Of the many available books on Stoicism, three things make Ward Farnsworth’s The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual stand out:
- The Stoics largely speak for themselves; the book is organized around topics and most of the content comes from the original sources. So, for example, the chapter on “judgment” presents, with commentary, the original writings of Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius—the big three late Stoics—on that topic. This way, you can compare and contrast each authors thoughts on the same topic, which is very interesting and useful. It’s easier to digest this way rather than reading the collected works of each author separately.
- In addition to the original writings of the Stoics, the original writings of other prominent supporting authors are included, including Adam Smith, Plutarch, Samuel Johnson, Arthur Schopenhauer, and more. While these authors are not Stoics themselves, the examples provided demonstrate stoic influence.
- The content is organized by topic in twelve chapters, covering judgment, externals, perspective, death, wealth and pleasure, what others think, valuation, emotion, adversity, virtue, and learning. There is also a final chapter responding to the criticism of Stoicism. The organization of content in this way is easier to assimilate and refer back to, especially considering the Stoics wrote in a rather disorganized way.
In all, this is one of the best books on the practice of Stoicism I’ve come across. As the author states himself, if you’re looking for an in-depth theoretical examination of the philosophy of Stoicism, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This book is really for those who want a practical guide to living by stoic principles and appreciate learning the material primarily from the original sources, without having to read through each source separately and organize the material manually.
I couldn’t help noticing—based on the nature of the book, along with the fact that it contains twelve chapters of stoic principles—that there is a parallel between this book and Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos. That gave me the idea to write a blog post, using The Practicing Stoic as inspiration, titled 12 (Stoic) Rules for Life: An Antidote to Delusion.