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4.7 out of 5 stars115
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 10 May 2012
This book sets out to teach you things you certainly aren't likely to have been taught at school, or at university for that matter. It draws on the ideas of a dozen thinkers: Socrates, Epictetus, Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Epicurus, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, the Sceptics (treated as if one person - the original one was Pyrrho), Diogenes, Plato, Plutarch and Aristotle.

Evans says the aim is to convey "what it would be like to get a day-pass to the School of Athens". Rather than merely being dry and academic, this book constantly shows an awareness of how philosophy can be brought to bear on everyday situations. Evans has interviewed all manner of people (astronauts, soldiers, the politician Rory Stewart) and profiled plenty of others - such as a Chicago firefighter who gives classes in Stoic resilience - to see where philosophy fits (or can fit) into their lives.

The book is appealingly structured like a day's lessons or tutorials. The writing is fresh and thoughtful, pretty accessible, largely unpretentious and of a genuinely practical kind. This reminds me of Alain de Botton's Consolations of Philosophy, except that it has a much keener sense of philosophy's place and utility in the real world.

As a primer in Greek philosophy, the book works well, but is a good deal more than that - a wise, honest, original and helpful guide, which provides ample food for thought and has inspired me to do further reading (about which Evans provides a handy guide at the end of the book).

Highly recommended.
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on 4 February 2014
I liked this book as it was informative on many topics; but as interested layman philosopher, I felt it was more like a dinner table chat with ideas brought up and quickly, opionion rendered, then on to the next topic. At times it seemed to be on the lookout to add as many names, movements, organisations as possible to give the feel of researched ideas but the overall tone was like something from a sunday magazine, like a stocking filler. It was informative and I enjoyed, it, but for me a mark of a good book is if I want to read it again, or at least go through my Kindle highlights. I did not have the urge with this.

If you are keen on a pratical guide to the stoic portion I'd recommend William Irvine's A Gude To The Good Life: he is an academic so the writing is not as lucid as Jules, but there are more concrete, solid tips. Jules's book left me with a taster of everything, but if I were to make something of it, I'd have to research those areas of interest further.

One thing that did bother me was that the book made references, say to Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, but the reference at the back did not give the exact quoattion. So I know he quoted the book but can't look it up myself.
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on 11 May 2012
This is a wise, humane and often inspirational book. Though it tackles big and difficult questions - why are we here? how can we be happy? - it does so in such a clear and engaging way that it's always enjoyable and often gripping reading. Evans's subject is ancient Greek philosophy, but what he seeks in this philosophy isn't abstract truth but a practical, useful "medicine for the soul" that can help people exert more control over their emotions, feel better about themselves and lead happier and more flourishing lives. He shows that the central tenets of Greek moral philosophy - that we can know ourselves, change ourselves and establish better, healthier habits of thinking and acting - now form the basis of modern Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and in a series of compelling interviews threaded through the book he talks to people around the world of very different backgrounds whose lives were changed by an encounter with a particular philosopher or set of ideas. The book is organized as a series of lessons on the major Greek philosophers, and I think most readers will find Evans a congenial and stimulating instructor. I learned a great deal from it - it made me think hard about the way I live my life and what I could do to make myself a happier, saner person. Highly recommended!
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on 19 July 2012
I found this book most enjoyable. I knew relatively little about Ancient Greek philosophy but now feel quite informed on the subject. The book is rooted in the practice of philosophy, citing many interesting cases where people have been helped to overcome, or cope with difficulties, through using the ideas of the ancient philosophers. Consequently, it's packed with great advice and anecdotes, such as realising and accepting what is beyond our control, whilst taking responsibility for that which is in our control. And the story of Diogenes living in a barrel in Athens, being offered anything he desired by Alexander the Great, he replied by asking that he stop blocking the sun. One thing I would say, is that "ordinary" people are not given much consideration (the extraordinary types adopt the approaches), however, it non-the-less serves as an exemplum to model a good life. I also liked the way he linked his discussions to modern day psychology. All in all, a very good read.
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on 15 July 2013
I stress that this review is based on my expectations, therefore they may be unfounded if you were looking for something different from this book. It did provide me with good overview & introductions to many philosophical concepts and schools of thought. There was a lot that I took from the book, and it gave me lots to consider. However I was looking for a book that helped me consider philosophy as an aided to looking at life etc. there were good parts, but at times the book spent time looking at politics and it's schools and effects. So, to me, the book fizzled out a bit.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 August 2012
This is the most interesting, entertaining and satisfying book I have read in many years. I came to the subject of philosophy from a complete layperson background, having my first taste of the concepts through self help books and wanting to try and get to the root source of this type of thinking (as it turns out, CBT has many roots in ancient philosophy) purely on the basis of personal interest rather than an academic need.

The writing style is clear and engaging it is a superbly structured look at many different areas of philosophy and one that routinely spans 2000BC to the present day. I particularly liked the way the author gave his own opinions of various things in a very mature and objective way but usually only at the end of each section once all the key points had been covered.

I've learned so much from this book about well known names such as Aristotle and Socrates, which before reading this were just names from some high brow and unreachable discipline called philosophy. The ideas put forward by all the people in this book are hugely stimulating and well presented here. It has totally broken down the barriers (in my mind) to the whole subject.

The only thing missing I think is a glossary of some of the terms used. There was a tendency at times to explain a concept then drop back into the jargon. I'm still in the dark as to what some of the colourful terms mean having never studied politics, economics or philosophy and not having a university background. Yes, I can (and did) Google them, but for a book intending to be accessible to anyone, I would have preferred this to explain it all, in the words of the author.

However there is - tongue in cheek - a dark side to this book! I had my "wish list" on Amazon open almost the whole time I was reading this book, adding book after book - this book is just the start, it opens so many doors, gives you so many avenues of further reading and investigation to go down. And really what more can you ask from a book? But this is probably going to cost me quite a lot of money in the long term now I have a new-found thirst for knowledge.

Engaging from start to finish, thought provoking, possibly even life changing. Well done Jules Evans.
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on 13 August 2014
Bought this on the strength of a very positive review by Ade Edmondson as a favourite book that he continues to reference on a regular basis. Hmmm.......I don't think I'll be doing quite the same. I found it accessible enough to read and will take away and ponder the central positive message about (I think) stoicism.......but found it rather long-winded and meandering: difficult to extract great meaning or value in the way AE seems to have done. Yes, it was thought-provoking - and I definitely encountered some gems of enlightenment along the way, but may have forgotten half of them because I was expecting the book to summarise these for the reader as a reward for sticking with the book to the end. It doesn't. You are largely left to draw your own conclusions - which, perhaps, is as it should be. I would have preferred the book to be more concise and its messages distilled and summarised. I am prepared to recommend the book and its author - but would advise you to do your own highlighting as you go.
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on 8 December 2014
I bought this book because I wanted to expand my mind with the intriguing philosophers from ancient times. I have had quite a closed mind for a long time, believing I could not find something which would help me see the world in a better or different way- I was wrong!
I owe this book and author (and Philosophers!) a lot of credit for helping me get through each day which, prior to reading, was extremely difficult. I have not committed to any particular philosophy (as I said I want to keep an open mind) but each in their own way has helped me more than any therapist could. I really believe this book could be useful to those who are a bit skeptical of modern methods in relation to overcoming certain difficult situations. It gives you the option of picking and choosing bits of each philosophy to adopt in order to deal with life in a more proactive and positive way.

Excellent book!
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on 28 June 2012
To call this book a self-help book would be an insult to the author - it is so very much more. I don't believe any book of this genre truly answers the questions that most readers are looking for. However, Jules Evans's guided tour through the wisdom of the ancient greeks does a brilliant job of priming the mind with different strains of thinking, provoking the reader to examine for himself the different approaches to answering those questions that at some point in our lives we probably all ask ourselves. The author compares and contrasts brilliantly the stoics, the sceptics, the epicureans and the pythagoreans amongst others. The book seems to draw all the different themes together as it approaches the conclusion with a more detailed convergence on Plato, Aristotle and finally Socrates.

This book is an easy read but it took me a long time to finish because I was constantly sloping off to the internet to find out more about the characters, the texts and the references that so richly add to the reading experience - I even made notes (yikes)! Furthermore, the author seemlessly weaves into the text modern day, real-life examples of a diverse group of individuals and organisations that illustrate present day manifestations of the various philosophical themes. He also refers frequently and understatedly to his own travails with depression which he has surely overcome (I didn't know it but cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has its roots in philosophy).

I have long found philosophy a turn-off but this book has turned this view on its head. It is elegantly written in plain language but I found the content to be hugely stimulating. I will definitely read the book again because there are just too many ideas and concepts in it that struck a chord with me that can be properly digested in one reading. I suspect it may become somewhat of a manual for me. It is stuffed with suggestions for further reading and resources that I will certainly pursue in due course. This really was an excellent read and I cannot recommend it highly enough. A candidate for the apocryphal Amazon 6th star !!
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on 25 November 2012
I came to this book after reading 'A guide to the good life' by William Irvine. I've always been interested in Eastern Philosophy but have never read anything about Greek / Roman philosophy until reading these books. I found they helped to frame ways in which some of my own thought processes work and helped set out a roadmap of practise to play around with and develop these ideas. I've since signed up for a free philosophy course next year which was promoted on Jules Evans website and am taking part in the Stoic week, set up by Exeter University. It's funny how these ideas seem to be gathering momentum and becoming more mainstream now, perhaps as a consequence to the way modern life is going and the realisation that having what we want doesn't mean we will be happy or be satisfied with life.
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