The Six Best Books on Stoicism

This page contains a list of the six best introductory books on Stoicism. When looking for books on Stoicism, some people want a short and easy introduction, others would prefer a longer and more detailed analysis. This list divides each book into one of the following categories to help you choose the type of book that suits you best:

  • Pop-Nonfiction
  • Short Textbook
  • Comprehensive Textbook
  • Classic

This list was created by crowdsourcing required readings from university course syllabi as well as other recommendations from around the web. For more information on what these categories mean and how this list was constructed, see: Methodology and Criteria for Building Reading Lists. Links to the sources used for these recommendations are listed at the end of the post so you can view the syllabi and recommendations for yourself. Here are the six best books on Stoicism in no particular order:

How to Be a Stoic – Massimo Pigliucci

Category: Pop-Nonfiction | Length: 288 pages | Published: 2017

Whenever we worry about what to eat, how to love, or simply how to be happy, we are worrying about how to lead a good life. No goal is more elusive. In How to Be a Stoic, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci offers Stoicism, the ancient philosophy that inspired the great emperor Marcus Aurelius, as the best way to attain it. Stoicism is a pragmatic philosophy that focuses our attention on what is possible and gives us perspective on what is unimportant. By understanding Stoicism, we can learn to answer crucial questions: Should we get married or divorced? How should we handle our money in a world nearly destroyed by a financial crisis? How can we survive great personal tragedy? Whoever we are, Stoicism has something for us–and How to Be a Stoic is the essential guide.

Stoicism – John Sellars

Category: Short Textbook | Length: 219 pages | Published: 2006

One of the most popular of the Hellenistic schools of philosophy in antiquity, Stoicism flourished for some five hundred years and has remained a constant presence throughout the history of Western philosophy. Its doctrines appealed to people from all strata of ancient society-from the slave Epictetus to the emperor Marcus Aurelius. This book provides a lucid, comprehensive introduction to this great philosophical school. It gives an overview of the history of the school, covers its philosophy as a system, and explores the three main branches of Stoic theory. John Sellars includes historical information on the life and works of the ancient Stoic philosophers and summaries, analyses, and appraisals of their principal doctrines in logic, physics, and ethics. He also includes a fascinating account of the Stoic legacy from later antiquity to the present. The volume includes a glossary and chronology, which, together with its accessible yet authoritative approach, makes it the ideal choice for students, scholars, and general readers interested in what Stoicism has meant, both philosophically and historically, for western civilization.

The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics – Brad Inwood

Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 450 pages | Published: 2003

This volume offers an odyssey through 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. The study demonstrates how Stoicism refines philosophical traditions, challenges the imagination, and ultimately defines the kind of life one chooses to lead. Advanced students and specialists will discover a conspectus of developments in this interpretation of the Stoics and new readers will be drawn to its accessibility.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

Category: Classic | Length: 256 pages | Published: 167 AD

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (a.d. 121–180) succeeded his adoptive father as emperor of Rome in a.d. 161—and Meditations remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. With a profound understanding of human behavior, Marcus provides insights, wisdom, and practical guidance on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity to interacting with others. Consequently, the Meditations have become required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations of ordinary readers have responded to the straightforward intimacy of his style. In Gregory Hays’s new translation—the first in a generation—Marcus’s thoughts speak with a new immediacy: never before have they been so directly and powerfully presented.

Letters from a Stoic – Seneca

Category: Classic | Length: 254 pages | Published: c. 65 AD

For several years of his turbulent life, Seneca was the guiding hand of the Roman Empire. His inspired reasoning derived mainly from the Stoic principles, which had originally been developed some centuries earlier in Athens. This selection of Seneca’s letters shows him upholding the austere ethical ideals of Stoicism—the wisdom of the self-possessed person immune to overmastering emotions and life’s setbacks—while valuing friendship and the courage of ordinary men, and criticizing the harsh treatment of slaves and the cruelties in the gladiatorial arena. The humanity and wit revealed in Seneca’s interpretation of Stoicism is a moving and inspiring declaration of the dignity of the individual mind.

Discourses, Fragments, Handbook – Epictetus

Category: Classic | Length: 400 pages | Published: c. 108 AD

Epictetus’ Discourses have been the most widely read and influential of all writings of Stoic philosophy, from antiquity onwards. They set out the core ethical principles of Stoicism in a form designed to help people put them into practice and to use them as a basis for leading a good human life. Epictetus was a teacher, and a freed slave, whose discourses have a vivid informality, animated by anecdotes and dialogue. Forceful, direct, and challenging, their central message is that the basis of happiness is up to us, and that we all have the capacity, through sustained reflection and hard work, of achieving this goal. They still speak eloquently to modern readers seeking meaning in their own lives.

This is the only complete modern translation of the Discourses, together with the Handbook or manual of key themes, and surviving fragments. Robin Hard’s accurate and accessible translation is accompanied by Christopher Gill’s full introduction and comprehensive notes.

Sources

A good way to find introductory readings on Stoicism is to browse through a university course syllabus. This list of books was created using the following course syllabi and community recommendations:

Course Syllabi:

Other Recommendations:

Online forums and communities sometimes have experts that are kind enough to recommend books. Here are a few community recommendations:

Not sure if you want to commit to reading a full book on Stoicism? You can find a short introductory video, podcast, and article on Stoicism on this page.

The Daily Idea collects the best podcasts, videos, and articles from around the web to help make learning about science and philosophy as easy as possible. Check out the full list of topics that have been featured or enter your email below to get the best videos, articles, and podcasts on a new topic each day.

And if you know of any resources that should be on this list, please leave a comment below and I will add it. Or get in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Leave a Reply