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

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  14,105 ratings  ·  1,255 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
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Roy Lotz
There will be—or already has been!—a last time in your life that you brush your teeth, cut your hair, drive a car, mow the lawn, or play hopscotch.

In my review of Feeling Good, a self-help book, I noted the lack of practical philosophies in the modern world. Far from an original insight, I now see that this idea is a relatively common criticism of contemporary education and modern philosophy. The other day, for example, I stumbled upon a YouTube channel, the School of Life, an educational pr
Amir Tesla
Oct 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Recommended to: If you are interested in applying philosophical views and wisdom to your life and if you value tranquility and inner peace above all.

What this book is about: The author William Irvine who is a professor of philosophy at Wright State University after having read through many philosophy schools from Zen Buddhist to Cynics and Stoics has come into conclusion that living a stoic life is worth pursuing due to its promising benefit which is tranquility and joy. He has thus compiled tea
B. Rule
May 29, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jan 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, stoicism
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
Paula Vince
Sep 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
May 13, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Philosopher-kings, Zen Buddhists who suck at meditating, wannabe Vulcans
This was a pretty good if brief introduction to the Stoic philosophy. What's notable about it is that the author, William Irvine, is not merely presenting historical information about the Stoics, or a primer on Stoicism for purely educational purposes, but actually advocating Stoicism as a philosophy of life with applicability to modern Westerners. He spends some time talking about the history of the Stoic schools and pointing out that Stoics really did spend time constructing "proofs" that the ...more
robin friedman
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Stoicism As A Philosophy Of Life

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
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
30th book for 2019.

A nice introduction to Stoic philosophy, for the general public, in the style of a self-help book written in an analytic philosophical style. This is not a good book if you are looking for an in depth analysis of the various Stoic philosophers and their writings.

I think this would be best suited to those who are attracted in developing a "philosophy of life" and not sure how to go about it, and are interested in learning more abut Stoicism. It offers an excellent starting poi
Neil White
Dec 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
May 16, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Scriptor Ignotus
Jul 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, self-help
This book is essentially a “pitch” for adopting Stoicism—or a certain modernized iteration of Stoicism—as one’s philosophy of life. It includes a brief survey of the history of Stoicism, a list of psychological techniques which Stoics use to achieve and maintain tranquility (which Irvine understands to be the most fundamental Stoic aspiration), advice plucked from the works of Epictetus, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, and Marcus Aurelius on navigating some of life’s most exacting challenges: grief, ang ...more
Dec 30, 2015 rated it did not like it
Stoicism, it seems, has been somewhat hard done by over the years, and this book gives a good history of the philosophy before getting into the specifics.

I was all onboard with this book until some of the specifics. The uncited claims about human beings' relationship with sex were quite strange, but that could be overlooked.

It was when the author began to talk about insults in regards to the disadvantaged (putting the term in quotation marks no less, so as to invalidate the idea that these peopl
Ahmad Abugosh
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I loved this book! It's not often that we think about how we live, and make an active effort to lead a "good life" outside of religious indoctrination.

Some of the things I started implementing in my life are:

1) Negative visualization. By thinking about how things can go bad in your life, you'll appreciate the moments when they are not.
2) Projective visualization, to imagine what you would do if this same thing happened to someone else. This allows you to step outside of your own ego.
3) Trichot
Feb 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Peter Neiger
Nov 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Occasionally a book enters your life at the perfect time. For me, this book falls in that category. I have found I have a lot of Stoic tendencies, I am what the author calls a "congenital stoic". I loved this book, it discussed a lot of practical advice to attain tranquility for those of us inclined to that. If you have an interest in Stoicism, or really any philosophy of life this is worth a read
C. Varn
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎
Stoicism is a discipline, adopted by ancient Greeks and Roman philosophers, as a path to achieve tranquillity or peace of mind. The idea of a simplified life as philosophy of life, like the Stoics proposed, appeals to me, so I was very interested in reading this book.

After a brief history of the movement and its major exponents (Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius, Marcus Aurelius), the author interprets the stoic teachings turning them into suggestions to be applied to modern lives. Although it gives s
Paul Toth
Dec 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Honestly, a good book about how to have a good life. Some if not most of the ideas/techniques i'm trying to incorporate in my everyday life. I didn't even know that someone is coining them, naming and trying to put them to use as "stoic joy".

I agree on what it's in the book, that negative visualisation, how to react to criticism etc.

If you looking for something that can provide guidance or even a template of what we can do to have a better life, this book might be for you. keep in mind that not
Nick Klagge
Jul 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
(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
Michael Siliski
Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended for anyone interested in a discussion about how to live well.

A Guide to the Good Life is a modern rehabilitation of ancient Stoic philosophy. It is at once a history and survey of Stoic philosophy and an attempt to adapt it to modern times, trying to answer the question, “How should I live?” I read it when it was first published in 2009 and recently went back to see if it still resonates with me today. I was pleasantly surprised by how much of Stoicism seems a matter of course to me
M - The long hot spell
The book has an old-fashioned feel that I’ve felt before while reading books on Buddhism. Stoicism is a philosophy from Greek and Roman times though Irvine is a modern writer and is writing for people who want to try practicing Stoicism today. Irvine has carved out a Stoic philosophy of life that has been helpful to him and the book at one point addressed the fact that sticklers for the ‘old’ ways of Stoicism may question changes to it. Irvine quotes Seneca, however, to remind readers that he do ...more
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Stoic philosophy was one of the most admired philosophies of the ancient Roman period, but it is mostly not followed now because it is considered too tough to follow in modern times. A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine explains the stoic philosophy in such a way which makes it meaningful in the 21st century and dispels with a lot of myths associated with it. A few things that I liked:

• Everyone needs a philosophy of life; otherwise the life is wasted in unnecessary pursuits.
• We should
Apr 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Turns out I'm already a stoic. The point is that you need a governing philosophy for your life. This is as useful as they come--you can be a stoic regardless of your religious inclination. It's just a wise and rational way to deal with pain and uncertainty. It's also about expectations and learning to find joy without having to indulge your baser instincts.
Jun 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Definitely a good introductory book on Stoicism for beginners. Not only does Irvine give good advice and tips on how to implement Stoicism at any stage of life (when dealing with insults, grief, death and so on) but he also gives very useful background information on The Stoic School from its founding by Zeno of Citium to its decline in the Roman times of Marcus Aurelius.
I initially wanted to read this book solely for the history part but after receiving it as a gift for my birthday and actuall
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
“Remember that all we have is ‘on loan’ from Fortune, which can reclaim it without our permission—indeed, without even advance notice."
— Seneca

These words, I think, encapsulate a great deal of Stoic ethos. Our enjoyment of the things we have and our anxiety over their possible loss, our desire for what we want and our grief when we lose what we cherish, cover a large spectrum of human emotion. Yet the Stoics argued, words and thoughts like these when pondered can help us enjoy what little we ma
Sep 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Maciej Bliziński
Jul 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
'A Guide to the Good Life' reformulates stoicism for the modern times. The Greek and Roman forms of stoicism connected traditional philosophic thought like "how did the world came to be?" "why are we here?" with practical advice of how to live a good life. This kind of advice is mostly absent from today's philosophy.

The main goal of a stoic life is acquiring and maintaining tranquility. It's specifically not about pursuing and fulfilling your desires. This is, according to stoics, a dead end, be
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William B Irvine is professor of philosophy at Wright State University. The author of seven books, including A Guide to the Good Life, he has also written for the Huffington Post, Salon, Time, and the BBC. He lives in Dayton, Ohio.

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