How to Be a Stoic

By Massimo Pigliucci
Image of the cover of How to Be a Stoic by Massimo Piliucci. Wesley Donehue's book reviews and recommendations.

“Admit not sleep into your tender eyelids till you have reckoned up each deed of the day. How have I erred, what done or left undone? So start, and so review your acts, and then. For vile deeds chide yourself, for good be glad.”

– Epictetus

How To Be A Stoic is a great introduction to Stoicism but after spending much of 2020 reading Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus, I found this to be very repetitive. However, if you have no interest in reading those ancient texts yet still want to digest the philosophy, I very much suggest you read this book.

I’ll give you just a few of Pigliucci’s Stoicism lessons:

1. Understand that virtue is the highest good, and everything else is indifferent.
2. Apply reason to social life.
3. Understand the dichotomy of control – what is and is not under our control. Only worry about what is within our control.

In other words, live the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

4. Examine your impressions and understand that most things are not inherently good or bad. It’s your impression of what is good or bad. This will help you avoid rash emotional reactions.
5. Remind yourself of the impermanence of things. We are mortal. Your spouse will die. Your kids will die. Remembering this fact will make you more enjoy every second with them.
6. Speak little and well.
7. Choose your company well.
8. Respond to insults with humor.

There are many more lessons here but I won’t list them all. That’s cheating. Go read.

If you’re looking for an introduction to Stoicism or just a quick summary instead of reading the classics, pick up this book. If you’re well studied on Stoicism already you can go ahead and skip this one.

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