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A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (edition 2009)

by William B Irvine

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3401232,303 (4.06)8
Member:adzebill
Title:A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
Authors:William B Irvine
Info:OUP USA (2009), Edition: First Printing, Hardcover, 328 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
Tags:philosophy, epictetus

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

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About a third of the way into A Guide to the Good Life, I’d decided that while interesting, the Stoic way of life that the author described was not likely to be a good fit for me. For one thing, the author’s personality and mine couldn’t be more different. He reminds me of certain teachers I once had, calm, rational men who spoke in a uniformly soft voice, who were gentle, generous and patient, who dealt with disagreement with equanimity and placid stubbornness—people who would always be described as dedicated, but never as passionate. Irvine writes with the same placid, even, unruffled tone, and like my teachers, his sense of humor is either extremely subtle or entirely absent. To be sure, there are passages in the book that make me laugh (such as an explanation of how things could always be worse involving a man who owns only a loincloth, and then loses the loincloth), but there’s no indication whatsoever that they’re meant that way. And me, I’m the passionate, wry, somewhat moody type. The Stoics’ highest good, tranquility, means little to me if achieving it means cutting myself off from the highs of life as a way of avoiding the lows. And that does seem to be a major part of the program.

As I continued, the book became more interesting to me. Having decided that I would not commit to the Stoic program, I felt freer to learn from it. For example, the concept of being fatalistic, not about the future, but about the past and the present, is helpful in many contexts. And what Irvine calls “negative visualization,” which isn’t really visualization but a kind of continual reflection, is something I tend to do anyway, and does indeed help mitigate the pain of loss when it comes. I’ve come to appreciate again the value of fortitude in minor matters, of deliberately deciding to accept minor discomforts as a way of strengthening myself, and more importantly, coming to realize that I can be strong in this way, that I need not allow myself to be disturbed when things don’t happen the way I would wish. Simple virtues like this used to be more universally understood and this book does us all a service in reminding us of them.

Still, the Stoic program is not for everyone, and it’s not for me: it doesn’t help me become more myself. The “Stoic Joy” of the subtitle is not joy as I understand it, and I want a fuller engagement with life’s challenges than Irvine’s conception of Stoicism would allow. When I finished this book, I went to the library to learn more about Stoicism and its competing schools, especially Epicureanism. I was disappointed at what I found: the descriptions of Stoicism in other works were nothing like Irvine’s, there were no works like his about other schools of thought, and all the other explanations of Greek thought were abstract to the point of being incomprehensible, not at all concerned with what he calls “psychological techniques.” I’m thankful for Irvine’s book, although it didn’t ultimately aid my personal search for meaning and purpose, and wish there were more like it, aimed toward evangelizing other nearly forgotten ways of thinking and living. ( )
  john.cooper | Jun 24, 2014 |
This is a very practical guide to living well. Please don't let the grounding in philosophy put you off. The Stoics were the most useful of philosophers. What Irvine has done is to distill the teachings of Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius, Marcus Aurelius and the others into concise guidelines that can be applied to everyday life. No abstractions heaped on abstractions here. This is lively prose intended to instill a number of basic mental concepts that can bring tranquility--the overarching Stoic ideal--to our lives. A final section showing why Stoicism fell from popular favor and why we should integrate it into our lives is particularly interesting. Read it as an Introduction to the aforementioned authors, or as a refresher. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Fantastic guide to Stoic self-help ( )
  David.Cooper | Oct 5, 2013 |
Contains some real gems, but not all of it is helpful. ( )
  lente | Sep 6, 2013 |
Rec. as great book by Derek Sivers
  jaden | Aug 22, 2013 |
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In memory of Charlie Doyle, who taught me to keep my head in the boat even when I'm not rowing.
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What do you want out of life?
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In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought inancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives.

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