Stoicism, by Brad Inwood, is a succinct introduction to the philosophy that would well serve anyone looking to build up their knowledge of Stoicism beyond its ethical aspects. It is not a guide to the application of Stoicism in life. Instead, Stoicism tracks the history of the philosophy, the individuals who shaped it, and the theory that blossomed from Zeno’s initial insights. If your reading has consisted of a few ancient Stoics along with a modern guide to Stoic application or two, this single book would really flesh out your understanding of the philosophy. It really packs quite a punch for such A Very Short Introduction.
Hang out in Stoic online forums long enough and the question of Stoic/Buddhist overlap will inevitably come up. Someone might ask directly if a certain Stoic concept is equivalent to a Buddhist idea. Others will share Buddhist quotes as if the "stoicness" of what's said is undeniable. It's undeniable that, at least superficially, modern Stoicism and popular Buddhism seem to cover similar ground.
In Stoicism & Western Buddhism: A Reflection on Two Philosophical Ways of Life, Patrick Ussher illuminates the many ways that modern Stoicism and the Western development of Buddhism have come to an agreement concerning the well lived life. This book should answer many of the questions posed by those interested in the interaction of these two philosophies. If all Ussher did was guide the reader through the interplay of Stoicism and Western Buddhism, the book would be worth reading. However, the Stoic reader gets more.
For the Stoic practitioner Stoicism & Western Buddhism provides a necessary reflection on the loving heart of Stoic philosophy. Stoicism's deep concern for humanity comes to life when our philosophy is mirrored back at us through the better known compassion of Western Buddhism. I found reading this book to be a meditation in itself; a call to remember Stoicism's acceptance of all people, its insistence that all of us can grow in virtue and that that growth will lead us to actions that benefit everyone. This reminder of the humane soul of Stoicism shows how well Ussher knows his subject.
When I first picked up this book I assumed it would scratch an academic itch; that I'd finally have a single place to point when anyone asked about Stoicism v Buddhism. Instead I found a book that I recommend to any Stoic who wants to focus on the best aspects of our philosophy, and who can appreciate a reminder that Stoicism is not alone in its desire to create a compassionate world.
It's a great week for modern Stoicism because Stoicism Today: Selected Writings II is available in print or ebook. If you've never been over to Stoicism Today, you're missing out. The blog curates the writings of Stoics from all over the globe. Professional philosophers, therapists, bloggers, podcasters, parents, comedians: Stoicism Today provides a broad view of the Stoic community. In the Selected Writings series, editor Patrick Ussher has collected these viewpoints into an extremely useful format that could help any Stoic on their journey.
Volume II is in four parts: Stoic Theory, Living the Stoic Life, Stoicism and Society, and Debating Stoicism Today. Each section is replete with engaging and challenging viewpoints. The benefit to the reader is a wider view of Stoicism and potentially a deeper connection to the community at large. Volume 1 of Selected Writings comes off my shelves often for review and reflection, as I read through Volume 2 I am certain it will become a part of my practice as well.
A final benefit: purchasing Volumes 1 and 2 helps to fund the good work of Stoicism Today. Among other things, the team at Stoicism Today runs Stoic Week. Hosting conferences, soliciting writing, and running blogs all costs money. Your purchase directly benefits the Stoic community. So get the paperback to show the world that Stoicism is still publishing!
Disclosure: My article The Stoic Love of Community, is included in Selected Writings II. I also have a piece in Volume I. Writers are not compensated for Stoicism Today submissions, or for inclusion in the Selected Writing series. None of the proceeds come to me. I do, however, use Amazon Associates links for books linked to through this site. This means that a few pennies come my way if you purchase through my links.