50 books directly related to stoicism 📚

All 50 stoicism books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Michel de Montaigne

By Michel de Montaigne, J.M. Cohen (translator),

Book cover of Michel de Montaigne

Why this book?

For me, Montaigne’s thoughts on life and human foibles compare favorably with those of St. Augustine. His insights on the human condition are valuable to anyone inclined to self-reflection on one’s own frailties. Montaigne’s advice on coping with one’s mortality is worth heeding. He counsels that in order to deny death its sting, “…let us deprive death of its strangeness; let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more in our mind than death.” Yet our mortality is only one of many issues he discusses. Montaigne offers up wisdom on everything from fear, prayer and solitude, to the virtues of social intercourse, avoiding unwanted relationships, and educating children.


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

By Donald Robertson,

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

Why this book?

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.


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.


Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius

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

Book cover of Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius

Why this book?

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 I’ve yet to meet a translation that I don’t like.)

Seneca’s Letters provide a vast assortment of humane insights from the Stoics foremost and also from other rival schools of philosophy like Epicureanism. Seneca loves truth wherever it might be found. He thinks it best to enter and borrow freely from “the other camp” of rival schools of philosophy, “not as a deserter, but as a spy.” The Letters are a world unto themselves, incredibly rich in noble, humane insights, written with elegance, and studded with countless bon mots. I encourage everyone to join Seneca’s camp through his Letters (or at least to spy on it again and again.)


The Epictetus Club

By Jeff Traylor,

Book cover of The Epictetus Club

Why this book?

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 this wonderful book.


The Stoics Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia

By Brad Inwood, Lloyd P. Gerson,

Book cover of The Stoics Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia

Why this book?

A good place to start the exploration into Stoicism. This book introduces the main characters of Stoicism, and the main areas they focused on, such as Physics and Ethics. Importantly, the book provides sources from ancient sources to expound the different areas.


Discourses, Fragments, Handbook

By Christopher Gill, Robin Hard (translator),

Book cover of Discourses, Fragments, Handbook

Why this book?

Author Elif Batuman wrote of the Stoic Epictetus, he “won me over with his tone, which was that of an enraged athletics coach.” He is feisty, demanding, sarcastic, but he can be surprisingly poignant and occasionally empathetic to his audience. Epictetus himself wrote nothing; what survives was written down by a student. We therefore witness Epictetus live as he works with his own student or even when he talks with magistrates who would came to consult with him at the end of the day. Epictetus had been a slave early in life so it packs quite a wallop when he tells freeborn Romans that they have the worst kind of slavery: enslavement to external goods at the cost of their inner freedom.


Hellenistic Philosophy

By Brad Inwood, Lloyd P. Gerson,

Book cover of Hellenistic Philosophy

Why this book?

This book not only provides excellent texts of early Stoicism, but also provides texts of Epicureanism, and Scepticism, the other dominant philosophies at the time, and thus places Stoicism in the context of the time.


Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life

By A.A. Long,

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

Why this book?

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.”


The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User's Manual

By Ward Farnsworth,

Book cover of The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User's Manual

Why this book?

In The Practicing Stoic, Ward Farnsworth has collected a wide range of Stoic and Stoicism-adjacent quotes into one place, each categorized by subject, and in so doing he has given every seeker of wisdom a true gift. Need advice concerning emotional health, overcoming adversity, dealing with wealth, or even the topic of death? The Practicing Stoic contains practical, timeless wisdom on every page. On my first reading, it felt like I was moving through years of my own journals, notebooks, and highlighted pages, except everything was conveniently organized rather than frustratingly scattered about. Farnsworth also lends us his own insights in this collection, as he expounds on the Stoic worldview while weaving together the many excerpts he has collected for us. The Practicing Stoic is a book I often find reason to return to, and it’s worth having on your shelf.


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.


Stoic Spiritual Exercises

By Elen Buzaré,

Book cover of Stoic Spiritual Exercises

Why this book?

Stoic Spiritual Exercises is a short, straightforward book that deserves to be better known among practicing Stoics. Buzaré collects a wide variety of Stoic practices into one place, and categorizes them by the aspects of the philosophy to which they most directly apply. You will find various forms of meditation, as well as visualization techniques, Stoic mindsets, mental disciplines, and the author’s reconstruction of a Stoic meditation informed by Buddhist Samatha-Vispassyana therapy. In my day to day there are a handful of Stoic practices that I turn to consistently. Whenever I feel the need to expand my work, or I want to challenge myself in a new way, I take Stoic Spiritual Exercises off the shelf to help me find where to go.


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.



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!


Caesar and Christ: A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from Their Beginnings to Ad 325

By Will Durant,

Book cover of Caesar and Christ: A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from Their Beginnings to Ad 325

Why this book?

For anyone interested in the broad sweep of world history, Durant’s Story of Civilization is a must-read. The scope of the work is simply breathtaking, extending from the dawn of human civilization to the end of the Napoleonic era. And Durant somehow manages to bring all the countless threads together and into context in an accessible manner. From Gibbon I turned to Durant for a more general view. In the volume Caesar to Christ, the similarities between the American and ancient Roman empires are made even starker. For instance, he writes, “the Roman patriciate and upper-middle class passed with impressive speed from stoic simplicity to reckless luxury.” Gibbon echoes the same sentiments in the first volume of the Decline and Fall


Moral Letters to Lucilius

By Seneca,

Book cover of Moral Letters to Lucilius

Why this book?

Seneca lived through the reigns of all five Julio-Claudian emperors. His writings represent the most important body of primary material for ancient Stoicism. He wrote the Letters to Lucilius in his final years, intending them as his immortal legacy, prior to committing suicide on the order of Nero. The letters are an excellent entry point to Seneca, Stoicism, and philosophy in general. They collectively amount to a course in moral development and become longer and more technical as Lucilius appears to be making philosophical progress. Michel de Montaigne, the “French Seneca”, modelled his Essays upon the Letters, writing in one of them, “I have not devoted myself to any serious work except perhaps Plutarch and Seneca: but upon them, I draw as do the Danaids...”


Discourses and Selected Writings

By Epictetus,

Book cover of Discourses and Selected Writings

Why this book?

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!


Lectures and Fragments

By Musonius Rufus,

Book cover of Lectures and Fragments

Why this book?

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.


The Meditations: An Emperor's Guide to Mastery

By Marcus Aurelius, Sam Torode, George Long (translator)

Book cover of The Meditations: An Emperor's Guide to Mastery

Why this book?

In the last years of his life, Marcus Aurelius kept a journal, now called the Meditations, which has miraculously come down to us, and through which we might enter the mind of that rarest of things: a philosopher-king. The twelve books that make up the Meditations consist in a variety of disparate reflections that seem to have been written for the author’s own benefit: for strength, for guidance, and for self-improvement—for example, “To speak to the Senate—or anyone—in the right tone, without being overbearing. To choose the right words.” This touching intimacy, and the epigrammatic character of many of his reflections—for example, “Don’t argue what a good man should be. Just be one.”—has ensured the appeal and perennial popularity of the work.


The Emperor's Handbook: A New Translation of the Meditations

By Marcus Aurelius, David Hicks, C. Scot Hicks

Book cover of The Emperor's Handbook: A New Translation of the Meditations

Why this book?

I often joke that Marcus Aurelius is my brother from another mother. Sure, he was a Roman emperor who, if he’d lived, would be 1,900 years old this year, but the things he wrote in Meditations — his book on Stoic philosophy written for himself between 170 and 180 CE — are perfectly on point. I feel like he’s writing from inside my head, struggling with the same challenges I do. Of course, Aurelius is not so much like me as much as he’s like every human on the planet; he just happened to think and express himself in a direct, accessible way. His “epithets” – guiding principles for how he lived his life – inspired me to come up with my own epithets. Maybe they’ll do the same for you.


A Guide to Rational Living

By Albert Ellis,

Book cover of A Guide to Rational Living

Why this book?

Does your happiness depend on the opinion and good will of others? Or can you live a happy and fulfilled life even if others disapprove of you? Do events make you happy or sad, or do your emotions arise because of your thinking—whether rational or irrational? These are the central questions that psychologists Albert Ellis and Robert Harper address in this timeless classic of self-growth and self-care. The authors explicitly draw on the Stoic philosophers, including Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, as forerunners of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. Of all the books on the subject of living happily, creatively, and meaningfully, this one is near the top of my list.


Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault

By Pierre Hadot,

Book cover of Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault

Why this book?

I simply had to include one of philosopher Pierre Hadot’s wise and weighty books on Stoic philosophy. The subject matter of this book is centered on Stoic thought, but draws on, compares, and contrasts Stoic ideas with other foundational ideas in ancient and more modern philosophy. The key theme, as the title suggests, is that philosophy’s highest calling is as a way to transform and improve the way one actually lives one’s life. While including chapters on Aurelius, and on Socrates, (a highly respected pre-Stoic inspiration to the Stoics), another main emphasis is on how Stoic practices serve as “spiritual exercises,” and how we can come to learn them, use them, and grow from them too as a means to make philosophy our own way of life. Not a particularly easy read, but a read well worth the effort – and repeated rereads as the years roll by.


Meditations: A New Translation

By Marcus Aurelius (lead author), Gregory Hays (translator),

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.


The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

By Pierre Hadot, Michael Chase (translator),

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

Why this book?

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. 


Enchiridion

By Epictetus, George Long,

Book cover of Enchiridion

Why this book?

This book is an essential and compact guide to Stoicism by one of the greatest Stoic philosophers. It’s another quick read but filled with great content.


A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

By William B Irvine,

Book cover of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Why this book?

This book is solely responsible for hooking me on Stoic philosophy, prompting my deep exploration of practical aspects of life in my own book and, most importantly, the application of them to my daily life. William’s writing is easy to follow, and his advice is very practical. I’d advise you to start reading the book from chapter four; and then when you are done with the book, come back to the first three chapters.


Meditations

By Marcus Aurelius, A.S.L. Farquharson (translator),

Book cover of Meditations

Why this book?

Meditations is a collection of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor (at the other extreme, Epictetus was born a slave). The original title is unknown, and over the years many titles have be used, such as ‘The Book of Marcus’ and ‘Things to one’s self’. I suggest that the latter title, more accurately reflect its contents.


More Than Happiness: Buddhist and Stoic Wisdom for a Sceptical Age

By Antonia Macaro,

Book cover of More Than Happiness: Buddhist and Stoic Wisdom for a Sceptical Age

Why this book?

This informative book looks at the similarities and differences between Buddhism and Stoicism. It provides a philosophical framework for those practicing mindfulness and interested in dealing more effectively with life’s challenges. Antonia Macaro has packed this book with wisdom and actionable steps to put it into practice right now. This lesser known book has definitely not yet received the attention it deserves.


Meditations

By Marcus Aurelius, Martin Hammond (translator),

Book cover of Meditations

Why this book?

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.


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

By Massimo Pigliucci,

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

Why this book?

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.


Marcus Aurelius

By John Sellars,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius

Why this book?

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. 


Meditations: The Annotated Edition

By Marcus Aurelius, Robin Waterfield (translator),

Book cover of Meditations: The Annotated Edition

Why this book?

This is the most recent translation of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, at the time of writing but I’m mainly including it because of Robin Waterfield’s very thorough annotations, which are invaluable when it comes to understanding some of the more obscure passages. They provide historical and philosophical context that’s otherwise missing and make it much easier to appreciate what Marcus was trying to say.


How to Be Content: An Ancient Poet's Guide for an Age of Excess

By Stephen Harrison, Horace,

Book cover of How to Be Content: An Ancient Poet's Guide for an Age of Excess

Why this book?

The Roman poet Horace was influenced by Epicurean ideas and they often feature in his work. This book forms a nice introduction to Horace and his works, with carefully chosen selections in both English and the original Latin. Horace might not be the first place that someone curious about Epicureanism would look, but he’s well worth reading, both in his own right and as a Epicurean author. 


Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living In

By Kai Whiting, Leonidas Konstantakos,

Book cover of Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living In

Why this book?

Being Better is the best expression of the heart of Stoic philosophy that I have found in print. This is not a how-to book in the style of so many beginner’s manuals (including my own), but instead it is a meditation on the core principles of Stoicism. The authors challenge us to apply those principles in our own lives, so that we can join together in making the world a better place. Each chapter unveils a facet of the philosophy using the experiences of real people, both ancient and modern, as examples of how to apply Stoic thinking to hard problems such as the climate crisis, social justice issues, and economic excess. Being Better moves past simple life hacks to show us how Stoicism can function as a full philosophy of life.


Meditations

By Marcus Aurelius, Maxwell Staniforth (translator),

Book cover of Meditations

Why this book?

Leaders should develop a philosophy of life—a north star that will guide them through difficult times. This timeless classic by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius provides a combination of wisdom and practical advice that serves as a reference both for those in a leadership position and for individuals seeking a deeper understanding of their daily lives. Here is a sample: “The longest-lived and those who will die soonest lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have, you cannot lose.”


The Art of Living

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

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.


On Duties

By Cicero,

Book cover of On Duties

Why this book?

Was Cicero even a Stoic? The answer, as with all things Cicero, is complicated. But Stoic or not, Cicero is one of our most important sources on ancient Stoicism. His last work, On Duties, on our “duties” (or responsibilities) to one another as human beings, is heavily indebted to the Stoic Panaetius. In it, he argues, among others, that, owing to our common human dignity, there ought to be strict rules for entering and conducting war—an idea which today is enshrined in international law. Following the invention of the printing press, On Duties was the third ever book to be printed. John Locke owned nine editions, and Voltaire praised it to the sky, saying, “no one will ever write anything more wise.”


On Anger (De Ira)

By Seneca, Aubrey Stewart (translator),

Book cover of On Anger (De Ira)

Why this book?

Anger is a seemingly recalcitrant emotion – hard to avoid and difficult to manage. De Ira is the Stoic philosopher Seneca’s attempt to show us otherwise. To Seneca, anger is a wicked emotion. Yet a life free both of the turmoil of anger and of the desire for vengeance that Seneca thought defined anger is possible, he argued. Not only does anger lead us to lash out at others, it corrodes us from the inside – in Seneca’s image, like vinegar stored in a clay pot. While I find Seneca’s conclusion that we should eliminate all anger hard to swallow, his description of the dangers of anger, both to ourselves and to others, never fails to impress.


Marcus Aurelius: A Guide for the Perplexed

By William O. Stephens,

Book cover of Marcus Aurelius: A Guide for the Perplexed

Why this book?

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.


Cognitive Behavior Therapy

By Judith S. Beck,

Book cover of Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Why this book?

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is premised on the belief that our thoughts are at the root of our negative feelings, and to alter those feelings, we need to alter our thoughts. The connection between reason and emotion can be traced back to Stoicism. Hence it is no surprise that the late Dr. Albert Ellis, the developer of the very similar Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, used to have a quote from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus on his webpage. In addition, the Cognitive Distortions which form the heart of CBT can mostly be found in The Art of Thinking (1662) by Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole.


Letters from a Stoic

By Lucius Seneca, Robin Campbell (translator),

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.


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!"


The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

By Edward Gibbon,

Book cover of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Why this book?

I’ve been an amateur historian for as long as I can remember. The past enthralls me, especially the bits where everything goes wrong and entire societies crumble. I suppose it’s because I agree with George Santayana that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and the idea has always held a certain fascination. As downfalls go, I figure none had a greater effect on western civilization than that of the classic Roman Empire and for me, it’s the template which explains so many historical cycles of the past and will continue to explain those of the future. Gibbon’s work is the definitive story of that era and a must-read for anyone interested in predicting what the next few centuries might bring.


Dept. of Speculation

By Jenny Offill,

Book cover of Dept. of Speculation

Why this book?

One of the most original voices in contemporary fiction, Offill’s novel is unusual and from my perspective, brilliant. Perspective is what makes this book shine, the story is so direct it feels as if it is originating in the narrator’s innermost thoughts. Weaving facts and articles with slices of daily routine with the narrator’s own thoughts, the reader is propelled forward, almost a participant in the gradual transformation of the narrator as she comes to terms with her husband’s betrayal.  This short, spare book is hard to put down, wise in ways that are hard to articulate and yet Offill succeeds beautifully.


The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph

By Ryan Holiday,

Book cover of The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph

Why this book?

This book is really for anyone trying to do anything hard in life – because life is freaking hard. I actually find this to be the single most useful (and nearly best) nonfiction title in my library (of about 2,500 volumes), and it’s useful for everything – but, given that Holiday mainly makes his living writing bestselling books, once again writers enjoy a particular embarrassment of riches here. Also N.B. – contains the secret of life.


Epicureanism: A Very Short Introduction

By Catherine Wilson,

Book cover of Epicureanism: A Very Short Introduction

Why this book?

Wilson’s Very Short Introduction is a great overview of the central themes in Epicurean philosophy. If you want to learn more about Epicurean atomism, knowledge, the nature of the mind, politics, and ethics, then this book will give you a solid foundation and references to further academic reading.


Every Secret Thing: My Family, My Country

By Gillian Slovo,

Book cover of Every Secret Thing: My Family, My Country

Why this book?

Gillian Slovo’s mother was assassinated by the South African Govt. Her father was considered public enemy #1. She reflects on being a child of revolutionaries, leaving her home suddenly and arriving in England on her 12th birthday and seeing snow for the first time. This is a book of making sense, acceptance, confrontation, and truths, Beautifully written, compelling, and gives us a way into a world very few people will experience and yet will want to know about.

What Is Existentialism?

By Simone de Beauvoir,

Book cover of What Is Existentialism?

Why this book?

This book is more or less a collection of excerpts from some of Simone de Beauvoir’s best works. In this text, her foundations in the field of existentialism are laid forth for the reader to read and interpret very easily. These excerpts provide the reader with an analysis on the field in a more fictional way, as opposed to much of the other works relating to such, yet maintain the same, if not a higher, level of emphasis on the positive influences it can bring about in any given individual’s life.


Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot

By James B. Stockdale,

Book cover of Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot

Why this book?

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.


The Practice of Groundedness: A Transformative Path to Success That Feeds--Not Crushes--Your Soul

By Brad Stulberg,

Book cover of The Practice of Groundedness: A Transformative Path to Success That Feeds--Not Crushes--Your Soul

Why this book?

I found Brad Stulberg’s latest book when I was researching my book and immediately toned down my prose to meet the challenge of distilling practices nearly impossible to explain in simple terms anyone can understand. Sound impossible? Brad makes it look effortless. There’s just enough science balanced by personal experience and other anecdotes that what could have been a PhD dissertation (was it?) reads with ease. The power and simplicity make it elegant and ever so useful.