The best Epictetus books

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Epictetus and why they recommend each book.

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Letters on Ethics

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

Book cover of Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius

Perhaps I’m cheating a bit on this one since I promised to recommend the 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 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…


Who am I?

Kevin Vost earned his doctorate in clinical psychology at Adler University with internship and dissertation work at the Southern Illinois University’s Alzheimer Center. He first came to know and love the Stoics in the 1980s through his studies in cognitive psychotherapy. He has taught psychology and gerontology at the University of Illinois at Springfield and Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of twenty books on psychology, philosophy, physical fitness, and theology, with three more books in press, including Memorize the Stoics! The Ancient Art of Memory Meets the Timeless Art of Living.


I wrote...

The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living

By Kevin Vost,

Book cover of The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living

What is my book about?

Regardless of their sometimes ambiguous concepts of God, the Roman Stoic philosophers did acknowledge Him, but on the basis of reason alone, because they had not met Christ. Nonetheless, they did deduce from God's existence our need to live lives of virtue, honor, tranquility, and self-control--and they developed effective techniques to help us achieve this. Musonius Rufus the teacher, Epictetus the slave, Seneca the adviser to emperors, and Marcus Aurelius, the emperor himself, produced a practical technology we can use to integrate Christian ethics into our own daily practice. As Kevin Vost so wonderfully illustrates in his new book, The Porch and the Cross, the Stoics can help us learn--and remember--what is up to us, and what is up to God alone.

The Epictetus Club

By Jeff Traylor,

Book cover of The Epictetus Club

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’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…


Who am I?

Kevin Vost earned his doctorate in clinical psychology at Adler University with internship and dissertation work at the Southern Illinois University’s Alzheimer Center. He first came to know and love the Stoics in the 1980s through his studies in cognitive psychotherapy. He has taught psychology and gerontology at the University of Illinois at Springfield and Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of twenty books on psychology, philosophy, physical fitness, and theology, with three more books in press, including Memorize the Stoics! The Ancient Art of Memory Meets the Timeless Art of Living.


I wrote...

The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living

By Kevin Vost,

Book cover of The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living

What is my book about?

Regardless of their sometimes ambiguous concepts of God, the Roman Stoic philosophers did acknowledge Him, but on the basis of reason alone, because they had not met Christ. Nonetheless, they did deduce from God's existence our need to live lives of virtue, honor, tranquility, and self-control--and they developed effective techniques to help us achieve this. Musonius Rufus the teacher, Epictetus the slave, Seneca the adviser to emperors, and Marcus Aurelius, the emperor himself, produced a practical technology we can use to integrate Christian ethics into our own daily practice. As Kevin Vost so wonderfully illustrates in his new book, The Porch and the Cross, the Stoics can help us learn--and remember--what is up to us, and what is up to God alone.

Epictetus

By A.A. Long,

Book cover of Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life

Another Stoic classic. Written, again, in a highly accessible, conversational style. In fact, the only teachings by Epictetus that we know of today were recorded from his lectures by his disciple Arrian.  This book has given great solace to many people over the years. It is said that Frederick the Great never campaigned without it. And, the war hero Admiral James Stockdale credits Epictetus with helping him endure seven and a half years in a North Vietnamese military prison—including torture—and four years in solitary confinement. “No man is free who is not master of himself.”


Who am I?

I received my first introduction to the Stoics when completing a Master’s in Philosophy. It was enough to spark a life-long interest. Later in life I read Stoicism widely, along with classical history, including Gibbon and Durant. What struck me about Gibbon’s work was how the ancient “golden age,” with the enlightened rule of its “five good emperors,” including Marcus Aurelius, closely mirrored the trajectory of the contemporary American empire. Today, pundits sometimes casually refer to the US as a reincarnation of the Roman Empire. They talk of Pax Americana, imperial presidencies, and American exceptionalism. I wondered how far one could take that idea and this led me to begin work on The Last Stoic.


I wrote...

The Last Stoic

By Morgan Wade,

Book cover of The Last Stoic

What is my book about?

The Last Stoic is a story of appetite and fear, both modern and ancient. Half of the story's narrative occurs in the time and place of the ancient Roman Empire; the other half occurs in the present-day United States. The parallels between the two eras are so strong that the narrative continues uninterrupted as the setting shifts from historic Rome to modern America, alternating from chapter to chapter. 

Marcus, a young man from a northern provincial border town, journeys deep into the heart of the empire and witnesses first-hand the excesses that can lead to ruin, both personal and political. In both eras, the writings of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius (The Meditations) insinuate themselves unexpectedly into Marcus' life. Ultimately, it is this unanticipated instruction that gives the young man the strength he requires to survive. It becomes evident that the words of the venerable Stoic emperor have as much relevance to our own era as they did to his.

Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot

By James B. Stockdale,

Book cover of Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot

James Stockdale was a fighter pilot who was shot down whilst flying over Vietnam in 1964. He had read, and absorbed, The Enchiridion, by Epictetus, and it was this knowledge of Stoicism that helped him to survive seven years of torture and captivity as a Prisoner of War. Fortunately, I’ve never been tested in a crucible akin to Stockdale’s laboratory of human behaviour. But Epictetus speaks to all of us still, and Stockdale’s book is fascinating both as an account of a POW’s survival and as an introduction to a philosophy that I’ve leaned on in my own life.


Who am I?

Robert Widders is one of the few men who have served in both the British Army, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force. His books on military history have been quoted in the Irish parliament and Senate and were the focus for a BBC documentary episode of Face the Facts.


I wrote...

Forged in Blood and Music: A story of friendship, courage, and survival.

By Robert Widders,

Book cover of Forged in Blood and Music: A story of friendship, courage, and survival.

What is my book about?

On the 27th of September 1942, 1,816 British prisoners of war embarked upon the Japanese transport ship, Lisbon Maru, to sail to Japan to be used as slave labour in Japanese industry. A week later, over half of them were dead, killed in a calculated act of murder by their Japanese military captors. Over the next two-and-a-half years, many more died as a result of torture, brutality, starvation, overwork, and the withholding of medical treatment.Here is the story of just one of them, Lance Bombardier Joseph Denton, an ordinary man who found the courage and willpower to survive through extraordinary events.

Lives of the Stoics

By Stephen Hanselman, Ryan Holiday,

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

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…


Who am I?

I am the Editor of the free online magazine The Stoic and the author of some twenty books on Stoicism. My day job is President, Leger Analytics, and I am also a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University. I am not a professional philosopher. I study and write about Stoicism because it helps us to live better, free of fear, anxiety, worry, or anger.


I wrote...

Unshakable Freedom: Ancient Stoic Secrets Applied to Modern Life

By Chuck Chakrapani,

Book cover of Unshakable Freedom: Ancient Stoic Secrets Applied to Modern Life

What is my book about?

Most of us are outwardly free but not inwardly so. Anger, fear, worry, and anxiety entrap us. Is it possible to be completely and utterly free no matter what is happening to us now and what may happen in the future? Yes, said the ancient Stoics and gave us a blueprint for a happy life. Two thousand years later their blueprint still works the way they said it would.

Unshakable Freedom brings Stoicism to the digital age. Using contemporary, as well as historical, examples of people who used Stoicism to achieve personal freedom, this book offers a path to the good life, including 12 specific mental exercises you can do to achieve personal freedom.

Who am I?

Ben Aldridge writes about practical philosophy, comfort zones, mental health, and adventure. His first book How to Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: 43 Weird & Wonderful Ways to Build a Strong Resilient Mindset is an exploration of unique ways to leave our comfort zones, face our fears and overcome our anxieties. Heavily influenced by Stoicism, Buddhism, Popular Psychology, and CBT, Ben's challenges encourage us to get uncomfortable and experience the personal growth that we can only gain from pushing ourselves to the limit.


I wrote...

How to Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: 43 Weird & Wonderful Ways to Build a Strong, Resilient Mindset

By Ben Aldridge,

Book cover of How to Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: 43 Weird & Wonderful Ways to Build a Strong, Resilient Mindset

What is my book about?

After debilitating anxiety and panic attacks began to impact his daily life, Ben Aldridge decided to tackle his mental health issues in a creative way. His journey led him on a year of completing weird and wonderful challenges in the name of self-improvement. By deliberately leaving his comfort zone and enduring difficulties, Ben completely changed his life.

A Field Guide to a Happy Life

By Massimo Pigliucci,

Book cover of A Field Guide to a Happy Life: 53 Brief Lessons for Living

A Field Guide to a Happy Life is an outstanding example of what a modern Stoic book can and should be. Pigliucci has taken the famous Handbook (Enchiridion) of the Roman Stoic teacher, Epictetus, and reworked it to reflect a more modern approach to the philosophy. As such, this field guide is a portable, practical guide to applying Stoic wisdom in your day to day life.

What I most appreciate about A Field Guide to a Happy Life is that the author’s update of the philosophy is clearly described in a later section of the book. This allows the reader to compare and contrast the ancient with the modern. What does it mean to adopt and adapt a two thousand year old philosophy? This unique book is both a practical philosophical guide, and a jumping off point to deeper study.


Who am I?

Matthew J. Van Natta is an author and podcaster who has been guiding people to Stoicism for over a decade. His focus is on the daily application of Stoic philosophy within the modern world. He writes fiction, drinks coffee, beer, and whiskey, and contemplates the human condition. His writings have been featured on SpiritualNaturalistSociety.org and Modern Stoicism.


I wrote...

The Beginner's Guide to Stoicism: Tools for Emotional Resilience and Positivity

By Matthew Van Natta,

Book cover of The Beginner's Guide to Stoicism: Tools for Emotional Resilience and Positivity

What is my book about?

Being a stoic means embracing positivity and self-control through the ability to accept the uncertainty of outcomes. With this stoicism guide, the beginner stoic will learn how to take charge of their emotions on the path to sustained happiness and satisfaction.

This easy-to-navigate stoicism guide gives you the emotional tools needed to let go of the things you can't control and find joy in what you have. Through thought-provoking strategies and exercises, this book helps you find contentment so you can build closer relationships and become an active member of society.

The Art of Living

By Epictetus (lead author), Sharon Lebell (translator),

Book cover of The Art of Living

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.


Who am I?

I am the Editor of the free online magazine The Stoic and the author of some twenty books on Stoicism. My day job is President, Leger Analytics, and I am also a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University. I am not a professional philosopher. I study and write about Stoicism because it helps us to live better, free of fear, anxiety, worry, or anger.


I wrote...

Unshakable Freedom: Ancient Stoic Secrets Applied to Modern Life

By Chuck Chakrapani,

Book cover of Unshakable Freedom: Ancient Stoic Secrets Applied to Modern Life

What is my book about?

Most of us are outwardly free but not inwardly so. Anger, fear, worry, and anxiety entrap us. Is it possible to be completely and utterly free no matter what is happening to us now and what may happen in the future? Yes, said the ancient Stoics and gave us a blueprint for a happy life. Two thousand years later their blueprint still works the way they said it would.

Unshakable Freedom brings Stoicism to the digital age. Using contemporary, as well as historical, examples of people who used Stoicism to achieve personal freedom, this book offers a path to the good life, including 12 specific mental exercises you can do to achieve personal freedom.

Discourses and Selected Writings

By Epictetus,

Book cover of Discourses and Selected Writings

Epictetus was a slave who won his freedom and started his own successful school of philosophy before retiring into obscurity. Among his many students was the historian Arrian, who wrote up his spoken lectures “word for word” as the Discourses. The Discourses are down to earth, succinct, and forthright, as, for example, when Epictetus says, “And who exactly are these people that you want to be admired by? Aren’t they the same people you are in the habit of calling crazy? And is this your life ambition then—to win the approval of lunatics?” The Discourses were much loved by Marcus Aurelius, a case of a slave inspiring an emperor!


Who am I?

I’m a psychiatrist and philosopher who lives and teaches in Oxford, England. I’ve long held that there is much more to mental health than the mere absence of mental disorder. Mental health is not just about surviving, limping from crisis to crisis, but about thriving, about developing and expressing our highest, fullest potential as human beings. The Stoic attitude is a path not just to sanity but to hypersanity, at a time when more than one in five adults are suffering from some form of depression. Unlike many modern interventions, Stoicism is no sticking plaster, but a total and radical reappraisal of our relationship to ourselves and to the world.


I wrote...

Stoic Stories: A Heroic Account of Stoicism

By Neel Burton,

Book cover of Stoic Stories: A Heroic Account of Stoicism

What is my book about?

Stoicism by its best stories. This is a book of Stoic stories: stories about Stoics, stories told by Stoics, and stories with a Stoic bent. Snuck between these heroic tales, and exemplified by them, are the main tenets of Stoic philosophy, served up in small, bite-size chunks.

Lectures and Fragments

By Musonius Rufus,

Book cover of Lectures and Fragments

Musonius was a celebrated teacher who was thrice banished from Rome. He would often turn would-be students away, explaining to a young Epictetus that “the more one pushes the intelligent person away from the life he was born for, the more he inclines towards it.” His school, he often said, was not some concert hall, where people come to be entertained, but a hospital, where they come, in trepidation, to be treated. Thus, he measured the success of his lectures not by the applause that they received, but by the shock and awe to which they gave rise. The twenty-one lectures preserved in Stobaeus were recorded by one of his students. They are full of practical, everyday advice aimed at instilling virtue, and include a lecture on household furnishings and even one on hair.


Who am I?

I’m a psychiatrist and philosopher who lives and teaches in Oxford, England. I’ve long held that there is much more to mental health than the mere absence of mental disorder. Mental health is not just about surviving, limping from crisis to crisis, but about thriving, about developing and expressing our highest, fullest potential as human beings. The Stoic attitude is a path not just to sanity but to hypersanity, at a time when more than one in five adults are suffering from some form of depression. Unlike many modern interventions, Stoicism is no sticking plaster, but a total and radical reappraisal of our relationship to ourselves and to the world.


I wrote...

Stoic Stories: A Heroic Account of Stoicism

By Neel Burton,

Book cover of Stoic Stories: A Heroic Account of Stoicism

What is my book about?

Stoicism by its best stories. This is a book of Stoic stories: stories about Stoics, stories told by Stoics, and stories with a Stoic bent. Snuck between these heroic tales, and exemplified by them, are the main tenets of Stoic philosophy, served up in small, bite-size chunks.

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