By applying the ancient principles of stoicism, you can lead a happier life. Discover the best books on stoicism, from ancient times to modern texts.
The stoic philosophy has the potential to change your life completely. Rooted in ancient philosophy, stoicism has bled over into everything from Christianity to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Here we explore the concepts of self-control, self-help, and the stoic way of life. We also highlight several of the best books that explain this crucial school of philosophy.
A brief explanation of stoicism
On the surface, you can think of stoicism as a school of thought that originated in ancient Greece. It was one of the dominant schools of philosophy during the Hellenistic period. The concept explores human nature and how human beings can achieve moral excellence through their actions and stoic virtues.
The earliest stoic teachings come from the Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium. He taught that stoic ethics would lead people to “eudaimonia,” which is a Greek word that roughly translates to “happiness.”
Those who followed this early stoic philosopher often agreed with Aristotle’s description of eudaimonia. He called it “the activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.” In other words, the state of eudaimonia is related to the virtues you maintain in life.
We can also look to Socrates and his school of cynicism to explore this concept of being virtuous. Socrates claimed that the art of living a good life is to be moral in all you do. Being virtuous will allow you to endure no matter what tragedies befall you.
As the ancient Greek empire gave way to the Roman empire, we saw the emergence of Roman stoics. Hellenistic philosophy influences several philosophers and leaders, including Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, Seneca the Younger, and Epictetus.
Though you could easily dismiss stoicism as a relic of the ancient world, its tenets are essential today. While you may not follow ancient stoicism in the Aristotelian sense, many of the philosophy’s practices are in use today.
The words of ancient stoics have journeyed from Athens and Rome to the business world. Stoicism is also practiced in some branches of psychotherapy. And even if your ambitions aren’t quite as lofty as achieving moral excellence, you can still use stoicism to overcome challenges in your life.
Best stoicism books
The best stoicism books distill the words of philosophers, like Zeno of Citium and Plato, into actionable advice. Here are seven great books that those interested in stoicism should read, with several recommended by noted modern philosopher Massimo Pigliucci.
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
As one of the oldest and most famous stoic books, Meditations is a must-read for stoic philosophers. The former Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius distills the teachings of philosophers like Chrysippus, Diogenes, and Cleanthes into meditations on life.
The book comprises notes Aurelius wrote to himself, compiled into a large volume. Those notes offer reflections and insights that help you see what makes an influential leader.
Discourses, Fragments, Handbook – Epictetus
Translated by Robin Hard, Discourses is one of the most influential books on stoicism.
It sets out the philosophy’s core principles as defined by Epictetus. It teaches that sustained happiness can only come from hard work and self-reflection. It also serves as a biography of the Greek philosopher, charting his life as a formerly enslaved person and teacher.
Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Letters on Ethics is far more than a book on stoicism. It also explores life in Italy under the rule of Nero. Plus, it contains poems, letters, and discussions between some of the great Roman philosophers.
Seneca’s letters explain how stoicism can apply to even the simplest situations, such as dealing with a nosy neighbor. For those who want to explore the dichotomy between the lofty aim of stoicism and its day-to-day applications, it’s the ideal collection.
The Enchiridion of Epictetus – Epictetus
The Enchiridion is a short manual that defines stoicism as Epictetus sees it. Think of it as a primer on the stoic philosophy. While it won’t tell you everything you need to know, it still contains plenty of valuable advice you can apply to modern life.
A Guide to the Good Life – William Braxton Irvine
Have you ever worried that you’re wasting your life?
William Braxton Irvine uses the stoic philosophy to confront this common fear in the book. He demonstrates how ancient teachings apply to modern life, in addition to examining some stoic techniques that help you attain satisfaction in your efforts to live a good life.
A New Stoicism – Lawrence C. Becker
In A New Stoicism, Becker examines what life would be like today if the moral ethics of stoicism had a heavier influence.
Specifically, he looks at stoicism’s approach to ethical theory. How would this approach apply to modern science or even business? Becker answers these questions and more while offering insight into how you can practice stoicism in the 21st century.
Stoicism and the Art of Happiness – Donald Robertson
We all want to be happy.
That’s the thread that runs through Robertson’s book as he looks at how to apply stoic strategies to modern life. As one part stoic manual and one part self-help book, Stoicism and the Art of Happiness is as inspiring a read as it is an inspirational one.
Listen to great works of philosophy with Speechify
Philosophical teachings can inspire us to create significant change in our lives. That’s as true of stoicism as it is of many other schools of thought.
With Speechify, you’re not tied into a monthly subscription. You buy your audiobooks individually and own them forever. Better yet, new members of Speechify Audiobooks can choose their first audiobook for free from our library of over 60,000 titles.
If you’d like to explore what Speechify Audiobooks offers, sign up today and get your first audiobook for free.
What is a stoic person like?
A stoic person maintains control of themselves at all times. According to modern writer Ryan Holiday, stoics may not control the world but will always control themselves.
Did the Stoics believe in God?
Stoics often don’t believe in God as a physical entity. Instead, they see God in all creation, from the lowliest plant to the most remarkable humans.
What was Marcus Aurelius’ goal as a Stoic?
The philosophy of Marcus Aurelius constantly reminded himself of his stoic values so he could implement them as a leader.
What is the stoic ideal?
The stoic ideal is to achieve moral excellence by living in agreement with the natural world.