Stoic philosophy is meant to be for everyone, regardless of class, race, age or occupation. This is because stoic philosophers themselves came from varying lifestyles and social classes, yet most of them arrived at the same conclusions. For example Epictetus was born a slave, yet Marcus Aurelius was born a Roman Emperor, both of them however lead extraordinary lives.
Therefore this philosophy transcends space, time, and personal circumstances, making it freely available to anyone who wishes to understand it.
In order to get to know the thoughts of stoic philosophers, one should take a closer look at some of their most prominent written works. There exists a common belief that philosophy is “hard to understand”, however that is questionable, especially when it comes to stoicism.
In truth Stoic books are, quite profound, as well as easy to read and understand. Most of these books are deeply connected with the problems that every human being faces. The goal of the philosophy though, is to find a way to build strong character which endures the difficulties of life, in order to attain happiness.
So without any further ado, below we’ll recommend the top 10 Stoic books, which we believe can help you lead a life of freedom, growth and prosperity.
1- “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius
In this book you enter the mind of one of the most prominent figures of Stoicism. Aurelius was a military General, a father, a husband, a philosopher and most importantly an Emperor.
Marcus dives deep into the nature of virtue, moral strength, firm character and possibilities of a good life. He wrote this book while undertaking military campaigns, his thoughts unveil to you how you can reflect on your own.
They show you how to be firm in the face of misfortune, and they also show you how to build a strong character which can endure almost any trial.
Below is a great quote from the book:
“If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you were bound to give it back immediately; If you hold to this, expecting nothing, but satisfied to live now according to the nature, speaking heroic truth in every word that you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man able to prevent this.” – Marcus Aurelius
2- “Enchiridion” by Epictetus
I’ve mentioned that Marcus Aurelius was one of the greatest Roman Emperors, yet here we have Epictetus who came from much more humble beginnings, he was just a slave.
Could you imagine being a slave in the ancient world? It would have definitely been a trying life. Regardless, Epictetus didn’t see it that way, he never let his circumstances define him.
Epictetus didn’t write anything on his own. Instead, he had many admirers, one of which was Arrian.
Arrian on Epictetus: “Whatever I heard him say I used to write down, word for word, as best I could, endeavoring to preserve it as a memorial, for my own future use, of his way of thinking and the frankness of his speech.”
To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and thus are beyond our control, but we can accept whatever happens to us in a calm and detached manner.
Individuals however, are responsible for their own actions which they examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power.
“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them” – Epictetus
3- Discourses, Fragments, Handbook” by Epictetus
If you liked the last book, then this one will certainly impress. I enjoy it greatly, and I often read it in my free time. The style is beautiful, and refreshing, especially if you want to remind yourself about what is truly important in this life.
The content can be summarized in one sentence: This book talks about what is in your control, and what is not.
Discourses is one of the most widely read and influential writings of stoic philosophy. It sets the core ethical principles of Stoicism, which are designed for people to use them as a basis for leading a good human life.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters” – Epictetus
4- “Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae Morales Ad Lucilium” by Seneca
Besides Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, Seneca was the third most prominent Stoic figure in Ancient Rome. He was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. The literary works of Seneca were very extensive and quite diverse.
Seneca’s Letters are a treasure of practical wisdom on how to live and enjoy life. In this book, Seneca deduces that there are three main principles for leading a good life, which are:
1. The goal of attaining wisdom is to live in harmony with nature.
2. Your most valuable possession is your mind.
3. A wise man doesn’t need friends, but he chooses to make them anyway.
“A man is as unhappy as he thinks he is.” – Seneca
5- “Dialogues and Essays” by Seneca
This is the second, equally most important work of Seneca. Ten writings were compiled under the common title Dialogues (Dialogues, 12 books).
Although the subjects of these dialogues are live examples, even from the life of the writer himself, they are still mostly essays in which human nature, pain and sorrow are theoretically discussed.
They are in a sense about how one can console himself in the face of tragedy. I would recommend this book, because it can help you reflect on your own struggles and difficulties, while giving you an ability to find meaning in those difficulties.
6- “Stoicism” by John Sellars
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, which are: Physics (cosmology), Logic and Ethics.
If you’re eager to learn more about stoic philosophy, this book can gives you information about how the stoics lived, thought, and made sense of their interconnection with the universe.
Naturally this leads to the questions and principles that form a good life, leading into the subsequent interpersonal conduct required to attain that life. Sellars also includes a fascinating account of the development of stoic legacy from its conception to this present day.
7- “Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
The title here is for all those who are seeking “bite sized” information about the lives of stoics. Here, you’re introduced to the lives and thoughts of Zeno (the founder of the earliest stoic school), to the last stoic Marcus Aurelius.
If you don’t have much time for reading, then this edition is a great opportunity to get to the basics of Stoic Philosophy, and to learn about its practical application.
8- “The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics” by Brad Inwood“
The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics is a multidimensional read. It can be considered as a beginners’ book, as well as an advanced readers’ book. This is definitely one you would have to read more than once, it is one of those rare books that reveals itself fully, the more you read it.
It is worth mentioning that its written by Brad Inwood, who’s a specialist in ancient philosophy with particular emphasis in stoicism.
9- “Stoicism and the Art of Happiness” by Donald J. Robertson
If you’re looking for a book, that’s also a manual for guidance in everyday life, then this work of Donald J. Robertson can really help. Robertson is also the author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.
By learning what stoicism is, you can revolutionize your life. You learn how to – properly – ‘seize the day’, how to cope in the face of adversity, and how to come to terms with whatever situation you may find yourself in.
10- “The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living” by Ryan Holiday
There’s a reason I left this book till the end. Presented in a page-per-day format, this daily resource combines all new translations done by Stephen Hanselman.
These contain the greatest passages from the great stoics (including several lesser known philosophers like Zeno, Cleanthes and Musonius Rufus) with helpful commentary.
When you decide to read this book you don’t have to worry where to start, because it doesn’t matter, the wisdom is contained in every page.
I hope this article helped you decide what book is the best for you.
Remember to work on yourself, to strengthen you character. Choose to lead a happy life, and don’t forget to reexamine your own thoughts, because most of our suffering comes from the ignorance of our own strengths and capabilities.
Enjoy your reading!