You know the section after the last chapter that everyone ignores? Well that’s one of the first things I read. This is how I read a book. This is part of systematic skimming and allows me to get a feel for the author’s vocabulary, a sense of what the book is about, how arguments are structured, and references and sources. It’s also a good place to find new reading material.
I received a pre-release copy of Ryan Holiday’s new book, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, in the mail this week. The book comes out in a couple of weeks. In the back I came across something I wish I had found a few years ago when I first started reading philosophy, a stoic reading list.
The Big Three.
Stoicism is perhaps the only “philosophy” where the original, primary texts are actually cleaner and easier to read than anything academics have written afterward. Which is awesome because it means you can dive into the subject and go straight to the source.
1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
I loved this book. I had read it before but it wasn’t the Hays translation, which made a world of difference for me.
There is one translation of Marcus Aurelius to read and that is Gregory Hays’s amazing edition for the Modern Library. Everything else falls sadly short. His version is completely devoid of any “thou’s” “arts” “shalls.” It’s beautiful and haunting. I’ve recommended this book to literally thousands of people at this point. Buy it. Change your life.
Seneca or Marcus are the best places to start if you’re looking to explore Stoicism. Seneca seems like he would have been a fun guy to know—which is unusual for a Stoic. I suggest starting with On the Shortness of Life (a collection of short essays) and then move to his book of letters (which are really more like essays than true correspondence).
Of the big three, Epictetus is the most preachy and least fun to read. But he will also from time to time express something so clearly and profoundly that it will shake you to your core.
But wait … there’s more.
Holiday points us to some other great authors too, who are in line with some stoic thinking.
- Heraclitus Fragments (An amazingly powerful book. You’ll read this in under an hour and spend months thinking about it.)
- Arthur Schopenhauer: Essays and Aphorisms (I’ve been reading these at random now for a while, and loving them.)
- Plutarch Lives
- Cicero, On the Good Life
- Montaigne: Essays (I’m in love with this coffee-table version.)
To which we can add
Other Books that Holiday Recommends:
- The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus (another of my personal favorites)
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (an incredibly important work on our search for meaning and the last of our freedoms)
- Nature and Selected Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
- The Essential Epicurus by Epicurus
Some articles and online resources:
- Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs
- Stoicism for Modern Stresses: 5 Lessons from Cato
- How to Use Philosophy as a Personal Operating System: From Seneca to Musashi
- New Stoa (the online stoic registry).
- The stoicism board on Reddit
- An amazing lecture on stoicism
- Perhaps the best blog about stoicism out there
- The blog of prominent stoicism author Jules Evans
I’d also add — thanks to the hundred or so emails I’ve received on this — two books that keep popping up. First, Pierre Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Second, William Irvine’s A Guide To The Good Life.
Over to you. Comments are open.
What’s on your stoic reading list? Any good resources not mentioned here?