The best books on Stoicism for beginners

Chuck Chakrapani Author Of Unshakable Freedom: Ancient Stoic Secrets Applied to Modern Life
By Chuck Chakrapani

The Books I Picked & Why

The Art of Living

By Epictetus, Sharon Lebell

Book cover of The Art of Living

Why this book?

How do you get a quick understanding of what Stoicism is and what it can do for you? There are many good books on Stoicism, but not all of them are easy to follow. If they are easy to follow, they are not short. Sharon Lebell’s The Art of Living is short, clear, and is a faithful rendition of Epictetus’ Handbook. By just investing a few hours in this book, you can become a better person living a more pleasant life (assuming you follow the principles!). In this book, Epictetus shows us how to live a life that leads to freedom and happiness.

Why this version? The Art of Living is not a scholarly work and is not a true translation of the original. It is a modern English rendering of it, a good place for a beginner to start their journey into Stoicism.

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Meditations: A New Translation

By Marcus Aurelius, Gregory Hays

Book cover of Meditations: A New Translation

Why this book?

Once you have some idea of what Stoicism is by reading the Handbook, you will want to read Meditations, probably the most widely read and the most beloved of Stoic classics and deservedly so. It was a journal kept by the philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius while he was in battlefields. Meditations was a personal journal of Marcus, never intended to be read by anyone else. Yet centuries later, it became one of the most widely read books on Stoicism. It is filled with practical wisdom and offers a way out of our daily predicaments and shows us how to live our lives with integrity, beauty, compassion, and reason. 

Why this translation? There are many translations of this book but the one I recommend, especially to newcomers, is Meditations by Gregory Hays. This translation is less literal than most others and very accessible to the modern reader.

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

By Stephen Hanselman, Ryan Holiday

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

Why this book?

We learn more through stories than through reading about abstract concepts. Lives of the Stoics is the story of the ancient Stoics. Who were they? How did they think? How did they live? If we want to live a Stoic life, then it helps us to know how other Stoics applied philosophy in their own lives: How did they face adversity? How did they handle betrayal? How did they handle prosperity? How did they deal with the ups and downs of life? The tone of the book is more informal and personal rather than authoritative. Yet this is one of the best books on Stoicism. Instead of giving us advice on how to use Stoic principles to live a better life, Holiday and Hanselman give us actual examples of people who lived by the principles and the results they got. If you are serious about practicing Stoicism, you will get a lot out of this book. There is no better introduction to living a Stoic life.

This book is unique. I can think of no alternative which even comes close.

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Stoicism: A Very Short Introduction

By Brad Inwood

Book cover of Stoicism: A Very Short Introduction

Why this book?

If you read the three books mentioned above, you will get a very good idea about Stoicism and how it can help you to lead a better life. But these books do not give a comprehensive overall picture of Stoic philosophy. They tend to ignore many aspects of Stoicism. If you want to have a good overall understanding of Stoic philosophy without having to spend a lot of time or money, get this book. In just 152 pages, Brad Inwood, a distinguished Stoic scholar, gives a clear account of what Stoicism is all about. If you are serious about Stoicism, at some point you need to have a reasonable understanding of what Stoicism actually was and is. You can find no better introduction to Stoicism than this.

This book is so concise, comprehensive, and clear, there’s no other book that directly competes with this one.

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Letters from a Stoic

By Lucius Seneca, Robin Campbell

Book cover of Letters from a Stoic

Why this book?

Seneca was one of the last of the ancient Stoics who lived during the time of Nero. Towards the end of his life, he wrote several letters to a young prefect, Lucilius. These letters were not just meant to be read by Lucilius but the generations to come as well. Seneca’s letters are well written and cover a wide range of topics as they relate to the art of living. These essays are a ‘how to’ guide to living.

Why this translation? Although there are 124 letters in all, modern translators tend to translate just a selection. Robin Campbell is no exception. I chose this translation because it is as good as any and it is not pricey.

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