The Essential Stoic Bookshelf: 9 Modern Favorites

Whether you are discovering Stoicism for the first time, or are a long time student looking to dive deeper into the philosophy, finding the right books can be difficult. In order to create a list of essential books, we posed a question to the community: what modern books on Stoicism have had the biggest impact on your life? Of the dozens of responses we received, 9 books clearly stood out with repeated mentions and praise.

While by no means exhaustive of the modern Stoic canon, the books below have proven most popular and influential on the modern Stoic community, and all deserve a place on your Stoic bookshelf.

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1. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

Why it's essential: Perhaps the best-known introduction to Stoic philosophy, Guide to the Good Life is an immensely readable, jargon-free guide to Stoicism as a practical life philosophy.

Covering a wide range of wisdom and techniques, Irvine lays out a modern framework with the goal of attaining tranquility and joy in life. While some traditionalists have criticized the book as re-interpreting certain principles, Irvine himself points out that the Stoicism is anything but static dogma. For those interested in Stoic philosophy, Guide to the Good Life is the place to start. It's truly a modern classic.

2. Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson

Why it's essential: Drawing from the wisdom of the ancient Stoic philosophers, Donald Robertson's Stoicism and the Art of Happiness is one of the most in-depth "how-to" guides for implementing Stoicism into daily life.

Utilizing his background as a CBT therapist, Robertson includes a variety of exercises based on modern behavioral research, while never losing sight of the traditional practices and teachings of his Greek and Roman Stoic predecessors.

3. The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

Why it's essential: Found on the bookshelves of everyone from entrepreneurs to professional athletes, Ryan Holiday's bestselling The Obstacle is the Way presents Stoic philosophy as a no-nonsense set of tactics for dealing with adversity and increasing mental toughness. Holiday illustrates these techniques through a variety of historical examples, recounting stories of figures who embodied Stoic ideals to triumph over personal and professional challenges.

A more energetic introduction than Guide to the Good Life, those looking to build a powerful arsenal of Stoic techniques will find Obstacle the perfect playbook.

4. Stoicism Today: Selected Writings edited by Patrick Ussher

Why it's essential: One of the most unique and enlightening reads on modern Stoic practice, Stoicism Today is a collection of essays from people across the world who have incorporated Stoic philosophy into their lives.

The variety of viewpoints makes the collection instantly relatable, and many of the writings show Stoicism's power in helping people find joy, tranquility, and in overcoming even the most difficult situations in life.

5. The Art of Living by Epictetus, Interpreted by Sharon Lebell

Why it's essential: While not a modern work per se, Sharon Lebell's interpretation of Epictetus' Handbook is a great read for those looking for a quick and effective dose of Stoic wisdom.

Written in modern, colloquial language, each page of The Art of Living employs a single directive, followed by (sometimes liberal) interpretations of Epictetus' timeless advice on living well. Lebell has crafted a great update for those looking for an uplifting read to keep on the bedside table.

6. The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics edited by Brad Inwood

Why it's essential: While on the academic spectrum of Stoic literature, The Cambridge Companion is still an accessible read for those looking for a complete overview of Stoic ethics and thought.

A collection of articles written by philosophers and scholars, Inwood presents Stoicism from fresh and interesting perspectives.


7. A New Stoicism by Lawrence C. Becker

Why it's essential: Though Becker's treatise on Stoic ethics is admittedly more dense than the above titles, his defense of traditional Stoic ethics as a structure for living well in the modern world makes for a fascinating read.

Written through the lens of modern science and psychology, A New Stoicism may not be a casual introduction, but its nonetheless great for those looking to enhance their understand of Stoic ethics and logic.

8. The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius by Pierre Hadot

Why it's essential: The most complete analysis of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, renowned historian Pierra Hadot's The Inner Citadel is groundbreaking in it's presentation of Meditations not as simply one man's philosophical musings, but as a coherent set of philosophical ideas that could be applied to every facet of life.

Though scholarly in nature, it's an important work for those diving into the intricacies of Stoic thought and history.

9. Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior by James B. Stockdale

Why it's essential: While more of an essay than book, Admiral James B. Stockdale's Courage Under Fire recounts his harrowing journey as a POW during the Vietnam. A longtime admirer of Epictetus, Stockdale credits his survival through 7 years of imprisonment and torture to the timeless principles of Stoic philosophy.

There is perhaps no better example of Stoicism's practical use for dealing with even the most severe trials and tribulations of life than Stockdale's story of strength and survival.

Closing thoughts

While the books mentioned above have been the most impactful, this list is by no means comprehensive. With the popularity of Stoicism rising in modern culture, we're bound to see more books released in the coming years. If you're interested in learning about the historical background of Stoicism, as well as finding some more deep cuts, Professor Massimo Pigliucci has a great list over at his blog How to be a Stoic.

Also look for Massimo's new book How to be A Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Lifedue for release in April 2017.

How many of the above books have you read? Did we miss anything? Let us know!

Featured Download: Get your free copy of our new ebook "The Art of Stoic Perception: 24 Ancient Techniques for Creating an Unconquerable Mind" (Click to get access).