The best Marcus Aurelius books

10 authors have picked their favorite books about Marcus Aurelius and why they recommend each book.

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The Inner Citadel

By Pierre Hadot, Michael Chase (translator),

Book cover of The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

The French philosopher and historian, Pierre Hadot, was the first modern author to systematically describe the “spiritual exercises” found in ancient Greek and Roman philosophical texts. This book is the most popular scholarly analysis of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius available. It provides essential information on the underlying structure of Marcus’ writing and how it fits into the broader system of Stoic philosophy. Although an academic work, most nonacademics find Hadot very readable. 


Who am I?

I am an author and cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist. I am one of the founders of the Modern Stoicism nonprofit organisation and the president and founder of the Plato’s Academy Centre in Athens, Greece. I’ve published six books on philosophy and psychotherapy, mostly focusing on the Stoic philosophy and its relationship with modern psychology and evidence-based psychotherapy.


I wrote...

Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

By Donald J. Robertson,

Book cover of Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

What is my book about?

Verissimus is a full-colour graphic novel about the life and philosophy of Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, with artwork by award-winning Portuguese illustrator Zé Nuno Fraga. Marcus was the author of the Meditations, one of the most famous self-improvement classics of all time. Our graphic novel is a bit like a prequel to Gladiator (2000)—the Hollywood movie in which Marcus was portrayed by Richard Harris—but with a lot more Stoic philosophy. It’s full of epic action scenes, such as several major Roman battles, dramatic interpersonal conflict, between Marcus and many other prominent characters from his life story, and lots of references to how philosophy helped him to cope with the tremendous challenges he faced.  

Marcus Aurelius

By Anthony Birley,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius: A Biography

Although some people assume we don’t know much about Marcus Aurelius, the truth is that we probably know more about him than most other ancient philosophers, and certainly, there are several modern biographies of Marcus Aurelius but the best is this one by the British historian, Anthony Birley. Birley adopts a scholarly approach but he also keeps quite a tight focus on the events of Marcus’ life. (Frank McLynn’s biography is more widely-read but ranges more freely over topics such as the Roman empire’s economy.)  


Who am I?

I am an author and cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist. I am one of the founders of the Modern Stoicism nonprofit organisation and the president and founder of the Plato’s Academy Centre in Athens, Greece. I’ve published six books on philosophy and psychotherapy, mostly focusing on the Stoic philosophy and its relationship with modern psychology and evidence-based psychotherapy.


I wrote...

Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

By Donald J. Robertson,

Book cover of Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

What is my book about?

Verissimus is a full-colour graphic novel about the life and philosophy of Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, with artwork by award-winning Portuguese illustrator Zé Nuno Fraga. Marcus was the author of the Meditations, one of the most famous self-improvement classics of all time. Our graphic novel is a bit like a prequel to Gladiator (2000)—the Hollywood movie in which Marcus was portrayed by Richard Harris—but with a lot more Stoic philosophy. It’s full of epic action scenes, such as several major Roman battles, dramatic interpersonal conflict, between Marcus and many other prominent characters from his life story, and lots of references to how philosophy helped him to cope with the tremendous challenges he faced.  

Meditations

By Marcus Aurelius, Martin Hammond (translator),

Book cover of Meditations

While riding on the New York subway one day, the young woman sitting next to me was reading from the so-called “Little Black Book” (a collection of daily thoughts often read by members of Alcoholics Anonymous). After closing the book, she pulled out this very edition of Marcus Aurelius and I could not help but comment to her that she had made a great choice. Not only does the theme of the “Serenity Prayer” go back to Stoics, but Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (literally titled “To Himself”) show the thoughtful and meditative side of Stoicism. In addition, Marcus Aurelius seems to be practicing what we now call spiritual exercises. Last, what is especially striking is that the Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote many of these entries while he was stuck on military campaigns; thus, we see up close a man utilizing Stoicism to grapple with the messiness of life.


Who am I?

I am an associate professor of philosophy at Fordham University. I earned my Ph.D. at the University of Chicago (the same institution where the fictional Indiana Jones is said to have earned his doctorate!). I specialize in Greek and Roman ethics with a particular emphasis on Stoicism.


I wrote...

The Role Ethics of Epictetus: Stoicism in Ordinary Life

By Brian E. Johnson,

Book cover of The Role Ethics of Epictetus: Stoicism in Ordinary Life

What is my book about?

The Role Ethics of Epictetus: Stoicism in Ordinary Life offers an original interpretation of Epictetus's ethics and how he bases his ethics on an appeal to our roles in life. Epictetus believes that every individual is the bearer of many roles from sibling to citizen and that individuals are morally good if they fulfill the obligations associated with these roles. To understand Epictetus's account of roles, scholars have often mistakenly looked backwards to Cicero's earlier and more schematic account of roles. However, for Cicero, roles are merely a tool in the service of the virtue of decorum where decorum is one of the four canonical virtues--prudence, justice, greatness of spirit, and decorum.

The analysis found in The Role Ethics of Epictetus will be of great value both to students and scholars of ancient philosophy, ethics and moral philosophy, history, classics, and theology, and to the educated reader who admires Epictetus.

Marcus Aurelius

By John Sellars,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius

John Sellars is a British academic philosopher and one of the leading modern scholars of Stoicism but he’s also a great communicator and his writings are easily accessible to nonacademics. Many readers assume, at first glance, that the Meditations consist of “random musings.” However, this recent work on the philosophy underlying Marcus Aurelius’ thought helps to expose the systematic nature of his reasoning. 


Who am I?

I am an author and cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist. I am one of the founders of the Modern Stoicism nonprofit organisation and the president and founder of the Plato’s Academy Centre in Athens, Greece. I’ve published six books on philosophy and psychotherapy, mostly focusing on the Stoic philosophy and its relationship with modern psychology and evidence-based psychotherapy.


I wrote...

Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

By Donald J. Robertson,

Book cover of Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

What is my book about?

Verissimus is a full-colour graphic novel about the life and philosophy of Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, with artwork by award-winning Portuguese illustrator Zé Nuno Fraga. Marcus was the author of the Meditations, one of the most famous self-improvement classics of all time. Our graphic novel is a bit like a prequel to Gladiator (2000)—the Hollywood movie in which Marcus was portrayed by Richard Harris—but with a lot more Stoic philosophy. It’s full of epic action scenes, such as several major Roman battles, dramatic interpersonal conflict, between Marcus and many other prominent characters from his life story, and lots of references to how philosophy helped him to cope with the tremendous challenges he faced.  

A Companion to Marcus Aurelius

By Marcel van Ackeren,

Book cover of A Companion to Marcus Aurelius

This is a large and expensive academic book containing over thirty chapters by different authors (disclaimer: two of them are by me). It’s perhaps not the sort of thing that a typical general reader is likely to buy. But taken together these chapters constitute the fullest discussion of Marcus Aurelius available in English and most questions that people are likely to have about Marcus or his philosophy are probably answered somewhere in its five hundred plus pages.


Who am I?

John Sellars is a Reader in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of multiple books on Stoicism. He is also a founding member of Modern Stoicism and The Aurelius Foundation, both non-profit companies devoted to bringing Stoicism to a wider audience and showing how it can benefit people today.


I wrote...

Marcus Aurelius

By John Sellars,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius

What is my book about?

In this new study, John Sellars offers a fresh examination of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations as a work of philosophy by placing it against the background of the tradition of Stoic philosophy to which Marcus was committed. 

Challenging claims that Marcus Aurelius was merely an eclectic thinker, that the Meditations do not fit the model of a work of philosophy, that there are no arguments in the work, and that it only contains superficial moral advice, Sellars shows that he was in constant dialogue with his Stoic predecessors, engaging with themes drawn from all three parts of Stoicism: logic, physics, and ethics. The image of Marcus Aurelius that emerges is of a committed Stoic, engaging with a wide range of philosophical topics, motivated by the desire to live a good life.

Marcus Aurelius

By William O. Stephens,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius: A Guide for the Perplexed

This is a short introduction to the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius written by an American professor of philosophy. A short biographical introduction is followed by chapters discussing some technical points of Marcus’ Stoic philosophy from the Meditations. I found the biography a good condensation of the details you’ll find in Birley’s book. Although this is designed as an introduction, it gets a little technical at times, so nonacademic readers might prefer to look at John Sellars’ book first. This book will help you to think more deeply about what Marcus is saying, though.


Who am I?

I am an author and cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist. I am one of the founders of the Modern Stoicism nonprofit organisation and the president and founder of the Plato’s Academy Centre in Athens, Greece. I’ve published six books on philosophy and psychotherapy, mostly focusing on the Stoic philosophy and its relationship with modern psychology and evidence-based psychotherapy.


I wrote...

Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

By Donald J. Robertson,

Book cover of Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

What is my book about?

Verissimus is a full-colour graphic novel about the life and philosophy of Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, with artwork by award-winning Portuguese illustrator Zé Nuno Fraga. Marcus was the author of the Meditations, one of the most famous self-improvement classics of all time. Our graphic novel is a bit like a prequel to Gladiator (2000)—the Hollywood movie in which Marcus was portrayed by Richard Harris—but with a lot more Stoic philosophy. It’s full of epic action scenes, such as several major Roman battles, dramatic interpersonal conflict, between Marcus and many other prominent characters from his life story, and lots of references to how philosophy helped him to cope with the tremendous challenges he faced.  

Memoirs of Hadrian

By Marguerite Yourcenar, Grace Frick,

Book cover of Memoirs of Hadrian

This splendid work of fiction recreates the times of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. I list it as one of the perceptions I relate in my book is how when I began reading intensely from 12 on I did so first to escape the reality around me, and then, with growing astonishment, to explore how extraordinarily varied reality was, and that what seemed impossible, or fantasy, had in many cases and at other times, been real—as the life of Hadrian had been. This had the effect of reducing the force of the claims of those around me that our reality was Reality: I began to realize 'Reality' contains multiple realities, both in the past and present, and that I need not be bound by the one I found myself within.


Who am I?

Quite young, I realized my life was based on the fantasies and wish-fulfillments of my parents. As a teenager I turned to science fiction and fantasy whose stories so often engaged imaginatively and decisively with fundamental issues of good and evil, truth and falsity, courage and deception, unlike my reality. In my struggle to portray that reality and its transformation something Freud wondered about proved helpful, whether our careful effort to reconstruct the past was wholly true or in part illusory. If it was effective as an explanation, then he felt it was valid, and I have written in the same spirit.


I wrote...

Family Matters

By Lance Lee,

Book cover of Family Matters

What is my book about?

Family Matters is a generations-long reckoning with family myth, loss, and transformation from 1865 to the 1970s, showing how family suffering metamorphosized into comedy on an abiding public, cultural scale in the original The Addams Family television series of 1964-1966 created by the author's father, David Levy, from the original Charles Addams New Yorker cartoons. It is also the story of how the author's parents though drawn from widely divergent backgrounds strove to realize the American Dream. Levy's ancestors derived from Jewish Eastern Europe, Lucille Wilds' from Anglo-Welsh aristocratic, and German roots. The breakdown of that effort both as a slow ebbing and with an abrupt jolt provides the narrative drive and climax of Family Matters.

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor

By Donald Robertson,

Book cover of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

While William Irvine’s book introduced me to Stoic philosophy, Donald took me further into the incredible life of Roman emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius. This book takes you deeper into Stoic philosophy. I get asked whom I’d want to have lunch with, dead or alive, and I answer Marcus Aurelius. During his reign he was the most powerful person in the Western hemisphere. History is littered with examples that prove Lord Acton’s quip “Power corrupts; absolutely power corrupts absolutely.” Marcus is a rare exception.


Who am I?

I am an investor who happens to love writing, music, and simply life in general. I was born in Murmansk, Russia, where I spent my first 18 years. My family moved to Denver in 1991, and I have lived there since. I’m CEO of IMA, a value investing firm where I have creative freedom to focus on things I love. I was so fortunate to stumble into writing; it has completely rewired my mind by providing a daily two-hour refuge for focused thinking. I am constantly on the lookout for new stories and fresh insights. Writing is what keeps me in student-of-life mode, and there is so much to learn!


I wrote...

Soul in the Game: The Art of a Meaningful Life

By Vitaliy Katsenelson,

Book cover of Soul in the Game: The Art of a Meaningful Life

What is my book about?

Soul in the Game is a book of inspiring stories and hard-won lessons on how to live a meaningful life. Drawing from the lives of classical composers, ancient Stoics, and contemporary thinkers, it is my exploration of practical wisdom that has helped me overcome my greatest challenges: in work, family, identity, health – and in dealing with both success and failure.

Part autobiography, part philosophy, part creativity manual, Soul in the Game is a unique and vulnerable exploration of what works, and what doesn’t, in the attempt to shape a fulfilling and happy life.

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.

Marcus Aurelius in Love

By Marcus Aurelius, Amy Richlin,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius in Love

This book contains a selection of letters from the correspondence between Marcus Aurelius and his rhetoric teacher Fronto. Most of these letters date from Marcus’s youth and show a quite different side to his character. Richlin argues – controversially – that some of these letters give evidence of a homosexual relationship between Marcus and Fronto. Although I’m not convinced by that claim, this volume remains a really helpful way to access these letters in a modern translation with helpful notes. The youthful Marcus we meet is a nice counterpoint to the older Marcus of the Meditations.


Who am I?

John Sellars is a Reader in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of multiple books on Stoicism. He is also a founding member of Modern Stoicism and The Aurelius Foundation, both non-profit companies devoted to bringing Stoicism to a wider audience and showing how it can benefit people today.


I wrote...

Marcus Aurelius

By John Sellars,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius

What is my book about?

In this new study, John Sellars offers a fresh examination of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations as a work of philosophy by placing it against the background of the tradition of Stoic philosophy to which Marcus was committed. 

Challenging claims that Marcus Aurelius was merely an eclectic thinker, that the Meditations do not fit the model of a work of philosophy, that there are no arguments in the work, and that it only contains superficial moral advice, Sellars shows that he was in constant dialogue with his Stoic predecessors, engaging with themes drawn from all three parts of Stoicism: logic, physics, and ethics. The image of Marcus Aurelius that emerges is of a committed Stoic, engaging with a wide range of philosophical topics, motivated by the desire to live a good life.

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