17 Best Stoicism Books for Beginners

Updated July 21, 2023

If you're just beginning your journey into the world of Stoicism, you might be wondering where to start. What are the best Stoicism books for beginners? Should you start with the classic texts or with popular modern titles?

In this day and age, information about Stoicism is everywhere. You don't have to search far to find podcasts, books, blogs, YouTube channels, and other content about this ancient philosophy.

At the same time, where you begin any new pursuit is absolutely critical. You could end up getting turned off to Stoicism just by starting with a book that's too dense or too dry.

For that reason, we've compiled a list of seventeen of the best books specifically for beginners.

Table of Contents

Ancient Stoic Texts For Beginners

Just because the ancient Stoics wrote and lectured thousands of years ago doesn't mean these books aren't accessible to a beginner. Before we look at some of the modern stuff you'll want to check out, let's take a look at five classic Stoic titles that should be on your personal syllabus.

1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his journal consistently, some of which we are fortunate to have access to thousands of years later. This book, known as Meditations, lets you glimpse the private thoughts of a truly remarkable man.

An absolute classic that you can return to over and over again in your life, this can be a great place to start on your Stoic journey.

Sample Quotes From the Book

Let's take a look at some of the best quotes from Meditations:

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

- Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Best Stoicism Books for Beginners

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. Think constantly on the changes of the elements into each other, for such thoughts wash away the dust of earthly life.”

- Marcus Aurelius

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

- Marcus Aurelius

The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.”

- Marcus Aurelius

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

- Marcus Aurelius

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

- Marcus Aurelius

“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”

- Marcus Aurelius

2. The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness by Epictetus, Sharon Lebell (translator)

Sharon Labell, who recently appeared on our post about women in Stoicism, offers us an excellent modern translation of Epictetus'writing.

Epictetus was born into slavery on the far outskirts of the Roman Empire. His writings emphasize the fact that we don't have control over our lives but rather the way we respond to our lives. This translation offers ninety-three wise and witty tenets we can all use to live artfully.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“The flourishing life cannot be achieved until we moderate our desires and see how superficial and fleeting they are.”

- Epictetus

“To know that you do not know and to be willing to admit that you do not know without sheepishly apologizing is real strength and sets the stage for learning and progress in any endeavor.”

- Epictetus

“When your thoughts, words, and deeds form a seamless fabric, you streamline your efforts and thus eliminate worry and dread.”

- Epictetus

Epictetus Best Stoicism Books for Beginners

“Authentic happiness is always independent of external conditions.”

- Epictetus

“Be careful whom you associate with. It is human to imitate the habits of those with whom we interact. We inadvertently adopt their interests, their opinions, their values, and their habit of interpreting events.”

- Epictetus

3. On The Good Life by Cicero

Cicero was a great Roman statesman and orator. Though he was technically an Academic skeptic rather than a Stoic, this book is still a great way to tap into the world of Hellenistic philosophy.

Additionally, Cicero made use of Stoic teachings, particularly when he was discussing ethics and politics. When Cicero urges the Roman elite to adopt certain ideas, he is ultimately and essentially focusing on Stoic ethical teachings.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“Instead let Virtue herself, by her own unaided allurements, summon you to a glory that is genuine and real.”

- Marcus Tullius Cicero

“So let this be the first and sacred law of friendship: seek only the good from friends, do only good for the sake of friends - and don't wait to be asked! Be always attentive! Banish hesitation! Be ready to give advice freely! Take seriously the good advice of friends. Be ready to offer it openly, even forcefully, if the occasion demands - and also be ready to follow when it's been offered.”

- Marcus Tullius Cicero

“We don't practice generosity in order to secure gratitude, nor do we invest our gifts in the hope of a favorable return. Rather, it is nature that inclines us towards generosity. Just so, we don't seek friendship with an expectation of gain, but regard the feeling of love as its own reward."

- Marcus Tullius Cicero

4. Lectures And Fragments by Musonius Rufus

Musonius Rufus doesn't have as much name recognition as Marcus Aurelius or Seneca the Younger. The truth is, though, the writings of this Roman Stoic from the first century are a great place to start for beginners.

Referred to as the Roman Socrates, Musonius Rufus taught the great Epictetus. He was exiled by Nero and then banished again after returning, which allowed him to discuss what he saw as the benefits of exile and adversity. In the present day, twenty-one of his lectures still survive. Along with a few fragmentary notes, they comprise this excellent beginner Stoic text.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“What good are gilded rooms or precious stones-fitted on the floor, inlaid in the walls, carried from great distances at the greatest expense? These things are pointless and unnecessary-without them isn't it possible to live healthy? Aren't they the source of constant trouble? Don't they cost vast sums of money that, through public and private charity, may have benefited many?”

-  Musonius Rufus

“We will train both soul and body when we accustom ourselves to cold, heat, thirst, hunger, scarcity of food, hardness of bed, abstaining from pleasures, and enduring pains.”

-  Musonius Rufus

“Since I say that this is the case, the person who is practicing to become a philosopher must seek to overcome himself so that he won’t welcome pleasure and avoid pain, so that he won’t love living and fear death, and so that, in the case of money, he won’t honor receiving over giving.”

- Musonius Rufus

“Won’t we, therefore, be willing to endure pain in order to gain complete happiness?”

-  Musonius Rufus

Musonius Rufus Best Stoicism Books for Beginners

“Only by exhibiting actions in harmony with the sound words which he has received will anyone be helped by philosophy.”

-  Musonius Rufus

5. Letters from a Stoic By Lucius Seneca, Robin Campbell (Translator)

Seneca's interpretation of Stoicism is infused with both humanity and wit. If you find the bluntness of Epictetus a bit too much to bare, you might find that Senenca's Letters is more up your alley.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We’ve been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.” 

- Seneca the Younger

Stoic Mentality: What is a Stoic Mindset? Seneca

"We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality."

- Seneca the Younger

“What man can you give me who puts any value on time, who counts a day, who understands that he dies daily? This is our big mistake: to think we look forward to death. Most of death is already gone. Whatever time has passed is owned by death.”

- Seneca the Younger

“It is not the man who has too little that is poor, but the one who hankers after more.” 

- Seneca the Younger

Seneca Best Stoicism Books for Beginners

“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.”

- Seneca the Younger

“I have withdrawn from affairs as well as from society, and from my own affairs in particular: I am acting on behalf of later generations. I am writing down a few things that may be of use to them.”

- Seneca the Younger

Modern Stoicism Books for Beginners

Now that we've covered some of the essential ancient texts let's look at some modern Stoicism books that are great beginner reads.

Stoicism has been completely exploding in recent years-- in a good way! Interest in philosophy has been on the rise, which means there's no shortage of contemporary publications covering the topic.

6. Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

If you've looked around online for more information about Stoicism, there's a good chance you've bumped into the work of Ryan Holiday.

Credited by some for being the driving force behind the revival of Stoicism in the modern age, Holiday operates a popular blog, YouTube channel, and podcast, all dedicated to applying Stoicism to one's life.

This book takes a look at the men and women that applied the philosophy of Stoicism to their lives in the ancient world. Through the examination of figures like Marcus Aurelius, Holiday presents actionable tips for applying Stoicism to life in the modern world.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“You owe it to yourself and to the world to actively engage with the brief moment you have with this planet. You cannot retreat exclusively into ideas. You must contribute.”

- Ryan Holiday

“Epictetus was reminded daily how little control he had, even of his own person. As he came to study and understand Stoicism, he adopted this lesson into what he described as our “chief task in life.” It was, he said, simply “to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.”

- Ryan Holiday

“When the student is ready, the old Zen saying goes, the teacher appears.”

- Ryan Holiday

7. Stoicism (Ancient Philosophies) by John Sellars

A part of a series of books on ancient philosophies, this is both a rigorous and accessible introduction to Stoic philosophy.
If you desire a book that is geared toward those that have an academic interest in Stoicism, this could be a great place to start. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you find the lack of citations troubling in other modern Stoic texts, you'll be glad to know this one is out there.
Suppose you enjoy the presentation of Stoicism in this book and you are interested in expanding your knowledge about ancient philosophies in general.
In that case, this series also contains books on the topics of:
  • Indian Buddhist Philosophy
  • The Philosophy of Early Christianity
  • The Cynics
  • Plato
  • Presocratic Philosophers
  • Confucianism
  • Neoplatonism
  • Ancient Skepticism
  • Epicureanism
  • Ancient Commentators on Plato and Aristotle
  • The Peripatetics

8. How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life by Massimo Pigliucci

A Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York, Massimo Pigliucci is another big name in the world of modern Stoicism.

In his How to Be a Stoic, we find an accessible introduction to Stoicism and valuable information on how we can apply it to our daily lives.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“One of the first lessons from Stoicism, then, is to focus our attention and efforts where we have the most power and then let the universe run as it will. This will save us both a lot of energy and a lot of worry.”

- Massimo Pigliucci

“The problem nowadays is that, by and large, we do a pretty bad job of picking role models. We glorify actors, singers, athletes, and generic “celebrities,” only to be disappointed when—predictably—it turns out that their excellence at reciting, singing, playing basketball, or racking up Facebook likes and Twitter followers has pretty much nothing to do with their moral fiber.”

- Massimo Pigliucci

“Realize that by “philosophers” Epictetus doesn’t mean professional academics (trust me, you don’t want to make a habit of socializing mostly with them), but rather people who are interested in following virtue and cultivating their character.”

- Massimo Pigliucci

9. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius by Donald Robertson

While Massimo Pigliucci approaches Stoicism from a philosophical point of view, Donald Robertson is coming from another highly relevant angle: cognitive behavioral therapy.

In this book, Robertson explores the life of Marcus Aurelius, starting with his life as a young noble to his reign as emperor. He shows how Aurelius used both therapeutic practices and philosophical doctrines to endure adversity and foster emotional resilience.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“To learn how to die, according to the Stoics, is to unlearn how to be a slave.”

- Donald J. Robertson

“According to Stoic philosophy, when we assign intrinsic values like “good” or “bad” to external events, we’re behaving irrationally and even exhibiting a form of self-deception. When we call something a “catastrophe,” for instance, we go beyond the bare facts and start distorting events and deceiving ourselves. Moreover, the Stoics consider lying a form of impiety—when a man lies, he alienates himself from Nature.”

- Donald J. Robertson

“The Stoic Sage, or wise man, needs nothing but uses everything well; the fool believes himself to “need” countless things, but he uses them all badly.”

- Donald J. Robertson

10. The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual by Ward Farnsworth

If you're not excited to read a highly modernized interpretation of Stoicism, you might enjoy this book by Ward Farnsworth. While the author introduces different ideas and his writing helps to organize all of the information in the book, he largely presents the major ideas of Stoicism using the actual words of the ancient Stoics.

At the same time, this book really is focused on practically applying Stoicism. This isn't geared towards academics-- it's a book you can really use to start putting the ideas of Stoicism to use in your life.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“The first principle of practical Stoicism is this: we don’t react to events; we react to our judgments about them, and the judgments are up to us.”
- Ward Farnsworth

11. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

The Daily Stoic is billed as a "daily devotional of Stoic meditations," offering a full year's worth of daily insights and exercises.

Perhaps the most popular modern Stoicism book, The Daily Stoic is still holding high ranks in a number of Amazon best sellers categories seven years after the original publication.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“Remember, if there is one core teaching at the heart of this philosophy, it’s that we’re not as smart and as wise as we’d like to think we are. If we ever do want to become wise, it comes from the questioning and from humility—not, as many would like to think, from certainty, mistrust, and arrogance.”

-  Ryan Holiday

“Most of us are afraid of dying. But sometimes this fear begs the question: To protect what exactly? For a lot of people the answer is: hours of television, gossiping, gorging, wasting potential, reporting to a boring job, and on and on and on. Except, in the strictest sense, is this actually a life? Is this worth gripping so tightly and being afraid of losing? It doesn’t sound like it.”

- Ryan Holiday

“Everything is change. Embrace that. Flow with it.”

- Ryan Holiday

“Getting upset is like continuing the dream while you’re awake. The thing that provoked you wasn’t real—but your reaction was. And so from the fake comes real consequences. Which is why you need to wake up right now instead of creating a nightmare.”

-  Ryan Holiday

12. Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson

Another gem from Donald Robertson, this book provides quite a bit more information about early Stoics than other modern Stoic titles.

Robertson uses this platform to help you gain a greater understanding of what Stoicism is and how you can truly 'seize the day' using its principles. If you're trying to gain new skills to deal with the troubles of daily life and cope in the face of adversity, this one is worth picking up.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“Throughout the day, practise bringing your attention back to the present moment, rather than allowing it to wander off into daydreams, rumination about the past, or worry about the future. If you have to think about something else, that’s okay, but try to keep one eye on the present moment, by noticing how you’re using your body and mind – try to be aware of each second that passes. If it helps, imagine that you’re seeing the world for the first time, or that this is your last day of life, and concentrate your attention on how you actually think and act, from moment to moment. Remind yourself that the past and future are ‘indifferent’ to you, and that the supreme good, and eudaimonia, can only exist within you, right now, in the present moment.”

- Donald J. Robertson

“Whether we realize it or not, we are all living out the lives fated for us, either willingly or reluctantly. Zeno illustrated this with a striking metaphor: the wise man is like a dog tethered to a cart, running alongside and smoothly keeping pace with it, whereas a foolish man is like a dog that struggles against the leash but finds himself dragged alongside the cart anyway.”

- Donald J. Robertson

13. A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control by Massimo Pigliucci, Gregory Lopez

One of the difficulties of changing your life philosophy is actually applying it in everyday life. It's easy enough to read inspirational quotes and engage with thought-provoking texts, but it's another entirely to actually start using philosophy to make decisions, guide your actions, and change your life.

If you have difficulty connecting your abstract thoughts to your actual lived experience, check out this book by Massimo Piglucci and Gregory Lopez.

  • Organized as 52 week-by-week lessons, this is a book you can carry with you all year long. It offers a refreshingly simple approach to Stoicism.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“To decide how best to live (ethics), one has to understand how the world works (physics) and reason appropriately about it (logic). Which brings us to the idea of living according to nature. The most important aspects of human nature, the Stoics thought, are twofold: that we are social animals (and are then deeply interdependent with other people) and that we are capable of reasoning-based problem solving. So to live according to nature means using reason to improve social living. Or as Seneca put it, “Bring the mind to bear upon your problems.”

-  Massimo Pigliucci

Are you searching for more info about how Stoicism can help you improve your life? Check out our guides to practicing Stoicism in daily life, the basic Stoic principles to live by, the four Stoic virtues, and the qualities of a Stoic person.

14. The Beginner’s Guide to Stoicism: Tools for Emotional Resilience and Positivity by Matthew Van Natta

There are so many different modern books about Stoicism it can be hard to know where to begin. This is a great place for a true beginner who is primarily interested in learning how to take charge of their emotions in life.

If you're worried that some of these books will be a little overwhelming, consider checking out Van Natta's guide. He talks about:

  • The evolution of Stoicism overtime
  • How you can find acceptance in life using his emotional toolkit along with desire, action, and assent
  • Exercises you can use to start applying Stoicim to your own life
  • How to focus on positivity and change your perception

Sample Quotes From the Book

“Your mind is yours—and yours alone. If you focus on healthy thoughts and develop balanced opinions about your situation, you will cultivate positive emotions and find lasting enthusiasm to live your best life. You will see negativity for what it is: a waste of energy. You will learn to stop allowing fear, anger, and other anxieties to grow. You will discover not only that you can weather challenges, but you often find them enjoyable.”

- Matthew Van Natta

15. A Field Guide to a Happy Life: 53 Brief Lessons for Living by Massimo Pigliucci

Another offering from Massimo Pigliucci, you'll find ample discussion in this book about how Stoicism can coincide with modern science and sensibilities. If you aren't particularly interested in getting too deep into the weeds of the ancient texts, this could be a great book to tackle early on.

This is an attempt at updating the Enchiridion of Epictetus for modern people. Purists might be bothered by some of the changes that he's made, while others might appreciate the new clarity brought to these ideas.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“Shift your goals from the external to the internal: repeat to yourself that your objective is not to hit the target, but to deliver the best shot of which you are capable.”

- Massimo Pigliucci

16. Unshakable Freedom: Ancient Stoic Secrets by Chuck Chakrapani

A lesser-known book on Stoicism, Unshakable Freedom, is a 2016 book by Dr. Chuck Chakrapani. The focus here is on the idea that anyone can achieve personal freedom by utilizing some of the mind-training techniques found in the wisdom of the ancient Stoics.

This book is easy to read and follow along, even for a true beginner.

Sample Quotes From the Book

“The Stoic would say that external things are a part of reality, and therefore they are neither good nor bad. Since we don’t control them, we should be indifferent to them. External things are givens, and we find freedom and happiness using what is under our control. As Epictetus put it, “It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

- Chuck Chakrapani

17. Stoicism: A Very Short Introduction By Brad Inwood

The title says it all here-- this is, indeed, a very short introduction to Stoicism. The paperback is only 136 pages long, and the audiobook version offers less than 4 hours of content.

Just because this book is short, though, doesn't mean it isn't dense with information. This is a great choice if you're looking for a bite-sized intro.

Stoicism and a Life of Learning

Though this list might seem a bit overwhelming for a beginner, it's important to remember that you don't need to read all of these at once or even at all!

Some people might find that starting with the ancient classics like Meditations or Letters From a Stoic is right up their alley. Others might be interested to learn more about how scientific research into CBT and other topics validates and backs up the ideas of the Stoics.

No matter what you're looking for, you'll be glad to know that there are contemporary books about Stoicism that cover the topic from just about every angle. Remember, you don't have to learn everything all at once-- the true Stoic will spend the rest of their life learning!

Are you searching for inspirational quotes, interesting articles, and philosophical musings to help you as you strive to live the best possible life? Make sure you check out our Stoic Quotes blog!

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Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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