The Stoic Reading List: 6 Must-Read Books To Get You Started
Before we start our countdown, let’s answer the obvious question.
- What is Stoicism?
I’m not going to get into details now but in simple terms, it is a practical guide on
- how to live a good life.
- how to deal with ups and downs of life
- how to make right decisions.
- how to think wisely without biases.
- how to live a high conscious life.
Basically, it is the pinnacle of self-development work.
Today’s article is about my personal book recommendations for complete beginner Stoic students. I’ll also briefly summarize the books so that you can get a feel for what you are getting into.
We are going to be using the Pareto’s principle to find as few amounts of books that will give the highest amount of wisdom and knowledge to beginners.
If you are completely new to Stoicism, you can’t do any better than these books. I don’t like when people make “top 50 books on …” type of lists for beginners.
You should streamline the process and make it easy for beginners to get into a field. By giving so much options, you are just paralyzing them.
The key here is for you to pick the essential ones and start your education now.
Without further ado, here is the essence of Stoicism.
1- The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday
You can get the book here: The Obstacle is The Way
This book was my introduction to Stoicism. It is probably one of the best books you can start your education with as well.
For what it’s worth, it is quite comprehensive and practical. Ryan Holiday is also one of the most influential authors on Stoicism. Lot of people got into Stoicism thanks to this book, myself included.
So the main theme of the book is handling problems, obstacles and setbacks.
What do you do when you are faced with an unexpected setback?
What do you do when something you really want to happen one way doesn’t go your way?
What do you do when outside forces you into a situation you can’t do anything about?
I’m not just talking about common problems like losing all important data after your PC dies. I’m also not talking about getting rejected after asking out a beautiful woman. These are not actual problems. They are certainly important and should be dealt with. But these are luxury problems. First world problems.
I’ll tell you about someone who had a real problem.
Rubin Hurricane Carter.
Rubin was a famous boxer who was sentenced to prison after getting framed for a crime he didn’t commit. It was a life sentence. At the time, Carter couldn’t do anything about it. His life was crumbled to dust in one night. All his plans – whoosh! – GONE.
When he landed inside the prison cell, he could’ve give in. He could’ve hated on these people who ended his life. He could’ve given up on life and killed himself right then and there. But no. That’s not what Carter did. That’s not how Stoicism works.
Carter wasn’t emotionally confused. On the contrary, he was at peace. He decided to learn more about law in prison. He devoured all the books of the prison library. He was going to man up and solve his problems.
And guess what?
After educating himself on law, after years of hard work, he won the trail and re-gained his freedom.
Now if you still think you have a problem you can’t solve, just remember Carter’s story. Stop whining about this or that – take action and solve your problems.
Don’t tell me about your problems. Go and solve it. Simple as that.
Carter did something very few people can do. And he did it with Stoicism – maybe the greatest self development guide there is.
If you haven’t read this classic from Ryan – The Obstacle Is The Way – then you better do so now.
You can get the book here: The Obstacle is The Way
2- Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday
You can get the book here: The Ego Is The Enemy
Another classic again from Ryan. Ego is the enemy particularly speaks to risk takers, to people who have high ambitions. So wantrepreneurs. Listen up!
In our lives, we tend to go through 3 main phases.
- We aspire
- We succeed
- We fail
Ego is there every step of the way with its individual symptoms. Here are some examples.
When we aspire to do something, we tend to think too highly of ourselves. We don’t want to do work for free to gain experience. We want success now. We want money now. But we forget something. Without experience and tangible skills, your vision is just a dream. So stay humble. Keep learning. Gain skills. Let other people chase success pre-maturely. You are smarter than that.
When we fail, we tend to blame ourselves, get discouraged and underestimate our abilities to achieve. We lower our standards and throw in the towel. Remember: You are never as good or as bad as you think you are. You may have fell down today. But you at least showed the courage to take action. Most people can’t even do that. Stand up and try again. Tomorrow is a new day.
When we succeed, we tend to let it go over our head. We start to take uncalculated risks. We don’t value the things we have. We stop learning and improving ourselves. Especially as adults, we no longer have the curiosity that young children have.
Because we think we already figured out life. We already know everything. We are already making a living from our 9-to-5 job. Why bother starting a business? We become complacent. We lose our drive and take it easy.
When you lose your drive to pursue your life’s purpose, success becomes a double-edged sword.
Ego Is The Enemy expands on these ideas, gives many examples and teaches you how to handle your ego. A must read to any Stoic student.
You can get the book here: The Ego Is The Enemy
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Do you want to stop suffering and enjoy life regardless of the circumstances?
If so, my free daily email course will teach you deep meditation work and mind training - integrating buddhist and stoic wisdom - to help you cultivate permanent happiness in your life.
3- The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
This book is one of the most practical Stoicism books out there. It is structured in 12 chapters as in 12 months of a year. You meant to read one page a day.
I read this book everyday before I start with my day. I read couple of pages and start my morning routine.
The content is easy to grasp. First there is a stoic quote that sets the tone of the topic and then Ryan elaborates on it and gives easy to understand practical examples to help you take action on it.
The book is very in-depth. And it is well worth your time. It is one of those breadth over depth kind of books. You keep coming back to it. You take your time. Contemplate.
Think of it as a stoic guide you can read every day and add wisdom and inspiration to your life.
You can get the book here: The Daily Stoic
4- Moral Letters To Lucilius – Selected Letters of Seneca
Seneca is one of my favourite Stoic philosophers because he not only helps you to mitigate the effects of less than stellar situations but also does this in a pragmatic way.
You don’t have to neutralize bad events, you can make them a positive. You can learn from pain, frustration and boredom. As long as you keep living, there is always an opportunity to find.
These are moral bite-sized letters Seneca wrote to his friend, Lucillius. Great for quick morning readings. The best translation of the book is Fantham’s. It has the originality and the modernity. It is much better than the Penguin version.
5- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
What would happen if the greatest and the most powerful man in Rome were to have a pep talk with himself?
MEDITATIONS is the diary of Marcus Aurelius, one of the last good emperors. Few ancient works have been as influential as the MEDITATIONS of Marcus Aurelius.
A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behaviour, it remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written.
Marcus’s insights and advice – on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others – have made the MEDITATIONS required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations of ordinary readers have responded to the straightforward intimacy of his style.
Get the Gregory Hays translation of the book.
6- Enchiridon by Epictetus
I love this book so much that I made an analysis of Enchiridion on my blog.
“No man is free who is not master of himself.”
The Enchiridion or ‘Manual’ of Epictetus is a short but powerful book of Stoic ethical advice from the 2nd-century Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus. The focus is on applying philosophy in daily life. The primary theme is that one should accept what happens.
‘The Manual’ has played a significant role in the rise of modern attitudes. Montaigne had a copy of The Enchiridion among his books. Frederick the Great carried the book with him on all campaigns. It has been studied and widely quoted by Scottish philosophers like Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and Adam Ferguson who valued Stoic moral philosophy for its reconciliation of social dependency and personal independence.
You can get the book here: The Enchiridion
The Enchiridion, along with the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca’s Letters From A Stoic, is one of three key texts from which the modern world knows Stoicism.
If you liked this article, you might also like these:
- My Ultimate Vision For You: Why Stoic Leaders exists?
- Stoicism on Wisdom: You Don’t Have Problems
- Stoic Book Review: Ego is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday
- Stoicism Training With Epictetus
- Stoicism on Wisdom: Don’t Rationalize Irrational Behaviour
- Stoicism on Morality: Consequentialism and Virtue Ethics
- Stoicism on Courage: How to Develop Self Esteem?
- What is Stoicism? A Definition and 3 Stoic Exercises To Get You Started
- Negative Visualization: An Ancient Stoic Technique For Creating Happiness