Category Archives: books
My journey to understanding and wanting to be Stoic began fairly recently. Perhaps it’s true that with age and wisdom, one gets more philosophical about life and living. In any case, I was fortunate to be introduced to a book called The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday a few years ago. It literally changed my perspective about living and especially about how to deal with the lemons that life throws us.
I was enamoured enough about this book of learning that I wrote a post about it back in 2014. It taught me how to react to anything in life, good or bad. I’ve practiced what I have learnt and over time, it has become a more normal way of thinking and acting. I know people who go to see “gurus” to learn about life and living. To me, this book and everything I have read and learnt about stoicism since then has been my best guru about life.
The author based this so very easy to read book upon all of his readings of a single book himself – Meditations by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. And from everything in this book, a single paragraph formed the core of this philosophy:
“THE IMPEDIMENT TO ACTION ADVANCES ACTION. WHAT STANDS IN THE WAY BECOMES THE WAY.”
— MARCUS AURELIUS
Can you read that once again and let it sink in?
Really. Sink. In.
I haven’t read Meditations but I was fortunate to get the Cliff Notes version created by a friend – he had taken the 45000 word tome and condensed it to the core principles in about 3000 words. Every word is meaningful! I am still learning. So, while I like to think that I am a Stoic, it’s fair to say that I expect to continue to learn, observe and practice. I am no more than an aspiring Stoic – and very fortunate to have discovered it in the first place.
If you think I am speaking gibberish when I talk Stoic or Stoicism, I encourage you to read this bit about what it means to be Stoic:
Ultimately, what this philosophy has taught me to do is to examine and turn every adversity I encounter, big or small, into opportunity and advantage. I try. It’s the first thing I do.
I can’t imagine anything else that can be so useful in life than this way of living – using obstacles to practice excellence.
Is it because I have had more than my fair share of failures and adversities?
Or is it simply that I am human?
It’s not fair to write a book review without completing the book but I’ve been known to do it before. It’s not a disservice really. I’m so fascinated by what I am reading in the book that I can’t wait to write down some early thoughts. The disservice is to myself – I have to stop reading, put that wonderful book down so I can jot down my impressions. By the time some of you pick up the book (and I hope you do!), I’ll be finished reading it.
The version of the book that I am reading is a traditional hardcover that was gifted to me by a friend some time back (Thanks S!). I had to get out of my Jack Reacher fog to finally pick it up. After being a kindle reader for a few years now, when I say I have to pick it up, I really mean it. It’s one weighty tome compared to my kindle!
So far, I have been completely fascinated.
The book is Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. The author has a great website that you should also check out here. Please click on the links to find out more – as much as you want to find out – about the book and author. I want to focus on my impressions rather than those facts.
This is a book (an Amazon Best Book for February 2015, by the way) that combines history, anthropology and evolution into a highly readable, engrossing experience. It’s hard to take a break (and that, from a book of non-fiction!). Believe them or not, his theories are extreme and fascinating, some of which I would never have imagined.
To further intrigue you, I have picked out a couple of my favorite excerpts from the book (so far) and a couple of my favorite reviews of the book. Just call me your curator. You’re welcome.
The editorial reviews first; it was hard to pick just these from several available but they should give you a good idea of the quality of the book:
“It is one of the best accounts by a Homo sapiens of the unlikely story of our violent, accomplished species.…It is one hell of a story. And it has seldom been told better…. Compulsively readable and impossibly learned.” (Michael Gerson, Washington Post)
“Yuval Noah Harari’s celebrated Sapiens does for human evolution what Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time did for physics.… He does a superb job of outlining our slow emergence and eventual domination of the planet.” (Forbes)
“It’s not often that a book offers readers the possibility to reconsider, well, everything. But that’s what Harari does in this sweeping look at the history of humans.… Readers of every stripe should put this at the top of their reading lists. Thinking has never been so enjoyable.” (Booklist (starred review))
“The sort of book that sweeps the cobwebs out of your brain…. Harari…is an intellectual acrobat whose logical leaps will have you gasping with admiration.” (John Carey, Sunday Times (London))
And now for a couple of excerpts from the early sections of the book about what extraordinary trait made homo sapiens leave all other animals behind thousands of years ago. The connection he makes here is incredible, to say the least:
And finally, to help you decide whether to invest the time and read Sapiens, have a look at these chapters:
How can you not be madly interested and intrigued?
Go. Get your copy and start reading.