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How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy…
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How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life

by Massimo Pigliucci

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Massimo Pigliucci is a philosophy professor at CUNY, and a very good writer and “explainer”. Since this is my first serious foray into the Stoic philosophy, I am very glad he was the guide. I had invested in getting a few translations of the key books by Seneca and Marcus Aurelius but I lacked the historical context and the chronological knowledge of the precedents to Stoicism.
Pigliucci spends the first two chapters setting the scene and preparing the reader for what is to come, giving us the background and laying out the basics. He then divides up the rest of the book into three parts. The first part he calls The Discipline of Desire. This is where he lays out the foundation of the Stoic philosophy. This portion of the book was useful but as I learned to appreciate later, laying out the basics does not do justice to the philosophy, as it is easier and much more profound to understand the philosophy through application and practice. Pigliucci does try to do this by using personal anecdotes and examples in the rest of the book. While admittedly, this is not the ideal, he does an admirable job of illustrating the main points so that the reader gains an appreciation for what Stoicism entails.
The second part of the book, titled: The discipline of Action, is where the book gains it’s rhythm. The first chapter in this part made me stand up in attention, especially the explanation of eudaimonic life made much more sense after this. The rest of Part II discusses how to behave in the outside world as a Stoic. The anecdotes and stories hit close to its mark and made their points very well.
In the last part of this tome: The Discipline of Assent is the end note. Pigliucci lays out situation and specific life situations and describes how a Stoic would navigate this mine field. While all the chapters were worthy and well written, I feel that this part was the weakest of the three. It is delving into the specifics of the application of the Stoic philosophy, a necessary and critical part of the overall work, but I felt exhausted by the theoretical and wanted to apply it to my life. Except that Pigliucci made the last chapter the perfect epilogue to the book. Chapter 14 is titled: Practical Spiritual Exercises, he gives us, in simple form, Epictetus’ twelve exercises as laid out by Arrians in the Enchiridion. This is a great aid for anyone wanting to start practicing Stoic philosophy and a great reminder and summary of all that had been described previously.
In my humble opinion, Pigliucci did a masterful job of what he had set out to do: write a book about Stoicism and how to become a Stoic. Even more impressive is his own practice of Stoicism in that he gave all source material and the people he uses in his anecdotes full credit. I enjoyed it and I have already purchased a few of the books he cites so that I can dig even deeper into the subject. Bravo Massimo! ( )
  pw0327 | Jul 8, 2018 |
An enjoyable and helpful companion to my twice-reading of Epictetus' Enchiridion in the past six weeks. I enjoy Epictetus' sense of humor, Pigliucci's thoughtful and extremely easy-to-read writing style, and the 12 suggestions he has for spiritual practice to think about, perhaps one a day, randomly, to consider that day. A book to work on, and a gateway to the Stoic thinkers. ( )
  Wattsian | Jul 2, 2018 |
How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci is an easy to understand introduction to Stoic philosophy. With a witty, engaging writing style, Pigliucci breaks down Stoic philosophy into its constituent parts, discussing each in turn. He makes use of anecdotes both ancient and modern.

After a few chapters of overview and history, the book is broken into three major parts, consisting of several chapters each, delving into one of the three disciplines of Stoicism. Part One looks at the discipline of desire, or things that we should and shouldn't want, along with the realisation that there are only so many things within our power. No matter how well we may do something, or how prepared we are, we have no control over the actions, thoughts, and feelings of others. Part Two presents the discipline of action, and covers virtues, morals, and making use of role models. Part Three focuses on the discipline of assent, and how we should react to situations, along with working with our emotions in a proper and positive way. This last section includes twelve Stoic practices to integrate into your own life. An appendix gives a brief overview of other philosophies.

Much of the book is presented in a jocular manner, easy and friendly, and a good percentage reflects Pigliucci's inner discourse with the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, whom he regards as a role model. As one who uses personified guides that I can 'speak with’ and debate things, I greatly appreciated both the presentation and the admission. How to be a Stoic takes a weighty subject and makes it more accessible to the masses.

As Pigliucci said, Stoicism isn't for everyone, but as a practical philosophy, I found it quite interesting. It seems a good fit for me, based on my needs, and even just a once reading proved useful in initiating change in my own life. It prompted me to collect more contemporary books on Stoicism to read. This is definitely a book I'll be rereading and making use of for years to come. It provided the final push I needed to reframe how I relate to my body and it's growing limitations. Through no fault nor control of my own, I suffer from an autoimmune disorder that initially stripped me of my ability to distance walk, and leaves me in a state of chronic pain and increasing fatigue. Thanks to persistence, and a growing ability to communicate with my body, I'm regaining my walking endurance. The flip side is that I'm far more prone to take catnaps now, several times a day. Delving further into Stoicism helped me make peace with my broken body, and making use of the practices given help me keep that peace.

***Many thanks to Netgalley and Penguin/Random House UK for providing an egalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Reviewed for the San Francisco Book Review. ( )
1 vote PardaMustang | Apr 24, 2018 |
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In every culture we know of, whether it be secular or religious, ethnically diverse or not, the question of how to live is central.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465097952, Hardcover)

Whenever we worry about what to eat, how to love, or simply how to be happy, we are worrying about how to lead a good life. No goal is more elusive. In How to Be a Stoic, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci offers Stoicism, the ancient philosophy that inspired the great emperor Marcus Aurelius, as the best way to attain it. Stoicism is a pragmatic philosophy that teaches us to act depending on what is within our control and separate things worth getting upset about from those that are not. By understanding Stoicism, we can learn to answer crucial questions: Should we get married or divorced? How should we bank in a world nearly destroyed by a financial crisis? How can we survive great personal tragedy? Whoever you are, Stoicism has something for you-and How to Be a Stoic is your essential guide.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 15 Dec 2016 08:39:58 -0500)

An engaging guide to how Stoicism--the ancient philosophy of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius--can provide lessons for living in the modern world. Whenever we worry about what to eat, how to love, or simply how to be happy, we are worrying about how to lead a good life. No goal is more elusive. In How to Be a Stoic, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci offers Stoicism, the ancient philosophy that inspired the great emperor Marcus Aurelius, as the best way to attain it. Stoicism is a pragmatic philosophy that teaches us to act depending on what is within our control and separate things worth getting upset about from those that are not. By understanding Stoicism, we can learn to answer crucial questions: Should we get married or divorced? How should we bank in a world nearly destroyed by a financial crisis? How can we survive great personal tragedy? Whoever you are, Stoicism has something for you-and How to Be a Stoic is your essential guide.… (more)

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