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

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  2,826 ratings  ·  252 reviews
One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to ...more
Hardcover, 326 pages
Published November 1st 2008 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 2008)
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A Guide to the Good Life by William B. IrvineLetters from a Stoic by SenecaThe Art of Living by EpictetusMeditations by Marcus AureliusPhilosophy for Life by Jules Evans
Popular Books on Stoicism
1st out of 24 books — 39 voters
Meditations by Marcus AureliusA Guide to the Good Life by William B. IrvineLetters from a Stoic by SenecaDiscourses and Selected Writings by EpictetusThe Art of Living by Epictetus
Books on Stoic Philosophy
2nd out of 29 books — 36 voters

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Community Reviews

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I picked this up from a recommendation on the Stoicism subreddit. I went there from a passing curiosity I developed while reading about Zen Buddhism, and I was curious about how they differed. I basically discovered a doctrine (sorry: philosophy of life) I was already living by, and it was kind of eerie reading it. I cleared it in 3-4 hours.

The book could've used less arguing with invisible people. It quickly adopts a defensive tone, as if universally persecuted - you're not selling Satanism to
There aren't many books written on a philosophy of life as there are 'philosophies' for life out there; and there aren't many books that exist in the great divide between academic philosophy and water-downed caricatures of philosophy (think Consolation of Philosophy but PART TWO...). Mr Irvine's book, however, provides one fairly detailed philosophy of life as Stoicism goes and bridges the divide by not only describing what is Stoicism but also, how to practice Stoicism for both tranquility and ...more
B. Rule
This book gets 5 stars for subject, 2 stars for execution. The Stoics themselves are fascinating and every quote is a gem. However, the author doesn't trust the ancient Stoics to carry the argument. Instead, his account is a series of straw man arguments ("you might think that a Stoic would eat babies, but there's another reading..." Not quite that bad but almost.). Further, when he gets to the section on updating Stoicism for the modern world, the section where he has to do the heavy lifting by ...more
Paul Toth
Lucky for me, some years back I stumbled into Diogenes, who refused to write prescriptions but referred me to the Stoics and Cynics. Slowly, I learned how to better bear the onslaught of life's unnecessary absurdity and how to remember how, despite myself and you. If my reasoning seems circular, so's the earth. Irvine renders Stoicism a relevant and applicable philosophy of life, especially for those lacking the time and inclination to read the source material. I don't pick bones, but I will not ...more
Nick Klagge
(tl;dr--nice book, Stoicism is awesome)

This was a very enjoyable and accessible book on Stoicism. The author describes himself as a "congenital Stoic," i.e. one whose mind is naturally in accordance with many aspects of Stoic philosophy, and I think I could be described as the same (thus my interest in reading this). For anyone who is interested, I also highly recommend some of the primary sources: the "Handbook" of Epictetus and the "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius. They are very accessible too
Paula Vince
The author's first book, On Desire: Why We Want What We Want was great, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to read this new one. Professor Irvine suggests that many people are dissatisfied and gloomy because we unconsciously live a lifestyle he calls "enlightened hedonism", in which we try to maximise the pleasure we experience, believing that as soon as we achieve a given goal, we'll be happy. The problem is that other unfulfilled desires instantly well up to take their place. He puts for ...more
C. Derick Varn
Dr. Irvine presents Stoicism in its own context from the Roman period (which is the one where the ethics are more clearly developed, although it doesn't deal with the virtue and proto-physics of the Greek Stoics) and then puts it in a modern psychologized and evolutionary context.

First, this book is wonderfully layman friendly. He doesn't use the exact Greek and Roman terms. He doesn't discuss apatheia, prohairesis, and sunkatathesis. Dr. Irvine discusses tranquility, virtue, and reason. Dr. Irv
This popular book won't be of much interest to those who have already read Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius Rufus, and Marcus Aurelius, or, indeed, to anybody who has read a solid introduction to their thought.

Nor would it satisfy those looking for a clear and concise description of Stoic psychological techniques or 'exercises': for that, one might turn to "Stoic Spiritual Exercises" by Elen Buzare.

However, the book may be of interest to those seeking an easy-to-digest introductory exposition of Stoi
Robin Friedman
Academic life often leads people in unexpected directions. William Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. After receiving his PhD from UCLA in 1980, Irvine taught and practiced analytic philosophy for many years before gradually losing interest in it as overly technical and removed from life. Irvine looked for other philosophical and personal options and came close to adopting a Zen Buddhist practice. He ultimately rejected Zen because it did not fit the anal ...more
I picked up this book after having read The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman, and The obstacle is the way by Ryan Holiday, and parts of "Meditations". I would suggest the beginner to Stoicism to read Burkeman's book first, the concepts and principles involved stick better in Burkeman who backs up the principle tenets of Stoicism with extensive anecdotes, and cites psychological findings. Irvine's book is much more qualitative and self-help like, which is useful to refresh your understanding of Stoici ...more
Neil White
As much as I wanted to like this book, I'm forced to give it little more than a resounding "meh" with a B+ for effort. As much as I enjoy the subject matter, and appreciated the author's attempt to bring an ancient philosophy in line with the present day (which he does do with success), the writing itself feels stuck somewhere between a soft, feel-good self-help title that helps one live their life to the fullest, and a serious academic study of an influential philosophy. It seems Irvine couldn' ...more
I found this book rather helpful and enjoyable to read. It's a good combination of the theoretical and practical. Earlier this year, I had been reading-up on Buddhism and, before that, on Taoism; I can see a pretty fair amount of overlap with Stoicism as it was outlined feels like a good midpoint between the two. And where Stoicism does diverge a bit, I'd say that is an even better fit for me. For instance, I have been doing some form of negative visualization my whole adult life, and ...more
An introduction to an ancient philosophy of life in the form of a self-help book. One might be irritated by the form, if one feels themselves above such things. One might be irritated by the tone, which is, in a sense, defensive. It is exactly this tone that captures the point of this book, though. It is not a thorough essay on the virtues of stoicism, on its history, or a thorough philosophical investigation. It is not supposed to give the ardent student of ancient philosophy new material to st ...more
Very accessibly written, easy to apply guide to stoicism

Appreciate what you have (negative visualization)

Focus on what you can control (dichotomy/trichotomy of control) and do not concern yourself with things that are actually irrelevant (who invited you where, who complimented or insulted you)

Ask yourself, are you living by your values, not are you succeeding by someone else's (misguided) measures of success (wealth, material things, status symbols)

Practice poverty, discomfort, challenge... T
John Doyle
Modern interpretation of Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus that describes a path to "peace-of-mind." Friends won't be surprised that much of the advice seems quite natural to me.
This book is a great introduction to the basic ideas of Stoic philosophy - not "stoic" in the common meaning of the word, but the ideas and practices of the Greek and Roman Stoic philosophers. Professor Irvine's wonderful book achieves a number of great things. First, he clarifies what Stoic philosophy is and isn't. But just as importantly, he does so by bringing the stoic philosophers to life for the reader. In doing so, he encourages the reader to go beyond his book and dive into the original ...more
The advice and practicalities outline by the author in order to practice Stoicism made perfect sense to me. In fact, I have probably had the experience of engaging all or some of the techniques involved which made me realize perhaps either I have been a closet Stoic all along, or the philosophy is amenable to my natural temperament and outlook on life. I found the book to be a great guide to further incorporate Stoicism to my life in a disciplined manner, as well as a great motivator in whetting ...more
Dec 23, 2010 Nathan added it
This book pushed a lot of my buttons: practical philosophy, Greek and Roman history, and an attitude to tranquility (you achieve it by not stressing over things you can't control) that's very in line with my own. I should have enjoyed it more than I did.

The takeaways were good: some practical exercises and attitudes to help maintain calm in the face of a life that doesn't always go one's way. The most useful is the negative visualization: rather than focusing on what life would be like if you go
Sam Torode
This is a beautiful book in every way, starting with the cover image and design. It's an introduction to ancient Stoic philosophy (primarily Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius), with a focus on applying Stoic insights to modern life.

For me, the most important (and difficult) aspect of Stoicism is letting go of all things outside of our control. The only path to tranquility is to focus on our own thoughts and actions, do our best, and not worry about outcomes. One helpful example Irvine gives
This is a very practical guide to living well. Please don't let the grounding in philosophy put you off. The Stoics were the most useful of philosophers. What Irvine has done is to distill the teachings of Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius, Marcus Aurelius and the others into concise guidelines that can be applied to everyday life. No abstractions heaped on abstractions here. This is lively prose intended to instill a number of basic mental concepts that can bring tranquility--the overarching Stoic id ...more
Adam Fullerton
This book was introduced to me a friend and college who was aware of my interest in Zen Buddhism as a philosophy of life. I read and was immediately convinced of the quality of stoicism in modern life. It fit almost perfectly into my already established paradigm and I now practice it regularly.

As a student of stoicism, you will find that the information presented in this book is somewhat different from the Greek and Roman Stoics of the past. I found that the blending of the two worked well as i
The book was divided into four parts: history, techniques, advice and stoicism today. My favorite section was on techniques. Although some of the terminology was different, many of the ideas are common:
1) Negative Visualization (Imagining the worst and planning through it)
2) Dichotomy of Control (Making your sphere of concern match up with your sphere of influence)
3) Fatalism (Similar to 2 but related to time - we can't change the past)
4) Self-Denial
5) Meditation (Mindfulness with reflection)

K. M.
A clearly written and easy to digest book on one philosophy of life that enlivens its ancient beginnings. Though the author begins with a brief introduction of its history, the depth of this book is in how one lives the stoic philosophy. It changed my vision on what Stoicism is. Take what you want from the philosophy to incorporate in your own life, if only a better understanding on how the ancients viewed the world.
Jul 11, 2013 Nick rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Nick by: Todd Becker
Very actionable and has already improved my subjective experience countless times. I made a checklist for a few Stoic habits I can run through once a week to keep my mind on the practice:

- Negatively visualize: imagine losing something.
- Negatively retrospectively visualize: imagine never having had something I lost.
- Have I been careful to internalize my goals?
- Have I paid attention to the future and refrained from dwelling on the past?
- Have I been practicing self-denial?
- Have I been respond
Looking for a philosophy of life that can bring you joy? Ancient Stoicism may be for you depending on your personality and circumstances. This author does a good job at making philosophy easy to understand and a reasonable way of living.
Maria Andersen
Recommended by a close friend & it did not disappoint. First 40 or so pages dragged a bit, but that's only cause they were jam packed with details & I was a tired grad student.
Part 1 was history/background/motivation and a bit dry; read it last. (After those 60 pages, all I could think was "yes, yes, it's all a rich tapestry.")

The other 200+ pages of the book are really good: practical techniques, interesting comparisons to Zen, good arguments for/against, etc. He doesn't try to be strictly faithful to the source material: it's more like an adaptation and that worked for me.

It's a little bit wordy at times ("Let me make one more point"). The last two chapters about mo
William Nist
It did not take much to enjoy this modern interpretation of the teaching so Zeno, Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius and Marcus Aurelius...having partially and unconsciously practiced Stoicism most of my life. I am sure you know essentially what stoicism is....negative visualization (so that everything looks better than the worst case), The Tricotomy of Control (where you discern the impossible from the possible or the possibly possible and ditch any concerns you may have for the former; the fatalism o ...more
Floris Wolswijk
What do you want out of life? This is the first sentence in A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine and it is your first introduction to a philosophy of life. So what is that philosophy of life thing I am talking about? It is the study of having both a 1) meaningful and 2) fulfilling life. Stoicism is the vehicle of choice for the current book, and has also become my own philosophy of life. The book discusses the philosophy, the techniques you can explore and advices how to live a meaningf ...more
Godfrey Mangenje
I was perusing the library (#TexasTechUniversity) when I can across the book, I was really looking for books on stoicism and happened to see it. I read the preface and the introduction and I knew this was the book I was looking for, I immediately returned all the books I had on stoicism and checked out that one. The books itself was written in way that anyone that's not interested in philosophy can read and it explained succinctly and thoroughly the main themes of stoicism. I appreciate the way ...more
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“Your primary desire, says Epictetus, should be your desire not to be frustrated by forming desires you won’t be able to fulfill.” 5 likes
“Throughout the millennia and across cultures, those who have thought carefully about desire have drawn the conclusion that spending our days working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is unlikely to bring us either happiness or tranquility.” 5 likes
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