How to Be an Epicurean Book Summary - How to Be an Epicurean Book explained in key points
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How to Be an Epicurean summary

Catherine Wilson

The Ancient Art of Living Well

4.4 (211 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

How to be an Epicurean by Catherine Wilson is a guide to living a life filled with pleasure and tranquility. It explores the philosophy of Epicurus and gives practical advice on how to apply his ideas to modern life.

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    How to Be an Epicurean
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    The ancient Greek philosophy of Epicureanism isn’t just about pleasure – it’s a theory of everything.

    These days, when people think of Epicureanism, they tend to imagine scenes of luxury – an aristocrat, perhaps, in his wine cellar, or a gourmand tucking into a generous dinner. Epicureanism often just means pleasurable, hedonistic high living, with a weirdly strong emphasis on food and drink.

    But there’s far more to it than that.

    It’s true that the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus emphasized the importance of pleasure. And so did his most influential follower, the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius. But they also acknowledged this was complex. Too much pleasure today, for instance, can lead to pain later on. And of course, other people are seeking pleasure too, and we shouldn’t seek our own pleasure at their expense.

    Plus, Epicurus and Lucretius had a lot to say about nature, physics, history, love, death, religion – nearly everything. And a lot of it’s still highly relevant today.

    The key message here is: The ancient Greek philosophy of Epicureanism isn’t just about pleasure – it’s a theory of everything.

    Epicurus lived with his followers in Athens in the third century BCE, in a grove – usually called his garden – outside the city. Most of his writings were lost – many were buried by the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. But by that time, over in Rome, Lucretius had written many of his own Epicurean texts, notably his long poem On the Nature of Things.

    Despite its unprestigious reputation today, Epicureanism has had a major role in the history of thought. It influenced many philosophers, including Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Karl Marx. Several of the American Founding Fathers were Epicureans too, including Thomas Jefferson.

    Epicurus also has an intriguing place in the history of science: he developed one of the earliest theories of the atom, which is now known as Epicurean atomism. According to this theory, everything is made up of atoms – tiny, indivisible particles that are invisible to the eye. Not only that, but these atoms are the only truly permanent things in the universe. Everything we see – people, nature, human-made objects – are simply arrangements of atoms, and when these things change or cease to exist, that’s just the atoms rearranging themselves.

    The details of Epicurean atomism aren’t correct, according to modern science. But as ancient philosophical theories go, it’s actually pretty accurate. In fact, the same goes for Lucretius’s theory of the development of human beings. You might even call it “natural selection,” as we’ll explore in the next blink.

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    What is How to Be an Epicurean about?

    How to Be an Epicurean (2019) brings the ancient philosophy of Epicureanism into the modern age. This fascinating “theory of everything” is about much more than seeking pleasure, and it can help you live an enjoyable, moral, and meaningful life today.

    How to Be an Epicurean Review

    How to Be an Epicurean (2019) by Catherine Wilson is an enlightening exploration of the philosophy of Epicureanism and how it can be applied to modern life. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • The book presents practical advice on how to find happiness and live a good life based on Epicurean principles of simplicity, mindfulness, and pleasure.
    • It provides historical context, offering insights into the philosophy's origins and its relevance in today's fast-paced, consumer-driven society.
    • With its engaging storytelling and thought-provoking ideas, the book challenges conventional wisdom and encourages readers to reassess their priorities and find true fulfillment.

    Best quote from How to Be an Epicurean

    The spirit . . . is born with the body, develops with it, and succumbs with it to the stress and strain of age. - Lucretius

    —Catherine Wilson
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    Who should read How to Be an Epicurean?

    • Pleasure seekers looking for a philosophical creed
    • Philosophy fans who want to learn something new
    • Modern-day Stoics seeking another ancient philosophical perspective

    About the Author

    Catherine Wilson is a philosopher who has taught in the United States, Canada, and Europe. She’s currently Visiting Presidential Professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She’s written several other books on Epicureanism, including A Very Short Introduction to Epicureanism, as well as books on the philosophers Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and René Descartes.

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    How to Be an Epicurean FAQs 

    What is the main message of How to Be an Epicurean?

    The main message of How to Be an Epicurean is finding pleasure and tranquility through embracing simple living and philosophy.

    How long does it take to read How to Be an Epicurean?

    The reading time for How to Be an Epicurean varies, but it typically takes a few hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is How to Be an Epicurean a good book? Is it worth reading?

    How to Be an Epicurean is a worthwhile read that explores the joys of simple living and practical philosophy.

    Who is the author of How to Be an Epicurean?

    The author of How to Be an Epicurean is Catherine Wilson.

    What to read after How to Be an Epicurean?

    If you're wondering what to read next after How to Be an Epicurean, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Politics by Aristotle
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    • The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman
    • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
    • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
    • The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill