Book Review: How to Think Like A Roman Emperor

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When I was 19, I got a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations from the Walter J. Black Classics Club. I still have that volume. I’ve been dipping into the Meditations several times a week for more than 50 years. The original volume traveled with me in my seabag. It was my companion on trips as a young man. It’s still on my shelf, though I use an updated translation today.

I bought several recent books on stoicism. How to Think Like A Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius by Donald Robertson was one of them.

I buy two versions of books I plan to take notes in. I buy the Kindle version so I can take notes and create flashcards. And I buy the audio version, which I use as my main “reading” copy. I like the slower pace of the reading that allows me to ponder the meaning of passages. And I can highlight the passages themselves in my Kindle version.

That’s what I did with this book. As I went through the audiobook, I realized the author linked stoicism to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). “Okay,” I thought, “that’s an additional insight.”

In the version of the audiobook I used, the introduction was at the end of the book. It cleared up many things about the book I had wondered about. It inspired me to go back through the book with the introduction in mind.

The introduction does what an introduction should do. It gives you a frame for understanding the book and how it’s organized. It also gives you the author’s intent. Here is that intent, from the introduction.

“This entire book is designed to help you follow Marcus in acquiring Stoic strength of mind and eventually a more profound sense of fulfillment. You’ll find that I’ve combined Stoicism with elements of CBT in many places, which as we’ve seen is only natural because CBT was inspired by Stoicism and they have some fundamental things in common.”

If you have an audiobook laid out the same way mine was, skip to the end and listen the introduction before you listen to the rest of the book. You’ll get more from the book.

How to Think Like A Roman Emperor was a great book for me. I was already familiar with stoicism and I worked to apply it throughout my life. I’d read other books about stoicism and about Marcus Aurelius. This is the best of those. There are two reasons.

Stoic teachers taught Marcus and others to identify people they admire and then learn from their example. Robertson does the same thing, with Marcus Aurelius as the prime example.

Robertson ties stoic practice to cognitive behavioral therapy. That provides a modern context and some scientific support for some stoic practices.

In A Nutshell

If you’re already familiar with stoicism, buy How to Think Like a Roman Emperor and read it. You’ll learn new thing about Marcus Aurelius and how to apply stoic principles. Robertson puts stoicism in a modern context. He gives you helpful ways to connect stoic philosophy with everyday life.

If you’re relatively new to stoicism, read Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way first. It will give you a good practical overview of stoicism before you go a little deeper with Robertson’s book.

You can check out some of my highlights and notes from this book on my GoodReads page.


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