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Recommended books about stoicism

Sure, here are a few recommended books about Stoicism:

  1. "The Tao of Seneca" by Tim Ferriss : This book is an introduction to Stoic philosophy through the words of Seneca. It offers practical wisdom and insights for thriving in high-stress environments.

  2. "The Obstacle is the Way" by Ryan Holiday : This book explores the teachings of Stoicism and how they can be applied to overcome challenges and turn obstacles into opportunities.

  3. "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius : This classic Stoic text offers personal reflections and philosophical insights on how to live a virtuous and fulfilling life.

  4. "The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters" by Seneca : This collection of essays and letters by Seneca provides practical advice on how to navigate life's challenges and cultivate resilience.

  5. "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" by William B. Irvine : This book explores the principles of Stoicism and how they can be applied to achieve a life of tranquility and fulfillment.

These books provide different perspectives on Stoicism and can serve as valuable resources for understanding and incorporating Stoic philosophy into your life.

Tim Ferris: In a sense, you could think of it as putting the first portion of the serenity prayer into action. which reads, there are many translations of course, as, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Stoicism is the training ground for putting this into action. So you have to digest it, just like good nutrition, a little bit every day, put in the time. One letter, five to 15 minutes. It might have been born on the porch of Zeno, but it can be used everywhere in the concrete jungle. I'll recommend a few letters to start with. If you want to bounce around, I suggest you listen to all of them. They will apply to you in your life at different points. Three of my favorites are 13, 18, and 27. Letter 13 on groundless fears. Letter 18 on festivals and fasting. Letter 27 on the good which abides, which is also hilarious. John Robinson, his favorites do not overlap, they will be very personal, but if you want a few recommendations to start with, start at the beginning of this audiobook, Volume 1, because it features On the Shortness of Life, which I read and listen to at least once a quarter, usually once a month, and then letters 13, 18, and 27. And I have to, before I part, give a heartfelt thanks to John Robinson. John Robinson, I found on the internet, I was searching for an audio book of Seneca's letters and essays, and I couldn't find it. And then one day, John Robinson's website pops up.
Tim Ferris: and properly prepare for it. So, I think that is worth reading. Then if you want to understand how seemingly confusingly and irrationally different leaders are behaving and how polarity is affecting our response to this in the United States and elsewhere, not just here, you look at Brazil, it's the same story, then the 48 Laws of Power do a great job of explaining that. And then if you take mastery and the 48 laws of power combined, those can act as a possible roadmap for the abilities you want to develop in this sacred pause that is being provided to you, not inflicted upon you necessarily. I understand there are some very serious costs, but that's just a way that you could plausibly or try to frame it if you want to feel enabled and not disabled. Those are three fantastic books for the quiver. I'm just going to say that first. As far as Stoic slash civic duty, and like you said, many of these Stoics per se, if we just put aside the best known names, if we put aside Marcus Aurelius, we put aside Epictetus, we put aside Seneca and so on, you still have George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, these people are not known as Stoics, and yet they were very much informed and directed by much of Stoic philosophy. And to the extent that George Washington, I guess at Valley Forge, had the troops perform, I'm blanking on the name of the play, but it was a play about... Cato. It was Cato, right? Yeah. It was Cato to boost morale and continue the fight.
(someone): And so what I think is really interesting about stoicism, and I talk about this in the book, is when you look at it and you see that it has this—it tends to have a resurgence when times are really, really bad. So like, stoicism was very popular during the American Revolution. uh... george washington uh... read the stoics as a as a teenager at valley for she actually put on uh... a play about kato which is one of the most popular plays in the world at that time thomas jefferson died with a copy of seneca on his nightstands uh... and then during the civil war in the victorian era you saw another resurgence of stoicism so says it was big during the industrial or the The American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Renaissance. And then, you know, it was also, like, Marcus Aurelius was living in the decline and the fall of the Roman Empire. Like, it doesn't get much worse than that. And so it's basically, at its core, it's this philosophy that says, like, you don't control the world around you. You only control your response to that world. And so that's a very practical and beneficial philosophy when a lot of things are happening around you that you wish weren't happening.
Tim Ferris: No, that makes perfect sense. I can't recall how I was first introduced to Seneca specifically. I had read at some point or been forced to read, I'm sure, some excerpt of, say, Epictetus or Meditations probably in college. And as with most things you're forced to do, most likely did not find a lot of joy in it.
Tim Ferris: ten to twenty years and I have given various forms of these letters to more friends than I can count and several hundred acquaintances. I feel that strongly about it. So when people ask me what my favorite book is of all time, I say this collection of letters. The problem has been there is no good audio edition. That was the objective so I for many months now in collaboration with a Fan actually a listener and a reader John Robinson have been collaborating to put together the town of Seneca Subtitle practical letters from a stoic master three volumes, and it covers them all here's the description you The Tao of Seneca is an introduction to Stoic philosophy through the words of Seneca. Thought leaders in Silicon Valley tout the benefits of Stoicism, and I'm not just referring to me there, not referring to me at all actually, many others, and NFL management coaches and players alike have embraced it because the principles make them better competitors. Stoicism is a no-nonsense philosophical system designed to produce dramatic real-world effects. Think of it as an ideal operating system for thriving in high-stress environments. This is your guide. And you can find this on Audible. forward slash Tim's Books. That'll take you to my book club where I acquire audio rights and produce books that have had a huge impact on my life. This is at the top of the list, Tao of Seneca, number one, most impactful collection of writing on my life, period. So please check it out, forward slash Tim's Books.
Tim Ferris: The Name of the Wind, I've mentioned this before, so good. You could try another one, if that one doesn't grab you, called The Lies of Locke Lamora, L-O-C-K-E, Lamora, which is part of the Gentleman Bastards series. And it's basically written as if the author had a little black book that he carried around and wrote down the most hilarious insults he heard people saying. in like every bar for a year and then wove them into dialogue, it's fucking hysterical. And then if you want something that is also very deeply philosophical but just roriously funny, Zorba the Greek, which is a classic, is just outstanding.
(someone): I'll throw two others in there. This one's a harder read but really fun. Most egotistical author of all time is The Secret Life of Salvador Dali by Salvador Dali. The title alone should grab you and give you a sense. I keep coming back to meditations. It's such an easy book. I almost recommend everybody start there because it will change your worldview. on what you think success means.
Tim Ferris: I think that meditations is an interesting one. It didn't grab me the first time that I read it. And I feel like that type of material, the philosophical deep stuff, it's more like music than a generalizable textbook in so much as different types of music calm down different people. Some people like reggae, some people like classical, some people can listen to
(someone): really be able to process and deal with what was a total whirlwind, and still is in some ways, a whirlwind of emotions. So this is one I can recommend without hesitation to any human. On that topic a little bit, and this one is probably going to make you cry if you read it, is called When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. And this is also a little bit of a posthumous book that was a story of a professor who tragically found out he was not going to make it. And so what he did with his last bit of life, and how he acted, and his family, and everything. Beautifully, beautifully, beautifully written. Very, very special book. And finally, on the life side, this one has a funny title, but it's a really, really good book. It's called Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright. I grew up Catholic. This wasn't a book. I'm not Buddhist. I'm not becoming Buddhist. There are no plans there. But I found that this book, which takes kind of a neuroscience view of, you know, text and Buddhism, Hinduism that go back sometimes thousands of years, is really, really fascinating. And it is an interesting juxtaposition of kind of how older wisdom intersects and interacts really well with the latest findings of science and how you can apply that to your life, to quiet your monkey mind, to be able to focus. Of course, there's talk about meditation and other things that you probably heard a lot on Tim's podcast.
Tim Ferris: And then there are questions, right? And I alluded to this a second ago, and we're probably straying from the Stoics, but I feel like I've been so infused. I don't know if you've heard of any of these large trees in the Pacific Northwest that have like 30% salmon DNA from salmon being dropped off from bears and so on. They become these hybrids. I feel that's maybe too long a story to explain now, but I believe Radio Lab has a good episode on this, but the Wood Wide Web, if you want to look it up, W-O-O-D, but the point of that extremely confusing sidebar is that I feel like Stoicism from having read it and ingested it and ruminated on it and re-read it and so on over the years has kind of infused my thinking to a very large extent. So, then there are questions of, and this definitely harkens back to certainly some of the moral letters to Leukelius if we want to cite some of the sources,
(someone): Which he wrote in difficult times. You know, at the end of his career, he was threatened by a tyrant. He wasn't writing this in a fun, joyful vacation.
Tim Ferris: No, no, he wasn't. And that's Molly. Molly's my dog, who's in the habit of going apeshit these days. Molly, you feeling stressed because of coronavirus? I know. She's actually pretty stoked to have her humans home.
Tim Ferris: And I think the internet has enabled a lot of things, including the dominance of the noise that is just bitching and moaning without any clear proposal for solutions. So, I have been spending the majority of my time reinforcing, particularly politicians who are in the game. Everyone's playing a game. Sure. You and I are playing games, and we all play games. There are rules, there are stakes, there are rewards, sometimes there are punishments. And step number one is figuring out what game or games you are playing. And one of the games politicians play is re-election. And so you have to think about if you want to persuade someone who is playing that game, or just persuade, but to collaborate in some way or enable someone who is playing that game, you have to think about the incentives at play. And to that end, I've been trying to support people who are making good decisions, even if they are late.
(someone): Yeah.
Tim Ferris: if they are better late than never decisions. And that's coming from someone who, I mean, has had a lifetime of anger. So, I do think certainly the Stoic philosophies and philosophers and writing has had a tremendous impact on my intellectual understanding of why anger can be counterproductive, but it's really been getting on the playing field and trying to get shit done that has reinforced how imperative it is from a practical perspective. It's one thing to understand logically why anger is counterproductive, and it's quite another
(someone): Actually in the middle of writing a short book myself with a collaborator on it. And I'll say more about that when that book is further along. So yeah, read Bostrom's book. It's a little dense for the uninitiated, but it really repays study. There's a writer, William Ian Miller, who I think is unfairly neglected. He writes some fascinating books. Several have been on negative emotions. One book is entitled Humiliation, which was a great read just on the phenomenon of being humiliated and differentiating it from embarrassment and other similar emotions. And he also wrote a book on disgust called The Anatomy of Disgust, which is also fun. These are very interdisciplinary books. He is a lawyer, I believe, or professor of law, but he goes deep into the relevant sociology, and these are cool books. I suspect many of you want recommendations on books about meditation and spiritual experience. You know, there's no book out there that is free of the superstition and religiosity you tend to get with books about Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta, the Hindu teachings of non-duality. And so I can't really recommend those books without caveat. I wrote the book that I think needed to exist, Waking Up, which was my last book. I am reluctant to include my own book in a list of books everyone should read, however, but there was a reason why I wrote that book because there was really no book I could point rational people, students of science, critics of religious mumbo-jumbo with a clear conscience.
Tim Ferris: I had read at some point or been forced to read, I'm sure, some excerpt of, say, Epictetus or Meditations probably in college. And as with most things you're forced to do, most likely did not find a lot of joy in it. But Seneca really grabbed me. And I don't want to go into a long story of why that's the case. But So you have this, let's just call it the trifecta of stoicism or the big three, right? You have Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca. It seems like Marcus is primarily your guy. I don't know, but I've been very curious to see how different people resonate with different Stoic thinkers and I'm curious. Yeah number one who your primary influences and secondly Why you think that is and why you how you think different people are attracted to different? stoic thinkers
(someone): Sure. Well, it's interesting, too, about philosophy. Most people are never forced to read the Stoics because professors don't like them as much because there's not as much room for interpretation. It's pretty straightforward. And I think that's why you like Seneca. I like him as well. He says these very timeless, eminently practical truths in a straightforward, clear way. And they talk about, they talk about it in the context of, like, our actual problems. Like, they talk about, hey, like, you know, Seneca will be writing a letter.
Tim Ferris: So who is Ryan? Ryan Holiday, on Twitter and Instagram, at Ryan Holiday, is one of the world's foremost thinkers and writers on ancient philosophy and its place in modern life. He is a sought-after speaker and strategist, and the author of many best-selling books, including The Obstacle is the Way, which I loved so much. I was the producer of the audiobook, The Obstacle is Away, Ego is the Enemy, and The Daily Stoic. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages. His books have also been used by some of the top performing sports coaches in the world, many, many names you would recognize. also in the military, and have sold close to 3 million copies worldwide. He lives with his family outside of Austin, Texas. You can subscribe to receive his writing at and Ryan has also been a popular guest poster or guest author on my blog, and you can find a number of those, including Stoicism 101. a practical guide for entrepreneurs on Just search his name, Ryan Holiday, and it will pop right up. He was also the fourth ever guest on this podcast in the very beginning, many years ago. His latest book is Stillness is the Key, which was an instant number one New York Times bestseller and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Please enjoy.
(someone): All right, so I was thinking, so we last talked podcast related in January, and man, life comes at you fast.
Tim Ferris: I don't think, yeah. The three great correctors of human population, war,
(someone): Yeah, so when I sat down to write the book, I totally empathize with that. No one wakes up and says, like, hey, I need philosophy. They say, you know, I have this problem and I need a solution to this problem. Well, it turns out that historically that's what philosophy actually was for, specifically stoicism. There's a great quote from from Henry David Thoreau where he says like, you know, to be a philosopher is not about like having subtle thoughts or founding a school, it's about solving the problems of life, not theoretically, but practically. And I think the Stoics understood that much earlier, you know, like 2,000 years ago. Cato, who you've written about, was considered to be a philosopher, but not because he wrote anything down, but because of how he lived his life. Socrates didn't write anything down. Epictetus, we only have his lessons because a student of his wrote them down as notes. And Marcus Aurelius is like, he wanted to be a philosopher, but he was in line for the throne, and so he had to mix his philosophy with being the most powerful man in the world. And so what I think is really interesting about stoicism, and I talk about this in the book, is when you look at it and you see that it has this—it tends to have a resurgence when times are really, really bad. So like, stoicism was very popular during the American Revolution.
Tim Ferris: Stoicism is a productivity system. I talked about this because I think it's so important that Not to be brainwashed into looking at everything with rose-colored glasses because it is not always a constructive exercise. In fact, it can very much be the opposite. One of the primary reasons that I'm fasting right now, I'm eight days into a target of 10. I'm a little woozy today, but all things mostly manageable. I'm also, this is what I haven't mentioned to you, also unshaven, also wearing mostly the same clothing, pants, jacket, etc., all week long. The reason for that is actually in your What you just said reminded me a lot of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, which were the Emperor of Rome's wartime journal, never intended for publication, but it would always start with, like, today you are going to meet rude, ungrateful, arrogant people, and this is how you're going to contend with it. And it was – it seems very depressing until you realize that he was setting a – you creating a mindset that could deal with those worst case scenarios if they presented themselves. And similarly, Seneca is a very controversial Stoic, but nonetheless my favorite to read. And I have a huge, like 30 hours of audio coming out related to Seneca shortly. But one of my favorite passages from Seneca is one that reads, and I'm going to massacre this, but it's paraphrased.
Tim Ferris: Or both. So those would be a few that come to mind. And, you know, last but not least, I would say one way you can help is commit to be constructive and consider perhaps experimenting, and I'm considering doing this myself because I think right now it could be particularly valuable, something like the 21 Day No Complaint Experiment that Will Bowen, B-O-W-E-N, wrote about long ago in, I believe it was his first book. But this, if you just search 21 Day No Complaint Experiment, it'll come right up. I do feel like complaining is easy, it's in vogue, it's seductive, it is reinforced socially, and it, for me at least, is utterly counterproductive. I think that complaining and anger are similar in the sense, and I can't recall the attribution for this, but that there's an expression as it relates to anger that a vessel that holds acid is damaged more than anything it pours acid upon. And if you are the vessel for anger or complaining, I think it does more damage to you than that which you point it at. For that reason, if you want to improve or maintain or improve your health, your well-being, and your ability to function as a contributor in society, I think a no complaint experiment goes a long way. And by the way, if you address complaining, which is easier to identify and measure sometimes than anger, there is a very significant carryover effect into decreasing anger. Very, very large carryover effect. So those would be a few things that come to mind as possible actions people could take.
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