Book Review: The Little Book of Stoicism

The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and CalmnessThe Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and Calmness by Jonas Salzgeber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Our man Salzgeber opens this cute little think piece with:
“So you went to school for twelve years, then college for four to ten more, and come out the other side realizing they didn’t teach you dick about how to be alive. All you learned was math, and not even the useful tax evasion math. Well, good news. These four dead guys figured it out two millennia ago.”

And from there, he rattles off the hits. Epictetus, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, and my long-time #MCM Marcus Aurelius. Here’s why:

“When you first rise in the morning tell yourself: I will encounter busybodies, ingrates, egomaniacs, liars, the jealous, and cranks. They are all stricken with these afflictions because they don’t know the difference between good and evil.”

You can imagine him waking up and staring at his saturnine, perpetually drowsy mug in the mirror, as we all do when gripped with existential dread, then heaving a sigh. “All right, Mark. You’re gonna have to see some motherfuckers today. They’re not awful on purpose, they’re just too stupid to know better. All right. Good talk. Carpe diem.”

We call this a meditation.

The book itself has an introductory vibe, and Salzgeber’s deliberate distancing from academic language makes it a quick and pleasant read, despite the volume of content. 225 pages is no longer “little” book status, but it would be immodest to just call it “the book of stoicism”, not to mention misleading since it’s a conjecturing deconstruction of Salzgeber’s opinions on the writings of each philosopher, interspersed with little biographical snippets to give a better understanding of why they think like they do. Besides, the official book of stoicism is basically the Enchiridion.

Salzgeber holds a high respect for the philosophy, especially as applied to hardship. Most of the latter half of the book, the “55 Practices”, are rephrasings of “sometimes life sucks. Think of it as a challenge. And if you can’t control it, whining won’t help.” I’ve got to assume much of this was his experience having the last name “Salzgeber”.

(Fun fact: Catastrophic phonetics aside, Salzgeber is German for “Salt giver”, which also describes anyone who plays competitive overwatch. This philosophy can and must be applied to placement matches.)

The book dwells on the concept of excellence as attained by virtue. The big take-home is play your part and do your best in whatever it is you’re doing. Rather than making that into a middle-aged lady yard sale wooden wall-hanger quote, they called it “arete”. Coupling that with contemplative acceptance of impermanance and a staunch anti-bitching policy, Salzgeber distills an otherwise complex philosophy down to a concise, almost clickbaity list of applicable tenets for living well.

I think my favorite part of the book is how he kept saying, “But don’t tell roll up to the function and tell everyone you’re stoic now. They will bully you.”
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