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Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness Paperback – June 26, 2007

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Editorial Reviews Review

"Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can't control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible." The Stoic philosopher Epictetus was born on the eastern edges of the Roman Empire in A.D. 55, but The Art of Living is still perfectly suited for any contemporary self-help or recovery program. To prove the point, this modern interpretation by Sharon Lebell casts the teachings in up-to-date language, with phrases like "power broker" and "casual sex" popping up intermittently. But the core is still the same: Epictetus keeps the focus on progress over perfection, on accomplishing what can be accomplished and abandoning unproductive worry over what cannot. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“A treasury of eternally good advice, wise as a grandfather, earthy as the Tao.” (Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart)

“The message of Epictetus is as vital today as it ever was.” (Jacob Needleman, author of The Heart of Philosophy)

“Epictetus sounds like the Buddha, and Sharon Lebell’s voice makes him sound like the delightful man next door.” (Sylvia Boorstein, author of It's Easier Than You Think)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (June 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061286052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061286056
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Hans W. Gruenig on August 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is inspiring, but perhaps confusing from a historical standpoint, given that Lebell doesn't tell us when she's embellishing on the original. Some reviewers have been speculating on what Epictetus did and did not write about. Example: some have complained that he couldn't possibly have addressed "casual sex". A reviewer named "Strict Evaluation" poo-poos Lebell's use of Epictetus's name and skeptically asks "what's the Greek for 'casual sex'?" -- implying that Lebell's book has little relation to Epictetus. I can assure you that that reviewer is uninformed and overdramatic. Case in point:
Lebell writes:
"Abstain from casual sex and particularly avoid sexual intercourse before you get married." ... "If, however, you know someone who has had casual sex, don't self-righteously try to win them over to your own views."
Arrian (Epictetus's sole recorder) writes in the Enchiridion:
"As to pleasure with women, abstain as far as you can before marriage: but if you do indulge in it, do it in the way which is conformable to custom. Do not, however be disagreeable to those who indulge in these pleasures, or reprove them; and do not often boast that you do not indulge in them yourself."
I'd say that Lebell has done a good job of capturing the spirit of what Arrian reported of Epictetus teachings (in this case). She often adds her own extrapolations and interpretations based on (1) her own understanding of the philosophy, and (2) a desire to make the reading more accessible and compelling to her audience. I agree that it would be awfully nice to have references to the original texts for comparison -- or perhaps an original+commentary format -- but before you indict her for complete fabrication, please, at least take a look at the original!
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69 of 74 people found the following review helpful By John S. Ryan on August 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Epictetus is one of the real "greats" in the history of philosophy. From the very bottom of the Roman social ladder, he taught and practiced a philosophy (originally due to Zeno) that came to be called "Stoicism" and influenced Roman society all the way to the very top: Roman soldiers used to carry copies of the _Enchiridion_ into battle, and the emperor Marcus Aurelius's famous "Meditations" consist mostly of his urging himself, apparently with limited success, to come closer to the Stoic ideal.

The people who characterize Sharon Lebell's interpretive rendering as a "self-help" book have at least half a point; the written records of Epictetus's teachings (Epictetus didn't write them down himself) were self-help books in the first place.

And fine ones they were. Oh, there are a few points at which Epictetus counsels heights of detachment suitable only for inhuman monsters, as when he suggests that we remember our wives and children are mortal so that we won't grieve when they die. But on the whole his teachings are firmly founded on the view that absolutely everything occurs by Providence, we are all of us children of God and citizens of the world with natural fellowship with one another, and we should assume responsibility for precisely those things which we can control -- namely, ourselves.

This view, or something very close to it, has grounded religious and philosophical programs from the Torah to Alcoholics Anonymous, from Spinoza to the Musar movement, from antiquity to the very latest modernity (e.g., Mark Rosen's excellent _Thank You for Being Such a Pain_): when you face a challenge, use it to improve yourself; that's what it's for.
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226 of 257 people found the following review helpful By Ingles on March 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Epictetus desperately needs a modern, contemporary translation. As far as I know, all of the available translations in print are either terribly academic or use Victorian language. This is NOT a translation but a very free, very loose paraphrase and condensation. I knew I was in trouble when I read the introduction. The author slams Western philosophy for being too cerebral and for not dealing sufficiently with the irrational aspects of life. She obviously does not like the use of reason to deal with day to day life. Then why, I might ask, is she paraphrasing a philosopher who is one of the presursors to modern rational psychotherapy? Like many Westerners who dabble in Eastern philosophy and only know it superficially, she assumes that it speaks more directly to the needs of people than Western philosophy. This despite the fact that Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, etc. were immensely popular with the general population of ancient times. So much so, in fact, that common citizens wore rings and bought mirrors with sayings of Epicurus on them and Socrates could be lampooned in a popular comedy. Stoicism was the unoffical religion of the roman army-not an elitist, irrelevant teaching. And Epicureanism had widespread allegiance and was able to fill huge communities all throughout the ancient world. The most popular devotional books of the 17th and 18th century were all basically rewrites of the ancient Greeks. By the time the introduction was finished, I knew that I was in for a very trendy, inaccurate rendering of Epictetus. The worst chapter has to be the one called "Avoid casual sex".Read more ›
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