white families, and other liabilities affecting women, mothers, and children. Now is the moment we must all hear these stories.

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

What is this book about?

Nearly every person in the United States is affected by adoption. Adoption practices are woven into the fabric of American society and reflect how our nation values human beings, particularly mothers. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women's reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, Rebecca C. Wellington is uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption. Wellington's timely-and deeply researched-account amplifies previously marginalized voices and exposes the social and racial biases embedded in the United States' adoption industry.…


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