Book Review: A Guide to the Good Life

I finished reading “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy,” by William B. Irvine, several weeks ago and have been letting it digest since then. For me, reading it was one of those moments where life suddenly clicks into focus.

The book is split into 4 sections. The first, “The Rise of Stoicism” covers the history of Stoicism in ancient Greece and Rome. It places the ideas in their historical context, allowing you to glean part of the how and why they came to be. The second section, “Stoic Psychological Techniques” outlines the tools the Stoics used to find joy and tranquility in a hard world. The third, “Stoic Advice” is all about the advice the Stoics had for handling common situations everyone finds themselves in. In the fourth, “Stoicism for Modern Lives,” Irvine talks about how to (easily) translate these ideas for the modern world and apply them to situations that would be unfamiliar to the Greeks or Romans.

I found it interesting that for the most part, the ancient Stoics had figured out people in a generic enough way that almost all their advice is still very relevant to modern people. What is sad, though, is that we don’t learn this stuff. Irvine even said that as a Professor of Philosophy, he had never learned much about the Stoics until he went and searched it out on his own.

The philosophy and advice of the Stoics is so great though, it is hard to believe that it isn’t very well known to us in modern times. I think we sometimes forget that even though the world has changed over the last couple thousand years – people have not. So, go pick up this book and give it a read. You have nothing to lose (well, $14 I guess)  and a happier life to gain.

Amazon has the first chapter you can read for free. You can also check out my earlier post: Twenty-First Century Stoicism that has links to some essays Irvine wrote for Boing Boing.