Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness

Rate this book
This new guide to finding a happier way of life draws on the ancient wisdom of the stoics to reveal lasting truths and proven strategies for enhanced wellbeing. By learning what stoicism is, you can revolutionise your life, learning how to - properly - 'seize the day', how to cope in the face of adversity, and how to come to terms with whatever situation you're in.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2013

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Donald J. Robertson

11 books784 followers
Author of books on philosophy and psychotherapy, including Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, and the graphic novel Verissimus. I'm a philosopher and psychotherapist with a special interest in Stoicism and CBT. I was born in Scotland, but now live in Canada and Greece.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
711 (42%)
4 stars
630 (37%)
3 stars
260 (15%)
2 stars
67 (3%)
1 star
18 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 141 reviews
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,302 followers
April 28, 2023
Nu mi-au plăcut niciodată cărțile de self-help în care autorul pretinde că urmează preceptele stoicilor. Nu e prima carte de acest fel și, din păcate, nici ultima. Astfel de cărți reprezintă, de obicei, o impostură. Bieții filosofi stoici sînt transformați în ceea ce nu au fost niciodată: niște autori de exerciții simpliste, care trebuie efectuate imediat-imediat. Pentru a ne convinge că „stoicismul merge” în orice împrejurare, D.J. Robertson trimite la prelegerile maiorului Thomas Jarrett, care a ținut un „curs de reziliență psihologică” ostașilor americani cu efecte luminoase (p.36). Dacă maiorul cu pricina poate fi socotit o autoritate în stoicism, atunci oricine poate ține prelegeri despre Zenon, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictet sau Marcus Aurelius. Indiferent de funcție și grad. Totul e să ai tupeu...

Cartea ar fi avut nevoie de un redactor. Am găsit multe erori de tipar și traducere. Astfel, Socrate nu a fost „executat”, a băut singur cupa cu otravă (p.43). „Stoa pokile” este probabil Stoa poikile, locul colonadelor pictate de Polygnotos din agora Atenei, pe unde se plimba Zenon împreună cu discipolii. Socrate nu a fost „decorat” pentru merite în luptă, nimeni nu l-a văzut cu decorații pe piept. În vremea lui, încă nu se inventaseră medaliile și tinichelele (p.50). Xenophon nu a fost un „general atenian”, nu existau grade în vremea lui. Comandant militar ar fi fost o traducere mai potrivită (p.50). Stoicii nu au disprețuit retorica, studiile lui Marcus Aurelius au constat mai degrabă în lecții de retorică cu Marcus Cornelius Fronto (p.65). Jules Evans nu are cum fi o somitate în materie de filosofie, chiar dacă a inițiat „proiectul Well-Being” la Universitatea Queen Mary (pp.80-81). Raționamentul de la pp.93-94 nu e valid.

Vă dau și eu un „pont”. Dacă D.J. Robertson n-ar fi ținut cu tot dinadinsul să-i prezinte pe stoici ca primii self-help-iști din istorie și s-ar fi mulțumit să rezume și să citeze din operele lor, ne-ar fi oferit o carte de bună credință...
260 reviews17 followers
April 3, 2014
Much like William Irvine's book, this book, too, is more of a self-help book than a book on the actual philosophy. Some aspects of Stoicism are covered in synopsis form, but a lot of it is simplified and, even so, a lot of the original Stoic principles leave me a bit baffled. Why is rationality to be so prized? Why are virtue and this exalted sense of "happiness" living in accordance to nature so valuable? Why should anyone take a straw-man concept like the Stoic Sage seriously? These are just a couple of examples, but there are many more.

When Stoicism first appeared whole under Chrysippus, it was an entirely different beast from what it became later under the pen of a Seneca or a Marcus Aurelius. Marcus, Seneca, and, to some extent, Epictetus took it and made a heavy ethical practice out of it focused on a correct view of self in regard to one's own nature, the externalities of the world around one, and a sense of duty to the community of like-minded people in the world. Or at least this is what I've come to understand. Prior to this, except for maybe Zeno's Republic, it seemed very different. In the case of Chrysippus, he developed an intricate mess of logic and a new system of psychology that tied into a larger world-view of fate. There was not a strong sense of social duty to it, only an emphasis on trying to live a life according to nature and fate. The social duty seemed to come later, after a couple of generations of thinkers had died and been replaced by new thinkers, inspired in part by Plato.

So I think books on Stoicism tend to take a couple of differing paths of how they represent Stoicism as a whole. Academic sources try for a reconstruction or overall analysis of the whole as well as it can be understood -- some readers complain these are too dry or boring or impractical to be worth reading. Despite these flaws, I think they are valuable for providing general information. Other books like this cherry-pick psychological strategies and quotes out of the whole, putting it all together as a form of self-help for today's reader.

Some of this is good advice, of course. I have found it so, too, else I would not have picked this book up in the first place. And since the author is a psychologist, he does a good job of describing relevant strategies and how to implement them in one's life. He has written about a couple of strategies here I especially like -- the view from above and the need to meditate and self-evaluate, in addition to the usual emotional control strategies and a sense of duty to fellow human beings. However, a part of me wanting to know MORE about Stoicism itself is disappointed. As this book uses the heavily ethical view of later Stoicism, a lot of its earlier aspects are ignored. For a book supposed to explain Stoicism first, I find that a big flaw. The other problem is its repetitiveness. Some strategies seem to be re-packaged several times under different names -- that of evaluating things beyond one's control and in one's control, for instance, becomes disciplining action, desire, and judgement.

I'd recommend this to you if you're looking for strategies to deal with stress and unwanted emotions and perhaps a sense of direction in life.. I wouldn't recommend it so much as a source of information on Stoicism as a philosophical system.

Profile Image for Michael.
28 reviews1 follower
August 25, 2017
Excellent Introduction to Stoicism

I found myself highlighting something almost every page. It took me a few years to read. There is much to contemplate and practice, but even as a beginner it has brought increased peace to my life.

"But all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare." (Spinoza, Ethica, 5.42n)
Profile Image for Brett.
Author 2 books26 followers
November 12, 2017
This book was so hard to read. It is written from the perspective of picking it up and flipping to any section to read in short bursts. Due to this, it is really repetitive.
Profile Image for Marcus Norberg.
47 reviews1 follower
January 16, 2019
I have read the three classic Stoic philosophers (Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca) before this book, but I had not really grasped all the Stoic theories and thoughts. This book really got the Stoic message through. It had a lot of quotations from ancient philosophers aswell as modern uses of the philosophy in life and in therapy. It had stuff I really will consider and use in my everyday life.

Although I really enjoyed the book it was kind of repetitive at times, which made for a slow reading. But as my high school teacher always said: 'repetition is the mother of knowledge', so I'll let it pass. I would like to give it 4,5/5 stars, but as you're only able to give full stars, five will do :)
Profile Image for Shalyn.
175 reviews6 followers
June 7, 2016
The content seemed very repetitive; that was my primary reaction to this book. I also disagree with much of the advice the book provides. The author makes frequent references to psychology's Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as if that should lend some credibility to this work, but it is my understanding from a couple of therapists that CBT is not for everyone and can be easily misapplied even by therapists who (theoretically) know what they're doing. Hence, CBT is not something to DIY.

The author advocates not expressing elevations of joy or sadness, and while stoics do tend to keep their emotions in check, that practice is over-emphasized both in this book and in stereotyping stoicism. Eliminating expression of elevations of emotion prevents a person from both fully experiencing life as well as from connecting with other people. Humans are built for connection, and we are more likely to connect on an emotional level, so it would be counterproductive to our mental and emotional health to limit our expression and experience of emotions.

The author advocates imagining a negative situation so that you can be emotionally prepared for it. Such a practice is in fact not at all helpful and can even be hurtful. A therapist friend of mine calls this "borrowing trouble from the future." It doesn't make the coming trouble any easier emotionally or mentally; it just makes the here-and-now sadder and more difficult. This is the problem with worry also: worrying about what might happen in the future doesn't make the future easier to manage, but only makes the present more stressful.

The author says people get stage fright because they value other people's opinions higher than they value their own. While valuing someone else's opinion more highly than your own is not usually healthy, if you're a performer trying to make a living from your art, the audience's opinion is absolutely worthy of consideration. If you want to be invited to perform again -- especially if you want to get paid for performing -- the audience has to like what you do.

The author says it's not the thing that bothers you but your impression of it, and he uses the example of: it's not death that bothers you, it's your fear of death that bothers you. Well...maybe. Personally, I don't like snakes because I find them unpredictable, so maybe there is an argument to be made that my dislike is not of snakes but my perception of snakes as being unpredictable. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I still don't like snakes, I still find them unpredictable, and I still don't like their unpredictability; hence, I do not like snakes. The author's argument in this regard is not effective. Perhaps it is the pragmatist rather than the stoic in me, but one's perception of a thing is reality for that person, and fears are not something we "get over" through rational practice.

The author also makes constant references to things being "good" and "bad." A better practice would be to avoid those terms all together because they are so vague. What is "good" or "bad" to one person may not be "good" or "bad" to another. His overuse of "good" and "bad" took away from the value of his arguments for a stoic approach to life.

The one thing I really liked about this book was the author's advice on meditation. Meditation can be difficult for someone whose mind is constantly active with thought, and quieting the mind and dismissing thoughts can seem impossible sometimes. The author suggests imagining yourself by a stream with leaves gently falling on the water and floating by you. As thoughts pop into your mind, imagine yourself putting each thought on a leaf in the stream and letting it float away. I have found this practice helpful. However, this one piece of helpful advice does not make up for all the other shortcomings this book has. (And now that I've shared this bit of advice with you, I dare say there's little need to read the book -- ha! ha!)
6 reviews15 followers
June 4, 2017
Donald Robertson has published an excellent overview of Stoic ethics and interpreted it for the modern reader without losing much authenticity in the process. He not only quotes Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, etc. but new popularisers such as William Irvine, and also describes how the Stoic philosophy relates to CBT. Any myths about stoicism like not being emotional were carefully argued against, and Robertson was moderated in his rhetoric instead of making you feel inadequate like a lot of self-help books do. One of the most important things I found about this book was the various number of exercises and meditations you could try out. I worked through the entire book and did them to see the sort of effect they produced. I also like the fact that Robertson talks about cultivating virtue rather than tranquility, even though Western psychology places so much emphasis on happiness and feeling good all the time.

However, the exercises have their limits (or perhaps I was not suited for them), like the one about constantly monitoring your thoughts/feelings throughout the day in a journal. It takes quite a lot of energy to try to change your thoughts, something that could be used to interact with the world instead. I'm not sure if this is necessarily the book's fault or the philosophy's fault. I personally agree with many of the ideas of Stoicism but am not sure that I have the interest/energy to implement them permanently.

I still recommend this book for anyone who is curious about Stoic philosophy and wants a place to start, as well as for ideas to implement it in their lives. The references at the end of the book are a good jumping-off point to read the classic authors as well.
Profile Image for Gogelescu Ion Petre.
36 reviews9 followers
September 9, 2018
Cu cât citesc mai multe despre stoicism, cu atât îmi dau seama că înțeleg prea puțin viața...

Dar nu e bai, lucrez să schimb asta. Bună lectură. Încă o introducere excelentă în ale stoicismului/filosofiei.

"The goal of philosophy is to cultivate rational and realistic beliefs, not ‘trying to think positively’. Recent psychological research tends to show that people who are able to accept unpleasant thoughts and feelings, without being overwhelmed by them, are more resilient than people who try to distract themselves or avoid such experiences, through strategies such as positive thinking."
37 reviews2 followers
September 23, 2019
Wanted to give it a 5 but didn’t get the e book and felt a little cheated about Stoic contemplations on death. Still would give this like a 4.5 due to thoroughness and ease of reading. Also gave me a lot more philosophers to read.

I like the connections made between Buddhism and CBT and thing that this is very relevant to today.

Updated review to reflect having read the chapter on death. Super useful.
Profile Image for GoodBeer.
13 reviews2 followers
November 2, 2017
Kind of redundant; I think the book could have been trimmed down to a 1/4 of its current size. The author says things like "The Stoics believed..." but doesn't necessarily give a logical argument for those beliefs.

Overall a good read besides those two things.
Profile Image for Edwin Setiadi.
271 reviews12 followers
July 28, 2020
Lessons from the 1st Stoa

Modern Stoicism is largely based on the wonderful thinking of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca through their “main 3 books” of Meditations, Discourses, and Letters, respectively. This is because these books are only a handful of surviving bodies of Stoic writings left that are almost fully intact (with only 4 books out of 8 of Discourses survived).

But these 3 wise philosophers were all part of the so-called 3rd Stoa, the 3rd generation of “Late Stoa” in Rome. So what about the wisdom of the founding fathers of Stoicism, the 1st generation of “Early Stoa” in Ancient Greece? Well, it is said that there are only 1% of surviving Stoic materials left in the world, with the “main 3” dominate the canon, while everything ever written by the founder Zeno have all but disappeared. And so I thought.

This book is different than the rest of 7 modern Stoic books that I’ve read so far, because besides discussing the teachings of the usual 3rd Stoa it also provides the teachings from the 1st Stoa such as Zeno, Cleanthes, and what growingly becomes my favourite Chrysippus, as well as many other Stoic philosophers. And the stories are simply astonishing.

Firstly, I never knew that Pythagoras (the math triangle guy) had such an interesting life and philosophy (and many cult-like followers too in Ancient times) which the Stoics like to refer to. Then we have the story of Paconius Agrippinus, a highly regarded Stoic philosopher who responded with a complete composure when being informed of his impending death execution, by finishing his lunch with his friends.

But my favourite got to be the story when Macedonian king Antigonus II, a powerful political and military leader, came to visit Zeno to listen to his teachings, and Zeno was completely unconcerned when he met the powerful king. Because Antigonus had power over nothing that Zeno saw as important in life and he possessed nothing that Zeno desire about.

Furthermore, the book also has a neat “try it now” section in every chapter, which consist of the suggested Stoic lesson for us to practice for the topic. My absolute favourite is got to be contemplating life as one big festival, with us getting a ticket to attend Glastonbury or the modern Olympic games or any art event. Like the sequence of life, we attend festivals to absorb the experience, to learn a thing or two from it, to enjoy it fully but to never get too attached to anything in it because we’re only a visitor and it is only a temporary gig. When things get rough, it’s okay because it’s the nature of chaotic festival. And when it’s time to wrap up the event, you don’t get upset by it but instead you just leave the event bringing fond memories along with you.

As a reader (and dare I say, a practitioner) of Stoicism it delights me that up to this point I found the numerous modern books on Stoicism as complementary for each other rather than competing. While one focuses on the history, others adapt the lessons into modern-day contexts. While some focused more into the academic discussions, others are more targeted towards bite size day-to-day implementation. And this book is no different, it serves as another piece of Stoic puzzle by dwelling deep into the origins and the formation of the philosophies that becomes the Stoic principles.

Thus, it is a form of injustice if we compare the modern books on Stoicism against each other, as each have different purpose that serve the greater good. Instead, in the quest of reading all available books written on Stoicism I am absolutely estatic, wait, hang on, nay, I’m preferably indifferent that there is another excellent book that provides yet another new angles on the Stoic philosophy. And this one, happens to be written by the founder of the influential Stoicon.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books336 followers
February 12, 2023
I am not a Stoic... yet. I have become more and more interested in Stoicism in recent years, but declaring "I am a Stoic" sounds like such a teenage boy thing to say. It might be as close to a religion as I would ever consider nowadays (the line between philosophy and religion can be fuzzy), but it doesn't require any supernatural beliefs. Stoicism is a branch of "virtue ethics," which emphasize personal moral character as the source of "goodness," as opposed to deontology (goodness is determined by following a set of rules, often though not necessarily presumed to be divinely mandated), utilitarianism (goodness is determined by the outcome of your actions), and various other ethical theories, which I am not very well read about because I am not a philosopher. I have always thought of myself as more or less a utilitarian, leaning towards consequentialism, but on an intuitive level, virtue ethics appeal to me more. I realize they are not much in vogue with modern philosophers and ethicists; people don't like talking about "personal morality" nowadays. But the appeal to me of Stoicism is that you can't always judge whether your actions will have a good outcome, and utilitarianism very easily leads to things like the Repugnant Conclusion, but you can control your personal actions (and reactions!) and govern yourself in a principled manner that lets you live conscientiously and honorably.

(Yes, there are legitimate criticisms of virtue ethics from other schools; at some point I may dive more deeply into those.)

So anyway, Stoicism. Ancient philosophical sschool, founded by a Greek guy named Zeno 2000 years ago. Most of us know about it from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose Meditations (basically, his personal journal which he never intended to be read by anyone else) are now considered one of the foundational Stoic texts. Most early Stoic writings have been lost; we know about volumes of Stoic teachings that other Stoics referred to but which no longer exist.

Marcus Aurelius

The core tenet of Stoicism is that you cannot control anything but your own reactions to things; therefore, you should concentrate on what is under your control (yourself) and learn not to be upset by things outside your control (basically, everything else).

It's a tough ask. It's a lot harder than it sounds. "Don't be upset by war, famine, injustice, corrupt politicians, ill health, losing everything, or your loved ones dying?" Obviously it's more complicated than that; a lot of people have the false idea that Stoics taught you're supposed to be some kind of Vulcan, never showing emotion or letting yourself feel things. Of course, as the Stoic teachers would say, you are going to feel things when you suffer adversity, pain, and loss. You are going to feel things about the injustice of the world around you. This is where the challenge arises: a Stoic practice is to examine these feelings, allow yourself to act according to your principles, try to make the world a better place to the limit of your abilities, and accept that the outcomes are beyond your control.

This is me summarizing what I understand of Stoicism so far, not trying to sell it as a philosophy. But I feel the truth that you can't really control much in life, and that getting upset about things you can't control is unproductive.

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness is not the first book about Stoicism I have read. It's meant as kind of an introduction to Stoicism, but specifically it is a series of lessons on how to apply Stoicism in your life, while giving only a rather superficial summary of the history and philosophy of Stoicism. It covers the basics and in more detail than some other introductory Stoic books I've read, but it's not a deep dive, it just gives you a taste of Zeno, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Plato (not actually a Stoic, but the Stoics considered him a foundational figure) and other early Stoics, as well as the modern figures who revived it in the 20th century, notably Pierre Hadot.

Donald J.Robinson is a cognitive behavioral therapist and he specifically ties Stoicism to CBT. He argues that Stoicism basically was, among other things, an ancient form of CBT, and that early CBT practitioners explicitly acknowledged Stoicism as an influence. I'm now speaking well outside my area of knowledge, but if I were to seek therapy myself, CBT is the form that seems most rational and helpful to me.

So, all that being said, how helpful and useful is this book? As a book for learning about Stoicism, it's okay, but as I said above, if you really want to immerse yourself in Stoic teachings and what the philosophy is all about, this is a fairly minimal introduction.

As a practical guide, assuming you are sold on its potential usefulness, it seems like it could be helpful. Robertson uses the same format in each of its eleven chapters: he provides a quote from a Stoic philosopher, then asks you a series of questions which he asks you rate from 1 to 5 as to how much you agree with them, both before and after reading the chapter. Then he describes a Stoic principle, provides some case studies, describes a historical example of a Stoic illustrating the principle, and suggests some exercises to put it into practice. It's a somewhat workbook-like approach presented as an introductory text. The early chapters are about what Stoics considered "good," and three areas of Stoic teaching ("Physics," "Ethics," and "Logic," some of which gets a little esoteric), and Stoic disciplines. Later chapters tackle more difficult topics like "premeditation of adversity", the "Stoic fork," and melete thanatou: "contemplation of death."

I admit I read this book mostly for informational purposes, rather than trying to follow along and do the exercises and train myself to be a Stoic. I haven't made that commitment yet, and if I do, I might come back to this book again. Stoics advocate a number of disciplines they believe you should practice regularly. They are big on journaling, and also various meditative exercises. I'm terrible at meditation, and I haven't journaled in years. I should probably give it a try.

However, having read a few introductory books by moderns writing about Stoicism, I probably need to actually read the original Stoic texts. At some point, I think digesting the originals, perhaps accompanied with a good study guide, is necessary, whereas reading books like this to learn Stoicism is kind of like reading books about how to draw rather than actually drawing.
11 reviews
May 22, 2014
Great breakdown:

My only complaint is that the book continually pushed CBT and got more into the modern psychological implications of stoicism than how to actually live the stoic ideal. However, that was only a minor nuisance compared to the overall text and the quality job it did in outlining stoic philosophy. I did find the self examination sections at the beginning of each chapter to be excellent lead ins for the reading. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has experience with stoic philosophy or someone who is just introducing themselves to one of the most profound schools of the ancient world.

Profile Image for Stuart.
55 reviews
October 19, 2019
A complete guide to Stoicism. Very through indeed. If I could only have one modern book on Stoicism it would be this one. I have also bought the paper back to reference back to regularly. Lots of work ahead!
24 reviews
July 14, 2020
Good book on stoicism. It gives some good examples of exercises which can be done to assist in being more stoic. The meditation exercise i found to be very good.
Profile Image for Onur şahin.
58 reviews3 followers
February 12, 2023
Bence güzel bir giriş kitabı. Bazı konularda yüzeysel kalıyor ancak tüm temel stoik düşünürlerden ve temel pratiklerden yeterince bahsediyor. Stoacilik ile alakalı genel bir fikir elde etmek için güzel bir kitap. Genel yanlış anlasilmalara da deginmesi kitabı daha da iyi yapıyor.
Profile Image for Gladys Lopez.
152 reviews1 follower
September 29, 2019
Actually a 4.5 stars. The beginning slow and basic... but needs for those who doesn’t know anything about stoicism. I put it away because of this for a couple of months. But as a wise said “books come to your life when you exactly need them”, I took it again and loved it. Practical advise on how to detach yourself from the small rumiations of life (that sometimes you are the creator of those with your mind) and see everything under a bigger perspective. Also, wise practices on how to “surf” the balls thrown at you by “miss guided people” and keep yourself calm... to attach eudaemonia.
Interesting, theoretical and practical approach!
Profile Image for Cav.
659 reviews90 followers
May 3, 2022
I enjoyed Stoicism and the Art of Happiness.

Author Donald Robertson is a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist, writer, and trainer. He specializes in the treatment of anxiety and in the relationship between ancient philosophy and modern psychotherapy.

Donald Robertson :

In my experience, philosophy can be hit or miss for me... Some writers cover the topic well; keeping the reader engaged and interested. Conversely, some books drone on and on and stay stuck in the weeds of esoteric naval gazing. Thankfully, this book fell into the former category, and not the latter...

Robertson writes with an engaging and interesting style here, for the most part, and this one shouldn't have trouble holding the reader's attention (thankfully).
The formatting of the book was also well done. At the beginning of each chapter, he outlines what will be covered. Key points, as well as thought experiments are presented in hypertext separate blocks. At the end of each chapter, he also gives a brief summary. Extra points awarded for this effective communication!

The book does get off to a bit of a bumpy start, with a long preamble. Robertson mentions that Stoic thought and philosophy are at the heart of modern Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
In this quote, he outlines the thesis of the book:
"This book is about Stoicism, a philosophical tradition founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium around 301 BC, which endured as an active philosophical movement for almost 500 years, and still fascinates people today. However, it’s also a ‘how to’ guide that will hopefully show you ways in which Stoicism might provide, or at least contribute towards, a ‘philosophy of life’ for the modern world – an art of living with Happiness that aspires to be both rational and healthy.
If you ask most modern philosophers ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ they’ll probably just shrug and say that’s an unanswerable question. However, the major schools of ancient philosophy basically each proposed a different answer to that question. In a nutshell, the Stoics said that the goal (telos, ‘end’ or ‘purpose’) of life is consistently to live in harmony and agreement with the nature of the universe, and to do this by excelling with regard to our own essential nature as rational and social beings. This is also described as ‘living according to virtue’ or aretê, although as you’ll see it’s best to think of this as meaning excellence in a broader sense than the word ‘virtue’ normally implies – something I’ll explain later."

In a theme shared by Buddhist thought, as well as modern mindfulness practices, the power of focus on the present moment is covered throughout. Roberston says:
"Remind yourself that the past and future are ‘indifferent’ to you, and that the supreme good, and eudaimonia, can only exist within you, right now, in the present moment..."

...The ‘here and now’:
Ancient Stoicism was very explicitly a ‘here and now’ philosophy, although many people today associate this notion more with Oriental philosophies, particularly Buddhism. In fact, the modern English expression ‘here and now’ actually comes from a common figure of speech in Latin: hic et nunc. The exercise of living centred in the present moment is emphasized throughout Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. For Stoics, the past and future are ‘indifferent’ because they’re not under our control, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ can only truly reside in the present moment. Humans surpass other animals in their ability, through language and reason, to recall the past or plan for the future. However, doing so leads us to neglect the seat of our volition in the present moment, where virtue potentially originates. Stoics therefore train themselves to focus attention on the present moment, often by reminding themselves that they could potentially die the following day and should therefore ‘seize the day’ and seek to flourish and attain Happiness in the ‘here and now’. In other words, the most important thing in the universe is situated within you, right here in the present moment."

Robertson also introduces a concept that really resonated with me; "The Festival of Life":
"Try it now: Contemplating the ‘festival’ of life’
Imagine that you’re attending a big music ‘festival’ like Glastonbury, a sporting event like the modern Olympic Games, or a busy exhibition in a museum or art gallery. Think of this as a metaphor for your life, as you go about your daily business. You’re only a visitor, soon it will all be over, and eventually the whole site will be cleared. Think of your ticket as a gift and that you’re privileged to be here, even if it only lasts a matter of days. None of this really belongs to you, the whole experience is temporary and on loan.
Your job is to ‘take it all in’ properly, and really appreciate the opportunity. Study the whole spectacle unfolding around you, in a detached and philosophical manner, as if seeing it all for the first time. The majority of people may be absorbed in pursuing wealth, seeking reputation, or indulging in empty pleasures. If occasionally they’re rowdy or bump into you, that’s inevitable – it’s just part of the natural hustle and bustle. There’s no point complaining, now you’re here, if you don’t like the programme of events – don’t be a resentful or ‘fault-finding’ spectator. Just be where you are and take each moment as it comes. Right now, this is all there is. In a nutshell, step back from the ‘rat-race’ and begin to really notice life, being grateful for the ‘here and now’."

Many other themes of Stoic philosophy are presented here, including Amor fati , and Memento mori ; to name just a few.


As mentioned above; I enjoyed this book. If you are looking for a straightforward synopsis of much of Stoic thought like I was, and find much of the original texts unpalatable, then I would highly recommend this book. Robertson did a great job covering source material that is (IMHO) often dry and arduous.
4.5 stars.
10 reviews
June 10, 2018
This was a phenomenal book that can help the reader understand the basis of modern cognitive behavioral therapy. This book serves as an excellent introduction to stoicism and it contrasts this philosophy with primarily Cynicism and Epicureanism. Stoicism as a philosophy seems to adopt an attitude of indifferent humility to most things that are deemed to be valuable in life. It is this attitude that allows Stoics to view tragedy as a temporary moment, allowing one to face it with mental resolution and inner peace. Stoicism is what I believe most folks aspire towards but don’t have a label for yet. This book is accessible to most readers who are willing to challenge their beliefs and are open to ideas that are essentially life-changing.
Profile Image for Paris.
2 reviews
September 18, 2019
This book serves as a very good introduction to the concept of Stoic philosophy. While it definitely falls into the category of self-help, it is much more than a feel-good book— as it provides strategies with coping and resilience that can help you become a stronger and better person.

Some readers may think parts are too repetitive. As a philosophy novice, however, I appreciated the bits of repetition and the simple breakdowns within the chapters.
Profile Image for Giuliano.
182 reviews
January 20, 2020
Having read a few books in the topic, I think this is the best one in terms of the value it offers the student of Stoic philosophy. Perhaps this book is better suited to someone who already has a broad understanding of Stoicism as it discusses in depth a number of technical aspects and goes a bit deeper than say Pigliucci or Irvine (whom I also recommend highly).

This book also has handy recaps and key topics at the end of each chapter. These do sometimes get in the way of the overall narrative but I understand they have their use.
I'm seriously contemplating buying the book (I got it from the library) and reading it again, more slowly and chapter to chapter to ensure I assimilate each concept fully.
5 stars.
52 reviews30 followers
March 23, 2020
"Reputation after life is nothing more than oblivion."
This sentence was an answer to so many questions I have been asking myself.

Excellent book overall. It gives you good insights into the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

Why, then, do you wonder that good men are shaken in order that they may
grow strong? No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails
it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more
securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley. It is,
therefore, to the advantage even of good men, to the end that they may be
unafraid, to live constantly amidst alarms and to bear with patience the
happenings which are ills to him only who ill supports them.
Seneca, On Providence
Profile Image for Jared Abbott.
150 reviews22 followers
September 22, 2018
This is an excellent book on the basics of Stoic philosophy, with an emphasis on Stoic practices and exercises. It could be read straight through (this is what I did), but it could easily be used a reference because the structure of the book is so strictly outlined and divided into sections according to the outline. The content was clear and concise, and a reader with little or no previous philosophical knowledge should be able to understand it. This book was really indispensable for a new Stoic like me.
129 reviews20 followers
June 29, 2020
Donald did such a great and comprehensive job of researching Stoicism,
and then blending it with Psychology/Cognitive thinking.
Overall I rate this book at 4.7 stars.
Overall this is a Tremendous introduction to Stoicism---Another book of his Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is 5 stars.
Donald is a practicing author--who shows you how to integrate Stoic concepts as a "Way of life "
He also has an on-line Stoicism Blog

"You have had to bury someone you have loved, now go find someone to love" Seneca "Letters from a Stoic"
Profile Image for Michael.
15 reviews
April 8, 2020
After having finished “How to think like a Roman emperor”, my mother gifted me this book for Christmas.

Robertson, along with his editors, manages to craft a clear and relatively concise introduction to fundamental Stoic practices and concepts. Organized in a way that truly helps to enhance learning, this books helps to lay the foundation for anyone interested in interacting with primary Stoic literature going forward.

Thanks again Donald for another great read.
February 1, 2017

I suffer from anxiety and stumbled across stoicism. This book had a perfect balance of the stoic philosophy and practical exercises that I am starting to embed in my daily routine.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 141 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.