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How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  354 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A superb new edition of Epictetus's famed handbook on Stoicism--translated by one of the world's leading authorities on Stoic philosophy

Born a slave, the Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus (c. 55-135 AD) taught that mental freedom is supreme, since it can liberate one anywhere, even in a prison. In How to Be Free, A. A. Long--one of the world's leading authorities on
Hardcover, 232 pages
Published October 30th 2018 by Princeton University Press
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Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
For any "original" thought you may have had in your life, you need to realize that some Greek guy had already had the same one, spent years contemplating it, made a conclusion, developed a whole theory around it and then wrote it down, sending it downstream all the way to the 21st century.

So it is with Epictetus. I'm kind of a Stoicism junkie, so no surprise I loved this tiny book. It never ceases to amaze me how much of this 2,000 year old philosophy is still part of our daily lives. Case in
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I try to read most translations of Epictetus as I come across them, just in case a difference in word choice exposes meaning I hadn't gleaned before or resonates in a new way.
Vincent Li
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I first read about Epictetus from the book "The Practicing Stoic". Of course, Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher. Epictetus started out his life as a slave, only becoming free later, so his thoughts on freedom have a certain authenticity and weight to them. His basic advice is that freedom comes from conforming one's happiness to what one controls and not allowing one's happiness to be dictated by what one does not control. If our happiness relies on an office, or money that someone else ...more
Craig Dickson
Feb 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was great - I was introduced to Epictetus by a quotation in the excellent children's book "Oh no, George!" and decided to learn more about him.

This short book contains Epictetus' Enchiridion, or handbook, which is a concise but challenging statement of Stoic philosophy. The basic idea is that there are things which are up to us (primarily our thoughts, attitudes, responses to things) and there are things which are not up to us (everything else, so our health, where we live, are we rich or
Todd N
Nov 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Although the cover and title is a bit cheesy, this book is essentially a Loeb Classical Library edition dressed up to look like pop philosophy. This is a complete and new translation of The Encheiridion and some selections from Discourses. The original Greek is on the left, the corresponding translation on the right.

For a 2,000 year old text, the simply stated ideas in it feel fresh and direct in a modern way. Its influences are felt today from the Serenity Prayer to cognitive behavioral
Babe of Darkness
Jan 04, 2020 rated it did not like it
Stoic to the core I am but my oh my I could not finish this audiobook.
Verbiage overkill.
Aug 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you can't control it, don't worry about it. Times inf.
Matt Letten
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Will now be reading this twice per year. Essential reminder
Olga Shatokha
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such a compact book of great thoughts, simple, yet not simplistic.
The ideas on freedom of a man who was born as a slave, make so much sense even after 2000 years - it gives me goosebumps to think about it.
Epictetus vision on how to be cool are never out of fashion :)

P.S. The intro could be skipped while reading in my opinion, it makes almost half of the book.
Kieran Banister
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
To be alive in modern times is to exist - so abstracted and distant from the self - that it would be easy to go your whole life without even considering that your thoughts and actions are not your own. The ancient wisdoms in this handbook serve as a reminder that everything is immaterial but your will, and where you place it. Unlike any religious text, it contains no mysticism, no fables; just pure logic.

It's truly humbling to read this and know that, at its core, what it truly means to be
Mark O'mara
Mar 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Simple, short and enlightening for fellow Stoic travellers!
Oct 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
The reason I didn't give this five stars was this: I find Epictetus compelling. I find A.A. Long less so. Half the book is A. A. Long's introduction, which starts thus: "How to be free?!" Seriously? A question mark-exclamation mark combo in the first line? Additionally, it's Long's discretionary selection of bits of Epictetus and not, as I assumed, his translation of all of them. I'm relying on the choices of a man who uses question mark-exclamation mark without shame and without an editor who ...more
Willian Molinari
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good book. It seems like a summary of the whole enchiridion. After reading Seneca, I decided to try Epictetus. These books are usually very dense and require some time to think about, so I decided to not go with the long form of the enchiridion. I do not regret it; it was a good reading/listening.

Here are my notes for this book:

Epictetus was born a slave but died a free man
You are enslaved when you set your mind to any impediment or if you attach your well-being on things that depend on others
Iman Elsayed
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Thanks to Anthony Long, the book’s translation was simple and uncomplicated.

My review won’t differ from Nietzsche’s aphorism #9 in Beyond Good and Evil when he stated the following:

“Do you want to live "according to nature"? O you noble Stoics, what a verbal swindle! Imagine a being like nature - extravagant without limit, indifferent without limit, without purposes and consideration, without pity and justice, simultaneously fruitful, desolate, and unknown - imagine this indifference itself as
Joel Gray
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it

A stoic is a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feeling or complaining.

The art of life - knowing how to live in harmony - with human nature and with our
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Probably my favorite so far in the Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers series. I need to reread this one at some point, because for all the translation is exceptional and makes for a readable book, there’s a lot to unpack in these few pages. The idea that freedom is something over which people have control – that the truly free are not constrained by circumstances or events, that we have to release our need to control and react, doesn’t sit easily with my 21st-century American mindset. Yes, you ...more
Apr 29, 2019 rated it liked it
+ stoicism is a good philosophy for thwarted plans, but not the best for making plans in the first place. it stands too closely to apathy.

+ stoicism is faith-based (“this is as it was meant to be”) whereas an agnostic approach seems more... solid/humble/rational (“who's to say this is not what was meant to be”)

+ the stoic idea that some things are up to us while others are not and best to fret only about that which is up to a useful philosophy but i imagine most ppl have no clarity of
Shane Orr
Apr 05, 2019 rated it liked it
This is the first in a series of books called Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers. Each covers a different topic from the viewpoint of some philosopher. This covered the topic of freedom with teachings from the great stoic, Epictetus. I’m a big fan of stoic philosophy. Summed up, you are only truly free when you focus on the things you can control and accept all of the things you can’t control. There are some great nuggets of wisdom here and it’s a short read.
Jeff Dicken
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
The era in which Epictetus lived was one of slavery and servitude, so some of the situational examples given are done so within the social framework of the culture of the times. Of course, civil and human rights have thankfully been nearly resolved since that epoch. That’s really the only difficulty I found in the lessons given in this translation. Otherwise the philosophy is full of empowering insights for the individual, as is the trademark of classic stoicism.
Niels Philbert
May 14, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a good example of a book, that has the right subject and good intentions, but lands itself between being too broad and/or too short.

As a introduction to Stoicism, it might be four stars. I will say "Ego Is The Enemy" or "The Obstacle Is The Way" by Ryan Holiday both are better choices since they have a better story arc and structure.

How to Be Free is a short book. A pleasent read. A good reminder.
Jun 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
I know I am not related to Epictetus, but throughout this lovely little book I kept hearing the words of my parents, who probably wouldn't know Epictetus from Heraclitus. However, the wisdom and wise thinking they instilled in me is straight outta Epictetus. A very thorough introduction provides perspective and context. This librarian appreciates that. Four stars and keep it handy. It's like an epi pen for you emotions.
Jerel Wilmore
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very short and sweet introduction to Epictetus' "Encheiridion," or "Handbook," and some of his "Discourses." This book is a quick easy read, as half of it is in Ancient Greek, and I'm pretty confident most of us will only read the English translation. A good read once you've read some of the 21st Century analysis of the Stoics and you are ready to look at the original sources.
Lani M
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"Don't ask for things to happen as you would like them to, but wish them to happen as they actually do, and you will be all right."

"In all circumstances keep in mind to turn in to yourself and ask what resources you have for dealing with these things: if pain afflicts you, you will find endurance; if rudeness, you will find patience."
Artjoms Haleckis
Nov 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love how ideas of a man from more than 2000 years ago are still alive and make so much sense in the modern world ! Especially in the modern one, with growing consumerism and generations of people so dependable on their possessions. Such a good food for thought! Book itself is really short, but it's worth reading multiple times.
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Our master is anyone who has the power to implement or prevent the things that we want or don't want. Whoever wants to be free, therefore, should wish for nothing or avoid nothing that is up to other people. Failing that, one is bound to be a slave."
― Epictetus (Encheiridion 14)
Piotr Karaś
Epictetus is one of the philosophers whose thoughts inspire me the most and help me strengthen my character, especially by accepting the world as it is, focusing on what's in my control, seeking the good in myself and in others. The classic Stoicism.
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
A short foray into the main idea of Epictetus' work; Freedom and how we can attain it by focusing only on those things which we have control/influence over while bearing those which we have no control/influence.
Georgi Karov
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really nice introduction into stoicism and some timeless wisdom from Epictetus. Also contains lots of thought provoking topics like what true freedom is, what we should aim for in life and why it makes or does not, sense to do so.
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: stoic-philosophy
"Our master is anyone who has the power to implement or prevent the things that we want or don't want. Whoever wants to be free, therefore, should wish for nothing or avoid nothing that is up to other people. Failing that, one is bound to be a slave."
― Epictetus (Encheiridion 14)
Steve O'neill
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a great little book.
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Epictetus was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was probably born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia (present day Pamukkale, Turkey), and lived in Rome until his exile to Nicopolis in northwestern Greece, where he lived most of his life and died. His teachings were noted down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses. Philosophy, he taught, is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. ...more
“It is better to starve to death in a calm and confident state of mind than to live anxiously amidst abundance. And” 0 likes
“30. *Appropriate actions are largely set by our social relationships. In the case of one’s father, this involves looking after him, letting him have his way in everything, and not making a fuss if he is abusive or violent. “But what if he’s a bad father? ” Do you think you have a *natural affinity only to a good father? “No, just to a father.” Suppose your brother treats you badly. In that case, maintain your fraternal relationship to him. Don’t think about why he behaves that way but about what you need to do to keep your will in harmony with nature. No one else, in fact, will harm you without your consent; you will be harmed only when you think you are being harmed. So make a habit of studying your social relationships – with neighbors, citizens, or army officers – and then you will discover the appropriate thing to do.” 0 likes
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