The Stoic Reading List

“The impediment to action advances action.What stands in the way becomes the way.”— Marcus Aurelius
“The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”
— Marcus Aurelius

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.

2. Letters of a Stoic by Seneca (see also: On the Shortness of Life).
This is one of the 5 books I recommend everyone read before their 30th birthday.

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).

3. Discourses by Epictetus.

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.

To which we can add

Other Books that Holiday Recommends:

Some articles and online resources:

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?

Comments

  1. Nick says

    I will write one’s that won’t be typically mentioned.

    1. Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living

    2. The History of Scepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle .

    This quote is a good intro for the book — “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
    Mark Twain

    3. Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite by Paul Arden (more people need to read Paul Arden!)

    4. It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden

    5. Tusculanae Disputationes by Cicero

    • Lason Perkins says

      I have both books you mentioned by Arden and I agree with you 100%. Short reads but full of great ideas and thoughts.

  2. Nick says

    One more and one of the best…

    Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

    “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.”

  3. Raj says

    The best book I’ve read on the practical application of stoic techniques is William B Irvine’s “A guide to the good life: The ancient art of Stoic joy“.

    It gives a good overview of the subject and serves as a useful starting point for those who want to explore the philosophy further.

    The stoic techniques detailed can be applied immediately. Negative visualization in particular has helped me a lot.

    Derek Siver’s book notes can be found here.

  4. Lason Perkins says

    I second Raj’s recommendation on Irvine’s book. I would also add “The Stoic Art of Living” by Tom Morris to the list as well.

  5. says

    I can recommend:

    Stoic Living for the Modern Soul, which is a new book by Dmitri Mandaliev.

    It’s new and is geared towards living a stoic life in modern times. I think it is an excellent addition to any stoic library.