It was Seneca who told us how to learn from history and literature. Ignore the facts and figures, he said, focus on the moral lessons. Focus on what the characters can teach you about life.
Plutarch, the great moral biographer of history, would take this lesson to heart. Unlike the biographers of our time, who publish big, thick books filled with footnotes and postmodern digressions, Plutarch was obsessed by what we could learn from the figures he wrote about. He wanted to look at Caesar’s brilliance and his fatal ego, just as he wanted us to admire Cato’s austere self-discipline alongside his intractability and failure to compromise. He wanted to get to the essence of great men and women, so that he might inspire us to follow in their footsteps.
“For neither is it histories we are writing, but lives,” Plutarch would write, “nor is there by any means display of merit or vice in the most outstanding actions, but often a trivial matter as well as a remark and some joke have offered a better illustration of character than clashes with countless casualties and the biggest battalions and sieges of cities.”
It’s on this model that our latest book is written, Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius. While there is much to be learned from Seneca’s letters, there is much more to learn in the way he lived. The remarks he made under the threat of death, or while he was sent off to exile, have more sincerity in them than the polished essays or plays. So it goes with Marcus Aurelius—what he did as emperor is just as important as what he meditated on in private. And what of Zeno or Cleanthes, when most of their writing didn’t survive? All we have is their example—so let’s study it.
For the last two years, Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman have been hard at work on Lives of the Stoics, the follow-up to the runaway bestseller, The Daily Stoic. They pored over hundreds of ancient texts and modern scholarship to bring you 26 biographies of the most important—and most interesting—Stoics from history. We study the lives of these men and women for the same reason Plutarch (who wrote about many of the Stoics as well) did: so that they might inspire us to follow in their footsteps.
- An audio interview between the two authors of Lives of the Stoics, Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
- Three bonus chapters on some of the most Stoic figures in modern US history, James Mattis, James Stockdale, and Arianna Huffington
- Preorder five or more copies and receive a free Marcus Aurelius “Waste No More Time Arguing What A Good Man Should Be. Be One.” print from the Daily Stoic Store (shipping not included)