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Which Stoic Books to Read First: The Definitive Guide

When it comes to which stoic books to read first, there is a lot of debate throughout the stoic community.

Books are highly subjective, and there is never going to be a general consensus on what the best stoic books for beginners are.

Saying this, there are three books that stand out as excellent picks for beginners that will introduce you to the philosophy of stoicism in an easy yet effective way, and we are going to be taking you through our top choices in this article.

Here’s Which Stoic Books to Read First

To save your time, we are going to let you in on the three best stoic books straight away.

Our top three choices for the best stoics books for beginners are Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Letters From a Stoic by Seneca, and Discourses and Selected Writings by Epictetus.

We will go more in-depth and cover all of these books fully in the upcoming sections of this article, but all you need to know is that these three books are the easiest stoic books to read and will also tell you everything you need to know to pick up the philosophy of stoicism.

Now that that’s out the way; let’s take a look at Meditations, Letters From a Stoic, and Discourses and Selected Writings.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

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First up, we have Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. For all intents and purposes, this is THE stoics book, and it is the one that you likely want to start with if you are brand new to stoicism.

Meditations was written by the emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, during one of the most trying times in history.

Throughout his posting, Marcus Aurelius faced war, famine, and even one of the worst diseases in Europe.

This makes the remarks in Meditations impact the reader to a noticeable degree, as you know they are written by a man who has been tried and tested.

That all goes without factoring in the fact that Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of Rome and held one of the most stressful positions in the world.

However, in spite of the fact that Marcus Aurelius was one of the most powerful men in the world, Meditations is surprisingly relatable.

This is partly due to the fact that Meditations was not ever intended to be a book in the first place. instead, it was simply a journal that helped Marcus Aurelius cope with the troubles of everyday life.

This gives Meditations a special feel, as it feels like Marcus is having a discussion with himself rather than trying to sell someone on a philosophy.

On top of all of this, Meditations is just a great stoic book altogether. It is beautifully written, easy to understand, and contains almost all of the main ideas of stoicism.

No description can do Meditations justice, and in reality, you just have to give it a read yourself. For many people, Meditations is considered to be the best stoic book to have ever existed.

Letters From a Stoic – Seneca

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If you are looking at which stoic books to read first in an attempt to ween yourself into the philosophy because you are a little unsure about some of the ideas it presents, then Letters from a Stoic by Seneca would be a perfect fit.

This series of writings showcases Seneca’s letters to a friend whereby he gives him advice on a wide range of topics, and because of this, it has a much rounder edge than most other stoic content.

That’s not to say that Letters From a Stoic is in some way inferior to other stoic texts by any means – all of the same ideas are on display.

Letters From a Stoic can just seem a little more inviting to people who are unfamiliar with stoicism, and this makes it a great place to start.

You will still be able to get an in-depth look at what the philosophy entails, including the uncomfortable truths that scare many people away.

Either way; Letters From a Stoic is a fantastic piece of stoic history, and it is one of the best choices for people who are brand new to stoicism.

Discourses and Selected Writings – Epictetus

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Last but certainly not least, we have Discourses and Selected Writings by Epictetus.

One of the most interesting facts about Epictetus is that he was a slave for most of his life, meaning most of the lessons he learned were through actual experience and hardship rather than a textbook.

This gives Discourses and Selected Writings more weight than most other stoic writings, as it shows that stoicism can even help people in some of the worst situations.

However, it is worth noting that Discourses and Selected Writings is a little more blunt than other stoic writings.

Because of Epictetus’ experiences, he cares very little about sugar-coating the truth, resulting in a series of writings that can seem a little brutal at times.

This is to be expected – anyone who was a slave for half their life would have little time for pleasantries.

Although, this means that Epictetus’ work might not be the best stoic book for those of you who are already a little reluctant to get into stoicism.

Saying this; it still does a great job of explaining all of the stoic tenants in an easy to understand manner, and if you want to learn about stoicism from someone who has been through some of the worst experiences in this world, then reading Discourses and Selected Writings by Epictetus is a must.

Which Stoic Books To Read First – FAQ

What Stoicism book should I read first?

For those embarking on the journey into Stoicism, a good starting point is often “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius. This ancient philosophical work encapsulates the thoughts of the Roman emperor and provides valuable insights into Stoic principles, addressing themes such as the shortness of life and the pursuit of the good life.

Gregory Hays’ translation of “Meditations” is particularly praised for its clarity and accessibility, making it a great entry point for modern readers.

Should I read Seneca or Epictetus first?

If you are considering diving into the works of specific Stoic philosophers, Seneca and Epictetus are excellent choices. Seneca’s “Letters from a Stoic,” also known as “Moral Letters,” is a collection of philosophical letters that offer practical guidance on living a virtuous life. It touches upon themes such as the shortness of life and provides a philosophical regimen for navigating challenges.

On the other hand, Epictetus’ “Discourses” and “Enchiridion” offer a systematic approach to Stoic teachings. His emphasis on focusing on what is within our control and cultivating inner resilience aligns well with modern Stoicism.

What is the first Stoicism book to read Reddit?

In the context of Reddit discussions on where to start with Stoicism, “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius is often recommended as the first Stoicism book to read. This recommendation is grounded in the book’s universal themes that resonate across time and cultures, making it a valuable resource for those seeking to apply Stoic principles in their lives today.

What is the modern perspective on stoicism?

For those interested in modern perspectives on Stoicism, exploring the works of contemporary authors who interpret ancient philosophy in a relevant context can be fruitful. Some notable modern books include “A Guide to the Good Life” by William B. Irvine and “Stoicism and the Art of Happiness” by Donald Robertson. These authors bridge the gap between ancient philosophy and the challenges of the modern world, offering insights on how Stoicism can contribute to a good life today.

It’s worth noting that Vice Admiral James Stockdale, a prominent figure who applied Stoic principles during his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, found solace in the teachings of Epictetus. His thoughts on Stoicism can be explored in “Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot,” emphasizing the enduring relevance of Stoic philosophy, even in the face of extreme adversity.

We hope this article will be of some use to you. Stoicism is an incredible philosophy; it can change your entire perspective on life.

Because of the fact that stoic ideas are so different from what is widespread across general society, it can be a little jarring to get into. At first, you may even find stoicism to be a little depressing.

However, you will quickly begin to realise just how powerful stoic philosophy can be once you delve into it, and your only wish will be that you discovered it sooner.

As a side note, it might be worth checking out the Daily Stoic book as well as the Daily Stoic reading list if you are new to stoicism and are looking for a great way to get in.

We are not affiliated with the Daily Stoic in any way – it’s just a great resource that is run extremely well by Ryan Holiday, perhaps the most significant stoic figure in the 21st century.

You might also want to check out our other content on MovingForwards if you are looking to get more familiar with stoicism.

The fact that you searched for “which stoic books to read first” just goes to show that you desire change and are ready to delve into stoicism.

So, as the stoics would say, it’s time to actually take action and get a stoic book to begin your journey.

Good luck.

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