The best books for building self-awareness that you might not expect

Liam Milburn Author Of A Stoic breviary: Classical wisdom in daily practice
By Liam Milburn

Who am I?

Building upon many years of privately shared thoughts on the real benefits of Stoic Philosophy, Liam Milburn eventually published a selection of Stoic passages that had helped him to live well. They were accompanied by some of his own personal reflections.

I wrote...

A Stoic breviary: Classical wisdom in daily practice

By Liam Milburn,

Book cover of A Stoic breviary: Classical wisdom in daily practice

What is my book about?

This book serves as a breviary in the classical sense: a collection of 365 passages from the great Stoic philosophers, for meditation on each day of the year. 
The author offers his own experiences, thoughts, and reflections on the original texts, so as to encourage the reader to apply ancient lessons to modern 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?

Can you imagine being the ruler of most of the known world, a Roman Emperor, and yet still having the humility to look deeply within your own soul? Here was one of the most powerful men there ever was, who offered his personal reflections on learning to practice understanding, kindness, and acceptance. His concern was about becoming a better man, not a bigger man. 

“If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your Divine part pure, as if you should be bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with your present activity according to Nature, and with heroic truth in every word and sound which you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this.”

The Consolation of Philosophy

By Ancius Boethius, V.E. Watts (translator),

Book cover of The Consolation of Philosophy

Why this book?

This was a fellow who tried to do everything right, and yet, in the end, his whole worldly life seemed to go wrong. A senator, a scholar, and an advisor to a king, he found himself trapped in the usual sort of political machinations, and so was sentenced to death. He wrote this book while awaiting his execution. Lady Philosophy speaks to him, and he learns how his character matters more than his circumstances. 

“By Love are peoples too kept bound together by a treaty which they may not break. Love binds with pure affection the sacred ties of wedlock, and speaks its bidding to all trusty friends. O happy race of mortals, if your hearts are ruled as is the Universe, by Love!"


By Blaise Pascal, A.J. Krailsheimer,

Book cover of Pensées

Why this book?

I am cheating a bit here since this was never a complete work, but a set of notes that Pascal was using for a far greater text. It confuses some people to hear that one of the greatest scientific and mathematical minds of his age was also a devout Christian, but that should not trouble someone with an open mind and an open heart. His intention was to show that there is a gaping hole inside of all of us, and that no diversion can ever fill it, except for a desire to know and to love what is Absolute. 

“All of humanity's problems stem from a man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”


By James Joyce,

Book cover of Dubliners

Why this book?

This collection of short stories has a power I can barely describe. It has, of course, a distinctly Irish character to it, while also speaking to a universal humanity. Joined together, all of the characters and situations are like a sledgehammer demanding reflection upon oneself. I was forced to read it in school, and once deeply despised it for that reason. There also comes a point where a man grows up, and he sees that he cannot avoid his own nature. 

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the Universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” 

The Complete Stories

By Flannery O'Connor,

Book cover of The Complete Stories

Why this book?

I turn from a brooding Irish context to a Southern Gothic context, and still the narratives here will rip into everything you hold dear, to the point where you are no longer sure who you are to begin with. This is a good thing, as none of us should be content with who we vainly think we are. 

"'Wait here, wait here!' he cried and jumped up and began to run for help toward a cluster of lights he saw in the distance ahead of him. 'Help, help!' he shouted, but his voice was thin, scarcely a thread of sound. The lights drifted farther away the faster he ran and his feet moved numbly as if they carried him nowhere. The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow."

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