Best Stoicism Books

Best Stoicism Books


In 2023, I had the privilege to speak to my colleagues about Stoicism, a philosophy that radically changed my life.

In this article, we'll introduce Stoicism and explore some of the most crucial books you should pick up if you're interested in learning more about it.

What is Stoicism?

Stoicism is a philosophy of life — a collection of mental frameworks, strategies, and ideas aimed at improving our lives and making us better members of society. It emerged in ancient Greece and surged in popularity multiple times throughout history, including more recently in our modern era. Today, many across the globe would call themselves Stoics.

Definition of Stoicism

Stoics do not pursue achievement, fame, or wealth. Instead, they strive to attain tranquility.

In the following sections, I'll attempt to sum up the key tenets of Stoicism.

Stoicism Is Not the Same as Being Stoic

A Stoic, a practitioner of Stoicism, shouldn't be confused with the modern term stoic, which colloquially describes a person who suppresses emotions and feelings, numbing themselves to the outside world.

Many would assume that people who adhere to Stoicism are emotionally repressed. At first, I also made this assumption and, not wishing for a life of numbness, I was resistant to learning about the philosophy. Fortunately, I quickly caught up to the real meaning of Stoicism.

The goal of the Stoics was not to banish emotion from life but to banish negative emotions.

- William B Irvine

The Virtues of Stoicism

Key to Stoicism is the idea of virtues, which should drive and inform our decisions. Becoming virtuous (having attained the virtues) is a lifelong endeavor, where the goal should be aligning our actions to the virtues as much as possible, but acknowledging that perfection is unattainable.

The virtues of Stoicism include:

  1. Courage — taking action in the face of failure, reminding ourselves that being courageous doesn't mean not being scared. Rather, it means acting despite being scared.
  2. Justice — doing the right thing (in many situations, we know what the right thing to do is).
  3. Temperance.
  4. Wisdom.

These virtues helped me navigate difficult decisions in my life, leading me to feel internally at peace with my actions, despite many of them being difficult to confront in the moment.

Dichotomy of Control

The Stoics continuously assessed the events in their lives, sorting them into two buckets:

  1. What is not up to me — to these, they would pay no attention.
  2. What is up to me — these they would focus on.

Dichotomy of ControlFor instance, these are the thoughts of a Stoic who might sign up for a Tennis tournament:

I will not focus on whether I win or lose, as that's not up to me. Too many outside variables determine that. For example, I can't control how skilled my opponents are.

I will instead focus on training hard, going to be early the day before the tournament, and making sure I'm well fed and hydrated, as all of these things are in my control.

This mental framework can help us eradicate many frustrations directed at things outside our control — events that commonly make us feel like life is unfair. Crucially, it helps us focus our energies on what's in our control.

Dichotomy of control has single-handedly altered how I look at life. By focusing on what's in my control, I freed up lots of time and mental energy to focus on what I care about in life.


Accepting that things happen as they do, rather than how we wish, is a crucial component of Stoicism.

Fatalism in Stoicism

By letting go of the past and the present — both of which are, at this point, out of our control — we can shed burdens, regrets, and resentments that we had been carrying throughout our lives.

In Greek mythology, the Fates were divine beings who personified the birth, life, and death of humankind. According to the ancient Greeks, the actions of humans were predestined. The Stoics understood that the Fates spun their destiny; since fate was a product of the Gods, they learned to embrace it, even love it, rather than resent it.

Negative Visualization

A Stoic regularly takes time to fantasize, often in the form of journaling, of losing the things that are dearest to them. This aims to help us appreciate what we have and ground us at the moment, and it's also an effective measure against Hedonic Adaptation.


Negative visualization teaches us that, although we can enjoy things in life, we should not become attached or dependent on them, in pursuit of banishing any negative emotion that may come from losing them.

You might find a Stoic depriving themselves of simple pleasure, such as a warm coat on a winter day so that when they return home, they will enjoy the warmth more than a rich person would enjoy a luxurious day in the spa.

Although I haven't gone far enough to deprive myself of necessities in pursuit of clarity and gratitude, (and many "moderate" Stoics wouldn't either), I instead often meditate on what it would mean to lose what's most dear to me. This exercise has made me feel extremely grateful for the simpler things in life and for my amazing friends and family.

What Are the Best Stoicism Books?

Ancient Greece and Rome, particularly Athens, were home to many schools of philosophy. Amongst these was the school of Stoicism, founded by Zeno of Citium.

In ancient times, Greek and Roman families could send their children to these schools (and the parents might have also joined). Unfortunately, these schools no longer exist. Reading books on Stoicism, both ancient and modern, is the most effective way to learn about Stoicism and gain depth and understanding of the philosophy. Luckily, there are many books to pick from.

(There are also excellent online resources such as Ryan Holiday's Daily Stoic newsletter and YouTube channel).

Let's explore some of the best books on Stoicism.


Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor who served from 161 to 180 AD, during a period of relative peace and stability throughout the empire. He is the author of one of the primary texts on Stoicism, Meditations.

Meditations (Gregory Hays translation)

Marcus Aurelius is best known for:

  1. Guiding the Roman empire through the Antonine Plague, a pandemic that ultimately caused his death.
  2. Facing the Parthian and Germanic Wars.
  3. His contributions to the philosophy of Stoicism.

Even though Marcus Aurelius lived centuries after the birth of Stoicism, he is seen as one of the major contributors to Stoic philosophy, while simultaneously holding a position of extreme power and responsibility.

Marcus showed a deep understanding and embodiment of Stoic virtues. For instance, when he realized that the Roman treasuries were depleted and could not sustain war, he decided to auction the contents of the imperial palace, including furnishings, works of art, luxury items collected by earlier emperors, and even the finest clothes from his wife's collection. In this decision, he displayed a sense of moral duty, selflessness, and detachment from material possessions.

Meditations is a collection of writings believed to have been his private journal, in which he encapsulates his life lessons, reflections on human nature, and practical, timeless advice that is still relevant today. It is a must-read for anyone interested in Stoicism.

Despite Latin being the official language in Rome, Greek was still seen as the language of scholars, and especially Philosophers. For this reason, Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations in Greek. The text has been translated into English many times throughout history, with some versions using archaic and outdated language that is difficult to follow.

I recommend Gregory Hay's 2002 translation, which provides an accessible and modern version of the text.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

William B. Irvine is a professor of Philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. His book, A Guide to the Good Life, was my first introduction to Stoicism and hooked me from the first page.

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The book begins by pointing out that most people live without a Philosophy of life. Their actions, desires, and ambitions might be driven by what other people expect of them, what they think they should want, or the mere pursuit of pleasure. He explains that adopting any Philosophy of life, Stoicism or other, can bring clarity and focus to our lives.

Irving chose Stoicism for the same reason as I did: its main objective, through its virtues, principles, and mental frameworks, is ultimately to live a good life — hence the book's title. Irving reminds us that, even though Stoics were interested in studying adjacent subjects such as Logic and Physics, they did this insofar as it would help them live a good life.

A Guide to the Good Life is a modern, accessible text that summarizes Stoicism's history, contextualizes it amongst other Philosophies born in ancient Athens, and offers invaluable practical advice on navigating hardship in life through the Stoicism concepts we explored earlier in the article. Irving touches on topics such as seeking fame, pursuing wealth, and the duty of loving mankind. Although Meditations contains timeless advice, A Guide to the Good Life offers an interpretation of Stoicism that is adapted to our modern world, and for this reason I recommend it to anyone interested in Stoicism.


Epictetus was a Greek philosopher born in the 1st century AD, who played a pivotal role in the development of Stoicism.

Discourses are a series of lectures given by Epictetus to his students, recorded by his pupil Arrian, which outlined guidance for personal improvement and understanding the Stoic philosophy in daily life. The text is thus informal and conversational.

I recommend picking up Robin Waterfield's (2022) translation of Discourses, which provides an accurate and accessible version of the text in modern English.

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Enslaved early in life, Epictetus's life teaches us the importance of the mind in overcoming external circumstances and achieving personal freedom. He is an excellent example of how embracing the Dichotomy of Control can provide relief through the worst situations in our lives. 

The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage

Ryan Holiday is a modern divulgator of the Stoic philosophy who runs a successful YouTube channel and newsletter. He also published dozens of books on the subject. His commendable work has brought the philosophy to millions who might have never heard about it.

He is the author of The Obstacle is the Way, in which he outlines practical strategies on how to turn obstacles into opportunities, tying into the notion that one can not only accept fate but love it and use it to their advantage.

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In his speeches, Ryan Holiday often quotes Meditations:

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5.20

Marcus's words have likely inspired Ryan to write one of his most powerful books, The Obstacle is the Way. In it he outlines practical strategies on how to turn obstacles into opportunities, tying into the notion that one can not only accept fate but love it and use it to their advantage. In my life, difficult situations have led to pivotal moments of growth for which I am grateful.


In this article, we explored some of the best books about Stoicism, both classics and modern texts. Moreover, we learned about the key principles behind the philosophy. 

I also shared various ways in which Stoicism has personally helped me get rid of some negative emotions from my life and brought me more fulfillment and tranquility.

Andrea Cerasoni in Rome, Italy
Andrea Cerasoni

I'm Andrea, a Software Engineer, Technical Editor, and aspiring Fantasy Author. I'm originally from Rome, Italy, but am currently based in Glasgow, United Kingdom. I read and write classic Fantasy: the sword-and-shield, dragons, and wizards kind. In my articles, I talk about writing fantasy fiction, productivity, coding, building a website or platform, establishing a personal brand, and more!

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