So yes I took a little while to get to writing this. But I’m putting that blame completely on Helen Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, which is an amazing piece of fiction, and a book I’ll write about later.
For the month of February, I mainly read three books: Mediations by Marcus Aurelius, Lying by Sam Harris, and The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.
Mediations — Marcus Aurelius
Meditations (the specific translation is the one by Gregory Hays) is a very interesting book, written in the Second Century CE (or AD as some people prefer), it surprisingly is very relevant today. It was written by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius as a private journal, the thoughts he wrote down have applications even today.
I’ve so far marked 77 passages in a book which is 170 pages long. Here are a sample of some of the shorter ones in no particular order:
“Everything is in flux. And you too will alter in the whirl and perish, and the world as well.”
“People exist for one another. You can instruct or endure them.”
“Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their mind.”
“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.”
Although some of the passages may seem a bit pessimistic, Marcus Aurelius was a practitioner of the philosophy of Stoicism, which is a philosophy and a way of life which places importance on accepting the reality of a situation and living with it. A way of life which focuses on what can be controlled rather than worry about what cannot.
This philosophy has resonated with me quite a lot and I suggest that a lot of people in this day and age should learn to live this way. As many people I know end up being very stressed about things that are far outside their zone of control, which I believe is a huge waste of energy.
But I’ll cover this off more when we get to The Obstacle is the Way below.
Lying — Sam Harris
Lying is more of a short essay than a full book, but it still thoroughly covers the subject of lying. In the roughly an hour read, I had my preconceptions challenged in a few different ways, but as I mentioned in my earlier post, the biggest impact has come from my belief that no one has a good reason to ever lie.
Harris’ approach isn’t all about the blunt truth though, while he says that speaking the truth as you know it is the best policy for almost every situation, sometimes the truth needs to be applied more pragmatically. This approach is far less ideal though.
This has lead to me continuing to try to always speak the truth, although I have struggled with old habits getting in the way before my conscious mind realises what I am saying. It is a very interesting experience as sometimes you have to choose your words very carefully, which is actually a surprisingly good side effect as the longer you take to say something the more you can think about what needs to be said, rather than filling up space with useless words. Which could harm without knowing.
The Obstacle is the Way — Ryan Holiday
I mentioned Stoic philosophy before in the context of Marcus Aurelius, however Ryan Holiday takes on the practical application of Stoicism in The Obstacle is the Way. I have to say that February was a great month for me when it came to good books, and The Obstacle is the Way is probably the top one for dealing with the stresses of everyday life.
Holiday breaks up his book into three areas: Perception, Action, and Will. These three sections are designed to lead you through how to see adversity, how to react to adversity, and how to ensure you’re mentally fine with adversity in its many forms.
Again this is a relatively short book (at 181 pages) which has some very direct applications, making sure this isn’t a book which is read and then forgotten. But a book I’ll surely read again and again throughout my life.
Freakonomics — Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
Freakonomics was a surprise addition to my reading list in February, as I’ve always looked at it in the past as a book that looked like it was hyped up too much. But after a recommendation from my boss, I decided to pick it up and give it a try.
And I was very pleasantly surprised (so much so that I’ve already bought the sequel SuperFreakonomics)!
While I love the higher order theories of economics, I’ve never been particularly interested in the practical applications (I imagine this opinion was formed in the mandatory Economics subject I needed to take for a semester at University). Luckily Freakonomics is nothing like that! In fact it seems like Steven D. Levitt isn’t a fan of traditional economic applications either.
Levitt manages to apply economics in a wonderful way to questions that most people wouldn’t even think of applying economics to including things like the reasons that a drug dealer would continue to live at home, and applying economics to track cheaters both in the realm of teachers on standardised testing and sumo wrestlers in ensuring their rankings.
I have to applaud Dubner for taking Levitt’s extremely interesting work and crafting it into a story that can be absorbed by almost any curious mind. And I thank Levitt for thinking outside the box of typical economists and applying his skills onto so many interesting topics.
Overall, I think that Freakonomics has something to offer anyone who has any interest in economics or just interesting solutions to problems in the world.
So that’s it for February, these were the four books I read and what a great selection of books they ended up being!
For March, I’ve read/I’m reading/I’ll be reading the following:
- The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
- The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
- SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner If you have any suggestions of other books to read please feel free, and please let me know if you liked this kind of post, so I know whether to continue writing them.
Until next time.