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Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius

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From the bestselling authors of The Daily Stoic comes an inspiring guide to the lives of the Stoics, and what the ancients can teach us about happiness, success, resilience and virtue.

Nearly 2,300 years after a ruined merchant named Zeno first established a school on the Stoa Poikile of Athens, Stoicism has found a new audience among those who seek greatness, from athletes to politicians and everyone in between. It's no wonder; the philosophy and its embrace of self-mastery, virtue, and indifference to that which we cannot control is as urgent today as it was in the chaos of the Roman Empire. In Lives of the Stoics, Holiday and Hanselman present the fascinating lives of the men and women who strove to live by the timeless Stoic virtues of Courage. Justice. Temperance. Wisdom. Organized in digestible, mini-biographies of all the well-known--and not so well-known--Stoics, this book vividly brings home what Stoicism was like for the people who loved it and lived it, dusting off powerful lessons to be learned from their struggles and successes. More than a mere history book, every example in these pages, from Epictetus to Marcus Aurelius--slaves to emperors--is designed to help the reader apply philosophy in their own lives. Holiday and Hanselman unveil the core values and ideas that unite figures from Seneca to Cato to Cicero across the centuries. Among them are the idea that self-rule is the greatest empire, that character is fate; how Stoics benefit from preparing not only for success, but failure; and learn to love, not merely accept, the hand they are dealt in life. A treasure of valuable insights and stories, this book can be visited again and again by any reader in search of inspiration from the past.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published September 29, 2020

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About the author

Ryan Holiday

63 books12.5k followers
Ryan Holiday is media strategist for notorious clients like Tucker Max and Dov Charney. After dropping out of college at 19 to apprentice under the strategist Robert Greene, he went on to advise many bestselling authors and multi-platinum musicians. He is the Director of Marketing at American Apparel, where his work in advertising was internationally known. His strategies are used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube, and Google, and have been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker, and Fast Company. He is the author is *Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator*, which is due out in July. He currently lives in New Orleans, with his rebellious puppy, Hanno.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 407 reviews
Profile Image for Sebastian Gebski.
920 reviews785 followers
November 10, 2020
I don't want to be rude, but I can't help the following observation:

RH has got the brilliant idea of "re-inventing" the stoicism in XXI century "for masses" and currently he's milking the cow (mass-producing neo-stoicism books). RH is a smart person and not a bad writer, but ... it feels like the milk has almost run out ... "Lives of the Stoics" is a rather dry collection of short bios of key Stoic philosophers of ancient world. Obviously, there are no new facts, no new theories, no new observations, just grabbing content from available sources and rephrasing it for a modern, layman reader.

The book has no depth, the historical layer is very stripped (it's even mentioned in the appendix, how RH has cut out everything that could scare off anyone not interested in the history itself), there's honestly very little to get out of this book. Honestly, it would make much more sense to pick any historical (academical) essay on Marcus Aurelius, Cicero or Seneca.
Profile Image for Gary Moreau.
Author 9 books227 followers
September 30, 2020
This book is a history of Stoicism. More accurately it is a compilation of mini-biographies of the most famous Stoics from Zeno (334 BCE – 262 BCE) to Marcus Aurelius (121 AD - 180 AD), the Platonian philosopher king, as well as Cicero, Cato the Younger, and Porcia Cato the Iron Woman, among others.

Stoicism is built around four virtues: “Courage, Temperance, Justice, [and] Wisdom.” And that’s pretty much it. There are no rituals, no sacred text, and no organized institution of worship.

There were recognized “leaders”, Zeno being the first, but they didn’t have offices or official duties, as Stoics at least. They were teachers, authors, politicians, and generals. Aurelius even became Emperor.

They were considered philosophers, but few resembled philosophers as most of us think of that moniker today. The word philosophy has had an extremely fluid and often imprecise etymology over the centuries. The first definition offered by Webster’s today is “all learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts.” At the time of Newton, however, science and philosophy were used synonymously. During the early days of Stoicism, “Zeno divided the curriculum of Stoicism into three parts: physics, ethics, and logic.”

The meaning of stoicism has changed as well. “The word ‘stoic’ in English [today] means the unemotional endurance of pain.” To the Stoics, however, Stoic was all about the active pursuit of virtue and justice. It was a pro-active quality, not a defense mechanism.

There was/is an emphasis on listening. “Zeno said that we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason…” And it was forward looking. We die the day we are born in the sense that the time already past in our lives is not something we can do anything about. We can only try harder, pursuing to improve that which we can control and accepting that which we can’t. Don’t worry about the rules, just do it, to adopt a modern commercial tag line.

The other distinguishing characteristic of Stoicism is the emphasis on the common good, not self-interest. Many Stoics went into politics out of a sense of obligation, not a grab for power and wealth.

Stoicism is a way to live that no Stoic has ever fully achieved, however, although some of the Stoics described clearly led virtuous lives by any standard. But not perfect.

Many were born into wealth and privilege. Nearly all accepted the institution of slavery (one of the most famous Stoics had been a slave) and the brutality of war. But, as the authors conclude, “Most of all, the Stoics taught us by the fact that they tried.”

I was often reminded of Confucius (551 BCE – 479 BCE) throughout the book and he is referenced a few times. Confucius lived during a tumultuous time in the history of China. Neighboring fiefdoms were at constant war and Confucius was ultimately called upon to help sort it all out.

He concluded that peace could never be fully maintained by the armed agents of the state (i.e. the police or the military). As soon as that authority leaves, as lethally as it may be armed, the mayhem would return. He understood, quite correctly, that self-restraint is the only weapon against constant bedlam and that self-restraint would only take hold if there was a value system of peace and cooperation shared by all. And for him that value system turned on the internalization of values and behaviors built on an inviolate sense of obligation to others. (Pretty Stoic, I think.)

It is a worthy set of values, to be sure. But not always easy to live by 24/7. There are contradictions in every philosophy and belief system. A devout Stoic, Rusticus had a Christian who did no more than follow his faith put to death. Not because he found him deserving – he didn’t - but because that was the law of Rome at the time. And Seneca, one of history’s most famous Stoics, was a tutor and advisor to Nero, perhaps the most deranged and ruthless leader of all time.

But why write this book now? Stoicism remains an active, if inconspicuous, philosophy among many, including some in positions of political power.

Well, there is little possible debate that America today is starting to look a lot like Rome before its collapse. Greed, corruption, and the pursuit of self-interest at the expense of the common good are in abundant supply. And these are, in fact, the antithesis of the virtue and justice that Stoicism stands for. If only we had three ears and four eyes and could look away from our technology for just a moment we’d see it.

In the end this is a very good book and very well written by two authors who are eminently qualified to write it. I didn’t give it a 5 only because that didn’t seem like the Stoic thing to do. Just kidding. I would have liked to see more philosophical exploration of why the four virtues are the right ones, but that is admittedly a failure of my own expectation, not the authors’ promise, which they deliver fully on.

Read it. You will learn much from the lives portrayed.
Profile Image for Raymond.
326 reviews232 followers
May 4, 2021
I liked this book more than I thought I would. Its a collection of moral biographies of the 26 major Stoic figures of Ancient Greece and Rome from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius. Each chapter focused on one Stoic figure however the chapters do overlap because earlier Stoics influenced later Stoics either by being their teachers or through their writings (it would have been nice to have a Stoic family tree to see all the connections). It was interesting to learn that the Stoics wrote hundreds of books, many of which have been lost to history. This book does a good job of showing the good and not so flattering traits of each philosopher. For example, Diotimus is mostly known for writing numerous letters slandering the founder of the Epicureans. 

Cicero had one of the most interesting and strong chapters. I had no idea he was so sheisty! Unfortunately he was not a philosopher that actually lived out the ideas and virtues that he wrote about. Seneca may have been my favorite Stoic to read about. He was similar to Cicero in that he sought out fame and wealth. The biggest difference is that Seneca was the Emperor Nero's tutor and a pretty bad one at that. Seneca tried to teach Nero how to be a good person but his teachings never got through to the evil leader. The only redeeming quality about Seneca is that alot of his writings are still widely read today. Epictetus and of course Marcus Aurelius were the other Stoics who I enjoyed learning more about. 

You don't need to have a strong background in Greek/Roman history or Stoic philosophy to read this book. Its accessible to all readers and it will definitely encourage them to read some of the works that these philosophers wrote. 

It's not what you say that lives on after your time; it's not what you write or even what you build. It's the example that you set. It's the things that you live by. -Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, Lives of the Stoics
Profile Image for Matt Hutson.
223 reviews79 followers
June 13, 2021
2.5/5
I'd say the only reason why you might pick up this book is if you are extremely interested in the stoic philosophy history. Each chapter focuses very briefly on each stoic philosopher recorded in history.

Like every other Ryan Holiday book, he mixes the lessons in with the stories. So if you want to get anything practical from this book you have to pay attention very closely to each of the individual stories.

The thing this book did very well was to paint a big picture of all the stoic philosophers, where they came from, and what it really means to live as a stoic. Stoicism is extremely interesting to me, so I did find Value in the book and I think you will too. But if you want more depth I'd recommend reading the individual writings of Seneca or Marcus Aurelius. Holiday mentions several other writings that I suppose you could search out as well.

To me, I would much prefer reading a book like Stillness is the Key or Ego is the Enemy as it relates directly to modern times. I believe these other books are Ryan's best work whereas this one falls more on the side of nice to read but not essential.
Profile Image for Lucas Jarche.
203 reviews16 followers
December 13, 2020
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Ryan Holiday; I’ve been subscribed to his newsletter for about a year now. On the one hand I like what he’s doing and appreciate the chance to get to think about some new aspect of life every day. On the other hand, I don’t think he’s a very strong writer and I’m often left wanting him to just quote the relevant passages and then shut up. All the interesting quotes I’ve flagged in this book are him quoting someone else. Couple that with some persistent marketing tactics that seem at odds with the very lessons he tries to teach (I get it, he’s got to make money), and a very American-centric view on the world … sometimes I consider unsubscribing.

He’s got this habit of starting chapters and paragraphs with what my technical writing professor likes to call ‘bad beginnings’. Like “It’s undeniable that…” or “Everyone knows that …” or “There’s no dispute about the fact that …” or “It’s hard to argue with …” etc. Albeit mercifully it’s less apparent in this book than it is in his newsletters. He also likes to restate things in threes. He says the same thing once, twice, again. Just saying it again in different words a few times. See what I did there? It’s even more apparent when he’s asking rhetorical questions or assuming what emotions we readers are feeling. His whole attitude has this self-help guru, silicon-valley influencer, side-hustle vibe that doesn’t really lend itself to deep analysis. Still, I think he’s probably a very nice guy in real life.

I thought this book would be the best book of his to read because it’s not really him explaining anything, it’s just some information I wanted collated into one handy book. Lives of the Stoics accomplished pretty much all that I wanted it to. It gave me a brief run-down on the important stoic philosophers and saved me compiling that information from a handful of ‘stodgy old tomes’. And while his quirky titles that he gives them wasn’t my favourite technique, I can’t help but grudgingly admit that they helped crystallize them into distinct personalities, though I get the feeling he took a few liberties there. Understandable.

But I still couldn’t get over his writing. He loves asides and parentheticals. I counted once (p104-105): six sentences in a row with an aside offset by dashes, commas, or parentheses. None of them are really required, and they often interrupt the flow of the sentence. I’m not a fan of how he always tries to add his two cents after a quote. Like when he quotes a metaphor that says stoicism is like blood/bones/soul, he adds “Perfect metaphor because stoicism is a philosophy meant to be lived as a human being”. What does that even mean? Living as a human being is the only way to live. The definition of philosophy is a system for living or understanding, only humans create philosophies, of course we’re going to live them as human beings. Or when he just adds “indeed” like on p.133.

His prose is the opposite of elegant or sparse, taking so many pages to say what could often be said in a couple of sentences. Some chapters only really have one idea but he still manages to drag it out for several pages. He uses passive voice when active voice would be far less awkward. There are unclear pronouns that reference an ‘it’ that’s only defined in the previous paragraph. It’s this weird mix of overly formal then immediately casual writing with abrupt references to supposedly famous American figures thrown in abruptly and without preamble.

Loved the content, did not love the execution. I’ll probably still look at it occasionally for reference.
Profile Image for Laura Noggle.
669 reviews383 followers
December 13, 2020
Might read this one again.

Working on my second year through The Daily Stoic.

"There is no better definition of a Stoic: to have but not want, to enjoy without needing.”

"'Since the parts of philosophy are inseparable from each other, yet plants are distinct from fruit and walls are separate from plants, he claimed the simile for philosophy should rather be a living being, where physics is blood and flesh, logic the bones and sinews, and ethics the soul.' It's the perfect metaphor for the Stoics too, because philosophy is meant to be lived as a human being."

"No one can take away our ability to remain undaunted."

"It’s an example that should challenge every talented and brilliant person: You owe it to yourself and to the world to actively engage with the brief moment you have on this planet. You cannot retreat exclusively into ideas. You must contribute."

“It’s only in our modern reactionary, divisive focus on 'privilege' that we have forgotten how much we all have in common as human beings, how we all stand equally naked and defenseless against fate whether we possess worldly power or not.”

“Don’t explain your philosophy,” Epictetus said, “embody it.”

"A book given. A book read. Such a simple exchange, but done between the right two people at the right time—as it was here—can be enough to change the world."
Profile Image for Roxana Chirilă.
965 reviews122 followers
May 29, 2022
DNF @30%

The main reasons for the one star rating are:
1. the flights of imagination
2. the inability to portray stoic beliefs
3. the motivational/inspiring stories where the point is utterly absent
4. the naivety!
5. the desire to see the ancient world through modern glasses
6. the utter disdain for any branch of philosophy except Stoicism
7. the weird connections he draws between people of the same name

I mean. It's a failure on all accounts.

1. Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman's RPF.

It's not impossible to imagine Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman coming up with most of this book while on a month-long hike through the Andes, with few references on hand, while their wives were at home worrying about them and taking care of their collective seven kids and transmitting the values of Stoicism to a new generation.

Did this trip really take place? Do they have any children, let alone seven? Hell if I know. Probably not. I just made all this shit up five seconds ago .

If you think this is absurd, you're right! One really shouldn't make shit up! But it's exactly what this book does whenever information is missing: it makes shit up without any evidence.

After the death of Scipio, Panaetius understood that a chapter of his life had ended - all that was left was for him to write the next (and possibly the final) one. He returned to Athens the same year after another great loss - this time the death of Antipater - to take over as head of the school. There he served the Stoa another twenty years, continuing to teach and write. Perhaps, like retired political figures today, he returned occasionally to Rome to lecture, consult with magistrates, or promote his books.


This is nothing more than real person fiction. It's made up. We don't know if it happened, just like we don't know whether Ryan Holiday didn't get his last name from that trip to the Andes I mentioned above.

2. Stoicism is as Stoicism does, friends.

What did the Stoics believe in...? Lol.

Stoicism was a philosophical school with various branches of learning, such as physics, ethics, logic, but don't look to this book to tell you what the "physics" and "logic" were about, because... I don't know. It would be embarrassing for the authors to admit that their heroes believed the world is born of fire and will return to fire, I guess. It's just not compatible with our own view of the world, so it gets swept under the rug. And as for logic, it's probably neglected because of its abstract nature, even if it's quite cool.

As for the ethics? Barely explained, and certainly not in detail.

No, what the book does is try to tell you about the lives of Stoics so you can be inspired! (With the flights of fancy mentioned above included)

3. Forgetting to add the point to the story.

As the book tells us, the first Stoic philosopher, Zeno, was 72 years old when he tripped and broke his finger. Lying on the ground, he decided this was a sign, punched the ground and quoted a line of poetry: "I come of my own accord; why then call me?" Then he held his breath until he died.

The authors admit this might not be a true story (no shit, Sherlocks), "but [it teaches] a lesson nonetheless."

Here's a lesson I can get from this: when life is tough and you endure a bit of pain, kill yourself like a Stoic would. Here's another lesson: always have a quote of poetry on hand in case you need to say something before you die (mine would have to be "but thou, Proserpina, sleep", because it's the only vaguely appropriate line in my very limited arsenal).

It would be nice if we knew how the people telling this blatantly made-up story interpreted it. Why were they telling it? Why was it relevant to them? Why this, and not another one?

4. If an ancient said it, it must be true.

This whole book reeks of taking people's stories for granted. The Stoics were so deep, so wise, so perfect, so exemplary, true models. Wonderful. Inspirational. We should attempt to emulate them!

Yeah, chiefs, except these stories get passed down in writing and people were about as meticulous in keeping to the truth as you. So the stories that reach us? Probably polished to the point where only basics remain, to be fleshed out by the imaginations of the recipients. Were the Stoics so formidable? Maybe some. But it's more likely that they had their ups and downs, their qualities and defects, just like everyone else.

Sure, if you want to go the "moral tale" route, you can dispense with the realism of your characters, but in that case you might want to call this book "Stoic Fairy Tales" for a more accurate title.

5. The more things change, the more we want to prove they were the same back then.

It is hilarious that this book sends philosophers on imaginary book tours, as if they were modern authors (see point 1.). But it's less funny when they view ancient politics through modern-tinted glasses - and cast the Middle East as some sort of eternally problematic area.

Let's make it clear: Greece was a mess; the Stoics got to go to Rome because Athens had attacked another city and Rome had fined it a fuckton of money for it, so now they were trying to lower that payment. Meanwhile, Romans were conquering left and right and committing genocide while taking people into slavery - and that's when they didn't have internal power struggles. Wars everywhere, wars all over the place, for hundreds of years, to be followed by many other wars.

In this context, the chapter on Posidonius begins:

[...] The year of his birth, 135 BC, in what is now Syria, marked the beginning of political turmoil that in a sense continues to this day. [...] Perhaps these are the ideal conditions in which Stoicism emerges: a homeland lacking strong leadership and buffeted by powerful outside forces; a ringside seat to the perils of excess and greed. [...] In any case, Posidonius would later recall with disapproval that the abundance of Syria in those days made its people "free from the bother of the necessities of life, and so were forever meeting for a continual life of feasting and their gymnasia turned into baths."


Can you see the political turmoil there? No? Neither can I! Fuck, Wikipedia can't, either. In a world where war was happening elsewhere, these guys were like, "Eh, fuck it" and enjoying their lives with food and baths and chilling out.

May that political turmoil reach us all.

But Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman are so keen on seeing Syria as a place of horror and war that they cast it that way forcefully, even if their own feckin' narrative contradicts them, and then claim it's unchanged for two thousand years. You know, 'cause those Middle Eastern people, man, they've always been trouble, ya know? So different, so unusual, having wars and shit all the time, really troublesome even when they're... chilling.

Fuck that.

6. If it's not Stoicism, it sucks!

I don't feel like going into detail, but modern philosophy is treated like this obscure and abstract exercise that's entirely incomprehensible - or very shallow and useless.

To be fair, it can be a bit hard to get into at times, because people are mostly in dialogue with one another, but for fuck's sake. It often feels like the book has no clue what modern philosophy does.

(And it definitely has no idea what the trolley problem is about: no, book, the trolley problem isn't about literally pulling a lever. It's a way to reflect choosing between two bad options. Here's a more real example someone else mentioned: would you send your best friend to fix a nuclear meltdown issue to save a thousand people when the reactor blows up - even if your friend will die?)

It's also turning its nose up at other ancient schools of philosophy at times (such as epicureanism), without mentioning what those guys believed in.

What a mess!

7. Blaming private Ryan

One would assume that some names were common in ancient times, just like they're common today. Stephen. Ryan. Karen. It doesn't necessarily mean that these people are connected.

...except, in this book, they are.

About Diogenes of Babylon: "unlike his own more famous predecessor and namesake Diogenes the Cynic, this Diogenes was not some antisocial rebel. [...] This Diogenes, unlike the famous Diogenes the Cynic, some two centuries before, did not sleep in a barrel. He did not masturbate in public."

WHOA there. Why are these two figures connected? Just the name? It's the first time barrel!Diogenes is mentioned - and one would assume it's only because Diogenes of Babylon bears his name. Like, holy shit, should I start likening Ryan Holiday to all the Ryans I've ever heard about, just because their parents decided it was a good name? (Unlike Ryanair, Ryan Holiday can't make his ideas fly...)

Stoicism was founded by a Zeno - when another Zeno pops up, Ryan Holiday suggests that there's a cyclicity to things, but that this second Zeno doesn't seem to believe in reincarnation. Like... why. Because they share a name? What? Why.

8. Learn to ask questions.

I'm not sure if this is an advice to the readers or to the authors of this book, but this mess definitely invites it. The scholarship levels are laughable, the fairy tales are pointless, the rhetoric would make a Roman cry. What little info there is is covered in speculation and motivational speech that fails to motivate.

GG. Now rip this thing apart and go write a better book.
Profile Image for Josh King.
71 reviews2 followers
December 9, 2020
2.5/5

I’m a fan of Stoic philosophy and also a fan of Ryan Holiday’s work. I feel many people are introduced to the Stoic ways by Holiday (others probably through Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations). When this book came out I was very interested - finally an accumulation of all the Stoics in history and what they contributed to the philosophy. I was wrong.

I believe I was mislead in what this book was about - it truly is just “Lives of Stoics” and not “The Art of Living...” as the sub title suggests. The book reads as short chapters summarizing each famous Stoic’s life. I was hoping to read Stoic insights and philosophies thought by each individual and what they contributed to Stoicism - not just where they were born, how awesome Cato was, how bad Nero was , and how they died.

I take notes when reading books like these, writing down passages that resonate with me. I grabbed a brand new pen for this one. I grew more and more upset as the Introduction had more notes written down than half the chapters about the Stoics. I feel this book may have just been a money grab in trying to market the term “Stoicism”. There’s not much more to say or learn after you’ve read the works of the main Stoics I presume.

I do feel if I knew the premise of this book before going into it I would have rated it higher. Although, the book blurb even further cements my intuition of what I presumed the book was about, so it misled from the get go. I do not feel 90% of the mini-biographies given will help me utilize Stoicism, as the book never even fully explains Stoicism (you must read Ryan Holliday’s other books I presume...interesting).

I guess if you are new to Stoic philosophy, don’t start with this book. If you want to read mini-biographies on Stoics, that relate to Stoicism as a whole maybe 40% of the time, then this is for you
Profile Image for Trey.
12 reviews
November 4, 2020
I’m a Ryan Holiday fanboy. No shame. Dude writes books that are life changing. This one is perfect for a guy like me who has read along each year as he releases something new. He’s helped me unlock my inner student.

Philosophy has become my daily practice, so these bite sized biographies on the men and women who are part of the tradition I’ve been adopted into, are a perfect compliment to that habit.

I chose to read slowly. Deliberately. Pen in hand. Not sure I’ve annotated a work more than this one. It’s inspiring, instructive and well researched. It’s not overly drawn out. I feel ready to tackle Plutarch.
Profile Image for Bianca A..
214 reviews148 followers
November 18, 2020
Written by authors who are pioneering and riding the modern revival of stoicism as a trendy method of thinking and manifesting yourself. Although skeptical about the authors, I do not resent the modern revival of stoicism itself, as I find it worthy to be put on a pedestal and analyzed. The book offers a cool summary of the lives of some important philosophers and their words. Funnily enough, the book reminded me of David Goggins who has probably not himself heard of stoicism yet, since he always advocated for the renunciation of comforts in order to find yourself and live truly. I enjoyed the discussion on stoicism paradoxes through the lens of Cicero, as well as the story of Seneca's hypocrisy and Marcus Aurelius' true example. I think the book only took flight because of three reasons: good marketing, colloquial language and perhaps even the mentioning of the woman stoic, as most of the content is just a bunch of references put together on the topic of stoicism which has been done in other books and thus is in my opinion over-recycled.
Profile Image for Kristina .
1,248 reviews
August 31, 2020
The stoicism tenets of courage, justice, wisdom, and temperance fascinate me. This account is organized in detailed, succinct biographies of the better known names in the stoicism movement---Cato, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius all receive their due. I philosophy fangirled a few times.
Profile Image for kartik narayanan.
725 reviews201 followers
October 18, 2020
Watch it on Youtube

or hear the Podcast

or read the full review at my blog Digital Amrit

tl;dr: 'Lives of the Stoics' teaches us about applying Stoicism to our daily lives through the telling of the stories of the various philosophers who helped shape it.

This book is a series of mini-biographies of about twenty-five philosophers who were instrumental in creating, defining, challenging and evolving Stoicism. They range from the creator Zeno to Chrysippus the codifier, from Cicero the avowed non-stoic but who followed its tenets, to Seneca the author and historian, from Epictetus the free man...

October 24, 2020
A wonderful introduction to stoicism and it's philosophers... Great effort by the authors to compile vast information together
Profile Image for Edwin Setiadi.
252 reviews10 followers
October 24, 2020
I began reading this book with a relatively good knowledge on Stoicism, after reading the 3 "main books" of Meditations, Discourses, and Letters, while adding Enchiridion and On the Shortness of Life into the "ancient" mix. For the modern Stoicism I have read books written by several authors including what many consider as the "main 3 modern philosophers" of Donald Robertson, Massimo Pigliucci, and of course Ryan Holiday with his Obstacle, Ego, and Stillness, while I have been reading The Daily Stoic in its 4th cycle for this year. This, of course, not to mention all the Daily Stoic e-mails, all the podcasts on Stoicism, and the many wonderful articles on Stoicism on Medium.

Hence, when I start reading this book immediately after its release date on 29 September 2020, my instant reaction was finally a biographical book on the lives of the Stoics that I've been reading so much about! A book that shows how the Stoic practices were being implemented by the greats. I cannot help but feeling like Star Wars fans when watching Episode 1 for the first time and saw that many Jedi Warriors in action, or more precisely, when I open the book I feel like a little girl wearing princess dress in Disneyland.

I took my time reading it though. Oh no no no, I'm not going to read it like the last time I read Ryan Holiday’s book (devoured it in 4 days and poof the magic was over before it even began). So I savour it, pace it, and enjoy slow reading it very much. And 26 Stoics biographies become 26 days of different role models to meditate from, with one Stoic philosopher a day inspiring me in more ways than I had imagined.

First and foremost, there's Zeno’s acceptance on destiny and how to make the best out of his situation. Cleanthes' hard working ethic, industriousness, quick wit, and integrity. Diogenes’ diplomatic skills. Antipater’s kindness and personal approach to his surroundings, and his philosophy on marriage and kids. The awesome Scipionic circle and the way Panaetius embedded Stoicism into the Roman Republic life. And Helvidius Priscus’ bravery to speak his mind.

Then there's the unflinching moral standing of Rutilius, “the last honest man in Rome”, despite his corrupted surrounding in the Roman high rankings (one virtue that bite him back real hard, which is even a greater lesson to learn on how to deal with personal injustice). Thrasea’s steely courage as an opposition senator to Mad dictator Nero, and the way he deals with the grave injustices around him. Cato's daughter Porcia, whom as a Stoic herself can withstand so many losses and uncertainties with only her philosophy as her bedrock of sanity. And ultimately for me, how Chrysippus developed his Stoic mentality from his running days (which, as a runner my self, makes him the perfect role model for me) and ever the great researcher and writer, how he codified all the Stoic lessons as well as diligently learn from rival schools to perfecting his defend of Stoicism. The fact that Cornutus inherited a full 700 of Chrysippus’ books when Persius died speaks volume on Chrysippus’ industriousness.

While Chrysippus remains my favourite Stoic, there are some others that really at par: The brilliance and endless curiosity of polymath Posidonius and the way he makes observations, gather data and use the data, while especially useful for me is his views on the corrupted world of politics (he advised many great men, including the great Roman general Pompey whom even travelled to Rhodes to meet Posidonius for advice). Moreover, there’s everyone’s favourite philosopher Cato, with his integrity, brevity, oratory brilliance, and the way he live his life that embodies the perfect Stoic character whom practices Aristo's idea of being indifferent to everything but virtue.

There are also Athenodorus and Arius whom become the advisors of Rome’s first emperor Octavian, which thanks to these men's advises Octavian was able to turn Rome from bricks to marbles. There’s Musonius Rufus, “the Roman Socrates”, a great embodiment of the four virtues of Stoicism whom teaches the importance of hard work and endurance, and always try to find opportunities to do good wherever he was and no matter the circumstance (which serendipitously, the very morning I read the chapter about him was the day I had to make one of the most defining decisions in my life, and it could not go any smoother thanks to the brief but powerful lessons about him). And of course everybody's favourite teacher Epictetus, whose biographical chapter I highlighted the most, and the embodiment of Plato’s philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius.

But then there’s Cicero. While he never claim to be a Stoic, he trained under one (Posidonius), he took care of the blind Stoic Diodotus, commented in one of his writings that the Stoics are the true philosophers, and it is through his writings that much of what we know about Stoicism in the ancient world survives. And it shows how much influence he had on Stoicism just by the long coverage in this book as the only non-Stoic Stoic biography that could easily mistaken as one of Robert Greene’s coverage. What’s with all the associations but never the actual label of a Stoic? It is simply because he also studied under teachers from every school during his 2 years in Athens, to gain wisdom and knowledge from all of them. And it shows immediately from reading this chapter that his behaviour is nowhere near Stoic-like.

The book also perfectly illustrate the conflicts and infighting within the school of Stoicism, with the argumentative and boldness of Aristo challenging the very cornerstone of Stoic philosophy established by Zeno and solidified by Cleanthes. And I love the fact that the Stoics were not perfect human beings whom also struggle with their own demons just like the rest of us, just like the story of Diotimus, or the one error of judgement that made an otherwise flawless Junius Rusticus forever remembered in history as the Stoic that prosecute a Christian, or the un-Stoic like advice by Stoic philosopher Arius to emperor Octavian to kill his enemy's child to secure the throne (but then again Arius provide us with the best summary of Stoicism's 4 virtues). 

I also find hard to digest Plautus’ non-action against Nero’s smear and aggressive attacks, confused whether that’s a very Stoic temperance for something outside his control or a lack of courage and a passive acceptance of Amor Fati. And of course there’s the ever conflicting Seneca. While his thinking reflect a Stoic way of thinking, his actions proof otherwise. For example, being a disciple of the frugal school once led by Cleanthes he can throw lavish parties using money he get from his murderous boss.

Of course, Ryan Holiday never claim that the Stoics were perfect human beings, and in fact one way or another all of them eventually violate the lessons of Stoicism to varying degrees. That’s just the imperfect human nature. Nevertheless, for every flawed Stoic there are several tremendous ones that reflect the four virtues of wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice.

Two biographies stands out for me as badass examples of this attitude. First, the story of Agrippinus, with his bravery in the era of 2 corrupt and violent emperors Claudius and Nero, which become one of the role models for none other than Epictetus. His clear principles are indeed admirable, and his temperance in facing his own injustice and banishment is one of the most memorable key moments in Stoic history. He indeed did not add to his troubles by bemoaning them, nor did he compromise his composure or his dignity for any matters whether big or small. And second, the story of Julius Canus, whom was playing chess with a friend while awaiting to be executed by Emperor Caligula, when the guard came to execute him. He then joked to his friend saying “you will testify that I was one piece ahead” and calmly went on to his death chamber with no fear as if it’s just a regular daily task.

Ultimately, the Stoics were not some people wearing robes sitting idly talking about theories. But they’re merchant, long distance runner, wrestler, senator, military general, slave, governor, teacher, mayor, even emperor. They were real people with real-life jobs trying to function in a broken and chaotic society. This is where this book stands out from the rest of the pact, as we get to see the Stoic philosophy directly implemented in action, through 26 different personalities in an environment not that different than ours.

I have a bucket list to someday travel from Cyprus to Greece all the way to Rome following the steps of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Stoa. I expect to found almost no statue or historical artifact of Stoicism, however, as that would not be very Stoic of them (no ego-boosting statues, no trail of extravagant riches, etc). But instead I would be walking in the streets where these great philosophers once walked, and inspired the way they were inspired in their own respective times. And when that faithful day comes, what better book to bring and re-read along the journey than this one? A pure masterclass by Ryan Holiday, as always.
Profile Image for Tim O'Neill.
85 reviews208 followers
November 22, 2020
This a great introduction to the history of the original Stoic school, from its origins with Zeno through to its culmination and apogee in the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. It is not meant to be an original contribution to historical analysis; more of a popular overview using - as Plutarch did - the lives of the greatest Stoic thinkers to illustrate how this important school of thought arose and developed. For those, like me, for whom the names of key figures like Chrysippus or Musonius Rufus have always been something of a chronological jumble, this book lays out how each influenced the next and how they stood in relation to each other.

Like all of Holiday's books on Stoicism, the emphasis is on the application of the philosophy to living a good life, so the lessons of each thinker's life, their successes and their failures are given practical articulation. But this is not a work of hagiography. Seneca and Cicero, for example, are praised for some things, but the examples of where they fell short of their ideals are highlighted as lessons as well. The eternal applicability of Stoic principles also comes through all of the biographies. Reading this in 2020 in the light of Covid-19, I was struck by how often pandemics, their impact and the strain they put on people and societies came up in the stories of these thinkers. I suspect people living through other difficulties would notice other, different perpetual themes.

A good introduction to the history of this influential philosophy.
Profile Image for Dorin Lazăr.
385 reviews84 followers
May 28, 2022
I'm utterly disappointed by this book. I'm really interested in the stoic philosophy, as well as the historical facts known about these philosophers. However, both seem to be missing from this book; and the authors only manage to list some watered down interpretations of the lives of these philosophers.

I'm not sure what made the book unreadable to me. Maybe it's the unfocused story-telling that is meant to be read by someone who already knows the topic well, or maybe it's the lack of structure in the approach to the various individual philosophers. The book is disorganized, random, despite following a list of individual in a somewhat chronological order. On each of the biographies there's little clarity. I have the feeling that one should already know the stories presented here, and that the book is not meant to be read, but owned.

I expected more, I guess. I shouldn't have, but things are what they are. Abandoned, after trying to browse it a bit more to see if the style continues for the entirety of the book. It does.
3 reviews1 follower
August 17, 2022
This book was a page turner. At the very least will get you interested and reading further on the actual works of the stoics, Roman history or Plutarch's bios... Or all of them, even if just one of those happen, you may consider this a good investment.
Profile Image for Henry Manampiring.
Author 8 books974 followers
March 22, 2021
Very good for those into Stoicism, to learn about so many other Stoics beyond the usual suspects. These figures were described not as perfect Sages, but as normal humab beings with flaws too. Very readable and inspiring.
Profile Image for Brent Latimer.
32 reviews
April 15, 2021
It's a history book.
I gave up as I found I had to force myself to keep reading it.
Unless you're really interested in the history of stoicism I would skip this.
Profile Image for Michael Torres.
128 reviews8 followers
November 15, 2022
My least favourite of Holiday’s books. A mixture of history and philosophy, but not as well done as his later releases. Still a good start point for those looking to get into the philosophy of stoicism and the figures involved in it.
Profile Image for kutingtin.
460 reviews59 followers
October 11, 2022
The Stoics, I guess like me and most people have an unquenching thirst for knowledge and self improvement. They were not perfect, they were the great thinkers of their time but we can also learn from their mistakes.

Most of them are men and I wish there were more women philosophers not just in the past but today as well.

It was also so surprising knowing how these men died or choose to die- like one just chose to stop breathing, one was plagued by nightmares another with excessive laughter.

aand with that, just gonna casually leave a quote here from Marcus Aurelius:

“You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.”

Notes on the Lives of Stoics:

- Philosophy offers counsel, to illuminate the path in life, to find tranquility, purpose, self-control and happiness.

- Zeno: accustom your body to be the servant of your mind.

- 3 kinds of life: contemplative, active and rational.

- Courage, Justice, Moderation, Wisdom

- Aristo: living our lives on how closed we came to virtue in the moments that mattered.

- It is not what you write or build but the example you set yourself, the things you lived by.

- Caveat Emptor: buyer beware

- Learn. Apply. Learn. Apply. This is the Stoic way.

- Daimon: personal genius or calling

- That in an unpredictable world, all we can manage is ourselves.

- If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it.

- Cicero: If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

- At the core of stoicism is the acceptance of what we cannot change.

- We need guidance and we need the to live the progress of getting better.

- Wisdom (phronesis), Self-Control (sophrosune), Justice (dikaiosune), Bravery (andreia), appropriate acts (kathekonta)

- Lucius Annaues Seneca: On the Tranquility of Mind

- Epictitus: “It is better to starve to death in a calm and confident state of mind than to live anxiously amidst abundance.”

- ta eph’ hemin, ta ouk eph’ hemin - “what is up to us and what is not up to us.”

- Our opinions determine the reality we experience. It is not thingns that upset us but our judgement on them.

- Where our heart is set, there our impediments lie.

- It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks they already know.

- Galene: calmness or stillness
Profile Image for Petra.
59 reviews51 followers
October 8, 2020
Beautiful book. And beautiful storytelling. A great summary and explanation of the lives of the Stoics. The text is sprinkled with examples quotes and fun facts to make the read interesting and captivating.

The book presents stoicism and the way it evolved over time through the lives of the Stoics. It is incredibly rich with information and it made me understand this philosophy much better.
Super enjoyable read! Very much so recommend.

The whole history of stoic philosophy and how it progressed throughout time. It is full with quotes and life advice from these amazing people who were questioning and meditating on life, death, moderation, humility and action.
All the big Stoics Zeno, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus they are all coming to life in these pages. The chapters present the political situation, their lives, their situation and their character and actions. Examples are presented and are contextualized in a way that you can use in your own life. It is done in an amazing style of storytelling and it is engaging all the way through! If you are interested in stoicism or would like to learn more about this it is a great resource!
Profile Image for David D.  Knapp, Ph.D..
380 reviews6 followers
November 4, 2020
I consider myself a Stoic, so I love reading the works of Ryan Holiday. "Ego is the Enemy," "The Obstacle is the Way," and "Stillness is the Key" are among my favorite nonfiction books. And I reflect upon "The Daily Stoic" each day.

Therefore, you may be surprised that I gave this latest work of his only three stars. (I debated between three and four, ultimately settling on three.)

It's not that I didn't like "Lives of the Stoics." I did. However, I think this work focused too much on the personal histories of the Stoics he featured - and not enough on how we could apply the philosophies of these ancient thought leaders. It's that application discussion that I cherish so much in his other works, so finding it lacking a little in this one was somewhat disappointing.

Still, I liked this book. I just didn't love it.
Profile Image for Fadi Saad.
8 reviews
May 15, 2021
It was a pleasure reading about the lives of those heroes.
It was an honour reading about Posidonius who was from my home country, Syria!!

Posidonius left Syria in his early twenties seeking adventure.
He perfectly illustrates the curiosity, the fascination with the beautiful and complex world that surrounds us.
As a child who can be fascinated even by an ordinary patch of grass, Posidonuis lived, as Seneca would later write, as if the whole world was a temple of the gods.

Best learnt word from this book:
Equanimity- noun: mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.
Profile Image for Douglass Gaking.
374 reviews1,699 followers
June 17, 2022
This book should come with a trigger warning for graphic depictions of multiple suicides. Also, why we need to get so graphic with that? Seems like it was just there for shock and awe.

While there are a few good quotes from the Stoic philosophers, that's about all this book is good for, and there are plenty of places to get that content. The biographical writing isn't strong. You could just read Plutarch and other ancient texts, which have better writing, even if you get the free public domain translations. Holiday essentially took their work, added some modern clichés, and repackaged it.

It seems it was a stretch to make a full book out of this content too. It barely clears 300 pages thanks to the inclusion of some short biographies that tell us almost nothing. The Stoic ideas are great, and I want to learn more about them. I'm going to go read some Plutarch, Cicero, or Seneca.
Profile Image for Fabian Garcia.
14 reviews
August 13, 2022
Not perfection, but progress. This is the main lesson of this book and the way it is taught through the lives of this Stoics is a must read for anyone looking to better themselves. It is through the example of this ancient men and women that the Stoic philosophy can be truly appreciated. In conclusion it is also a great introductory book to Stoicism
Profile Image for Jeremy Randall.
291 reviews21 followers
April 28, 2022
Fascinated by some of the stoics. Gotta get that meditations book.
Profile Image for Eduardo Xavier.
107 reviews1 follower
March 6, 2021
The stoicism is a philosophical school with the foundation on resiliency, self discipline, indifference of suffering and misfortune as well as reason, virtue, logic and ethics. The word “stoic” means the unemotional endurance of pain, the acceptance of what we cannot change. But not only this, it drives attention to physical strength and health. Even if material resources are needed, it advocates one shouldn’t care about. It was one of the many schools which grows at the ancient cities.

Schools like Epicureans, Platonists, and Aristotelians fought each other like religions, each one claiming access to the true god. So the stoics, a more centered intellect direct to politic and governance, had been in moment of really competition and some, like Aristo went far; studying the other schools like an interested student just to know about the rival and refute arguments and win public dabates.
The authors shows that the stoic philosophy is not simple based on ephemeral ideas but action. All the time there are appeals to that. Theory and practice needs to go hand in hand. Action is everything. This account to lots of business ideas of today.

Something that calls my attention is that stoicism is not a foundation which emerges with all rules and beliefs at the time of Zeno. The first Zeno had unfortunate moment and thorough philosophy found way to deal with things that were not replaceable.

But as this stoic philosophy passed from one to another leader it had its enhancements based on the leader styles like aristo the challenger which makes debate session a moment to develop himself even the second Zeno the maintainer which made philosophy more easy for the general people. Sometimes the knowledge passed in writings and studying from this writings but most of the times it passes from teachers to students. By tutoring.

All of those man was involved with physical body activities; Cleanthes was a hard worker which carries water but Chrysippus The Figther get his endurance ureced moment at running as a Olympian sports.

To then, a complete man is someone who is an explorer, strategist, scientist and politician. This is how they define a real philosopher. Even so man were trained under the stoic approach for rigid in sense os justice, no able to bend to clemency or favors (Cato).

The stoics accompanied many of them Roman tyrannies, the also were involved in conspiracies and many of them were more murdered in the process. The were to close to power as many of them were teaching philosophy to those emperors.

This book shows history, how one fact impact another, all the way from Zeno to the most wanted profile of all, the philosophy King Marcus Aurelius. Many of the stoics wished someone like him but most could seem him. He emerges hundred years after Zeno.

In the end, was an amazingly reading. I really loved and got inspired by not just by history itself but the the authors discuss stoicism, relate past facts with today.. the authors did a really nice job.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Manu.
347 reviews48 followers
December 19, 2021
As almost every philosophy goes, it is a mindset and a way of life. Though we have tons of literature, perhaps the best lessons of Stoicism are offered in the way Stoics led their lives. And that's what we get from the book - the time and lives of 26 Stoics - 25 men and 1 woman.
Named after the Stoa Poikile (painted porch) where Zeno and his disciples gathered for discussions, we follow the evolution of the philosophy and its practitioners across ancient history - Zeno (334 BC - 262 BC) to Marcus Aurelius (121 CE - 180 CE). While many of them were born in wealthy families, many others were commoners, and for Epictetus, a slave, freedom was not just a metaphor. His is the life I found most inspiring.
The core tenets of Stoicism - courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom - have remained changed, but how they have been interpreted and how much they have been adhered to is where one can draw lessons from. From being philosophers who wanted nothing to do with politics and bureaucracy, to a philosopher king, and from being persecuted by despots to being the persecutors of Christians, the contexts of Stoics changed, but there are lessons in each life.
The world has changed or remained unchanged depending on how we frame a context, but the Stoic's focus is on self, and how to be a better person. In that sense, the philosophy has much to teach us, and help us navigate our lives.
'To have but not want, to enjoy without needing.'
'We naturally care what people think of us; we don't want to seem too different, so we acquire the same tastes as everyone else. We accept what the crowd does so the crowd will accept us. But in doing this, we weaken ourselves. We compromise, often without knowing it; we allow ourselves to be bought - without even the benefit of getting paid for it.'
"If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you'd be furious," Epictetus said, yet we so easily hand our mind over to other people, letting them inside our heads or making us feel a certain way.
Having read Meditations and Letters from a Stoic earlier, I can see why this book is a bestseller - it delivers accessibility very well. And thus, it's a great place to start if you want to get familiar with the philosophy and the people who shaped it.

P.S. Trivia: Marcus Aurelius died on 17/03. My birthday :)
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