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How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

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The life-changing principles of Stoicism taught through the story of its most famous proponent. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was the final famous Stoic philosopher of the ancient world. The Meditations, his personal journal, survives to this day as one of the most loved self-help and spiritual classics of all time. In How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, cognitive psychother The life-changing principles of Stoicism taught through the story of its most famous proponent. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was the final famous Stoic philosopher of the ancient world. The Meditations, his personal journal, survives to this day as one of the most loved self-help and spiritual classics of all time. In How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, cognitive psychotherapist Donald Robertson weaves the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius together seamlessly to provide a compelling modern-day guide to the Stoic wisdom followed by countless individuals throughout the centuries as a path to achieving greater fulfillment and emotional resilience. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor takes readers on a transformative journey along with Marcus, following his progress from a young noble at the court of Hadrian—taken under the wing of some of the finest philosophers of his day—through to his reign as emperor of Rome at the height of its power. Robertson shows how Marcus used philosophical doctrines and therapeutic practices to build emotional resilience and endure tremendous adversity, and guides readers through applying the same methods to their own lives. Combining remarkable stories from Marcus’s life with insights from modern psychology and the enduring wisdom of his philosophy, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor puts a human face on Stoicism and offers a timeless and essential guide to handling the ethical and psychological challenges we face today.


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The life-changing principles of Stoicism taught through the story of its most famous proponent. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was the final famous Stoic philosopher of the ancient world. The Meditations, his personal journal, survives to this day as one of the most loved self-help and spiritual classics of all time. In How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, cognitive psychother The life-changing principles of Stoicism taught through the story of its most famous proponent. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was the final famous Stoic philosopher of the ancient world. The Meditations, his personal journal, survives to this day as one of the most loved self-help and spiritual classics of all time. In How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, cognitive psychotherapist Donald Robertson weaves the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius together seamlessly to provide a compelling modern-day guide to the Stoic wisdom followed by countless individuals throughout the centuries as a path to achieving greater fulfillment and emotional resilience. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor takes readers on a transformative journey along with Marcus, following his progress from a young noble at the court of Hadrian—taken under the wing of some of the finest philosophers of his day—through to his reign as emperor of Rome at the height of its power. Robertson shows how Marcus used philosophical doctrines and therapeutic practices to build emotional resilience and endure tremendous adversity, and guides readers through applying the same methods to their own lives. Combining remarkable stories from Marcus’s life with insights from modern psychology and the enduring wisdom of his philosophy, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor puts a human face on Stoicism and offers a timeless and essential guide to handling the ethical and psychological challenges we face today.

30 review for How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    Stoicism is a practical philosophy that emphasizes rationality and virtue as the only true goods. Unlike other religious or spiritual practices, Stoicism does not require that you abandon reason or strain your grip on reality; rather, it provides an ethical orientation to life that is fully consistent with our nature as rational, social beings. Stoicism therefore embraces the original Greek conception of philosophy as a way of life, a subject matter to be practiced rather than simply studied. Fa Stoicism is a practical philosophy that emphasizes rationality and virtue as the only true goods. Unlike other religious or spiritual practices, Stoicism does not require that you abandon reason or strain your grip on reality; rather, it provides an ethical orientation to life that is fully consistent with our nature as rational, social beings. Stoicism therefore embraces the original Greek conception of philosophy as a way of life, a subject matter to be practiced rather than simply studied. Far removed from the logical hair splitting of academic philosophy, Stoicism is about living well, with an emphasis on ethics and the attainment of true contentment and excellence of character. That means that mastering the art of Stoicism is no easy task; it requires putting theory into practice and patiently developing appropriate habits of mind that cannot come from simply reading a book, memorizing a few principles, and moving on. This is why, to truly master Stoicism, it helps to have a mentor, not in the sense of an all-knowing guru who will tell you exactly how to think and act, but in the sense of having someone with admirable character traits to emulate. This is what makes How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson an ideal introduction to the practice of Stoicism. It combines the theory of Stoicism—corroborated by the latest therapeutic techniques of modern psychology—with the biographical details of a Stoic master worth emulating, Marcus Aurelius. Marcus relied on mentors himself; in fact, in Book 1 of Meditations, Marcus provides a list of his mentors and their associated character traits that he would use to model his own behavior. Marcus was greatly influenced by Socrates, Seneca, Epictetus, and his own personal philosophy tutors. Marcus would often contemplate how these Stoic masters would themselves handle certain situations while also benefiting from personal instruction. While having a mentor is important, most of us do not personally know a Stoic master who is available 24/7 to critique our attitudes and behavior. But there’s another option, one that Marcus used himself after his most valued personal mentor, Junius Rusticus, passed away. Marcus would imagine that his mentor, or a group of mentors he respected, were constantly watching over his actions, and that he would need to explain his actions to a tribunal of philosophers at the end of each day. This allowed Marcus to continue to benefit from the personal instruction of Rusticus, even after Rusticus’s death, if only in his imagination. And it is the same technique the reader can use to benefit from the personal instruction of Marcus Aurelius. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor allows the reader to learn more about the life and thought of Marcus Aurelius for the purpose of establishing an imagined mentorship in the manner practiced by the great Stoics. This puts a face to the philosophy and brings the ideas to life, while providing a Stoic ideal for the reader to strive for. Marcus, of course, was not only a Stoic philosopher; he was also a leader, the emperor of Rome. If anyone deserves the title of Plato’s “philosopher king,” it’s Marcus Aurelius, and if any Stoic is truly worth emulating, it’s also probably him. So what can Marcus teach us? Since Marcus modeled his behavior according to a hypothetical Stoic ideal, we can all use Marcus’s own character traits as a model for our own character development. In that respect, what follows is a brief summary of the character traits and habits of mind of Marcus Aurelius that we would all benefit from emulating. To begin with, the modern idea that we are all slaves to our passions, or that reason is slave to emotion, is patently false. If it were true, we would constantly indulge our appetites, sacrificing our health and never saving or planning for the future. We can all clearly make decisions that sacrifice immediate gratification for future benefits. Reason, therefore, is of primary importance for the Stoic, what they called our “ruling faculty.” As Robertson wrote: “Stoics argued that humans are first and foremost thinking creatures, capable of exercising reason. Although we share many instincts with other animals, our ability to think rationally is what makes us human….It allows us to evaluate our thoughts, feelings, and urges and to decide if they are good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.” The use of reason is the only way to modify unhealthy habits, which are usually the result of blindly following our emotions. Our most natural reactions are often the most harmful. Marcus, for example, had to battle with severe outbursts of anger when he was younger. However, despite being predisposed psychologically to bouts of anger, Marcus trained himself to act more reasonably and calmly, even in the face of betrayal by his general Gaius Avidius Cassius, who declared himself emperor and started a civil war. Marcus reminded himself that people act according to what they think is right, and if they act dishonorably, they do so in error and therefore deserve our sympathy rather than our contempt. That Marcus didn’t lose his cool doesn’t mean that he did nothing; he calmly and efficiently mobilized his forces and ultimately was victorious against Cassius. But he did so without undue emotional distress. Marcus reminded himself that without misfortune and difficulty, there is no opportunity to practice virtue. As Marcus wrote in Meditations, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Marcus replaced a negative emotion, anger, with sympathy, understanding, and action. Marcus did not have an easy life: out of 13 children, he lived to see 8 of them die; he suffered from ulcers and other chronic physical ailments; he experienced constant warfare and political instability; and he dealt with the strain and stress of managing an empire. Yet he found the courage to confront these challenges effectively and without complaint, because he realized all events, whether considered good or bad, were simply opportunities to practice virtue and develop character. Marcus no doubt would have preferred health, wealth, and peace, and did what he could to attain them, but he did not waste time in grief or anxiety for things not within his direct control, nor did he waste time in pursuit of material objects or fleeting pleasures at the expense of his philosophical development. Marcus therefore employed reason and wisdom to display courage, moderation, and emotional mastery. When a difficulty arose, he would simply say, calmly and dispassionately, “what next?” Marcus understood the difference between events and judgements, and how judgments are ultimately the cause of suffering. As Marcus said, “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” At this point, there are two common but unfounded criticisms of Stoicism that I want to address. The first is that Stoics are unemotional. This is not true, for the simple reason that it’s not possible. You can’t eliminate emotions, you can only control them and replace initial negative emotions with positive ones, like Marcus did by managing his bouts of anger and replacing them with deep sympathy even for his enemies. Stoics, far from being unemotional, experience a profound sense of joy by living according to reason and wisdom and in helping others achieve the same. The second misconception is that Stoicism makes one apathetic to public life and civic responsibility. Marcus, being the emperor of Rome and all, should make it obvious how wrong this is. But there’s a deeper explanation for why this is incorrect. Robertson explains this best: “In addition to believing that humans are essentially thinking creatures capable of reason, the Stoics also believed that human nature is inherently social. They started from the premise that under normal conditions we typically have a bond of “natural affection” toward our children. (If we didn’t, as we know, our offspring would be less likely to survive and pass on our genes.) This bond of natural affection also tends to extend to other loved ones, such as spouses, parents, siblings, and close friends. The Stoics believed that as we mature in wisdom we increasingly identify with our own capacity for reason, but we also begin to identify with others insofar as they’re capable of reason. In other words, the wise man extends moral consideration to all rational creatures and views them, in a sense, as his brothers and sisters. That’s why the Stoics described their ideal as cosmopolitanism, or being ‘citizens of the universe’—a phrase attributed both to Socrates and Diogenes the Cynic.” As Robertson further notes, the concepts of justice, kindness, fairness, and ethical cosmopolitanism are found throughout the Meditations. Marcus, despite being a Stoic, displays a rich emotional life full of contemplation, action, joy, contentment, justice, kindness, and civic responsibility. From all of this we get a good idea of how Marcus would think and act in various situations, and this provides a great template by which we can develop our own character in accordance with the Stoic ideal. For those truly interested in mastering Stoicism, it’s helpful to ask yourself, could you justify your actions to Marcus at the end of each day. The next time you’re overwhelmed by anger or anxiety, work to replace your negative emotions with positive ones. The next time you face a crisis or difficult situation, ask yourself which virtue this allows you to practice. Over time, and with dedication, you might come to find, as Marcus certainly did, that life and all its chaos is nothing more than the opportunity to practice virtue, guided by the ideals of reason, wisdom, justice, and kindness.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I was lucky to get a free copy via NetGalley for my true and honest opinion. Donald Robertson, a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist looks at how the writing in the mediations and how it can be seen as pre-modern version of psychological strategy. Specifically, he looks at how stoic philosophy provided Marcus Aurelius as a coping strategy for his role as the emperor. Marcus Aurelius is one of the few good heroic Roman emperors, especially in comparison with Caligula or Nero. The author looks at I was lucky to get a free copy via NetGalley for my true and honest opinion. Donald Robertson, a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist looks at how the writing in the mediations and how it can be seen as pre-modern version of psychological strategy. Specifically, he looks at how stoic philosophy provided Marcus Aurelius as a coping strategy for his role as the emperor. Marcus Aurelius is one of the few good heroic Roman emperors, especially in comparison with Caligula or Nero. The author looks at the links between therapy and stoic wisdom. Stoicism helped Aurelius in coping with his feelings of grief or fear. Aurelius would have been exposed to stoic ideas through people like Arrian of Nicomedia who was close to his adoptive grandfather. He looks at why people till this day find comfort in his writing. After all, this is an emperor that was ruling 1853 years ago but yet we are drawn to his writing and the reason could for quotes such as “You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Stoicism is about changing how you think and how you control your emotions and this is what Robertson says is a premodern concept of therapy strategy. Robertson is a able to present complex ideas in my opinion in a easy to read manner. It was well research and the research were accessible if you wanted to do further investigation on your own. Overall, I liked it. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    It seems stoicism has been enjoying a resurgence of late and being intrigued by different schools of philosophical thought and educating myself on each of them I simply couldn't resist nabbing a copy of this. The ideas central to stoicism are woven into the biographical account of one of the most important writers and Stoic philosophers of his time. What I found most impressive about the book was its accessibility - even those who know little about philosophy, in general, should be able to read It seems stoicism has been enjoying a resurgence of late and being intrigued by different schools of philosophical thought and educating myself on each of them I simply couldn't resist nabbing a copy of this. The ideas central to stoicism are woven into the biographical account of one of the most important writers and Stoic philosophers of his time. What I found most impressive about the book was its accessibility - even those who know little about philosophy, in general, should be able to read and understand this text without issue. We in Britain tend to be labelled as the most likely to subscribe to stoicism when it comes to the continent of Europe so we should all be interested in the subject. With the current state of the world, this is an interesting and sensible outlook that many people are adopting. Discussing the core concepts of stoicism alongside cognitive behavioural therapy is a thought-provoking approach and is exceptionally well written and researched, it appears. Often philosophy books can alienate those who want to educate themselves on these ideas but Mr Robertson keeps it down to earth and concise. This is a book that has the potential to be life-changing and the comparison made between stoic wisdom and CBT absolutely fascinated me. The helpful hints of how to incorporate stoicism into your day to day life are a great way to move towards emotional resilience and hopefully a happier and more fulfilled life. Many thanks to St Martin's Press for an ARC.

  4. 5 out of 5

    John S.

    It's a sort of mashup between history, historical fiction, self-help and philosophy manual. That may sound funny, but it works! and the different genre like aspects are blended seamlessly, artfully, and beautifully. Some first person narratives are quite poignant (i.e. yeah, I cried!). Mr. Robertson stays as close to the history (as we know it) as possible, and even has a few unique ideas about what could have been happening (especially between the ears) which may have escaped prior historians, w It's a sort of mashup between history, historical fiction, self-help and philosophy manual. That may sound funny, but it works! and the different genre like aspects are blended seamlessly, artfully, and beautifully. Some first person narratives are quite poignant (i.e. yeah, I cried!). Mr. Robertson stays as close to the history (as we know it) as possible, and even has a few unique ideas about what could have been happening (especially between the ears) which may have escaped prior historians, who may not have been as conversant with Stoicism as a philosophy. Also, the history is exciting! And, Donald does it justice with his storytelling ability. Where the author excels however is bringing his main source, the perennial work (The Meditations) into the 21st century, having a strong clinical background in evidence-based Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Through the lens of what is robust in today's psychological sciences, we can see some of the things these old Stoics may have (most likely have) been actually doing in order to cope with crushing loss and enduring physical and mental hardships. People of the past were historically tougher than we are right now, even a few generations ago. Times in the ancient world were positively brutal, where plagues and holocausts were the rule rather than the exception, and these Stoics were considered tough even by the standards of those days. Stoicism is witnessing a resurgence at the moment, and at a time when it's very much needed. After reading this book I look at the Meditations in a whole new way, as well as the limits of what can be accomplished by any of us as human beings, for ourselves, and for our society.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    This book takes a historical account of the life of Marcus Aurelius as well as passages from Aurelius' The Meditations and shows how to apply the lessons learned from these sources in a modern context, using a framework that is largely derived from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The author is trained in both Stoic philosophy and CBT, which are closely related. As the author notes in the introduction, Aaron Beck (one of the founders of CBT) has acknowledged that "[t]he philosophical origins This book takes a historical account of the life of Marcus Aurelius as well as passages from Aurelius' The Meditations and shows how to apply the lessons learned from these sources in a modern context, using a framework that is largely derived from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The author is trained in both Stoic philosophy and CBT, which are closely related. As the author notes in the introduction, Aaron Beck (one of the founders of CBT) has acknowledged that "[t]he philosophical origins of cognitive therapy can be traced back to the Stoic philosophers." (p.9) Each chapter has a central theme that is illustrated using examples from Aurelius' life. Such themes include anger management, dealing with chronic pain, and changing bad habits. After the initial historical account, most chapters then move into a practical "how-to" sort of discussion that includes a lot of numbered lists. Many chapters conclude with a summary of the key points that the author intended for the reader to takeaway from the chapter. I appreciated this strong organizational structure. A lot of themes are repeated throughout the book. For example, The Meditations (which is a personal diary of sorts) starts with a list of people whom Aurelius admired, with Aurelius acknowledging gratitude for what he had learned from each listed individual. The author suggests that readers can use the same sort of technique--i.e., imagine what someone you admire would do in a particular situation and try to model your behavior accordingly. Another example would be the idea that cognition--rather than emotions--can drive behavior. Although an initial emotional reaction to a situation is often involuntary, generally at some point the person has the ability to step back and make a decision as to whether feeding that initial emotional reaction is healthy or not. In other words, even if rational thought does not drive one's immediate response, after that immediate reaction it is often possible to create a space for cognition to drive emotion rather than the other way around. A final example would be the calm acceptance of the fact that usually all one can control is his or her best efforts; one cannot entirely control the actual outcome of most things in life. The author describes this attitude as the "stoic reserve clause," which is often phrased as a caveat such as "fate permitting" or "God willing." I already knew some of the basic aspects of Marcus Aurelius' life, but I learned more detail from reading this book. I also knew that there was a connection between Stoic philosophy and CBT, but this book explained that connection in an easy-to-understand manner. Overall, I highly recommend this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Donihue

    Take an exposition of Stoic philosophy, add some psychotherapeutic practices, some mindfulness meditation techniques, and bundle it all up with a biography of one of the greatest emperors ever to oversee Rome and this is the book you'll get. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor is a very well written compilation of philosophy, spiritual practice, and biography. I listened to this one as a library audiobook. The narration was good but there is so much richness and depth here that I decided I'm going Take an exposition of Stoic philosophy, add some psychotherapeutic practices, some mindfulness meditation techniques, and bundle it all up with a biography of one of the greatest emperors ever to oversee Rome and this is the book you'll get. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor is a very well written compilation of philosophy, spiritual practice, and biography. I listened to this one as a library audiobook. The narration was good but there is so much richness and depth here that I decided I'm going to purchase the print version to refer back to. Thank you Mr Robertson! I'll be looking for more of your work.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Amazing

  8. 5 out of 5

    Steve Eubank

    The subtitle is ironic & an important clarification as certainly not every Roman emperor’s thought process is worth emulating; indeed, Marcus Aurelius is the exception because he “viewed himself as a Stoic 1st & an emperor 2nd.” This book is particularly instructive when read in conjunction with Massimo Pigliucci’s 2017 “How to Be a Stoic,” which is an imaginary dialogue between a modern-day student & the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Marcus Aurelius was most influenced by Epictetus. Although Mar The subtitle is ironic & an important clarification as certainly not every Roman emperor’s thought process is worth emulating; indeed, Marcus Aurelius is the exception because he “viewed himself as a Stoic 1st & an emperor 2nd.” This book is particularly instructive when read in conjunction with Massimo Pigliucci’s 2017 “How to Be a Stoic,” which is an imaginary dialogue between a modern-day student & the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Marcus Aurelius was most influenced by Epictetus. Although Marcus & Epictetus never met, Epictetus’ student Arrian had compiled his teachings as the “Discourses” & “Handbook” & Marcus was instructed in Stoicism from these works. In contrast, Marcus did not write what ended up being his contribution to philosophy, the “Meditations” in order to teach anyone; it was more akin to a journal of personal thoughts written in his tent at night as he fought barbarian tribes on the fringes of the empire. So rather than a modern dialogue with a classical philosopher like “How to Be a Stoic,” “How to Think Like a Roman Emperor” is more of a biographical account of a great person’s development through Stoic reflection & how such a technique is applied today via Cognitive Behavioral Therapy & other methods. The last chapter breaks from biography to take the reader through a guided Stoic meditation process that Marcus might’ve used if he’d lived in modern times. Between “How to Be a Stoic” & “How to Think Like a Roman Emperor” one learns the principles of Stoicism, their relevance today, & how to incorporate them into a meaningful & resilient approach to life.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Noah Goats

    I've noticed that over the past few years books about Stoicism have really been proliferating. As traditional religion seems to ebb, I think people are looking for guidance to morality and the good life, and a surprising number of them are finding it in an ancient philosophy that was highly popular in classical Rome. The Stoics give modern people a moral code that doesn't look too different from the one they grew up with, but it bases its ethics on reason rather than revelation and dogma. The onl I've noticed that over the past few years books about Stoicism have really been proliferating. As traditional religion seems to ebb, I think people are looking for guidance to morality and the good life, and a surprising number of them are finding it in an ancient philosophy that was highly popular in classical Rome. The Stoics give modern people a moral code that doesn't look too different from the one they grew up with, but it bases its ethics on reason rather than revelation and dogma. The only problem with the Stoics is that when they are taken in their raw form, they can be unacceptably bitter to modern tastes. In How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, Donald Robertson sugars the pill a little, making it digestible. He uses the teachings of Marcus Aurelius and other stoic philosophers as a foundation, and then builds a structure of modern techniques for finding peace and self-improvement on top of it. I think Marcus and the rest of the Stoics would have approved of this. They were always the most practical school of philosophers, and their works actually read a lot like self help books. The practice of updating Stoicism was already an ancient one when Marcus was writing his Meditations, and in this book Robertson successfully adds to this long tradition.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin (The Maniac)

    I think I know what I want for Christmas...

  11. 4 out of 5

    GONZA

    I liked this book a lot, mostly because of the comparison between stoicism and the cognitive behavioral therapy. I am a long time fan of Marco Aurelio, even before the movie "Gladiator" or the book of Marguerite Yourcenar made him a well known Emperor between all the others, but I still think he was one of the best and Everybody should read his Meditations. Questo libro mi é piaciuto molto, fondamentalmente grazie ai paragoni che l'autore faceva costantemente trai principi stoici e quelli che reg I liked this book a lot, mostly because of the comparison between stoicism and the cognitive behavioral therapy. I am a long time fan of Marco Aurelio, even before the movie "Gladiator" or the book of Marguerite Yourcenar made him a well known Emperor between all the others, but I still think he was one of the best and Everybody should read his Meditations. Questo libro mi é piaciuto molto, fondamentalmente grazie ai paragoni che l'autore faceva costantemente trai principi stoici e quelli che regolano la terapia cognitivo comportamentale. Inoltre sono da molto molto tempo una grande fan di Marco Aurelio, prima che ascendesse agli onori della cronaca per via del film "Il gladiatore" o il libro della Yourcenar (Le memorie di Adriano): Lo ritengo uno dei principali imperatori romani, specialmente se paragonato alla maggior parte di loro e penso che sarebbe molto importante che ognuno di noi leggesse le "Meditazioni". THANKS NETGALLEY FOR THE PREVIEW!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I really enjoyed this one! It was well written and very straight forward for someone who isn’t working towards a PhD or some type of degree! LOL. I enjoy reading about all Things Roman, most especially the Emperor world. Having the philosophical attitude, mindset towards our mortality does allow you to feel more “free”, I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about Rome, emperor’s and even simple philosophy.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Yousef

    The last chapter was one of the most moving chapters I've read in a while. Marcus Aurelius. What a man.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Enso

    "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius" is a new work by Donald Robertson on Stoicism through the lens of Marcus Aurelius. As a change of pace, I listened to the audiobook of it, as it was read by the author and I often enjoy hearing authors read their own works. In this I was not disappointed. Robertson is a well known modern Stoic proponent, being involved in many of the organized activities online and off to promote Stoicism and an understanding of it. I've "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius" is a new work by Donald Robertson on Stoicism through the lens of Marcus Aurelius. As a change of pace, I listened to the audiobook of it, as it was read by the author and I often enjoy hearing authors read their own works. In this I was not disappointed. Robertson is a well known modern Stoic proponent, being involved in many of the organized activities online and off to promote Stoicism and an understanding of it. I've enjoyed reading his blog posts on the topic. He's also written on the very explicit connections between Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in the past, including a book on the topic as well. In this text, Robertson uses the life and writings of Marcus Aurelius to show us Robertson's understanding of Stoicism as a practical path, along with a philosophical one. Through a combination of content from Aurelius' "Meditations" and relating it to techniques used in modern psychotherapy, Robertson shows the philosophical ideas and intent behind Marcus Aurelius' Stoicism and how you can apply these techniques in a _practical_ fashion in daily life. This last bit was the most important to me. There are many, many books on Stoicism, either modern interpretations or explanations by scholars, but practical application is often difficult to find. By that I mean the texts contain ideas but, often, one has to puzzle how you would do that every day or incorporate it into your life in order to put it into practice. Robertson has made that a bit easier and I found, while listening to the book, that I wished that my notebook handy so I could write down notes and make a checklist of things. (Fortunately, I also have the hardcover so I have been able to revisit this later.) This practical focus and immediate relationship to the world makes this, hands down, the best of the recent Stoic works published. I want to offer Robertson real kudos for making a nice, well contained, and focused introduction. This is the book that I'm suggesting to my friends now when they show an interest in Stoicism and want to read more.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Raby

    Donald Robertson knocked it out of the park with this book. All at once it’s a primer on Stoicism, a case study for how Stoicism can be beneficial to a real person, and a self-help book using modern psychotherapy techniques. Drawing from multiple Roman histories, and writings from Marcus Aurelius himself, Robertson has written a brief biography of the last “good” Roman emperor while interweaving lessons on Stoicism and modern cognitive behavioral therapy anyone can put into practice, just as Mar Donald Robertson knocked it out of the park with this book. All at once it’s a primer on Stoicism, a case study for how Stoicism can be beneficial to a real person, and a self-help book using modern psychotherapy techniques. Drawing from multiple Roman histories, and writings from Marcus Aurelius himself, Robertson has written a brief biography of the last “good” Roman emperor while interweaving lessons on Stoicism and modern cognitive behavioral therapy anyone can put into practice, just as Marcus did. I recently listened to the audiobook version I got from my library, read by the author, but I plan to buy either an ebook or physical copy to which I can easily refer for help dealing with my own issues with anger and anxiety. Whether you’re only beginning to look into Stoicism, you’re well read in the classic Stoic literature and looking for new insights into Marcus Aurelius, or you’re needing a very practical set of exercises to deal with all that life throws at you, you’re sure to benefit from reading this book!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I was going to give this book 3 stars because I mostly enjoyed it, but some of the CBT-ish parts were boring to read (probably because I'm a therapist and none of the things mentioned are really new to me).....HOWEVER...the last chapter alone ("Death and the View From Above") absolutely blew me away...very poetic, deep, profound, and the most stunningly beautiful philosophy I've ever read. I'm not ashamed to say reading it brought tears to my eyes. My guess is the chapter was an excerpt from Mar I was going to give this book 3 stars because I mostly enjoyed it, but some of the CBT-ish parts were boring to read (probably because I'm a therapist and none of the things mentioned are really new to me).....HOWEVER...the last chapter alone ("Death and the View From Above") absolutely blew me away...very poetic, deep, profound, and the most stunningly beautiful philosophy I've ever read. I'm not ashamed to say reading it brought tears to my eyes. My guess is the chapter was an excerpt from Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" as it is from Marcus' point of view on or near his death bed. This chapter was THE most profound thing I've ever read and the only comforting thing I've read thus far about death. You know how some people have certain songs they want played at their funeral? "Death and the View from Above" is what I would want read at my funeral. I can't wait to read "Meditations" now and soak up Marcus Aurelius' timeless wisdom on life and death.

  17. 5 out of 5

    James

    A very well written, instructive introduction to Stoic philosophy told through the life of Marcus Aurelius. I'd previously read the Meditations, and am working through Seneca's letters but this book explains the roots of stoicism, it's founders and precepts. The book is organised into sections which focus on how someone can use stoic practices and perspectives to approach particular challenges. The author also draws interesting parallels between modern Cognitive Behaviour Therapy techniques and A very well written, instructive introduction to Stoic philosophy told through the life of Marcus Aurelius. I'd previously read the Meditations, and am working through Seneca's letters but this book explains the roots of stoicism, it's founders and precepts. The book is organised into sections which focus on how someone can use stoic practices and perspectives to approach particular challenges. The author also draws interesting parallels between modern Cognitive Behaviour Therapy techniques and those practiced by the stoics. He is is keen to make the point that stoicism is not a distant, theoretical exercise but rather a functional way of life which is realised through regular practice. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this and found it very useful. I listened to the audio book, which is very well narrated by the author; I found his gentle voice is ideal for the subject matter. I've also bought the print copy because having listened through once, I would like to be able to refer back to the text when I need a refresher - which is likely to be often.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Franzen Vive

    Very relevant in a world where a lot of people tend to use their emotions more than their reason. The work also proves that philosophy is needed more than ever.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    One of the best books I have read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Garret

    An excellent primer on both Stoicism and Marcus Aurelius.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Hugo Ahlberg

    Disclosure: I received a pre-release copy from the publisher. This book is a great introduction to both Marcus Aurelius and Stoic philosophy. It blends the biography of the roman emperor with the philosophy and history of stoicism, and the author ties it all together in a great way. In fact, having already read Meditations I found the biography and the stories about Marcus and the people around him to be the most interesting parts of this book. It gives the philosophy a lot more texture than jus Disclosure: I received a pre-release copy from the publisher. This book is a great introduction to both Marcus Aurelius and Stoic philosophy. It blends the biography of the roman emperor with the philosophy and history of stoicism, and the author ties it all together in a great way. In fact, having already read Meditations I found the biography and the stories about Marcus and the people around him to be the most interesting parts of this book. It gives the philosophy a lot more texture than just reading Marcus own words. That is not to say you should skip Meditations, but rather that they go really well together. This is a great companion book to Meditations. (I’d love to see other books like this of other great classical philosophers like Socrates, Plato etc. If you know of any please let me know)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary Ward

    Do not act as if you will live 10,000 years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good I really didn't want this book to end - and it was work ; not a beach read. The wisdom that poured from each chapter had a hypnotic effect, which felt like so much relief from life's storms. I think it actually lowered my blood pressure every time I picked it up and read. Donald Robertson took an old topic and breathed new life into it creating a truly unique brew - kind of a Do not act as if you will live 10,000 years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good I really didn't want this book to end - and it was work ; not a beach read. The wisdom that poured from each chapter had a hypnotic effect, which felt like so much relief from life's storms. I think it actually lowered my blood pressure every time I picked it up and read. Donald Robertson took an old topic and breathed new life into it creating a truly unique brew - kind of a modern-day antidote to confusion and anxiety. And I'm hooked on the topic of Stoic philosophy. One snapshot: An emperor is facing assaults from barbarian tribes (as well as unrest among his own!) but he stops to consider the most virtuous course and he takes measured steps to dispel feelings of revenge or anger before considering his actions -- wow, that is humbling. The author segues from history, to Stoic philosophy, to modern cognitive behavior therapy with grace and art. The sensible and peaceful mind that Marcus Aurelius cultivated was revealed and then recast into the 21st century so that we can learn to harness the power of Stoic thinking, too. I especially enjoyed learning about the people who had the greatest influence on Marcus Aurelius. Epictetus is up next on my to-read list! I loved this book and know I will return to it often. Failure to observe what is in the mind of another has seldom made a man unhappy; but those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nishit Chauhan

    This book was my introduction to the Stoic philosophy and I must say that I couldn't have asked for anything better. After starting Meditations multiple times and putting it down, never finishing by getting discouraged by the writing style, How to Think takes all the principles from Meditations and puts them in an easy to comprehend manner. The author gets into the origins of the philosophy and also how it has evolved over centuries makes the book very easy to read, interesting and relatable. This This book was my introduction to the Stoic philosophy and I must say that I couldn't have asked for anything better. After starting Meditations multiple times and putting it down, never finishing by getting discouraged by the writing style, How to Think takes all the principles from Meditations and puts them in an easy to comprehend manner. The author gets into the origins of the philosophy and also how it has evolved over centuries makes the book very easy to read, interesting and relatable. This is a must read for anybody looking to get introduced to Stoicism.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael Beaudoin

    I have been practicing Stoicism for about 4 years. I attended the 2017 Toronto Stoicon. It was great to meet some of the people I have been learning from, through various forms of media. I feel that I have learned a lot about Stoicism. I also feel that I can still learn more. When I received my copy of "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor", I immediately began to read it. It's a great book. What I like most about the book is that Donald Robertson's style of story telling makes you feel as if you a I have been practicing Stoicism for about 4 years. I attended the 2017 Toronto Stoicon. It was great to meet some of the people I have been learning from, through various forms of media. I feel that I have learned a lot about Stoicism. I also feel that I can still learn more. When I received my copy of "How to Think Like a Roman Emperor", I immediately began to read it. It's a great book. What I like most about the book is that Donald Robertson's style of story telling makes you feel as if you are standing beside Marcus Aurelius, through all of his trials and tribulations. At the end of the book, as Marcus Aurelius is dying, I felt as if I was sharing his experience. It helped me to realize just how little we are when compared to the bigger picture. I will read this book many times more.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stefan Andrei

    Probably one of the most “digestible” books on stoic philosophy. The entire work is consisted of biographical passages of Marcus Aurelius and follows his life from his younger years and his teachers to his last years and deathbed; analysis of passages from his written work “Meditations” and parallels with modern psychotherapy and practical applications. Highly enjoyable read, recommended to newcomers and veteran readers on the topic. I listened to this on Audible and the narration was perfect. Late Probably one of the most “digestible” books on stoic philosophy. The entire work is consisted of biographical passages of Marcus Aurelius and follows his life from his younger years and his teachers to his last years and deathbed; analysis of passages from his written work “Meditations” and parallels with modern psychotherapy and practical applications. Highly enjoyable read, recommended to newcomers and veteran readers on the topic. I listened to this on Audible and the narration was perfect. Later edit: Liked it so much that I went through it twice this year and will likely revisit!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Miklos

    Robertson is uniquely suited to talk about Stoicism and its therapeutic applications. I found this to be a strong compliment to Pigliuccis How to Be a Stoic, although written less like a philosophical treatise and more like a psychological guide. If you admire Marcus Aurelius and want to fold his life into stoic teachings, this is a terrific book for you.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Йордан Цалов

    I was amazed with the depth and regard to accuracy of the book. Many have written on the positive aspects of the book I want to stress on what distinguishes it from the majority of recent "Modern Stoicism" literature. 1. Most new Stoicism books tend to be quasi-historic at best and pseudohistoric at worst, presenting dubious interpretation of selective facts only to suit their personal understanding of Stoicism. Since Donald Robertson was a psychotherapist I was genuinely worried that this is go I was amazed with the depth and regard to accuracy of the book. Many have written on the positive aspects of the book I want to stress on what distinguishes it from the majority of recent "Modern Stoicism" literature. 1. Most new Stoicism books tend to be quasi-historic at best and pseudohistoric at worst, presenting dubious interpretation of selective facts only to suit their personal understanding of Stoicism. Since Donald Robertson was a psychotherapist I was genuinely worried that this is going to be the case here and in the end was pleasantly surprised by the amount of research and respect for the historical approach. The book has a perspective, but is written in an intelligent and accurate manner. 2. Most new Stoicism books try in a perfidious fashion to 'modernise' Stoicism - presenting it as some sort of a 'Western yoga class' - which is not only wrong, but in the end makes a really unpersuasive argument for being a modern Stoic (why do the copy, do the original yoga). Of course, one of the reasons for this approach is the complexity of the subject - how otherwise to present Stoicism and the contemporary behaviour therapy findings - without indulging the reader into a 3-year Bachelor course in Ancient Philosophy & History, Psychology and Logic? Then, there is the problem of 'New Stoicism' (as presented by Lawrence C. Becker) and the teachings of the ancients. All recent books, including this one, draw on Beckers attempt to present Stoicism without the metaphysical and psychological assumptions that modern philosophy and science have abandoned. But if you are going to do this you should not deceive the reader by presenting modern teachings as ancient viewpoints or just abandoning the cosmological aspects for 'simplification'. This book is unique in its ability to present a gripping narrative without the need of such simplifications. I should note, that anyone interested in the religious and metaphysical believes in Antiquity would need to look elsewhere. However this book does not obscure the subject and the reader is not led to believe that Marcus Aurelius was taught by some yogi masters with togas or that Classic mythology was not the lens through which the ancients view the world. 3. Finally, there is the issue of the behaviour therapy presented in the book. I do not have the background to pass substantive judgements, but it would be a rare thing for a modern reader not to recognise pop-psychology and the "believe in yourself, you social animal" messaging. This book is nothing of the sort. In the end, it presents a comprehensive, well studied and enjoyable introduction into the ancient art and its modern reinvigoration.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    I received an advance copy of this book several months ago and began reading, wanting to quickly turn it around as a thank you for the honor of being an advance reader. But the darn book kept making me think! I would read, re-read, apply, go in research tangents. I strongly recommend this to new students of Stoicism. And by that, I mean anyone seeking a practical philosophy of life that cuts through the mystical and finds meaning in the daily struggle to be proud of what you did and who you beca I received an advance copy of this book several months ago and began reading, wanting to quickly turn it around as a thank you for the honor of being an advance reader. But the darn book kept making me think! I would read, re-read, apply, go in research tangents. I strongly recommend this to new students of Stoicism. And by that, I mean anyone seeking a practical philosophy of life that cuts through the mystical and finds meaning in the daily struggle to be proud of what you did and who you became on any given day. Robertson contributes two valuable additions to the growing mass of work embracing the thoughtful life approach of Epictetus, Seneca, and (featured here) Marcus Aurelius. First, he connects the history with the philosophy. This makes each of Aurelius’s Meditations take on new life. Second, he connect Stoic thought to modern research and understanding of cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a connection I’ve long sought. The beauty of Stoicism for me is its overlap with other good things—mindfulness meditation, CBT, and dynamic theories of inherent human potential. Read it alone, or use it as a companion to Meditations. Whichever you choose, plan to learn something.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    With apologies to pastors and therapists, this book is worth a year of sermons or as many therapy sessions. I only gave the book 4 stars because the prose doesn’t much sing, with exceptions like the last chapter on death. When I become a mature adult I hope to be a Stoic—not your lower case kind who just grins and bears it—but the upper case kind, the philosophical school which holds that: —the highest goal of life is virtue; —the aim of philosophy is wisdom for living a better life; —humility is t With apologies to pastors and therapists, this book is worth a year of sermons or as many therapy sessions. I only gave the book 4 stars because the prose doesn’t much sing, with exceptions like the last chapter on death. When I become a mature adult I hope to be a Stoic—not your lower case kind who just grins and bears it—but the upper case kind, the philosophical school which holds that: —the highest goal of life is virtue; —the aim of philosophy is wisdom for living a better life; —humility is to be pursued; —plain, truthful speech is better than ostentation; —eschew superficial pleasures or those hurtful to yourself and others: —it is possible to control (not repress) our emotions through the use of reason; —we can train ourselves to not be buffeted by all the winds in our life; —and death is as natural as life. Do I have enough time left to grow into a Stoic? I have been asking myself where can wisdom be found? And how can I find a “place” where I’m not buffeted by the cross currents of life, both external and internal? Indeed, at some level these questions are connected. And it seems as though Stoicism may provide a meaningful posture from which to grapple with these questions. May I be a Stoic, and a Christian still. A Stoical Christian.

  30. 5 out of 5

    John

    Donald Robertson’s book, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, is a wonderfully written introduction to Stoic philosophy and the life of Marcus Aurelius. The list of concepts illustrated in this book that I found personally invaluable is impressive; the concept of voluntary hardship for the development of one’s character, the discarding of value judgments and meeting external events with indifference, the idea that difficult people in one’s life should be viewed as a “prescription” for personal dev Donald Robertson’s book, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, is a wonderfully written introduction to Stoic philosophy and the life of Marcus Aurelius. The list of concepts illustrated in this book that I found personally invaluable is impressive; the concept of voluntary hardship for the development of one’s character, the discarding of value judgments and meeting external events with indifference, the idea that difficult people in one’s life should be viewed as a “prescription” for personal development, all carry within them the seeds for so much personal growth. As a runner who participates in ultra-marathons, I often find myself in considerable amounts of pain knee deep in a 50-mile race. Inevitably, I ask myself why it is I not only feel the need to participate in these events, but also why I find it so personally rewarding. The chapters on pain management and voluntary hardship really illustrated parallels to my own experiences with such races. Robertson’s book has lit a flame of interest in Stoic philosophy that I will be nurturing in the future. This is a truly exceptional book!

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