Book Cover - Book Review: Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius

Ryan Holiday is one of the leading figures on modern stoicism, distilling the lessons from the past for modern lives. I loved his previous trilogy. I loved his newsletters. But I was a little disappointed by this book. I was hoping for more depth.

Lives of the Stoics presents short biographies (~10 pages) of 26 ancient Stoics over the five first centuries of Stoicism.

What the authors succeeded is in showing how Stoicism contributed to shaping the lives of the protagonists. Not all information outlived the last two millennia, and authors assembled the remaining pieces to create incomplete puzzles, where the main picture can still be observed and appreciated. The authors declare in the introduction, “Our aim in these pages is not to achieve strict scholarly accuracy—which is impossible after so many centuries—but to elucidate the moral lessons that can be drawn from the lives of these complicated figures.”

Reading from so many lives in the same book helped me appreciate how stoic virtues apply in so many different contexts, and in face of so many adversities. This is the kind of book we need during hard times like the current epidemic.

If you are curious about the history of Stoicism or if you want to understand how Stoicism influenced the lives of our predecessors and how it can help you, this book is a must-read. In the end, my disappointment comes from my own expectations. The authors cannot compensate for what history failed to preserve. The book is far from perfect, but I highly recommend it.

About the author

Julien Sobczak works as a software developer for Scaleway, a French cloud provider. He is a passionate reader who likes to see the world differently to measure the extent of his ignorance. His main areas of interest are productivity (doing less and better), human potential, and everything that contributes in being a better person (including a better dad and a better developer).

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