How To Be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci

How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern LifeHow to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life by Massimo Pigliucci
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Imagined Conversations with a Dead Greek” would be a better title for this tour of an ancient way of living, Stoicism. Most of the chapters start out with an imagined conversation with Stoicism’s founder, Epictetus, who came across as the kind of guy I’d avoid in a pub, and the author, who seems like the kind of guy who’d have been more interesting to bump into in a pub before he was afflicted with Epictetus’s friendship.

The Stoic philosophy of life as presented is a very moral one: a virtue ethics, which depends on the wisdom to choose. As such, it boils down to moderation in everything. As a person who enjoys occasional bouts of excess, I guess the part of the book I didn’t like was the substance. I’m not sure I want to be the type of person who never gets smashed, never f*cks up and never bites off more than I can chew.

Setting that to one side, Pigliucci does a good job of exposition. His examples are real, some are amusing and some are quite moving. His comments on euthanasia are apposite, and the accepting Stoic attitude towards death is well set out. (For a contrasting one, read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.) Although he comes close at times, the author never gets preachy, although at times something very close to a false modesty creeps in.

Nevertheless, the book left me feeling informed rather than convinced. And that, I guess, was its fatal flaw.

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