10 Best Books About Stoicism (5 min read)
By Ma Dingding
The best books about Stoicism and Stoic philosophy are a bit easier to select compared to the best books about Zen Buddhism. There is less literature about Stoicism than about Buddhism, meditation and Zen.
A good point regarding books about Stoicism is that we have access to original writings from Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Translations are also a bit more accurate as Latin and Koine Greek have concepts that are more easily translated in English and other languages spoken in the Western world.
To know more about the common points of Zen Buddhism and Stoicism, you obviously need to read articles or books about the subjects. You need to start somewhere.
We suggest that you gain insights specifically in the subjects of Stoic philosophy and Zen separately. After gaining knowledge about each subject individually, we can explore more about the similarities between Stoic and Buddhist philosophies.
The books we suggest are the following:
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STOIC & ZEN newsletter
-Zen Stories and Stoic Insights
-Tools and Strategies
-Questions and Answers from MC
-Case studies: what would a Zen Stoic do?
-Relationships as a Stoic
-Productivity like a Zen Monk
-Reflections on Life
Recommended Stoic Books
Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior
by James Stockdale Paperback 32 pages
When Commander Stockdale’s (1923-2005) airplane was shot down over North Vietnam during the Vietnam war he told himself “I am leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.” This book is about how Stoicism helped him face and accept the reality he was in and overcome adversity… while remaining the Master of his own Fate and Free Will.
A great book to read that puts back all our little daily annoyances in perspective. He spent 7 years in the “Hanoi Hilton” and this short essay talk about his experiences as a POW during all those years, enduring torture, degradations and humiliations.
The Daily Stoic
By Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman Hardcover 416 pages
The Daily Stoic is my favorite book about Stoic philosophy. What I like about this book is the format: 366 days of Stoic quotes and commentaries with insights, reflections and stories related to Stoicism. The book is a must to anyone who is interested in Stoicism and how it can help us in our modern lives, no matter what level of knowledge you have about the subject. The book includes quotes by well-known Stoics like Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius as well as Musonius Rufus, Zeno of Citium (the founder of the Stoic school) and Cleanthes.
Ryan Holiday (1987-) was American Apparel’s Marketing Officer, worked for l’enfant terrible Tucker Max and was research assistant to Robert Greene, the author of The 48 Laws of Power. Stephen Hanselman is a publisher, bookseller and co-writer of The Daily Stoic.
How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life
by Massimo Pigliucci Hardcover 288 pages
Massimo Pigliucci (1964-) is a big name in the Stoic philosophical “movement.” How to be a Stoic is a guide on how to live our modern lives as Stoics, facing all sort of anxieties, questions, doubts, uncertainties. The book is basically a guide on how to live a good life by giving insights on heavy questions that we all ask ourselves, regardless of sex, gender, creed, race, culture… it is a must read if you are questioning yourself about life these days.
Professor Pigliucci teaches Philosophy at City College and evolutionary biologist and splits his time between NYC and Rome.
Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind
by Nancy Sherman Paperback 256 pages
Nancy Sherman writes about the military mind and the soldiers’ culture from a philosophical standpoint and discusses topics such as character, ethics and mindset. It is a great book to read although it tends to be a little bit scholarly and heavy in some parts.
Professor Nancy Sherman (1951-) teaches Philosophy at Georgetown University where she writes on ethics and military ethics.
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb Paperback 544 pages
A thick and heavy book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that talks about risk and uncertainty. Two excellent topics for any student of Stoic philosophy. This book is part of his series that started with The Black Swan. Like the title says, Taleb demonstrates that we need to be less fragile, or like the neoplasm he invented, antifragile, in a world where disorder and chaos are part of the inherent nature of reality. Look for the chapter dedicated to Seneca.
Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb (1960-) was previously trader and risk analyst and has now switched his focus to teaching, writing and statistics.
The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
by Ryan Holiday
Hardcover 224 pages
Another amazing book by Ryan Holiday. The Obstacle is the Way is best described by a quote by Marcus Aurelius: "The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” If you are feeling that you are constantly dealing with issues, problems, negative thinking, people who drain you out… you may want to read this book to learn how the greatest achievers in history handled adversity, and problems, in order to become icons of success. This books made me understand that every single thing is just a little bump on the road to reaching my goals and ultimately, my Vision.
by John Sellars
Paperback 219 pages
A book that reminded me of my studies in philosophy. The book is split into sections that are typical from books about Greek philosophy: Stoic system, Logic, Ethics and Physics. It is a good “user guide to Stoicism” no matter if you are new to the world of Stoicism or already advanced in your study of the philosophy.
Professor John Sellars (1971-) is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of London and Visiting Research Fellow at King's College London.
Letters from a Stoic
by Seneca the Younger aka Seneca
Paperback 254 pages
Letters from a Stoic is a collection of letters and essays by Seneca. It is on top of the list for anyone who wants to benefit from Stoic philosophy. The book is filled with treasures about wisdom, being a good person, friendship, adversity, ways to handle the challenges of life, ontological questions about the meaning of Life on this planet… Every pages contains a huge amount of insights to the point where you will find yourself going back for more, and rereading the book multiple times. You should read this book.
If you only had time to read 2 books about Stoicism I would suggest Letters from a Stoic and The Meditations (by Marcus Aurelius.) If you can, get a hold of the well-translated Penguin edition.
Seneca the Younger (4 BC - 65 AD) was a Roman statesman, dramatist, writer and philosopher who was exiled by the Roman Emperor Claudius, only to return and become adviser to the court of the tyrant Nero. As Nero's paranoia grew following the Pisonian conspiracy to kill him, Seneca was forced to commit the ultimate sacrifice by Nero. Even if he was innocent, Seneca faced Death with such a gentlemanesque demeanor that his Death became the focus of many paintings over the centuries.
by Marcus Aurelius
Paperback 256 pages
Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor at the height of the Roman Empire. His Meditations are a collection of writings he wrote while on campaign to conquer foreign lands. The Meditations were written in current day Serbia. Marcus Aurelius was highly influenced by Epictetus’ writings, which you can feel the influence while reading his Meditations. The book was never meant to be published and it is astonishing that such a work survived almost 2,000 years. The Meditations give us insights in the mind of one of the most powerful man on the planet at the time. You will find that each sentence punches you in the gut, each sentence contains a truth within itself. The book is so addictive that you will very likely feel the need to go back to it once in while. This book is a must.
If you only had time to read 2 books about Stoicism I would suggest The Meditations and Letters from a Stoic (from Seneca.)
Marcus Aurelius (121 - 180 AD) was born into an upper-class Roman family and became Emperor at the age of 40. He faced wars, insurrections, plagues, death of friends and family members as well as assassination attempts from close confidents.
Discourses and Selected Writings
Paperback 304 pages
Compared to other philosophers who tend to write in sentences close to short aphorisms, Epictetus is a little bit heavier when it comes to reading. Nonetheless, his ideas are an absolute “to read” when it comes to Stoicism. If you can, get a hold the Penguin edition that has an excellent English translation from Greek.
Epictetus (AD 55–135) was a slave in Hierapolis (currently in Turkey) and after being freed, Epictetus became a Greco-Roman philosopher. His teachings were transcribed by a student of his school of philosophy in Nicopolis.
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