Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations (2012)


Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations (Rider Books: 2012)

Buy the book here. 

When philosophy helped me through an emotional crisis in my late teens and early twenties, I became fascinated by how ideas invented over 2,000 years ago can still save lives today. I set out on a five-year journey to find out how people from all walks of life are using ancient philosophy to withstand crises, overcome adversity and build better lives.

Along the way, I interviewed the founders of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, and learned how they had been inspired by ancient philosophy and turned it into an evidence-based science. I met the director of the US Army’s ambitious new resilience programme, which uses techniques from philosophy to teach every American soldier inner strength. I met cops, gangsters, politicians, anarchists and astronauts, and heard how philosophy transformed their lives.

And I traveled to modern philosophical communities built around millennia-old ideas: Epicurean communes, Stoic gatherings, Sceptic summer camps, Cynic occupations, even a Platonic sect whose members include the actor Hugh Jackman. I looked at the challenges of trying to build strong ethical communities without them turning into cults.

I also explored how classical ideas of the good life are at the heart of a new ‘politics of well-being’, in which governments try to guide their citizens towards happiness and fulfilment. In the book, I warn against trying to fit an entire society into one philosophy of the good life, arguing instead that Socrates and his descendants didn’t come up with one definition of the good life, but several.

Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations is so far published in 21 countries.  It has been #1 in’s philosophy chart, a Guardian Books bestseller, and a Times book of the year.  It presently has a 4.1 rating on Good Reads after 1245 votes, and a 4.7 rating on after 137 reviews. The book helped to inspire the Radio 4 series, My Life As A Philosopher, which I co-presented.

‘This book saved my life.’ Adrian Edmondson

‘A revelation’. The Observer

“Instructive and thought-provoking…shows philosophy is not just for stuffy classrooms” Financial Times

“This wonderful book shows how modern psychology is consistent with the best that was thought and known in the Ancient World…also beautifully written” Lord Richard Layard, author, Happiness: Lessons From A New Science

“A revelation” Alexander Linklater Observer

“Witty and accessible…Highly recommended.” The Psychologist magazine

“A brilliant and timely book.” Tom Hodgkinson, author of How to Be Free


Other books and reports I’ve written or contributed to: 

The Politics of Well-Being: Theory, Policy and Practice, Edited by Ian Bache and Karen Scott (London: Routledge, 2018). You can read my chapter here. 

Stoicism Today, selected writing, Volume I and II. Edited by Patrick Ussher. (London: Amazon Press 2014)

AHRC: Philosophical Communities. 2014 report I wrote for the AHRC on the history and contemporary growth of philosophy clubs, and their role in community well-being

RSA: Spiritualize: Revitalizing Spirituality to Address 21st Century Concerns. I organized the seminars that fed into this 2013 report, written by Jonathan Rowson.

WHO: Beyond Bias: Exploring the Cultural Contexts of Health and Well-Being. I wrote this report for the World Health Organisation, summarising a two-day seminar discussing the cultural contexts of health as part of an ongoing research project.

Sarah Halliday