Book Review: The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity by Ryan Holiday

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A one-a-day stoicism situation that mostly tells you to think about how you’re going to die soon. Marcy Marcus and the whole funky bunch are accounted for; Rufus, Seneca, Epictetus. It’s a real star-studded affair, and since they’re broken down into these easily digestible daily affirmations (although that doesn’t feel like the right word, given the grim content), you really get a good idea of the contrast between the different Stoic thinkers. For example, Marcus Aurelius? Deeply dour dude. The misery just seeps right out of his aphorisms.

Seneca, on the other hand? A certified chiller. Much more upbeat. Epictetus’s philosophical style is closer to bullying than anything, and Rufus could have passed for a hire-off-the-street orator.

After 365 days, I am positive that I’m going to die soon. And you know what? 2020 was the right year to read this, because at no point did I feel like soiling myself over the Fungus. Mortality is the price of living. Like Marc said, this life is on loan. And like I said, something’s got to kill me.

I just googled it and none of the stoics are quoted as having said “something’s got to kill me”. That’s a BT original. Maybe that’ll be my Stoic legacy, once I succumb to the Fungus or get cut down in a hail of police gunfire. I wouldn’t care for a headstone, as even things carved in stone aren’t carved in stone, but if I had to get one, “Something had to kill me. And did.” wouldn’t be the worst I could do.

View all my reviews

Book Review: A Guide to the Good Life

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic JoyA Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A well-read dweeb gives us a play-by-play of his utilization of stoic thought as a means of coping with his fear of death and the inferiority complex that often accompanies being a dweeb. A surprising amount of the text is devoted to avoiding or surviving insults, and vigorous mental exercises one can undergo to prepare for being mocked.

I have to imagine few of the ancient stoics devoted as much mental energy to contemplating how they could be bullied as does our buddy Irvine.

As a philosophical exploration, it succeeds, but it only peripherally captures stoicism, and the bulk of the book is apologizing or overexplaining how the modern world gets it wrong; the stoics weren’t grumpy and emotionally deadened, they were super happy because they were Buddhists but not religious! It’s a translation error bro i swear passion meant something different in ancient greek bro its a different word bro please.

This is then contradicted by his woefully misinformed chapter about grief where he cherrypicks 80-year-old statistics on mental illness rates following WWII in areas without access to grief counseling to demonstrate “a stiff upper lip” is not only a stoic approach, but more effective than therapy.

I believe it was Marcus Aurelius who first said:
“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with misinformation, pandering, callowness, misquoted statistics, and writers for the Huffington Post – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.”

Still, not a total wash. I always like hearing from Musonius Rufus, and he was well represented. This was also the first book with the honesty to scrub off the antiquarian deification and treat philosophical schools as the jockeying popularity contest that they were in ancient Rome.

I might have been too hard on Irvine in this review, but I’d hate for him to have squandered all that preparation.

View all my reviews