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

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  1,620 ratings  ·  170 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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Meditations by Marcus AureliusA Guide to the Good Life by William B. IrvineDiscourses and Selected Writings by EpictetusLetters from a Stoic by SenecaThe Art of Living by Epictetus
Books on Stoic Philosophy
2nd out of 26 books — 29 voters
A Guide to the Good Life by William B. IrvineThe Art of Living by EpictetusLetters from a Stoic by SenecaPhilosophy for Life by Jules EvansThe Inner Citadel by Marcus Aurelius
Popular Books on Stoicism
1st out of 17 books — 18 voters

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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...more
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
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...more
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...more
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
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...more
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...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
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...more
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)

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...more
I was unfamiliar with the practices of Stoicism, or that it was a branch of philosophy (or that it could be adopted as a philosophy of life), so it was with great interest but some skepticism that I started to read the author's book, and learned that far from having anything to do with the word "stoic" which we usually interpret as meaning someone who is strong, impassive, has no emotions, and is basically a robot who represses everything, but that most certainly wasn't the case.

For people who h...more
John Cooper
About a third of the way into A Guide to the Good Life, I’d decided that while interesting, the Stoic way of life that the author described was not likely to be a good fit for me. For one thing, the author’s personality and mine couldn’t be more different. He reminds me of certain teachers I once had, calm, rational men who spoke in a uniformly soft voice, who were gentle, generous and patient, who dealt with disagreement with equanimity and placid stubbornness—people who would always be describ...more
Robert Lent
Stoicism is widely misunderstood. They weren't stone-hearted people gritting their teeth as they grimly endured the awfulness of life, although this is how they are popularly understood. Even people who have studied philosophy often have this misunderstanding. "Stoic Joy" may seem like an oxymoron, but it really isn't. There are similarities between Stoicism and Buddhism, and the Buddhist saying "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" applies to Stoicism as well.

This book does a good job of...more
Michael A
The context for reading this book:

I find myself at a point in my life where a lot of things I used to value don't seem very worthy of pursuit, especially if the thing being pursued is what George Carlin called "stuff". Spiritually, I've jumped from church-going family boy to almost nihilistic belief in no meaning and evolutionary accidents of fate to a more moderate agnosticism. Also, I've realized I lived a fairly emotionally uninhibited, hedonistic life up to this point all the while having tr...more
Leo Polovets
This is an introduction to stoicism, which I knew nothing about. I thought stoicism meant a lack of emotion, but it’s actually a set of principles that encourage giving up attachments, enjoying what you already have, and having a coherent life philosophy. I believe parts of this strongly resemble Buddhism, but I don’t know enough about Buddhism to be certain. A lot of great advice in this book.
Jim Coughenour
Irvine's introduction to the Stoics is engaging - and more intensive, if slightly less charming, than the first chapters of Alain De Botton's Consolations of Philosophy. (I guess it's fashionable to despise De Botton these days, but I remain a fan of this book and his book on Proust.) There were even a few passage that, on reflection, made me joyful in an ancient Stoic sort of way.

Feb 08, 2014 Cyrus rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Stoics, Seekers
Irvine first makes the case that the true purpose of philosophy is to tell us how to lead our lives and that we should have a philosophy of life. This was the philosophy of the ancients, the Greeks and the Romans. Modern philosophy is about deconstructing language, not about how to live our lives. Irvine convincingly argues that the older mission of philosophy is the better one.

He then goes on to advocate Stoicism as a good philosophy of life. He says that the Stoic goal of tranquility is a wor...more
This is what philosophy books should be about! Ancients were interested in having a practical philosophy of life.It's written by an old Professor written about a very ancient philosophy ( Stoics ) but definitely very useful, especially for young people. If I had to give gift to young people, this book will definitely be in the top 5. Ancient Greeks had the opportunity to think about what a good life should be.

Key points being:
- Distinction between stoic as commonly understood and ancient Stoics...more
5 stars for the plan (a discussion and presentation about Stoicism), 3 stars for the execution.
Too many concerns about what the common reader would (negatively) think about a particular technique or how this common reader could raise an argument against the author's one. The author took too much space and time trying to defend his claims, thus defending Stoicism, rather than trying to give further explanations about the techniques and thoughts of the Stoics.
His intents were good, but he seemed...more
HEY! Who would have known that I'm a Stoic!?? I loved reading the philosophy of the Stoics and discovering many parallels with Buddhism and yogic philosophy. It was fun to see a slightly different angle on similar ideas - negative visualization, not caring what others think of you, or even cultivating the opposite of status seeking. I especially LOVED the concepts of "hedonic adaptation" and "evolutionary autopilot" - spot on descriptors of our society and it's pitfalls. The book provides method...more
Partha Sundaram
Changed my thinking on living significantly. Key points

-> Having a philosophy/vision for your life is important and beats the alternative (not having one)
-> Stoicism is a decent philosophy
==> negative visualization (visualize the "worst that could happen" as a way to overcome it)
==> trichotomy of control (things you can control, those that you can't, and those that are partially controllable)
==> internalization of goals (don't compare yourself against others, but try to overcom...more
Edwin Ho
I found this book to be incredibly insightful & life changing in a small subtle way. I liked what the author had to say about idea of modern Stoicism. It definitely changed my approach towards Life. I've learned to become more easygoing and more observant. I am not as quick to judge and jump to conclusions. I've learned to become quite observant of my surroundings & my own attachment towards things & people.

The concept of negative visualization is an enlightening concept & one th...more
KJ Lipkey
I don't read many books on or about philosophy as I hated it so much in college. All I remember from my Philosophy 102 class is thinking, "Descartes is SUCH a dick." If information was discussed in class that was in this book I think I would have enjoyed it - though I'm not sure if the format of the book is, by definition, the goal of a philosophy 102 class. I really enjoyed the book and it's message. I may even go so far as to spend money *gasp!* and buy the book one day. There were only two mi...more
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“Indeed, pursuing pleasure, Seneca warns, is like pursuing a wild beast: On being captured, it can turn on us and tear us to pieces. Or, changing the metaphor a bit, he tells us that intense pleasures, when captured by us, become our captors, meaning that the more pleasures a man captures, “the more masters will he have to serve.” 2 likes
“Your primary desire, says Epictetus, should be your desire not to be frustrated by forming desires you won’t be able to fulfill.” 1 likes
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