Holiday and Hanselman (coauthors of The Daily Stoic) explain in this stellar work the implications of Stoic dedications to truth, wisdom, resilience, and character. The authors present the work as a series of biographies of philosophers and ground each of the 26 profiles in the virtues of courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom that Stoics believes necessary to living a happy life. They distinguish “pen and ink philosophers” (more concerned with writing than living) from the Stoics, whose central tenet is summed up best by Marcus Aurelius’s: “Do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.” Including profiles of Stoics who were boxers, slaves, failed merchants, Roman senators, and occasionally “iron” women, each chapter provides a brief historical context before exploring the challenges of seeking a humble life in the Stoic fashion. Rather than offering prescriptive practices, the authors believe one can “learn more from the Stoics’ lived experiences (their works) than we can from their philosophical writings (their words)”: Cynic philosopher Crates of Thebes taught Zeno to learn from humiliation; Cleanthes of Assos, a middle-aged water boy, preached stoicism at night in the streets; Chrysippius, a long-distance runner, stressed the value of meritocracy over the misjudgments of social position. This illuminating collection of biographies makes great use of Stoic wisdom to demonstrate the tradition’s values for any reader interested in ancient philosophy. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"Whether you're a general or a gardener, a stockbroker or a senator, there is much to learn from Ryan Holiday’s excellent Lives of the Stoics."
Senator Ben Sasse
"There is philosophy for school and philosophy for life. This book is about the lives of men and women who lived their words and shows you how to do the same."
Thomas Tull, founder of Legendary Entertainment
"The Stoics were more than just thinkers. They were athletes and generals and emperors and husbands and daughters and parents. This is a wonderful book that shows you the lives behind the philosophers whose words have shaped the world."
Chris Bosh, 2x NBA Champion
“In story after page-turning story, Lives of the Stoics brings ancient philosophers to life. And that is exactly what they would have wanted, because Stoicism is not a thought experiment but rather a guide for living. Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman show us how the masters succeeded — and sometimes failed — at turning theory into practice."
David Epstein, New York Times bestselling author of Range
“In a time of pandemic and economic turmoil, we are all asked to be stoic. Lives of the Stoics is a great place to begin. It entertainingly, and yet thoughtfully, introduces us to the philosophers – and mere human beings – who shaped ideas that guide us over 2,000 years later. A great read, particularly for a tough time.”
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, author of Team of Teams
“Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman have achieved something remarkable with Lives of the Stoics. It's a gift to the many of us today who are searching for inspiration and sense a deep connection with the thought of Zeno, Cato, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. At last the story we needed has been told!”
Donald Robertson, author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor
“Holiday and Hanselman (coauthors of The Daily Stoic) explain in this stellar work the implications of Stoic dedications to truth, wisdom, resilience, and character...This illuminating collection of biographies makes great use of Stoic wisdom to demonstrate the tradition’s values for any reader interested in ancient philosophy.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An introductory guide to the luminaries of Greco-Roman ethical philosophy….Thoughtfully complicates Stoicism. Rather than emphasizing Spock-like, unemotional rigor (as pop culture often does), the authors reveal how the philosophy often debated its identity.…At a time when public nobility is hard to come by, this is a good reminder of the power of ethical leadership.”
An introductory guide to the luminaries of Greco-Roman ethical philosophy—and their checkered histories.
Stoicism is famously prescriptive: Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is cherished for its aphoristic guidance on virtue and leadership, and Epictetus’ best-known work, Encheiridion, loosely translates to “handbook.” But Holiday and Hanselman, founders of the website the Daily Stoic, avoid a strict how-to approach, instead structuring the book as chronologically arranged pocket biographies of Stoic figures, from Zeno, a merchant who founded the school in Athens in the fourth century B.C.E., to Aurelius, who applied its tenets of calm resilience as Roman emperor in the second century C.E. The approach means there are many filler chapters on lesser-known thinkers like Panaetius, Porcia Cato (a rare woman Stoic), and Thrasea. (Some seem extraneous. The authors have little to say about Diotimus, who wrote some libelous letters. Bad form, but what of it?) The upside of their approach is that it thoughtfully complicates Stoicism. Rather than emphasizing Spock-like, unemotional rigor (as pop culture often does), the authors reveal how the philosophy often debated its identity and how many of the leaders fell short of its ideals. Cicero, for instance, gained fame as a statesman but ran aground thanks to his reputation for self-aggrandizement; Seneca’s seriousness gave him the thankless task of serving as counsel to Nero, who used him as cover for his own despicable actions as Roman emperor. Still, the authors see Stoicism as inherently inspirational, and there are plenty of examples, from corruption-fighters like Publius Rutilius Rufus to Epictetus, who rose from slavery to become a much-admired thinker. The finest Stoics, they write, were “able to focus in even the most distracting of situations, to be able to tune out anything and everything—even creeping death—so that we lock in on what matters.”
At a time when public nobility is hard to come by, this is a good reminder of the power of ethical leadership.