The best books on stoic themes, influence and inspiration

Firmin Debrabander Author Of Life After Privacy: Reclaiming Democracy in a Surveillance Society
By Firmin Debrabander

Who am I?

I have always loved the Stoics, from the first time I read Seneca. I appreciate that they seek to speak to a wider audience than most philosophers, on issues that concern many: happiness, anxiety, pain, loss. The Stoics were wonderful writers, whose influence has been manifest throughout western philosophy. And they extended their expertise beyond the academy, and were very involved in politics. Seneca was the advisor to the emperor Nero; Cicero, who dabbled in Stoicism, was perhaps the most famous senator of Rome. Marcus Aurelius was emperor. 


I wrote...

Life After Privacy: Reclaiming Democracy in a Surveillance Society

By Firmin Debrabander,

Book cover of Life After Privacy: Reclaiming Democracy in a Surveillance Society

What is my book about?

Privacy is gravely endangered in the digital age, and we, the digital citizens, are its principal threat, willingly surrendering it to avail ourselves of new technology, and granting the government and corporations immense power over us. In this highly original work, Firmin DeBrabander begins with this premise and asks how we can ensure and protect our freedom in the absence of privacy. Can--and should--we rally anew to support this institution? Is privacy so important to political liberty after all? DeBrabander makes the case that privacy is a poor foundation for democracy, that it is a relatively new value that has been rarely enjoyed throughout history--but constantly persecuted--and politically and philosophically suspect. The vitality of the public realm, he argues, is far more significant to the health of our democracy, but is equally endangered--and often overlooked--in the digital age.

The books I picked & why

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The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics

By Martha C. Nussbaum,

Book cover of The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics

Why this book?

Each chapter in this book wrestles with central themes of Hellenistic Philosophy, which includes Stoicism, but also Epicureanism and Skepticism. The essays are wonderfully written, and deal with pressing eternal problems, such as the political significance of anger, and the nature and pitfalls of physical pleasure. Dr. Nussbaum relates the Stoics and other Hellenistic philosophers to pressing contemporary issues and concerns.



Black Mass

By John Gray,

Book cover of Black Mass

Why this book?

John Gray is an exceptional writer. In that respect alone, he is already reminiscent of the Stoics, who are some of the best writers among philosophers. Black Mass deals with the pitfalls of anger and ideology, when it comes to politics. The Stoics were famously skeptical of both, and urge practitioners to resist becoming too impassioned in political affairs—which reliably roil the soul.


The Human Condition

By Hannah Arendt,

Book cover of The Human Condition

Why this book?

This book is not about the Stoics per se, but addresses the distinction between the public and private sphere, as it was understood by the ancient Greeks. In this respect, Arendt is addressing political concerns deep at the heart of Stoic philosophy: what does it mean to be a citizen? When and where am I a citizen? How essential is politics to the life of a human being?


St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate

By Karen Armstrong,

Book cover of St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate

Why this book?

Karen Armstrong’s book on St Paul –her second—is wonderful. It takes into account recent scholarship on the historical Paul, and in accessible fashion, explains what was controversial about his agenda, and what was likely omitted or edited out of his work. Paul’s mission was influenced in no small part by the prevalent Stoic thinking—above all, cosmopolitanism: Paul was a cosmopolitan, literally, a citizen of no place—but of the universe itself. And central to his understanding of Jesus’ teaching, Paul wished to wash away the parochial distinctions that divide us. Hence the baptismal cry he advised: no more Greek or Jew, man or woman, master or slave!


The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments

By Peter Catapano, Simon Critchley,

Book cover of The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments

Why this book?

The Stoics were expansive philosophers, in that they were concerned about many diverse aspects of our existence: politics, ethics, epistemology, therapy, cosmology. The Stoics also aimed for their philosophy to be practical; hence, they wrote in accessible, readable fashion, so their teachings could reach many. The New York Times philosophers’ column, “The Stone,” shares Stoic concerns in applying philosophical thinking to a wide variety of topics, in a manner accessible to many. The Stone Reader is an anthology of some of the most popular essays from the New York Times column; the essays touch on many subjects, such as violence, anxiety, happiness, faith, and political power.


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