For the last several years, I’ve had a growing interest in Stoic philosophy (upper-case S, by the way; the generally accepted definition of “stoic” isn’t really what Stoic philosophy is about). Like a lot of writers, I battle off-and-on with depression and anxiety, and from what I’d read about the Stoics, they seemed to have some ideas that might prove helpful in dealing with such problems. Recently I decided to delve a little deeper into the subject, so I picked up what appears to be a well-regarded book about it, A GUIDE TO THE GOOD LIFE: THE ANCIENT ART OF STOIC JOY by William B. Irvine.
Now, as you know, I’m a fiction guy. Most of the non-fiction I read is
about books and/or writers. Normally, reading a book about philosophical ideas
would make my eyes (and my brain) glaze over. But A GUIDE TO THE GOOD LIFE is
surprisingly readable, probably because Irvine’s prose is clear and concise,
without a lot of academic jargon, and a thread of self-deprecating humor runs
all through the book. He starts with a good historical background and
biographical sketches of the ancient Roman philosophers who developed Stoicism
from its Greek origins, then lays out the central principles of it. That’s all
excellent, but the following section that goes into detail about applying
Stoicism to obstacles encountered in modern life is probably the most valuable.
I won’t even attempt to go into all of that here. A lot of it strikes me as being just common sense, and I was a little surprised to discover that some of the things I already try to do go right along with Stoicism. But I think that reading this book and pondering more about it has helped me already to deal with adversity. Maybe not much, mind you; it’s certainly no magic bullet. But hey, any ideas that help you get along in this crazy day and age are worth something, I think.
I don’t agree with everything in Irvine’s book, but I’m intrigued enough that I’ve ordered a couple more volumes about Stoicism and plan to read them soon. And I have to admit, I also like the fact that this may well be the only blog on the Internet where you can read reviews of Tom Roan’s THE DRAGON STRIKES BACK and a book on Stoic philosophy in less than a week’s time.