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On the Good Life

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  1,225 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
For the great Roman orator and statesman Cicero, 'the good life' was at once a life of contentment and one of moral virtue - and the two were inescapably intertwined. This volume brings together a wide range of his reflections upon the importance of moral integrity in the search for happiness. In essays that are articulate, meditative and inspirational, Cicero presents his ...more
ebook, 384 pages
Published September 30th 1971 by Penguin Group (USA)
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Richard Munro This is a very good question. Especially when one considers the historic popularity of Cicero prior to the 19th century. The reason has to be the…moreThis is a very good question. Especially when one considers the historic popularity of Cicero prior to the 19th century. The reason has to be the influence of the German school of philosophy and the German historical school. A good book to read about Cicero's influence is the CLASSICAL TRADITION by Gilbert Highet. The Ciceronian style was the style of the church, of the universities, of the Jesuits. So there was a reaction against his style and influence. And of course, most philosophers consider Cicero unoriginal and merely an interpreter of other, greater philosophers. So the 19th century so an eclipse of Cicero's reputation, especially, as Michael Grant writes, "as regards to his philosophical writings." Grant offers that the German condemnations of Cicero and Republicanism (instead turning to Nietzche and Marx) helped German politics down its disastrous path of 1914-1945. But I would argue that Cicero combines the best aspects of Stoicism and other Greek philosophies in an eclectic way. As Grant writes "Cicero believe in individual human beings. He believed in their rights and their responsibilities and their freedom to make decisions without detailed interference from heaven and destiny." Read the 44 page introduction by Michael Grant in this book and Highet's commentary on the influence of Cicero.

Community Reviews

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Cassandra Kay Silva
One of the main issues that I think atheists have to contend with is the question "if there is no god, why be moral?" or to say that morality cannot exist without religion. This provides a lot of answers that are though old very sound to such an argument. He gives a lot of ideas why morality leads to happiness. Why people would choose virtue over vice and so forth, leaving religion out of the question. He offers stories of many in the town and those of popular favor (luckily I had just read Plat ...more
Jacob Stubbs
Jan 18, 2012 Jacob Stubbs rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
So, it's always nice when I read an author that I agree with. I loved Cicero's "On Friendship" dialogue. His view of friendship is both Stoic and Christian in its own sort of way. His "Discussions at Tusculum (Book V)" is a little more tricky. At first glance, it seems that he is advocating a Stoic view; however, his last paragraph, where he explains that he, himself, cannot even live up to the conditions he set forth for attaining Happiness. This means that something more is going on (Rumour ha ...more
Oct 20, 2013 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cicero, after more than two-thousand years, remains a delight to read. This edition, selected and translated by Thomas Habinek, consists mainly of two long excerpts, from the Tusculan Disputations and On Duties. What On Living and Dying Well accomplishes is to remind us once again that the writings of the ancients are as relevant to us today in a way that contemporary philosophers are not.

Nothing is more basic to the human experience than the great Tusculan Disputations. It answers the question
Nov 13, 2007 Erica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned, classics
I expected grand truths. What else from a writer whose works have survived so long, who's influenced so many philosophers and authors over centuries? Apparently not. I kept plowing through all the circular rubbish ("All good things are enjoyable. What is enjoyable deserves credit and pride; that is to say, it is glorious: and, if so, it must be praiseworthy. What is praiseworthy has to be morally good: therefore goodness means moral goodness" - ???) deciding that, "hey, if it's not making any se ...more
Jan 28, 2008 Danielle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In a world where religiosity is often confused with 'goodness', it is always refreshing to read an ancient treatise on true 'goodness', and to realize that is aligns nicely with your own philosophy. Cicero states in a manner very difficult to refute that to attain those ideals that makes up the very best of humans automatically leads to happiness- courage, wisdom, and moral integrity.
Aug 03, 2011 Alston rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

The further I went with this text, the more predictable and tiresome it became. Perhaps my expectations were too high— with someone who's as influential and interesting a figure as Cicero is, I believed this book was going to be more than it turned out to be. To me, Cicero, the writer, did not live up to his reputation as Cicero, the Roman.

The book itself wasn't without redeeming qualities. What we do have, is a splendid historical document! For that purpose, this information is priceless. We

Aug 16, 2015 umberto rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
I also longed to read Cicero's works since I have known that he was brilliant as a second-to-none orator and writer in the Roman world. Moreover, he was a true scholar dedicated to serve the Romans, not merely to serve his superiors for his materialist greed or political position/power.
We readers can learn a lot from his works written some 2,000 years ago as well as from his cool character and scholarly ways of looking at things or at any contemporary event then with unique wisdom and appropriat
Paul Haspel
Jan 28, 2012 Paul Haspel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The essays collected in On the Good Life do much to show Cicero's force of intellect, and his influence on the West's intellectual history. Many of these essays date from the grim years after Rome's Civil War, when Cicero saw his beloved Roman Republic falling, to be replaced by an unwelcome new empire. The essays make clear Cicero's dedication to duty, honor, restraint, and personal dignity as core values. My favorites among these essays include “On the Orator,” still essential reading for anyo ...more
Richard Munro
Jul 05, 2016 Richard Munro rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have probably read this book a dozen times. I have it in two editions. The introduction by Michael Grant (about 50 pages) is worth the price of this book. I have the original Penguin (which I have had for over 30 years) and I have a beautiful FOLIO edition. Curiously, the FOLIO edition lacks the appendices and index of the PENGUIN book (probably a cost saving measure). This is essentially an anthology of Cicero's philosophic and political essays. Michael Grant was a wonderful author and transl ...more
Feb 07, 2011 Shawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cicero - Roman philosopher, statesman and lawyer from 1st century BC.

The only thing that prevented this from being a 5-star book was the last section (the book is divided into 5 sections) on rhetoric and speeches. Kinda boring.
The section "On Duties" was very good.
The first and main section of the book that deals with morality and happiness was excellent.
But my favorite read was the section "On Friendship." This topic was one of the top 3 philosophical works I've ever read and will probably re-r
Sep 04, 2010 Jesse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extolled endlessly until the industrial revolution, these philosophical writings are a great pleasure to read and contemplate upon. Though they are easy and leisurely, rather than vigorous and thorough, they have impacted the world to an inestimable degree, and were the impetus to much thinking during the Enlightenment, of Hume's and Jefferson's to name but two. Recreational reading of the highest order, this collection is a great inspiration towards the "good," and may even cajole your mind int ...more
Audrey Saltarelli
Sep 24, 2014 Audrey Saltarelli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed this much more than I thought I would. His thoughts on dying and not fearing death were particularity good.
Daniel Wright
This book is not actually a work by Cicero as such, but a collection of excerpts and shorter works. In fact, you can tell it's not a work of Cicero from the title, which can't be rendered in Latin (as soon as you say 'on living', you've made 'living' a gerund, so it can't take an adverb like 'well'). The underlying theme is, in a word, ethics. But this ethics is not quite what modern philosophers think about, with their tricky moral dilemmas and grand schemes. It is about how to live a good life ...more
Jessie Lajoie
An enjoyable and inciteful read for anyone with a passion for history and philosophy. my only criticisms are, firstly, that this text is a collection of excerpts from select of Cicero's more influential writings- this is not made clear from the description on the back of the book, if it were, I likely would have bought the full translations of each work represented rather than this. I would also have preferred mirrored text (english/ latin) so that the quality of the translation could be confirm ...more
Dec 20, 2012 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Last December I sat myself a task of reading back through the philosophical canon, either re-reading some works or reading ones I never read before. I have taken it very slowly, as there have been so many other things to read as well.

In my library since college days were three paperback Penguin Classics of Cicero. Each an anthology of excerpts from varied writings of his. I decided to read one, and after asking for advice on Facebook, the consensus pooled around this one. While reading it this a
Jeffrey  Sylvester
Nov 26, 2013 Jeffrey Sylvester rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“On Living and Dying Well” by Cicero is a great read and is entirely relevant to today’s society.

During my undergraduate, I was required to read and dissect numerous classics and it was tough going at times. For example, many authors ran the risk of displeasing whatever arbitrary tyrant happened to be in power so they wrote in metaphor, or set up dialogue between fictional characters that would enable them to side with whichever character the authorities deemed was right. The problem with this f
Jan 21, 2016 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such sound wisdom from ca. 50 BCE! Delightful reading, as if Cicero were sitting down and talking with me about his life the last years of his life. Each of the 23 short chapters makes for great reading just before turning out the light at bedtime.

Originally titled "De Senectute" and my edition with title "On a Life Well Spent", this slender is well designed for Levenger Press of Delray Beach, Florida, using the translation chosen by Benjamin Franklin when he printed it in 1744. The translated t
Apr 30, 2016 Al rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, a decent look at why moral behavior is necessary for personal good life and the good life of the state. As another reviewer noted, Cicero's arguments tended to be rather circular and as a result, I think he failed to conclusively prove the point. As applied ethics, I think it succeeds in illustrating the material advantage of good morals. Grant's selections are okay, but I don't think "Discussion at Tusculum V" should be a stand alone piece. The entire "Tusculan Disputation" is one of C ...more
Daniel Kukwa
Aug 13, 2016 Daniel Kukwa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Four of these five stars go to Cicero himself: a vain, hard to like genius who certainly loves the sound of his own words, and doesn't believe in being concise. I don't agree with all of his heavily-Platonic views, but they have been worth reading for two thousand years. The final star goes to the quality of this volume, which includes: (1) an excellent introduction to set the stage for what is to come; (2) a concise bio of the famous orator; (3) numerous fascinating epitaphs from various Roman ...more
George Shetuni
Jun 07, 2014 George Shetuni rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cicero is the world’s most logical writer. There is nothing that lies beyond his reach. If Cicero says something you know it is true. He is a talented writer as well as a good thinker. And for this reason, he is not considered a philosopher-because he has literary merit. At times he is funny, at other times perhaps too exact, but always on the money. Latin is the world’s most logical language and it has spurned numerous writers of Rome who said the most fundamental things. Of them, Cicero is the ...more
Apr 23, 2015 Joey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is indeed astonishing to think that if Cicero is this good in translation, how good must he be in his native Latin. Cicero covers, in his own stoic way, a number of topics regarding virtue and the preservation of a good life. The book ends with a heartfelt, at least for Cicero, Truly a delight to read!
Sophy Laughing
I was fortunate to have one of my professors recommend this book at a very young age. I have carried his poem, "The best Armour of Old Age is a well spent Life preceding it ... together with the Remembrance of past good Actions, yields an unspeakable Comfort to the Soul" with me since I first read those highly profound words. It is a poem upon which I have enjoyed many times over.
Anthony Nuccio
A good philosophical text that should be read as open-minded and as non-judgmental as possible. Contradictions might come up, but Cicero is one that you should not take at face value. The 3 star rating is due to reading this only partially for a History of Ideas class. Nonetheless, I still recommend this book.
James Violand
Jan 15, 2015 James Violand rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
This is a good read - the result of an excellent translation. One of the greatest minds of ancient Rome, Cicero comes to life and declaims on how a moral man leads a good life even when he suffers. Although counter-intuitive (especially today!) he makes a very compelling case.
Mike Barretta
Aug 07, 2013 Mike Barretta rated it liked it
not as good as I'd hoped; most of the essays' arguments use ancient greek and "contemporary" roman analogies. Perhaps I'm not learned enough, but I guess I prefer axiomatic arguments instead. That being said, the short _Dreams of Scipio_ was pretty good.
Honza Prchal
Feb 25, 2015 Honza Prchal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is a classic for a reason.
If it has a major weakness, it is that it is SO modern one can easily forget when it was written to the point one can ignore certain parts as nearly cliche.
Cliches happen because they work, but unlike unexpected profundity, cliche gets easily passed over.
Tarun Rattan
Apr 20, 2014 Tarun Rattan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ultimate Cicero... take the advice from the master on how to live a good life and how to honour friendship!
Jun 23, 2014 Zelda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
This is a partial review based upon reading of: the introduction, "Discussions at Tusculum" & "On Duties, II".

I would like to return to this to read "Laelius: On Friendship".
Ross Cohen
Witty and wise, of his culture and timeless, Cicero lives and instructs through this excellent translation.
Oct 16, 2007 Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Great stuff! The best part? The angry stares I got from other passengers on Muni and BART while reading it. I guess Cicero is the mother of all dead, white, European male authors.
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  • Essays
  • The Enneads
  • Dialogues and Essays
  • Pensées and Other Writings
  • Discourses and Selected Writings
  • The First and Second Apologies (Ancient Christian Writers)
  • Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present
  • Natural History: A Selection
  • The History of Rome, Books XXI-XXX: The War With Hannibal
  • The Major Works (World's Classics)
  • Bonaventure
  • The Essential Epicurus
  • Protagoras/Meno
  • The Letters of the Younger Pliny
  • The Cynic Philosophers: from Diogenes to Julian
  • The Rise of the Roman Empire
  • The Roman History: The Reign of Augustus
  • The Consolation of Philosophy
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. Cicero is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.
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“Since it's clear then that what sets itself in motion is eternal, who could fail to attribute such a nature to the soul. Anything set in motion by external impetus is inanimate; what is animate moves by its own interior impulse. This is the nature and power of soul. And because it is the one thing out of all that sets itself in motion, then surely it was never born and will last forever.” 4 likes
“A certain Spartan, whose name hasn’t even been passed down, despised death so greatly that when he was being led to execution after his condemnation by the ephors, he maintained a relaxed and joyous expression. To an enemy’s challenge – ‘Is this how you mock the laws of Lycurgus?’ – he answered, ‘On the contrary, I give great thanks to him, for he decreed a punishment that I can pay without taking out a loan or juggling debts.’101 O worthy man of Sparta! His spirit was so great that it seems he must have been an innocent man condemned to die. There have been many such in our own country.” 1 likes
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