Book Review: Breakfast with Seneca
Over the weekend I read David Fideler’s Breakfast with Seneca: A Stoic Guide to the Art of Living. I had bought this book nearly a year ago, but had apparently lost it. It turns out I had it in one my desk’s drawers at work. I brought it home, and determined to read it as soon as possible, which I did this past weekend from cover to cover.
I am new neither to Stoic thought nor to modern introductions to it. I have, for instance, read Donald Robertson’s How to Think Like a Roman Emperor & Massimo Piuglicci’s How to Be a Stoic. The former introduces you to Stoicism via the life of Marcus Aurelius. The latter does the same via the life and work of Epictetus. With David Fideler’s new book we now have three great entry points to Stoicism, his book using Seneca as our primary teacher and guide.
You cannot go wrong with any of the three introductions. I tailor my recommendations based on who I’m trying to introduce Stoicism to. Just recently, for instance, I recommended Donald Robertson’s book to a friend of mine whose job is rather stressful. He works for the military, and has a position with significant authority and responsibility. Marcus Aurelius had what had to be a very stressful and lonely job: being the Roman Emperor. I figured my friend would relate to him and appreciate how Marcus put Stoic philosophy to work in his life. Last we talked he was reading the last chapter, reported that the book has been very helpful, and is himself now recommending the book to people he thinks would enjoy it and benefit from it.
I would recommend Massimo’s book to people who are more scientifically minded and who fear that a 2300 years old philosophy cannot possibly have anything good to offer them, who fear that modern day Science would be an insurmountable stumbling block or impediment. Such, of course, is not the case. Massimo is a scientist and Stoic practitioner who would easily alleviate their fears and give them ways to read the Stoics and remain Scientists. Epictetus is the most respected Roman Stoic philsopher. This book would be amazingly helpful to anyone.
Breakfast with Seneca too is an excellent introduction to Stoicism. I think David Fideler did a great job humanizing Stoicism. It is evident this is the reason why he chose Seneca as his entry point. Few people know the subtle but significant differences between the older, more abstract, original Greek Stoicism and the more practical, realist, humane Roman Stoicism of Seneca.
Moving forward I will use Breakfast with Seneca by David Fideler as my primary recommendation for people who want to learn about and practice Stoicism. My reason for this is that this book debunks so many stereotypes, half-truths, and false dichotomies of what Stoicism is and its practice entails. What is Stoicism? I say that is is a rational form of spirituality that helps its adherents flourish and deepens their connection to the world we are a small part of, the Cosmopolis as the Stoics would say.
I don’t want to say more about the book. I want you to go and see the table of contents on Amazon, and see for yourself if this is the kind of book you might be interested in. The book is fantastic. It flows really well. I could not stop reading it, and read it in one weekend. The topics he addresses are on point. I love that he begins with a chapter on friendship. He thus immediately debunks the idea that Stoicism is a solo project. The practice of philosophy, rather, is something that needs the help and input of others. There is an undeniable emphasis on person responsibility in Stoicism, but there is also the constant reminder that to make deeper progress we need to practice philosophy in community. I have said enough. Go and get yourself a copy. You’ll be glad you did.