Review: A Guide to the Good Life — William B. Irvine

Genre:                               Philosophy / Selfhelp
Publisher:                         Oxford University Press
ISBN:                                  978-0-19-537461-2
Edition:                              Hardcover
Page count:                       314
Release Date:                    November 2008

This book was an X-mas present from Bren two years ago and all that time it’s been collecting dust on my TBR shelf. I decided to finally read this book that I had been looking forward to read all that time! A Guide to the Good Life is a philosophy book about stoicism, but it’s mainly a selfhelp book containing the wisdom of the ancient philosophers and how we can apply them to our modern day lives. Sound good, right?

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The ancient Greeks and Romans were quite clever and wise. I did already read works by great thinkers like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus. This book describes the stoic history briefly and then delves deeper into all the wisdom and ideas these wise old men had and how we can learn from them!

“Furthermore, much as a master carpenter teaches an apprentice by showing him techniques that can be used to build things out of wood, Epictetus taught his students the art of life by showing them techniques that could be used to make something of their life.” —Page 52-

The second part of the book is all about psychological techniques the stoics had invented. These are very practical and not extremely hard to apply. For instance there’s negative visualization. This is a practice where you try to imagine that something is taken away from you and how you would handle your life without it. This is a way to set yourself up for loss. Sounds gloomy? Well, despite the fact that stoicism as a whole has a bit of a negative image, the opposite is true, according to William B. Irvine. Mostly because you can also look at all these things in a much different way. Doing negative visualization will also help you to appreciate everything you have much more! There are quite a few techniques you can learn from this book and they’re great for arming yourself against hardships of life. Very useful indeed! I really liked this quote too:

“She should remember that all we have is “on loan” from Fortune, which can reclaim it without our permission— indeed, without even advance notice. Thus, “we should love our dear ones…, but always with the thought that we have no promise that we may keep them forever,” —Page 68-

The third part is all about stoic advise for life. From relationships to handling insults. William B. Irvine describes everything in great detail and shows us how we can use that stoic wisdom to improve the quality of our lives. One of the most important factors that is repeated constantly is that we must try to let go of everything we have no control over. This is something I described in an article called “The Trichotomy of Control” on this blog and was based on information from this book. This Trichotomy also showed that it’s much better to concern yourself with those matters you have complete or some control over.

The last part of the book concerns itself with how we can apply all that we have learned to our modern day lives. I have gained so much insights from this part of the book. One thing that William B. Irvine kept repeating, however, was that you shouldn’t announce to anyone that you’re a practicing stoic. I found this a bit confusing, because here we were, learning how to handle insults and not caring what others think, only to be told that we should be “stealth stoics”. So this went a bit against what we learned earlier, I think. Apparently the author’s environment isn’t very liberal. I most certainly don’t care if people frown at my stoicism, or even try to insult me. It’s not like I’m hurting anyone with it by going on a crusade or some such. 😛

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“If you consider yourself a victim, you are not going to have a good life; if however, you refuse to think of yourself as a victim— if you refuse to let your inner self be conquered by external circumstances— you are likely to have a good life, no matter what turn your external circumstances take.” —Page 221-

This book really challenged me to reconsider a lot of life’s matters. This is one of those books that you can grab at any given moment to reread some segments if you need some good advice. I was already a fan of stoicism, but this book has convinced me that those old geezers from back in the day had their shit together! I really hope stoicism can make some sort of return, at least I’ll try my best by practicing some of their doctrine and fighting the good fight!

Cover: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Paper smell: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Print/Lettering: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Originality: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Content: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Overall: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Happy reading!

~Jeffrey

2 replies »

  1. Jeffrey, “A GUIDE TO THE GOOD LIFE” – WILLIAM B. IRVINE……….A big hit with me! And love that scotch!!! The stoics come across as a glum, gloomy lot seeing poor relationships & insults as, perhaps, having more importance than they should in our lives. –I guess that’s their point!!! As I read this by you, I think of my favorite “Serenity Prayer” as I have previously discussed with you. –Great piece by you once again! Phil

    Like

    • Hi Phil! Yes, it really is a good Scotch!

      As for the book, I really love the whole take on life the stoics have. Their “why care about things you can’t control?” attitude is right up my alley. 🙂 And you did mention your “Serenity Prayer” as having the same effect on you as the stoic mindset does for me! I suppose there are more roads that lead to the same destination 🙂 ~Jeffrey

      Liked by 1 person

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