• How to Be an Epicurean

  • The Ancient Art of Living Well
  • By: Catherine Wilson
  • Narrated by: Ana Clements
  • Length: 7 hrs and 52 mins
  • 3.9 out of 5 stars (68 ratings)

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How to Be an Epicurean

By: Catherine Wilson
Narrated by: Ana Clements
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Publisher's Summary

A leading philosopher shows that if the pursuit of happiness is the question, Epicureanism is the answer

Epicureanism has a reputation problem, bringing to mind gluttons with gout or an admonition to eat, drink, and be merry. In How to Be an Epicurean, philosopher Catherine Wilson shows that Epicureanism isn't an excuse for having a good time: It's a means to live a good life. Although modern conveniences and scientific progress have significantly improved our quality of life, many of the problems faced by ancient Greeks - love, money, family, politics - remain with us in new forms. To overcome these obstacles, the Epicureans adopted a philosophy that promoted reason, respect for the natural world, and reverence for our fellow humans. By applying this ancient wisdom to a range of modern problems, from self-care routines and romantic entanglements to issues of public policy and social justice, Wilson shows us how we can all fill our lives with purpose and pleasure.

©2019 Catherine Wilson (P)2019 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"A universe made only of atoms and empty space? No life after death? Carefree gods indifferent to mortals? Freedom from anxiety the highest good? These were basic themes in ancient Epicureanism, and Catherine Wilson shows eloquently how this ancient and most humane philosophy, when creatively interpreted and applied, can help us to live well in the world today. Even if this book does not make an Epicurean of you, it will teach you to appreciate and admire Epicurus's wisdom and his relevance for our times." (David Konstan, Professor of Classics, New York University)

"Catherine Wilson's book achieves something rare intellectually, the steep task its author explicitly sets for herself: it carves out an accessible explication of an idea, Epicureanism, to give readers more genuine, immediate agency over their lives. But this isn't a book for Epicureans, or only for Epicureans. It's a book for anyone who wants to use careful thought to make better considered, happier choices." (Matthew Wolfson, journalist)

"An excellent debut... General readers interested in how the ancient Greeks viewed the good life will take great pleasure in Wilson's entertaining guide to Epicureanism for modern times." (Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about How to Be an Epicurean

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So important, so badly done

Giving the rest of us a deeper view & understanding of just what Epicurianism is all about is a worthy task. While Wilson obviously has a good connection with Epicurus, her persistent and recurrent application it to today's world as she sees fit is both tedious and irritating. Her understanding of biology or what a "toxin" is and the real risks to humanity is, at most, an inch deep. Could not wait for the book to end.

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Leftist dogma

I had high hopes for this book, but the author’s insertion of her far leftist politics, into what should be an apolitical subject, have made this book unlistenable. In addition, the narrator is extremely robotic.

3 people found this helpful

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Excellent But With One Flaw

I enjoyed this title immensely, for it gave a fascinating introduction to Epicureanism and Ms. Clements voice was wonderful.

However, towards the end of the book, Ms. Wilson misrepresented Stoic views on suicide.

On the surface, yes, the Stoics put forth that "the door is always open" to ending one's own life. However, Ms. Wilson left out a few key points.

1) A key aspect of Stoicism is being of benefit to others. To commit suicide for selfish reasons or to do so when one can still be of service to others lacks reason and dignity.

2) In ancient Rome, most philosophers were connected professionally or socially with the emperors, senators, and the wealthy. If one was ever charged with a serious offense, they had two choices. If they let those in power execute them, then those in power took the entirety of the philosopher's estate. But, if the Stoic took his own life, then those in power would only take half his estate, leaving the rest for his family. Therefore, others would benefit from the latter, but not the former.

Ms. Wilson seems to imply that the Stoics viewed suicide as a valid method for ending any problem, which is incorrect.

However, the rest of the book was fascinating and deserves a read by anyone curious about Epicureanism.

3 people found this helpful

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Too much personal agenda, not enough Epicurus...

The author's personal, interpretational propaganda diminishes the clear, hopeful message of the teachings of Epicurus and the simple way of life he seems to have exemplified.

2 people found this helpful

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Epircureanism Today

A strong attempt to apply the ancient philosophy of Epicureanism to today's world.

What is Epicureanism?
Three central tenets: 1) Everything that exists is made of material atoms (an idea most likely imported from India) 2) If there are gods, they did not design nor do they care about your life 3) There is no afterlife. Epicureans differ from the Stoics in thinking that the mind is all powerful in the face of adversity nor that you can suppress your own emotions. They are most closely associated with the idea of living a life that optimizes pleasure. Yet living for pleasure also entails living honorably and morally. Morality is important for pleasure because of the need for societal conformity. They are cautious of excessive courage and patriotism since it can be used for fear mongering and nervous about over-policing. 

Catherine Wilson does a great job going through the thought process of Epicurus as described by his most famous student, Lucretius. Epicurus lived simply surviving on a diet mostly of bread, cheese and diluted wine. Rare for the time, he allowed women and slaves into his school. Women were also given sexual equality. He shunned marriage and kids and only engaged in the relationships he wanted. Amazingly, the Epicurean school had so much foresight that many complained that Darwin's work contained nothing new and that Lucretius had written about evolution better.

So what does this mean for us?
Tradition should always be reviewed. We should seek knowledge through empiricism. Death is not to be feared despite there being no afterlife.

One thing that did gnaw at me was the constant concern of whether this was really Epicureanism applied to today or was it Catherine Wilson's own view on how we should live. Would Epicurus really get rid of current gun laws because its a tradition no longer needed? Maybe. Many such extrapolations are made. I respect the thorough analysis she gives but its not always easy to go back to the Epicurean first principles in her arguments.

Regardless, its a good introduction to Epicureanism and how this school of thought is relevant today. Readers will find many profound things like the great Lucretius quote, "Retire from the feast of life like a satisfied guest."

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Lacks Cohesion

Poor writing on the part of the author leads to a book that fails in its effort to be a guide to life. This is not a reflection of Epictetus or Lucretius.

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If Epicurus were interviewed on The View.

Epicurean communes lasted for centuries and had more than 400k people from spain to palestine. They were involved in all parts of european history from Alexander the great to Saint Augustine. There were thousands of lively debates, popular pieces of literature and plays about them, but almost all traces of them vanished by the 5th century ce. None of that is in this book.

This is not what i was looking for, which was a book about how Epicurean philosophy is relevant today, or at least how it is applied to dealing modern life. It is more a self help book. It does outline Epicurus and Lucretius, but it is very light on examples from their lives, surviving works, or the centuries long history of their followers and how they endured and dealt with everyday problems maintaining a community in the face of sometimes ardent opposition and bad publicity. It is, however, full of what the author believes and thinks we should do to be happy, which is fine. But her ideas are not in anyway novel: consumerism is evil, focus on relationships not career, get back to nature, meditate, diet and exercise. There are countless self help books with the same message. I don't need 8 hours to hear that.

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Good food for thought while walking.

Decouples hedonism from epicurean thought and frames it in a strong humanism context with widely accepted moral beliefs. "The needs of the many outweigh ...". Spoke.