Book Review: How to be a Stoic (2017) by Massimo Pigliucci

NB: See my video below for a discussion of the twelve practical techniques listed at the end of this book.

Massimo Pigliucci is an important voice in the modern Stoicism movement. Instead of lecturing readers on academic philosophy he’s chosen to provide them with a practical guide to living like a Stoic in the real world. He shows that Stoicism can provide a philosophy of life consistent with a modern scientific worldview, and with atheism or agnosticism as well as different forms of religion. He provides many vivid examples of everyday situations in which Stoic philosophy was found helpful in his own life. He also draws upon many examples from the lives of other individuals to make his point that adopting Stoic attitudes and behaviours can contribute to a more fulfilled and emotionally resilient way of living. For that reason, I think that both newcomers and people who are familiar with the philosophy will potentially obtain something of value from reading this book.

The main part is divided into three sections.  These deal respectively with training in mastering our desires and emotions, organizing our actions around a coherent moral goal, and learning to withhold our assent from initial misleading impressions.  Pigliucci concludes by describing a list of a dozen Stoic exercises:

  1. Examine your impressions, checking whether they place too much value on external things outside your direct control.
  2. Remind yourself of the impermanence of things.
  3. The reserve clause, which means adding the caveat “fate permitting” to every planned action.
  4. How can I use virtue here and now?
  5. Pause and take a deep breath, waiting for strong emotions to abate naturally rather than acting rashly when we’re upset.
  6. Other-ize, getting beyond personalization by considering how we’d feel about our misfortunes if they befell another person.
  7. Speak little and well – the Stoics were known for speaking “laconically”, like Spartans.
  8. Choose your company well.
  9. Respond to insults with humour.
  10. Don’t speak too much about yourself.
  11. Speak without judging, just stick to the facts and remain objective.
  12. Reflect on your day, by reviewing events each evening in a constructive and dispassionate manner, looking for areas in which you can improve.

I would suggest some people might actually benefit from reading these first.

The Stoics believed that the wise man is naturally drawn to writing books that help other people and they would surely see How to be a Stoic as a fitting attempt to reprise their timeless wisdom for the 21st century.

2 replies on “Book Review: How to be a Stoic (2017) by Massimo Pigliucci”

Hi Donald,

“How to be a Stoic” was the first book I read on Stoicicism, and I reference the list of techniques daily. I reflect on one of these each day in my morning journal (Actually rewriting the text so it will gradually move into my long term memory). It has been a key part of my daily practice for a full year. I combine that with Massimo’s daily meditation podcast, which I listen to when I’m getting ready for work. Highly recommended.

I would like to toss out a thought — I really enjoy the guided meditations you include in your courses. I think it would be fantastic if you created a weekly podcast that was simply a 10 minute guided meditation that people could use in their daily practice for the week. That would make these techniques more accessible than they currently are. I am not sure about the pay-model, but that is something I would pay for, personally. There is an app called the Daily Calm, and I often wish some of your meditations were included there. Again, just some thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *