How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci

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How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci

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Category: Spirituality and Religion
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Florence Holmes
Reviewed by Florence Holmes
Summary: Applying Stoic principles to modern life.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 277 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Rider
ISBN: 978-1846045073

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Stoicism is about developing the tools to deal as effectively as humanly possible with the ensuing conflicts, does not demand perfection, and does not provide specific answers. For many readers, living in an age of rules to make us happy and the inevitable failure to stick to them, this is an intensely reassuring sentence. Pigliucci certainly makes Stoicism an appealing philosophy, one which can sit alongside religious faith but doesn't have to, one which doesn't demand Aristotelian heights of intelligence, beauty or riches in order to truly succeed in life, and one which recognises life's messy difficulties.

Unfortunately, while the content of 'How to be a Stoic' is compelling, I found the the style in which Pigliucci has written the book off putting. The whole narrative is composed as if the author is in conversation with Epictetus, the Greek Stoic, walking around Athens with him as they discuss philosophy. This attempt at jocularity – Epictetus also often called me 'slave' or 'boy' which…I find both endearing and fundamentally unobjectionable - is jarring against the serious, dense paragraphs Pigliucci employs. It makes the reader suspect an editor suggested the introduction of this conceit to make the book more light-hearted and appealing, but it is a clumsy attempt and should have been either removed or the whole book altered to be less in depth and academic, and instead a humorous read.

Despite this flaw in style, 'How to be a Stoic' still has plenty to offer. Pigliucci neatly ties ideas and people together, from Plato to Hume, firmly setting Stoicism in context so that readers learn more than a siloed philosophical view; for example, he sets out six core virtues as articulated in six world religions and three Greek philosophers. More intriguingly, he relates Stoicism to issues which challenge modern day readers, such as disability, euthanasia and the conflict between creationists and Darwin's theory of evolution.

Pigliucci does this in such a balanced, evidence-backed way that we cannot help but feel he is putting the reader's education above any personal biases. Moreover, he is quick to call out the more baffling or unrealistic sounding teachings of Stoicism, avoiding alienating the reader through blind acceptance. The book ends with a chapter of 'Practical Spiritual Exercises' from remind yourself of the impermanence of things to respond to insults with humor. I expected this chapter to be more concise and easy to pick up in a hurry than it is, but as with the entirety of 'How to be a Stoic', if the reader is willing to put in some effort, they are sure to find some ideas which resonate.

Further reading suggestions: The Happy Life: The Search for Contentment in the Modern World by David Malouf, The Ancient Greeks: Ten Ways They Shaped the Modern World by Edith Hall

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Buy How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci at


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