5 Best Books On Stoicism For Beginners | Surprisingly Free

Best-Books-On-Stoicism-For-Beginners

We understand the beginner’s conundrum; we are still there. The beginner wants to test the waters before taking a dive. Most do not want to spend any dime or time before making sure a new pursuit would be worth their effort. So, what follows is an internet search for free+good material on the subject.

But where does one go beyond the free-access articles and social media posts? To the books, of course.

So if you found a recent interest in the Stoic philosophy and want to explore more, we list five of the best free books on Stoicism by the ancient Stoics.

And if you are an absolute beginner, you could pick up one from this list of starter-level books by modern Stoics.

5 Best Beginner Books On Stoicism For Free

In this, we pick up the books free to access and read. And also a few starter books you could buy. The books on this list are some of the most readable, graspable, and applicable works from Stoic literature.

Here are the 5 best books on Stoicism for the novices and beginners:

1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations-Marcus-Aurelius Book Cover

It is easily the best book for the beginner from a Stoic philosopher of the ancient world. Remarkably, it is also a book for the advanced.

It is a book that comes through as philosophical poetry. The person who wrote it was a practicing Stoic for almost 40 years when he wrote it.

Incidentally, the author, Marcus Aurelius, wrote it for an audience of exactly one — only himself. He wrote it as a personal philosophical diary and tried to follow what he wrote till his death in 180 CE.

The first publication of the book came in 1559 with the title To Himself. We now know it as Meditations.

Marcus was Roman. Actually, he was the most powerful Roman in the entire world during his 20 years of rule as emperor of Rome. But he wrote the book in Greek because that was the language of his philosophical thoughts. And, he was not writing it for publication.

Several brilliant translations of Meditations exist today.

The best ones of Marcus Aurelius’ works to buy are:

The free ones on the internet are here below:

A Marcus Aurelius Quote:

Do not imagine that, if something is hard for you to achieve, it is therefore impossible for any man: but rather consider anything that is humanly possible and appropriate to lie within your own reach too.

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.19

2. The Enchiridion by Epictetus

5 Best Books On Stoicism For Beginners | Surprisingly Free - enchiridion by epictetus 1

The Enchiridion or The Handbook is a short manual of ethical advice by the 2nd-century Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Arrian, a disciple of Epictetus, compiled this short book from his lectures.

The book does not bring up the metaphysics of Stoicism. The Enchiridion focuses on Epictetus’s advice on how to apply the Stoic philosophy in daily life.

Epictetus (50 CE to 130 CE) was born or sold into slavery. He had a permanent disability of his leg, probably a result of his owner Epaphroditus twisting his leg for punishment.

However, Epaphroditus also allowed him to attend the lectures of Musonius Rufus, a Roman senator and Stoic teacher. Later, when freed, Epictetus started teaching Stoicism.

The Enchiridion is full of practical wisdom and forceful advice for those who seek contentment or eudaimonia in life. Epictetus said we can always be happy if we learn to expect and accept things just as they turn out. He insisted people are free to control their lives and live in harmony with Nature.

The best ones of Epictetus’ works to buy are:

The free ones on the internet are here below:

An Epictetus’ Quote:

Ask not that events should happen as you will, but let your will be that events should happen as they do, and you shall have peace.

— Epictetus, Enchiridion, 8

3. Letters From A Stoic by Seneca

Letters by Seneca

Born in 4 BCE, Seneca lived through the reigns of the first five emperors of Rome. Strangely, at least three of these emperors had wanted him dead. First, it was Caligula, in 37 CE. Then, it was Claudius, in 41 CE. Finally, it was Nero, in 65 CE. Seneca’s death by suicide came on the orders of Nero.

Letters or Epistles are a compilation of 124 essays disguised as letters to Lucilius. Seneca wrote these in the last two years of his life while he was exiled on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. He was under great stress then, and these letters were his way of relieving his burden.

Lucilius, a friend of Seneca, was then a procurator of Sicily who followed the Epicurean school. Seneca’s Letters try to win him over to Stoicism. The Letters shape up into a well-rounded handbook of advice and insights on Stoic philosophy. It was Thomas Lodge in 1614 who first translated these letters from Latin to English.

The best ones of Seneca’s works to buy are:

The free ones on the internet are here below:

A Seneca Quote:

If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.

― Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

4. Selected Works by Cicero

Cicero-Selected-Works

Marcus Tullius Cicero was Rome’s greatest orator of his time and gave more than a hundred impeccable speeches. He was a controversial senator, but a brilliant lawyer and an unparalleled philosopher.

Unfortunately, his life ran parallel to the decline and demise of the Roman Republic. Cicero was a witness to the murder of Julius Caesar by a group of senators on the Ides of March in 44 BCE. A year later, Mark Antony, the next ruler of Rome, ordered his killing.

Cicero’s philosophy sided with the virtue-driven Stoics over the pleasure-loving Epicureans.

Cicero’s written works fall into three categories: his philosophical works, speeches, and about 900 letters. He was a prolific writer and a matchless translator of Greek works to Latin.

We get an idea of Cicero’s relevance today as we find out he gave us some of the most common words in modern English: quality, notion, individual, infinity, moral, and comprehension.

The best ones of Cicero’s works to buy are:

The free ones on the internet are here below:

A Cicero Quote:

The life of the dead is placed on the memories of the living. The love you gave in life keeps people alive beyond their time. Anyone who was given love will always live on in another’s heart.

― Marcus Tullius Cicero

5. Lectures And Fragments by Rufus

Lectures-by-Musonius-Rufus

Gaius Musonius Rufus was one of the greatest Stoic philosophers of ancient Rome. He was a highly respected teacher. He was called The Roman Socrates.

Musonius probably wrote nothing himself, or whatever he wrote did not survive. However, his philosophical teachings survive as 32 apophthegms and 21 discourses, preserved by his students.

Musonius insisted the practice is more important than the theory. The way he taught involved not many, but a few precise and practical arguments that would sway the listener towards taking action.

Rufus held philosophy was nothing if not a practice of virtuous behavior. In his lectures, he dismissed a life of pleasure in favor of a life of virtue. To him, virtue was the only good as it alone keeps a person from making mistakes in life.

He condemned all luxuries and asked for living on a strict vegetarian diet and minimally priced clothing. A house was to protect from the elements and nothing more, he taught. He believed the human soul becomes resilient by enduring hardships and maintaining self-control through temptations.

Musonius had many illustrious pupils. However, his greatest student was Epictetus, who mentions him several times in The Discourses.

The best ones of Musonius Rufus’ works to buy are:

The free ones on the internet are here below:

A Musonius Rufus Quote:

You will earn the respect of all if you begin by earning the respect of yourself. Don’t expect to encourage good deeds in people conscious of your own misdeeds.

― Musonius Rufus, How To Live

10 Starter Books On Stoicism By Modern Writers

Since posting this, our readers wished for a list of great beginner books on Stoicism by modern writers. So, with the authors’ names in bold, so you know whom to follow, here we go:

  1. Stoicism and the Art of Happiness: Practical Wisdom for Everyday Life – Donald Robertson
  2. How to Be A Stoic: Ancient Wisdom For Modern Living – Massimo Pigliucci
  3. Unshakable Freedom: Ancient Stoic Secrets Applied to Modern LifeChuck Chakrapani
  4. Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic JoyWilliam Irvine
  5. Stoicism: A Very Short IntroductionBrad Inwood
  6. The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s ManualWard Farnsworth
  7. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius – Donald Robertson
  8. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of LivingRyan Holiday, Stephen Hanselman
  9. A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control – 52 Week-by-Week Lessons – Massimo Pigliucci, Gregory Lopez
  10. Stoicism (Ancient Philosophies)John Sellars

Final Words

Two recently published books we want to mention is:

You may not find another set of philosophical writing more freely and easily accessible than Stoicism. So, get started on giving your life a Stoic touch.

P.S.: We do not store any of the free books mentioned in the links above. You may visit the links to find and read the books there.

Read the awe-inspiring story of
Zeno, The First Stoic

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. Writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.


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