A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy – Book Review
Author: William B. Irvine
Genre: Philosophy, self-help, Stoicism
My rating: ★★★★☆
Release Date: Published 1st November, 2008 by Oxford University
Format: Hardcover, 326 pages
What did I think?
The book has an old-fashioned feel that I’ve felt before while reading books on Buddhism. Stoicism is a philosophy from Greek and Roman times though Irvine is a modern writer and is writing for people who want to try practicing Stoicism today. Irvine has carved out a Stoic philosophy of life that has been helpful to him and the book at one point addressed the fact that sticklers for the ‘old’ ways of Stoicism may question changes to it. Irvine quotes Seneca, however, to remind readers that he does not feel bound “to some particular one of the stoic masters; I, too have the right to form an opinion.” In other words, there is room for adjustments.
By far the most helpful section to me was the psychological techniques which included negative visualisation, the dichotomy/trichotomy of control, fatalism, self-denial and meditation. They are practical tools that would be helpful for anyone interested in practicing them. Interestingly, negative visualisation is something I have done naturally in my life and I’ve had people try to tell me it’s a very negative way to go about life. It’s not the same as being pessimistic, though. I don’t see, or feel, it that way at all and I think this book goes a good way to explaining why pondering the negative things that ‘could’ happen to us can lead to more enjoyment and calm in life.
Stoicism focuses on finding tranquility – something that I can relate to. Irvine gives some great advice on preparing mentally for old age and beginning the techniques one at a time (to master one before going on to another), to understanding the importance of having a life philosophy so you know what you’re aiming for.
There are sections on the early Stoics, a brief history of Stoicism and of its decline. Finally, there is a plan of attack (you might say) for those who would like to practice it, even if you’re just a trial to see if Stoicism is a good fit for you.
I was interested to know what Stoicism was about, since my only understanding was it’s ‘something to do with Greek and Roman philosophy’ and that to say someone is stoic means ‘they remain strong in the face of negative emotions’. Not a very deep understanding, but this book made a good introduction. The text is repetitious in making some points, but overall it has some helpful ideas for training yourself, and reframing the way you think, to achieve more peace.
For more info: Goodreads – Or your local Library