Stoicism has risen in popularity over the past decade; largely in response to the work of Ryan Holiday and The Daily Stoic. Both philosophers and students are exploring how they can use the ancient teachings as a guide to leading a good life. The increased interested has led to a lot more books being published, especially by those wishing to cash in on the trend.
This guide is designed to help you discover the best book to help you learn more about Stoicism. I only recommend books that have been thoroughly reviewed and recommended by others. I’ll help you find the right book for your personal journey and share the resources that will help you get the most out of the book.
This guide does not include the works by the original philosophers, nor does it include analysis of their work. Additional reading lists are listed at the end.
The Daily Stoic
The Daily Stoic is a useful introduction to Stoic principles. Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman collected 366 meditations that reflect the Stoic philosophy. These are from some of the core Stoic thinkers, as well as people who embody Stoic principles. These meditations are presented in 1-3 sentences, followed by a couple of paragraphs of analysis. This slowly introduces you to the core concepts of Stoicism without overwhelming you. The commentary also allows you to see how the concept fits into a larger framework.
This book is a great introduction to Stoic principles because you are exposed to key concepts in a digestible format. It isn’t overwhelming while still piing your interest. Some reviewers disagree with Holiday’s interpretations of the original texts and argue that it isn’t an accurate representation of Stoicism. Such reviewers have recommended just sticking to the original quotes.
How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life
This is one of my favourite introductory books about Stoicism. Massimo presents the the main concepts as part of a continuing dialogue with Epictetus. This conversational style makes complex concepts in a way that is easier to understand. He also provides examples of how to apply the principles to modern life; rather than placing them within the historical context of the Roman empire. Some consider this to be targeted more towards those at an intermediate level rather than beginner, however I found it to be accessible.
The guide is worth buying as it is likely you will return to it multiple times on your journey. It is Massimos own interpretation of the Stoics. I’d recommend that you visit his blog and patreon to see if you like his style.
It’s worth noting that title is a bit of a misnomer; the book is more of a rumination rather than a guide
- How To Be A Stoic online discussion group
- Youtube video by Donald Robertson. In it, he discuss the twelve practical strategies listed at the end, adding some hints and tips from his experience as a cognitive therapist and self-improvement trainer.
A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control
The handbook contains 52 weekly lessons organized according to three separate disciplines: desire, action and assent. These lessons go into considerably more depth than the points of inspiration featured in the Daily Stoic. The lessons consist of a short explanation and an exercise to help you put the concepts into practice. The authors give an example for each exercise and explore how the concepts link to other lessons. This is useful for those who want to explore how they can implement Stoicism in your daily life.
The handbook isn’t designed for those who want to flip through each lesson for inspiration. The lessons are done sequentially to encourage you to actively apply to lessons to your life. There is a recommended list of 9 example lessons for those aren’t ready to commit for the whole year.
Some reviewers have criticized that some lessons seem repetitive, almost like fillers. However, this is a common criticism with books of the same structure.
Stoicism: A Very Short Introduction
A lot of the introductory books to Stoicism provide an overview of how individual people can apply the philosophy. This short introduction takes a different approach; focusing on the history of Stoicism as a philosophical field. This is useful for those who may be interested in studying the academic side of Stoicism.
The book is incredibly comprehensive despite being just 136 pages. Inwood discusses:
- The connections between modern Stoicism and the Stoic principles put forth by the original founders.
- The relationship to the thought of Plato, Aristotle and his successors, and the Epicureans.
- How Stoicism evolved into the modern movement.
It provides a great overview of the philosophy but has very few practical implications.
Lessons in Stoicism: What Ancient Philosophers Teach us About How to Live
In Lessons in Stoicism, philosopher John Sellars explores the ideas of three of the most well known Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. He focuses on how their core ideas can teach us how to understand one’s place in the world, how to cope when things don’t go well, how to manage one’s emotions and how to behave towards others.
This book stands out because of the amount of information it contains despite its short length. Other short books can be quite superficial in their analysis, especially when the author doesn’t have a background in philosophy. It is very accessible and written in a way that is easy to understand. I would recommend it for those who may not be ready to tackle some of the longer introductory books.
The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual
Previous books have been designed to introduce readers to the concepts of Stoicism; using daily or weekly readings to provide inspiration on how to apply Stoicism to daily life. Others have focused on providing an overview of the actual philosophy. This book takes a different approach by going beyond inspiration to provide a manual on living Stoically.
This book is organized into twelve topic based chapters, discussing topics such as death, externals, desire and adversity. Readers have the choice of reading it straight through or delving into the topics that interest them. This makes some of the Stoic themes more accessible than consulting the original texts. The final chapter discusses criticism of Stoicism. Unfortunately the book doesn’t explore how Stoicism can apply to modern situations.
The Stoics: A Guide for the Perplexed
In this guide, Holowchak creates a framework that captures the core themes of Stoicism in an easy-to-understand manner. This guide is aimed for students who have no prior understanding of Stoicism. It explores Stoic cosmology, epistemology, views of nature, self knowledge, perfectionism and ethics.
This book was published in 2008, before Stoicism gained popularity to a larger community. This means that there is an overlap with some existing books that provide an overview of living Stoically.
Unshakable Freedom: Ancient Stoic Secrets Applied to Modern Life
This is one of the best books to read if you are curious about Stoicism. It is affordable, short and easy to understand. Each chapter explores a key concept and relates them to other techniques that allow you to practice the Stoic lifestyle. It also shares exercises so you can apply to the tips to your life. It is just enough for a beginner, although some readers may find it too basic. It is also more self help orientated than academic.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
This guide is a quick and easy read, however it doesn’t represent historical Stoicism. Instead, the guide focuses on Irvine’s own interpretation of the philosophy. Donald Robertson expands on this in his review at his blog. I’d definitely read the full review before committing to any of the ideas in the book. One of the core criticisms is that his analysis of such concepts is too superficial, especially considering he’s proposing new interpretations of the core principles.
This means that this book shouldn’t be read as an introductory text. Instead, you should read it to see if you could apply any of his recommendations to your own life.
Interview With William B. Irvine at the Daily Stoic
The Stoic Life: Emotions, Duties, and Fate
Despite the the title, this book doesn’t actually explore how to live a Stoic life. Instead, the book is a scholarly exploration of Stoic psychology, Stoic Ethics and, briefly, Stoic physics. It focuses on the how the various concepts
The book is incredibly detailed and may be too much for the casual reader. The analysis can be quite technical and off putting, especially for those who have little prior experience with logic.
It is a worthwhile read. The text may need to be revisited multiple time as your understanding of the philosophy increases.
The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition
The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition is the first volume of its kind, and an outstanding guide and reference source to the nature and continuing significance of stoicism. Comprising twenty-six chapters by a team of international contributors and organised chronologically, the Handbook is divided into four parts:
- Antiquity and the Middle Ages, including stoicism in Rome; stoicism in early Christianity; the Platonic response to stoicism; and stoic influences in the late Middle Ages
- Renaissance and Reformation, addressing the impact of stoicism on the Italian Renaissance, Reformation thought, and early modern English literature including Shakespeare
- Early Modern Europe, including stoicism and early modern French thought; the stoic influence on Spinoza and Leibniz; stoicism and the French and Scottish Enlightenment; and Kant and stoic ethics
- The Modern World, including stoicism in nineteenth century German philosophy; stoicism in Victorian culture; stoicism in America; stoic themes in contemporary Anglo-American ethics; and the stoic influence on modern psychotherapy.
The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics
This book explores the ideas of the Stoics in three ways: through the historical trajectory of the school itself and its influence; the recovery of the history of Stoic thought; and finally, the ongoing confrontation with Stoicism.
It is very detailed and scholarly in tone, and therefore isn’t recommended for the beginner or even intermediate Stoic. It is targeted at those who are more interested in the philosophical arguments rather than those who want to live more stoically. The authors tried to make Stoicism accessible, however the complexity of the arguments are beyond the average reader.
The book is still a worthwhile addition but potential buyers should be aware that they may have to skip a couple of chapters.
Massimo Pigluicci reviewed this book on Amazon. He also provided chapter reviews: Early Stoicism, from Zeno to Arius Didymus, Roman Imperial Stoicism, Stoic epistemology, Stoic logic, Stoic theology, Stoic determinism, Stoic moral psychology, Stoicism and medicine, Stoic astronomy, Spinoza’s Stoicism and Stoic naturalism and its critics
The Stoic Idea of the City
The Stoic Idea of the City offers a methodical study of the Stoic school, focusing on Zeno’s Republic. Scholar Malcolm Schofield collects scattered and underused textual evidence, examining the Stoic ideals that initiated the natural law tradition of Western political thought.
It is a very difficult read. This is partially due to his dry writing style and partly because he assumes the reader already has a solid understanding of Greek Philosophy. The author occasionally uses Greek words without providing a translation. The introduction by Martha Nussbaum does provide a succinct overview. I’d recommend this for advanced readers.
The Stoic Sage: The Early Stoics on Wisdom, Sagehood and Socrates
This book starts out by exploring the two surviving Stoic definitions, ‘knowledge of human and divine matters’ and ‘fitting expertise’. It focuses not only on the question of what they understood by wisdom, but also on how wisdom can be achieved, how difficult it is to become a sage, and how this difficulty can be explained. The answers to these questions are based on a fresh investigation of the evidence, with the core texts offered in the original Greek or Latin, as well as translated into English.
The writing is accessible, albeit very scholarly. The scholastic tone is reflected in the high price point.
Stoic Studies (Hellenistic Culture and Society)
This book is a collection of articles that Professor Long has either published or presented in academic settings. The twelve articles focus more on Longs recent studies.
The book is organized into three themes: the Stoics’ interpretation of their intellectual tradition, their ethics and their psychology. The papers are mostly presented as they were originally printed, however postscripts were added to three of them.
Everything Has Two Handles: The Stoic’s Guide to the Art of Living
Everything Has Two Handles is a short and very easy introduction to Stoicism. The text focuses on how to apply Stoicism to your daily life.
The book explores and compares Stoicism to other philosophy and religions, including both Western and Eastern influences. This can be a useful contrast to the Stoic thought. It also allows you to see Stoicism from a modern perspective Keep in mind that some people might find the external viewpoints distracting.
The Roman Stoics: Self, Responsibility, and Affection
The Roman Stoics reexamines the philosophical basis that instructed social practice in friendship, marriage, parenting, and community. From this analysis emerge Stoics who were neither cold nor detached, as the stereotype has it, but all too aware of their human weaknesses. In a valuable contribution to current discussions in the humanities on identity, autonomy, and altruism, Reydams-Schils ultimately conveys the wisdom of Stoics to the citizens of modern society.
Other Recommended Lists
The best books on Stoicism. Recommended by Massimo Pigliucci