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Showing 1-10 of 104 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 142 reviews
on January 18, 2015
These letters of Roman philosopher Seneca are a treasure chest for anybody wishing to incorporate philosophic wisdom into their day-to-day living. By way of example, below are a few Seneca gems along with my brief comments:

"Each day acquire something which will help you to face poverty, or death, and other ills as well. After running over a lot of different thoughts, pick out one to be digested throughout the day." --------- I'm completely with Seneca on this point. I approach the study of philosophy primarily for self-transformation. There is no let-up in the various challenges life throws at us - what we can change is the level of wisdom we bring to facing our challenges.

"It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more." ---------- This is the perennial philosophy from Aristotle to Epicurus to Epictetus to Buddha: we have to face up to our predicament as humans; we are in the realm of desire. The goal of living as a philosopher is to deal with our desires in such a way that we can maintain our tranquility and joy.

"But if you are looking on anyone as a friend when you do not trust him (or her) as you trust yourself, you are making a grave mistake, and have failed to grasp sufficiently the full force of true friendship." --------- Friendship was one key idea in the ancient world that modern philosophy seems to have forgotten. Seneca outlines how we must first test and judge people we consider as possible friends, but once we become friends with someone, then an abiding and complete trust is required.

"The very name of philosophy however modest the manner in which it is pursued, is unpopular enough as it is: imagine what the reaction would be if we started dissociating ourselves from the conventions of society. Inwardly everything should be different but our outward face should conform with the crowd. Our clothes should not be gaudy, yet they should now be dowdy either. . . . Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob.". ---------- The call of true philosophy isn't an outward display but an internal attitude. There is a long, noble tradition of living the life of a philosopher going back to ancient Greece and Rome, that has, unfortunately, been mostly lost to us in the West. It is time to reclaim our true heritage.

"You may be banished to the end of the earth, and yet in whatever outlandish corner of the world you may find yourself stationed, you will find that place, whatever it may be like, a hospitable home. Where you arrive does not matter so much as what sort of person you are when you arrive there." -------- This is the ultimate Stoic worldview: our strength of character is more important that the particular life situation we find ourselves in. Very applicable in our modern world; although, chances are we will not be banished to another country, many of us will one day be banished to a nursing home.

"This rapidity of utterance recalls a person running down a slope and unable to stop where he meant to, being carried on instead a lot farther than he intended, at the mercy of his body's momentum; it is out of control, and unbecoming to philosophy, which should be placing her words, not throwing them around." --------- The ancient world had many people who talked a mile a minute, an unending gush of chatter. The Greco-Roman philosophers such as Seneca and Plutarch warn against garrulousness. Rather, we should mark our words well. From my own experience, when I hear long-winded pontifications, I feel like running away.

"The next thing I knew the book itself had charmed me into a deeper reading of it there and then. . . . It was so enjoyable that I found myself held and drawn on until I ended up having read it right through to the end without a break. All the time the sunshine was inviting me out, hunger prompting me to eat, the weather threatening to break, but I gulped it all down in one sitting." --------- Ah, the experience of being pulled into a good book! When we come upon such a book, go with it!
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on September 27, 2015
As I progress on my quest for wisdom from the classical periods I recently read Cicero's "Selected Works" and Lurcreius' "On the Nature of Things" both of which I thought lacked in any deep knowledge and found them both to be greatly disappointing. So it was to my great delight that I stumbled on Seneca's "Letters From a Stoic" which I highly recommend. Some of my favorite passages loosely organized around a theme are as follows:

On One's Relationship to the Material World:
*It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more.
*You ask what is the proper limit to a person's wealth? First, having what is essential, and second having what is enough.
*Although the wise man does not hanker after what he has lost, he does prefer not lose them.
*The qualities of a just, a good and an enlightened character does not regard as valuable anything that can be taken away.
*I am not against possessing riches but I want to ensure that you possess them without tremors.

On One's Relationship to Society:
*Inwardly everything should be different but our outward face should conform to the crowd.
*The road is long if one poceeds by way of precepts but short and effectual if by way of personal example.
*You ask me to say what you should consider it particularly important to avoid. My answer is this: a mass crowd.
*Associating with people in large numbers is actually harmful.
*Retire into yourself as much as you can. Associate with people who are likely to improve you.
*Avoid whatever is approved of by the mob.
*If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people's opinions you will never be rich.

On One's Relationship to the Body:
*Pick (any exercise) for ease and straightforwardness...but whatever you do, return from body to mind very soon.
*Where you arrive does not matter so much as what sort of person you are when you arrive there.
*A way of speaking which is restrained, not bold, suits a wise man in the same way as an unassuming sort of walk does.
*Refusal to be influenced by one's body assure one's freedom.
*People who know no self-restraint lead stormy and disordered lives.

On Death:
*Every day, therefore, should be regulated as if it were the one that brings up the rear, the one that rounds out and completes our lives.
*If God adds the morrow we should accept it joyfully.
*The man you should admire and imitate is the one who finds it a joy to live and in spite of that is not reluctant to die.
*You will go the way that all things go...This is the law to which you were born.
*You will die not because you are sick but because you are alive...In getting well again you may be escaping some ill health but not death.
*We are born unequal, we die equal.

On the Value of Philosophy/Stoicism:
*It molds and builds the personality, orders one's life, regulates one's conduct, shows one what one should do and what should leave undone, sits at the helm and keeps one on the course as one is tossed about in perilous seas.
*Only philosophy will wake us; only philosophy will shake us out of that heavy sleep. Devote yourself entirely to her.
*For the only safe harbor in this life's tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to be bothered about what the future will bring and to stand ready and confident, squaring the breast to take without skulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us.
*It is in not man's power to have whatever he wants; but he has it in his power not to wish for what he hasn't got.
*Part of the blame lies on the teachers of philosophy, who today teach us how to argue instead of how to live...The result has been the transformation of philosophy, the study of wisdom, into philology, the study of words.
*No man is good by accident, virtue has to be learned.

By the way, before renouncing all worldly possessions keep in mind that Seneca did not practice what he preached, was intimately attached to the material world, and readers interested in an excellent biography of Seneca's life and role during Nero's reign should consider reading James Romm's "Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero."
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on July 5, 2015
*Letters from a Stoic* is a first-person look at how an experienced Stoic applies philosophy to ordinary life and the world around him. From it you not only learn the core tenets of Stoicism, but get to witness the intellectual practice of someone who's wholly devoted to cultivating his mind, mastering philosophy, and achieving long-lasting happiness.

I've dabbled with philosophical texts before but have never felt like I've understood how philosophy is meant to be applied in every day life, or to what end. Unlike other texts I've read, *Letters from a Stoic* firmly grounds you in the root purpose of philosophy. In fact there were few themes throughout the book as recurrent as Seneca's view on the importance of philosophy, like in the following passage:

> Philosophy moulds and builds the personality, orders one's life, regulates one's conduct, shows one what one should do and what one should leave undone, sits at the helm and keeps one on the correct course as one is tossed about in perilous seas. Without it no one can lead a life free of free or worry. Every house of the day countless situations arise that call for advice, and for that advice we have to look to philosophy.

Seneca expresses dismay toward people who entertain or attempt to inspire themselves with philosophy but not actually study or practice it. Seneca also openly detests Epicureans, seeing them as pursuing a depraved form of happiness.

Consistent with Stoic tenets, Seneca preaches of avoiding vices and excess (he even discourages reading an abundant quantity of books). He especially warns of "the crowd", which he sees as the ultimate discourager of noble conduct. Seneca sees the ideal disposition as quiet, noble, and intellectual. Happiness is achieved not though anything external or material, but by devoted practice of philosophy and avoidance of all things that tempt or derail us from a cultivated disposition.
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VINE VOICEon February 24, 2009
I tore this book to pieces. My copy is overflowing with tabbed pages and highlighted lines and notes in the margins. Seneca of course, is a fascinating figure. Gregory Hays once said about Marcus Aurelius that "not being a tyrant was something he had to work at one day at a time" and often, Seneca lost that battle. He was the Cardinal Richelieu behind Nero. He sat back and enjoyed the spoils of his student who had clearly lost his way--at least Aristotle didn't profit from Alexander's lust for power. However, there is some interesting evidence put forth in a paper titled - Seneca: The Case of the Opulent Stoic in which Lydia Motto presents that what we know of Seneca's reputation comes almost entirely from a single, less than objective source. And in fact, if we can trust the way in which Seneca faced his forced suicide there was not much difference between practice and philosophy.

The book is profoundly insightful, it calls you to action, and it has that 'quit your whining--this is life' attitude that so defines the Roman Stoics. This is by no means an all inclusive list but is Seneca on some important topics:

On doing more than consuming:
He should be delivering himself of such sayings, not memorizing them. It is disgraceful that a man who is old or in sight of old age should have wisdom deriving solely from his notebook. 'Zeno said this.' And what have you said? 'Cleanthes said that.' What have you said? How much longer are you going to serve under others? Assume authority over yourself and utter something that may be handed down to posterity. Produce something from your own resources.

On endurance:
Life's no soft affair. It's a long road you've started on: you can't but expect to have slips and knocks and falls, and get tired and openly wish--a lie--for death.

On freedom from perturbation:
Show me a man who isn't a slave; one who is a slave to sex, another to money, another to ambition; all are slaves to hope or fear. I could show you a man who has been a Consul who is a slave to his 'little old woman', a millionaire who is the slave of a little girl in domestic service. And there is no state of slavery more disgraceful than one which is self-imposed.

On quoting what you read:
There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with. I shall send you, accordingly, the actual books themselves, and to save you a lot of trouble hunting all over the place for passages likely to be of use to you, I shall mark the passages so that you can turn straight away to the words I approve and admire."
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on August 9, 2016
Generally I liked this book, because of the variety of topics, but that was also why I didn't like it so much. There are some lessons for living based on stoic beliefs, which I think still apply in our day and age. In fact I was quite amazed that the text that was written so long ago is still relevant today. Seneca writes in a very concise and lucid language, so everything is clear. He doesn't go into philosophical rants that put you to sleep. I just wish that there were more letters or a better selection of letters in the tome so that some topics wouldn't repeat so much
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on March 31, 2017
I am not a scholar or proficient in Latin, so I can't speak to the quality of the translation. I know it's the signature edition, and you can tell.

Seneca provides a different, refreshing look at Stoicism from Epictitus or Marcus Aurelius. The personal letter format shows a side of Rome that connects you to the past. The man himself reads just like a wise old man sharing wisdom with a younger generation.

If you like hanging out with elderly folk who have led fantastic lives, this is the book for you.
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on March 27, 2017
This book is a ripoff. The text is all there, but the cover is terribly pixelated and the text is too small. This book was not well made, or even well ripped-off. Spend the extra few dollars to get a nicer copy.
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on January 30, 2017
This is homemade and trashy looking. The print is microscopic and the cover photo is an horribly pixilated enlargement of a thumbnail someone found online. THERE ARE NO PAGE NUMBERS! The chapter headings are the same size font and aren't bold or underlined or anything to make it obvious. The chapters don't even start on a new page.

I bought this for a gift but I'd be embarrassed to give this to anyone.
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on March 15, 2017
Great except the paint on the book is slowly but consistently falling off (and gets all over my hands). I have to dock a star for that.
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on March 27, 2017
So much relevant wisdom here! Despite the fact that it is from 2000 years ago, Senecas advice still applies.
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