Do you know the section of the book after the last chapter? The one that everyone ignores? That’s one of the first things I read as part of a systematic skimming, which allows me to get a feel for the author’s vocabulary, a sense of what the book is about, and references and sources. It’s also a good place to find new reading material.
In the back of The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph I came across something I wish I had found a few years ago when I first started reading philosophy, a stoic reading list.
The Stoic Reading List
Stoicism is awesome because the original, primary texts are often easier to read than whatever has been put out since. This is why we’ve read the same books for thousands of years.
The Big Three.
1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
I loved this book. When I read it in university, I wasn’t ready for the wisdom inside. On top of that, the translation was bad. You want the Hays one (linked above). Re-reading it was a breath of fresh air.
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.
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.
Holiday points us to some other great authors too, who are in line with some stoic thinking.
- Heraclitus Fragments (An amazingly powerful book. You’ll read this in under an hour and spend months thinking about it.)
- Arthur Schopenhauer: Essays and Aphorisms
- Plutarch Lives
- Conversations of Socrates
- Cicero, On the Good Life
- Montaigne: Essays (I’m in love with this coffee-table version.)
To which, you can add:
- Musonius Rufus: Lectures and Sayings
- The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus (another of my personal favorites)
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (an incredibly important work on our search for meaning and the last of our freedoms)
- Nature and Selected Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
- The Essential Epicurus by Epicurus
- Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault
- A Guide To The Good Life or listen to our interivew with the author.