It remains important, as a means to find responsible decisions, thus is a way to act individually. But it is no longer a just cause for any act of resistance in favour of religion against any legitimate government. People should serve religion and not use it as pretence to wage war . It has to be questioned whether Montaigne really achieved a balance between Calvinist theories and the principle of sovereignty. Conscience is important for man in order to live a honourable and decent life. But it is not allowed to dominate civic relations.
As conscience is restricted to private matters and is not allowed to influence public matters, the authority, uniformity, and sovereignty of the state take precedence. At least in one instance it entitles man to resist the legitimate prince; in this case religion is placed above the sovereignty and unity of the state. Charron and Montaigne share many assumptions. But in this respect there is rather an important discrepancy. The conversion of Henry IV for the sake of the public good in the light of these theories is no longer treason in regard to God, but a heroic sacrifice.
Man has to give up what by the means of his conscience he perceives as just, when the state asks him to act differently. Obliging to the authority he preserves a higher value, that of the maintenance of life and society . Thus the separation of the private and the public sphere is quite clearly developed before the 17 th century by Montaigne. At least in this instance we can see that Hobbes is closer to Montaigne than to Charron. We know that he spent several years in France where he studied political theory.
An influence of Charron on Hobbes has therefore been suggested . Anybody may have his conviction, but as soon as public questions are concerned, only the sovereign has the right to define the actions of his subjects. Only in the case of life-threatening danger, man is set back in the state of nature and may defend himself . The difference between the inward freedom of conscience and the outward obligation of duty to obey the state was already noted as a trait particular to the 17 th century . Yet these features quite precisely reflect the earlier statements of Montaigne. The genealogy of thoughts in the 16 th and 17 th century evidently is more complex than has been stated hitherto.
The role of Montaigne as one of the post influential political authors of this time is still underestimated. In one perspective Hobbes' theory is much more elaborate. By fitting it into framework of a social contract the right of resistance could be founded within a system and its limits could logically be justified. But apart from the systematic aspect the character of the theory changed as well. Being interwoven in a legal context the legitimacy of resistance became even more important. So the legal argument was enforced. Arguing that the contract is between all subjects only in favour and not with the king, the king cannot infract the contract .
This legal construction of a contract in favour of a third is used to reduce the possibility of resistance. On the whole, political theory here rather develops a legal theory, which could help to convince people by legitimacy. The question remains if Charron emphasised religion and allowed a right to resist in this matter only as an author close to the Catholic League. I therefore have to conclude my overview with a brief comparison to some authors, which intimately adhered to confessional parties of the time and may be regarded as their spokesmen.
It can be stated that Catholic authors of the time generally admitted resistance against the sovereign in more instances than their Protestant counterparts. The most famous Leaguist authors, Jean Boucher and Guilleaume Rose , pleaded for a new night of St. Bartholomew to end all political troubles aroused by Reformation . For Boucher the pope remained the responsible head of the church and Christianity; he has the power to dissolve all subjects from their duty of obedience towards their monarch. He only granted a right of resistance in case the church or a secular authority like the Diet had summoned the people .
Also for Rossaeus kings could be dethroned in case they acted against the true religion, but the resistance movement had to be organized by the church . These ideas despise conscience and only balance the interest of state and religion. The Jesuit Juan de Mariana stated in that there should only be one religion in the state. But he admits that a public convent of the Diet can expel princes, yet it should not be done easily .
The individual has no freedom of conscience, he is bound to duty. These Catholic authors place the authority of the pope higher than that of the king. From this point of view Charron is hardly recognizable as a Catholic author. For this reason subjects are bound to obey the sovereign not only because of duty and fear, but also with love.
And everybody can recognize this obligation by means of conscience. Especially this point is very close to Charron. For this reason our Catholic authors Montaigne and Charron seem to cling more closely to the ideas expressed by Calvinist writers. But again, if we leave France, the discrepancies become more visible. Thus resistance is allowed even for the subject when the prince orders impious activities.
The example of Charron shows that the resemblance of ideas in this time was not only due to a common confession, but that the political setting may have even been more important. The special situation in France provoked some authors as Montaigne and Charron to adept political ideas of the other side in order to pacify the state. The importance of the political background becomes even clearer if we look at the politics of the Calvinists at this time, which have recently been investigated.
The critical developments in France led him to fear that Henri might lose his faith altogether or develop antipathy against the Protestant church rather than simply convert . So when Henri finally did go to mass it still was a blow for Beza, but due to his comprehension he kept contact to Henri until his death . Moreover, he urged French Protestants to stay loyal to the monarch. He refused them the right to rebel or to disobey his orders . He stressed the fact that Henri was the rightful King of France with all prerogatives of a sovereign . He argued that the Christian faith requires its followers to keep good company with everybody and that true peace should finally be established in France .
This is a drastic example of cooperation between the confessional fractions, which influenced authors such as Charron after his adherence to the League. Montaigne, however, somehow anticipated the necessity of such a position, which put the stress on the state and thus mediated between the confessions.
Obviously there were some politicians and political writers in France around , which fought hard to establish real peace. For these men the different confessional position of an author was no reason not to adopt his reasoning. Although the quickly changing circumstances provided for a laboratory of political reasoning, the historical background proves to be more important than the membership in a party or the adherence to a certain confessions.
We can observe the evolution of doctrines that prepare the teaching of Hobbes and we again notice, to what extent his stay in France has influenced him. The major change we can observe is the tendency to stress the legal aspect. First of all, Charron uses more legal arguments than Montaigne. Practical and ethical arguments are used to decree what everybody should observe. Finally, in admitting a right of resistance based on the individual conscience in an extreme case, it is only Charron who balances the ideas of sovereignty and conscience in a theory of resistance.
But this idea is put into a rule of law. Hereby we see the influence of the historical background and we understand the wish to diminish the importance of religion in a civil society. But it is the growing importance of legal doctrines, which demonstrates the change of doctrine and marks the transformation of political ideas from the 16 th to the 17 th century.
Also in the respect of political literature, France proves to have been a world of its own and distinct to the writings of other countries. This idea of necessary unity won over the freedom of conscience, which had been demanded by the Reformation. The only residuum left for conscience is the private sphere. Even this small space for a right of resistance granted by Charron was practically rejected even by the Protestant leaders. Later Hobbes adopted this harsh solution. In this respect, the French solution for the political problem to balance sovereignty and freedom of conscience became a dominant political theory at least for one century.
I would like to thank both for the invitation to Bologna and the permission to publish the English version.
Marchetti Eds. Dipartimento di discipline storiche, 15 , Bologna , , Staatliche Grundbegriffe in Basler juristsichen Doktordisputiationen des Jahrhunderts, Bern , 47 f. Studies in the Philosophy of History 8 n.
Le roi libre, Paris For a new historical investigation into the political background see also Scott M. Kaufmann Ed.
Link Either by signing into your account or linking your membership details before your order is placed. For this reason subjects are bound to obey the sovereign not only because of duty and fear, but also with love. Much of this he drew from the fact — and the act — of aging, but not in the way we might expect. I always felt that my position was where the critical decision had to be made. Heinrich Meier. Interesting stuff.
Lewis, Against the Tyrant, Glencoe Illinois , 59 ss. Freiburg etc. Gough, The Social Contract, 2 nd ed.
Kingdon, Calvinism and resistance theory n. Salmon, Catholic resistance theory, Ultramontanism, and the royalist response, , in: J. Burns Ed. Quin, Personenrechte n. Jahrhundert, in: Th. Angerer u. Jahrhundert, Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.
Klasse, 9 , Heidelberg , Pierre Charron For a bibliography of Charron's works and secondary literature see V. Taranto, Bibliografia delle opere di e su Charron, in: La saggezza moderna. Pozzo, Ramismus. Grossfeld u. The book gives the text of the second and the differences to the first edition; my references will be given, if not indicated otherwise, to the 2nd edition. This book was dedicated to Henri IV, who just had reconverted to Catholicism, cf.
Adam, Etudes sur Pierre Charron n. Pierre Villey, 2nd edition Paris , 2. Pierre Villey in Montaigne, Essais, introduction to 3. Montaigne e Charrron, Milano , Birtsch Ed. Jahrhundert, in: G. Kogel, Pierre Charron n. Lutz Ed. Kaye, Charron et Montaigne n. Jahrhundert, Berlin , Jahrhunderts, Diss. Bonn , 25 ss.
Montaigne, Essais, 1. Montaigne, Essais, 2. Montaigne denies furthermore the existence of any law of nature, cf. Qui bien leur sert. Borelli, Obligation juridique n. Charron, De la sagesse, 2. Tuck, Cambridge , c. Voigt Ed. Wolgast, Die Religionsfrage n. I,2, Band 2 fol. Articles The rise of Henry IV as the historical background 3. Pierre Charron 4. Comparison with Montaigne and Bodin 6. Usually I feel a little guilty about this.
Somehow, it felt appropriate with this book. I leave the bar after a couple of pints and I am bathed in warm late summer sun. I board the train. The fellow in front of me is listening to headphones, head bowed, smelling faintly of whiskey. Across the aisle a businessman frowns over his library book. A middle-aged woman in neon-green sunglasses plays solitaire on her iPad, softly singing to herself. Strange, wonderful strangers. The morning journey plays out in reverse with a different cast and a lighter tone.
Every day, variations on the same dream. I have no more words. View all 5 comments. It had the perfect commercial combination: startling originality and easy classification. With the state of the world—especially of the United States—growing more unsettling and absurd by the day, I felt a need to return to Montaigne, the sanest man in history. How to Live is a beguiling mixture. While purportedly a biography of Montaigne, it is also, as many rev It had the perfect commercial combination: startling originality and easy classification.
This double-biography is structured as a series of answers to the question: How to live? Bakewell herself is hardly a Montaignesque writer. Her prose is disciplined and controlled; and though she must weave philosophy, history, literary criticism, and biography into a coherent narrative, she keeps her material on a tight rein. Instead, she gives us a loving portrait of Montaigne—the man, his times, and his book. And this was especially interesting for me, since Montaigne, despite writing reams about himself, never manages to give his readers a coherent picture of his life or his society.
Montaigne himself was interesting enough.
He even played an important role in the negotiations and maneuverings that took place after the death of Henri III over the question of succession. Today, however, Montaigne is remembered more for his painful descriptions of his kidney stones than his political accomplishments. At first, he was interpreted as a later-day Stoic sage, a Seneca for the sixteenth century.
Rousseau and the romantics liked Montaigne for his praise of naturalness, his fondness for exotic customs, and his exploration of his own personality. Later, more puritanical generations chided Montaigne for his open attitude towards sex and his detached attitude toward society. Nowadays Montaigne is seen as a prophet of the postmodern, with his emphasis on shifting perspectives and the subjectivism of truth. I will let her have the final word: The twenty-first century has everything to gain from a Montaignean sense of life, and, in its most troubled moments so far, it has been sorely in need of a Montaignean politics.
It could use his sense of moderation, his love of sociability and courtesy, his suspension of judgment, and his subtle understanding of the psychological mechanisms involved in confrontation and conflict. It needs his conviction that no vision of heaven, no imagined Apocalypse, and no perfectionist fantasy can ever outweigh the tiniest of selves in the real world. View all 7 comments.
Mar 05, Riku Sayuj rated it really liked it Shelves: books-about-books , philosophy , pop-phil , biographies , renaissance. Bakewell's work is too structured and readable to be a modern re-mix of Montaigne! Bakewell takes us through Montaigne's life even as we are taken through the essays and their evolution. To top it off we are also taken through the evolving reception of the essays and of the changing reflections that various readers of various generations and centuries found in them.
In the end we are given not only a life of Montaigne but a glimpse at four centuries of Montaigne reading. The book is hard to capt Bakewell's work is too structured and readable to be a modern re-mix of Montaigne! The book is hard to capture and I cannot imagine how someone who has not read Montaigne will get much out of it, but as with all things Montaigne, we can be assured they will get as much out of it as they put into it. View all 3 comments. Jan 21, Brad Lyerla rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites. I bought this book not knowing what to expect and, therefore, expecting very little.
What a pleasant surprise. It is one of the most pleasantly thought-provoking books in memory. Part biography, part literary investigation, part historical commentary and part philosophy, Bakewell has written a smart and satisfying book that can be read quickly. I thought Bakewell's format twenty attempts to answer a question might be distracting, but not at all. Michel du Montaigne is not widely read in the United States today and, I suspect, not very well known here either. He was a 16th Century French nobleman who lived in a time of civil war that was characterized by almost unimaginable cruelty between Catholic and Protestant zealots.
Montaigne lived two lives. One public. Another private. Bakewell details both, but his private life was the source of the Essays that established his fame. In certain parts of the world and among certain circles in the US, the Essays are still treasured as a source of comfort and practical wisdom for living well, particularly, in troubling times.
It has been Montaigne's fate to be reinterpreted as each new generation re-invented him to reflect the philosophical fashions of the day. Bakewell takes care to disentangle and debunk the various reinterpretations of Montaigne that have emerged over the centuries.
For example, Bakewell demonstrates that Montaigne was not a free thinking enlightenment philosopher born two centuries too early. Rather he was a practitioner of a mixed stew of the classic Hellenistic philosophies: stoicism, epicureanism and skepticism, leavened with a love of life and good humor for others.
Nor was he a romantic as he was depicted by many of his readers in the 19th century. Far from it. Skeptical indifference and equilibrium were among his goals in living. Despite the enthusiasm of the romantics, Montaigne was cool and measured in his essays. These were qualities he admired and strived for. Indeed, Montaigne 's praise of ordinariness can be understood as a reaction to and distrust of the immoderate feelings later favored by the romantics.
Today, Montaigne is sometimes seen as a precursor to post-modernism. His secularism and casual detachment appeal to the post-modern sensibility. But he was a man of his times. Post-modernism would have appalled him. Bakewell skewers this nutty idea with characteristically good nature. Bakewell wants to persuade her readers that Montaigne should not be categorized. She argues very credibly.
But I came away from this book most impressed with his stoicism. Certainly, he appears to have borrowed liberally from many schools of thought. But first and foremost, he appears to have pursued the classic goal of a stoic, the cheerful acceptance of whatever happens. Judging from Bakewell's depiction, Montaigne seems to have achieved his goal for much of his later life. Mar 25, Marcus rated it it was amazing Shelves: non-fiction , self-development , biography.
Despite some initial warning signs enumerated list, self help , the fantastic cover art and the fact that this book is about Montaigne drew me in. I've started reading his Essays several times and always bailed for one reason or another. I picked this up hoping it would give me some context and get me more excited to read, and maybe even finish the essays. It did. How to Live isn't just a biography of Montaigne, it's a history of Essays with a ton of rich context and interesting descriptions of Despite some initial warning signs enumerated list, self help , the fantastic cover art and the fact that this book is about Montaigne drew me in.
How to Live isn't just a biography of Montaigne, it's a history of Essays with a ton of rich context and interesting descriptions of the ways they have been influential throughout history. The 20 answers to the question of "how to live" don't define the book as much as give it some nice structure. Instead of urging constant improvement like a typical self help book would do, How to Live feels like it's written to give you permission to live a more examined life.
Montaigne didn't go through life explicitly seeking improvement, instead he sought eudaimonia or "human flourishing. His essays, rather than preaching, are simply observations, mostly about his internal world. Knowing Montaigne a little better, I feel more free to abstain from having an opinion on anything and everything.
Montaigne is famous for reviving the Pyrrhonian Stoicsm idea of epohke which means "I suspend judgement," or as Sextus put it more verbosely, "I now feel in such a way as neither to posit dogmatically nor to reject any of the things falling under this investigation. Today to be open-minded is to accept everything and everyone as they are. Epohke doesn't have a goal of acceptance, it is goalless. It's an approach that may not work all the time, but settling in to that mode of thought, even for a short period of time, can be incredibly freeing.
Even in his stoicism Montaigne was not dogmatic. He summarized himself as "extremely idle, extremely independent, both by nature and by art. Honor played a part, civic-mindedness played a part, love of his friends and family played a part, but overall he was true to himself. It's hard for me to grasp this entirely, but How to Live gave me a good start and made me excited to read more. Shakespeare was influenced by Montaigne and on occasion heavily borrowed from his works.
Nietzsche was influenced by him, Flaubert, Joyce, Rousseau, Descartes and Virginia Wolf were all very heavily influenced by Montaigne and after reading How to Live , I'm going to very humbly throw my name into that list too. View all 4 comments. May 27, Fionnuala marked it as ongoing Shelves: essays.
If Montaigne were alive today, he probably would have been a blogger. One of the more interesting ones When the publishing industry is in decline and our expectation of instant gratification make TV and the internet our primary sources for news, one would have to ask oneself: is this the best time to publish a new book on the philosophy of a discursive French essayist who died over years ago?
Montaigne would ha When the publishing industry is in decline and our expectation of instant gratification make TV and the internet our primary sources for news, one would have to ask oneself: is this the best time to publish a new book on the philosophy of a discursive French essayist who died over years ago? Montaigne would have been an exceedingly popular blogger, for he took incidents of daily life and held them up for examination as well as using them as stepping stones to rambling narrative.
He inspired loyal devotees and provoked, and enjoyed, passionate rebuttal. For twenty years, from ages 38 to 59, he mainly stayed at his estate in the Bordeaux region along the Dordogne River, and wrote essays. Importantly, he lived through the period of time known as The Saint Bartholomew Wars, which was recently cited in a book on modern counter-insurgency as an example of one of the longest and most consequential non-state religion-based internecine conflicts characterized by extreme violence, bloodshed and carnage: Catholics on Protestants.
Montaigne had a fascination with pragmatic schools of philosophy like Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Skepticism. All these schools had the same aim: to achieve a way of living known as "happiness," "joy," or "human flourishing" from the Greek eudaimonia. The schools agreed that the best path to eudaimonia was ataraxia , which can be translated as "imperturbability" or "freedom from anxiety.
It appears a key to living well, fully, and without regret is cultivating mindfulness: A person who does not sleepwalk through the world…is freed to respond to situations in the right way, without hesitation—as if they were questions asked all of a sudden, as Epictetus puts it. A violent attack, a quarrel, the loss of a friend: all these are demands barked at you by life, as by a schoolteacher trying to catch you not paying attention in class.
Even a moment of boredom is such a question. Whatever happens, however unforeseen it is, you should be able to respond in a suitable way. In lesser hands, the material could have seemed distant at best. But she allows Montaigne himself to shine: his work seems as amusing and fresh as a friend declaiming over a glass of wine—red wine, white wine—you never know with Michel.
It seems a pity to leave Montaigne to experts. I relished the background and erudition Bakewell brought to the picnic. Every page was a delight. Jun 22, Ryan Holiday rated it it was amazing. I got an early copy of this book for a project I am working on. It is spectacular. The book was a bestseller in the UK and was featured in a 6 part series in The Guardian. The format of the book is a bit unusual, instead of chapters it is made up of 20 Montaigne style essays that discuss the man from a variety of different perspectives. I'm very into Montaigne at the moment, as he is an interesting counter to the Stoics and to the Epicureans.
More accurately, he is a combination of the two plus I got an early copy of this book for a project I am working on. More accurately, he is a combination of the two plus about a thousand other schools of thought and that is why he is so interesting. If you like them and this book, I found a short but helpful biography of Montaigne by Peter Burke that focused on putting him in historical context. Dec 12, Buck rated it it was ok Shelves: life-writing.
I dunno. I was expecting something a little jazzier, a little more hip to the jive. The title and subtitle seem to promise a searching, po-mo genre bender, but How to Live is a fairly conventional biography that could have been written at any time in the last fifty years or so. The author comes across as an over-earnest popularizer: "See, kids? But first we have to go all th I dunno. But first we have to go all the way back to the Reformation. Can anyone tell me what the Reformation was? OTOH, thanks to this book, I can now add Montaigne to my mental list of writers whose penises were probably smaller than mine.
Send photos. Dec 02, Owlseyes inside Notre Dame, it's so strange a hour blaze and Some ideas ahead. His father having just died, made MM to inherit a wine estate. So, he dedicated his remaining years to reflection; some of this, on "Cicero says—[Tusc. So, he dedicated his remaining years to reflection; some of this, on himself; thence his essays.
His fascination with the inner world was paired up with that of the outside world. Feb 14, julieta rated it really liked it. I was looking for something like this, since I have always been curious of Montaigne but I never got up the nerve to read him, so this is a great introduction, and I learned a few more things too. I guess I was kind of looking for a little self help, but without it being self help openly, and I enjoyed it a lot. Apr 30, Anton marked it as attempted Shelves: on-hold. Although I know that it is useless, nay, harmful, to regret, I cannot but go back to the saying that "It's not the things we do that we regret.
It's those that we have not done. Would that I had read Montaigne in college. Before marriage. Before parenthood and prosperity-chasing. Before now. But, I know, now, better than Although I know that it is useless, nay, harmful, to regret, I cannot but go back to the saying that "It's not the things we do that we regret. But, I know, now, better than ever before in life, that 'timing is everything. Today is my perfect day to read this book, and hope to make it last for many years to come.
It's taken me nearly 70 years to know that I was going in the right direction in my teens, got lost along the way because of the culture, religion, media, government, and peer-pressure, to say nothing of my physical challenges along the way, and have survived it all to realize that you can only hear it when you're ready for it. And it is delicious. This book gives a biography of Montaigne, as it goes through the essays that tell us how to live.
No regrets, but, really, what took me so long? Now, I can just nod in agreement, rather than go, "Gee, I never thought of that. Uff da. If you want to choose one, I recommend the latter. But this isn't difficult, exactly, it's just slow going. The illustrations help. I don't know if I'll ever read The Essays themselves. Apparently there's just too much controversy about all the different editions and additions as intended, because Montaigne died in the midst of a major revision Interestingly, it doesn't seem as if reading them 'in the original French' would add all that much to the appreciation.
It seems as though they could be read as some ppl read the Bible: with a Concordance, or index, or keyword search of the text. For example, when feeling in a funk, look through the ebook for the occurrences of the word 'melancholy' and see what Montaigne has to say about it. Don't necessarily try to read it as a novel, or even as Bakewell's book is best read beginning to end, over days, taking notes, with care.
It does help to know some history or at least be able to look up context. There's quite a bit here, but Bakewell doesn't give much context or background. For one example, Joan of Arc preceded Montaigne's time in the religious conflicts in France, but not by a whole lot I don't know whether her influence was relevant to what Montaigne referred to as "The Troubles" or not. Of all the ideas that Bakewell presents I find the idea of epokhe most fascinating and potentially useful. As Bakewell discusses in her Chapter "Q.
How to LIve? Question Everything," it is what is known as Pyrrhonian Skepticism, as developed by Sextus Empiricus. Translated in over simplest form epokhe could be "I suspend judgement. Other bookdarts: I want to consider reading Aldous Huxley 's Island for the mynah birds that are trained to remind ppl to pay attention. Though as one of Montaigne's favorites, Seneca , points out, the only way we can live mindfully is by our own efforts. I want to read bits of the Essays about Montaigne's thoughts about animal perception. He observed his dog, and more especially his cat, and understood that they have their own spirits, their own selves, even their own intelligences.
This is one of the ideas that infuriated Descartes. And I want to find out what Mannerist Art is, as Bakewell points out that Montaigne has been called a Mannerist writer. Obviously Montaigne didn't DNF everything that challenged him, but he also wouldn't work hard to get through stuff that he found boring. This is one of my points of intersection with the Essayist. What's yours?
What will make you say, as Bernard Levin says, "How did he know all that about me? View 1 comment. Dec 25, Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly rated it it was amazing. Imagine a guy who lived years ago doing facebook. He had, however, the same compulsion to capture the everyday moments of his life, and gave in to the felt need to bare his soul to others.
His name was Michel Eyquem de Montaigne - , a nobleman, governmen Imagine a guy who lived years ago doing facebook. Some of them were long, some were brief, and all of said essays would be of a total of over a thousand pages. So what was special about these essays? They are seemingly infused with magic. Almost each one tentative and pointless, they almost always offer to explain or teach anything and nothing.
He wakes up in the morning, sees and experiences something, a thought comes to his mind, and he writes essays about them. He wrote about things as they come through his senses, his mind or his experience. Get rid of it I cannot without getting rid of myself. We are humans, and we are fallible. To stand for nothing is to be nothing.
Simply be open to the world around you, and suspend your inner desire to towards instant judgement. This is only a fraction of what Montainge has to teach us, but we all must start somewhere. Ideally I would be writing Happy New Year to start this post off, but unfortunately my inner procrastinator has struck again and I find myself writing my first post of in mid-February.
So a mea culpa is in order. But nonetheless I want to take some time here to recap the past year of PoI and share some of my favorite books that I read this past year that I would encourage anyone to read over the rest of Much to my surprise, hundreds of you tuned in for the first time to read along with me, spanning 3 continents and 65 countries. This despite my meager 7 posts throughout Pursuit of Impact is all about empowering anyone interested to find the resources that best help us ponder the long term, to think and act in a thoughtful, measured way about how to best accomplish the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
It is up to us to teach ourselves how to think and live to ensure that we are building the right kind of world, and sharing these book reviews and providing a catalogued ranking of the best and the worst of what I come across is just my small way of trying to contribute and help anyone that shares this outlook.
After all, ripples can start anywhere. In no particular order:. This is one of those books that can permanently change the way you look at things, and stays with you in every interaction you have. Written by the billionaire founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater, this book may on the surface seem like an odd choice. But in a few hundred pages Ray Dalio manages to build a larger legacy for himself than any money could buy. Instead, they are all centered around one guiding idea, an actual principle: that the world is bigger than us, and that it is built to optimize for the greater good of the system.
If you can internalize that way of thinking, that both the ups and downs of life are for the most part opportunities to make a better choice for yourself and any other parties involved, then everything else falls in line. Wisdom of Finance attempts to make the case that finance, rather than representing the moral bottom of the business world as is typical today, is actually a noble profession at its roots, and that the core tenents of finance are actually crucial ideas for how to make the most out of your life.
This is mostly done by relating key financial concepts cost of capital, leverage, options to ideas from some of the great novels and works of the humanities from history. MacAskill takes this a little more literally that I would prefer, but he still presents an extremely cogent and systematic way of first assessing what the biggest problems in the world are, and then how to best utilize your personal talents and resources to most effectively address them. What I find most impactful in these books is not necessarily the ideas that Harari puts forth though they will definitely make you think , but more so the way in which he structures and lays out his argument.
He presents an extremely macro, 10,foot way of looking at humanity, and the place we hold in the future of the world and the challenges we will face over the next several centuries as a species. And you can also find my most recommended books from here. Of course, this is only a tiny fraction of all the books that are out there, so if you have anything great that you have read or heard about, feel free to shoot me an email and pass it on. I always love getting suggestions, and have found that they often lead to some of my favorite reads.
John Adams was a man with a deep commitment to the American experiment, and as one of the Founding Fathers his finger prints can be found all across the span of our formative years. From our foremost talent scout at the First Continental Congress he recommended both George Washington to lead the Army, and Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration , to his dogged support of a formal Declaration of Independence, his time as a diplomat abroad to France, Netherlands, and England where he was one of three to sign the peace treaty with England formally ending the Revolutionary War , and his time as first Vice President and eventual successor to George Washington, no one figure covers as much territory in all realms of government as Adams.
Adams kept an extensive internal diary and collection of his personal letters for much of his life, more than any other Founding Father. As such, Adams is an excellent study of the character and virtues of a great yet strikingly human man. He grew up the scholarly son of a Puritanical farmer, and as such was endowed at an early age with a deep reverence for frugality and industry. We see how he struggled with a desire for greatness and his corresponding vanity and sensitivity to criticism, and how he acknowledged and pushed through these faults, despite the setbacks they continually caused him.
In reading about some of the other Founding Fathers Washington , Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison , you get an example of how to think about complex issues, or how to triumph against some of the steepest odds you could ever face. The book that McCullough puts together has everything in it that a student of impact and human character could want.
It covers the habits that Adams acquired at a young age that had an out sized influence in his development he kept a diary all his life, and used it in a Marcus Aurelius-styled fashion to contemplate and wrestle with his attempts to improve his inner nature, and he proved to be obsessed with self-improvement in his younger years, and often did character studies of those he worked with and admired, in an attempt to look for ways to learn from them. He was also an avid reader, picking up the practice upon starting his education at Harvard at 15 years old, and was scarcely without a book for the rest of his life he died with a library of over 3, books.
And like all men, great or modest, he also had his lion share of faults which are also spelled out in detail. He could be prone to streaks of vanity and a desire for greatness, driven by a fear that he would not be remembered by the ages the way that many of his revolutionary contemporaries surely would.
Overall, there is a reason this book won a Pulitzer Prize. The next step in my reading agenda to cover as many as the classic books of Western thought as I can brought me to the short, satirical novel Candide subtitled with just a drop of wit as Optimism , written by French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire around , just before the rumblings of Revolution began to build over the pond in America. At surface level, the theme of the narrative is on the evil nature of the world; that instead of a world full of meaning and purpose, it is full of cruel probabilities, one in which very little happens for any purpose at all, good or bad.
In short, it is a complete disavowal of religion, government, and most philosophy. It also poses as a satire of human emotions, stating that we do little in this world that makes any sense, though we view ourselves as the superior form of intelligence. We fight wars on the behalf of peace and church, put our fellow man in chains, and let our desire for money shade all of our thoughts and actions, while any man of means will readily tell you that they are no happier with their money than they were before.
Yet despite this knowledge, we hunger, and continue to struggle against our own species. But that is just the surface. At a deeper glance, Candide is a story on how to live a good life amongst this depravity. For the bulk of the book, Voltaire presents two basic approaches to life. One can either struggle, strive, reach for greatness, for power and your place at the top, or one can retreat from the world, living free but with no greater purpose to guide them.
Those who struggle for power will eventually falter, and embark on a perilous fall at the hands of the ambitious comeupants who the powerful once embodied themselves. Those who retreat will eventually resent their idleness, and vice and greed will eventually overtake them, and consume their thoughts until they destroy themselves in a similar manner not dissimilar to those in power. We must put our heads down, and do our work, work which fulfills our talents, to the best of our abilities.
It is the only way to make life bearable. Just put your head down, and work. Put forth your best foot, no matter the circumstances around you, and you will make your print in the world, and keep from the vices that have pulled so many before you into the ditch. Of course, as with so many other brilliant works of history and genius, there is much, much more that could be pulled from this short book. At first, this seems wise, as it articulates the all-important idea to always think for oneself, and to not be so easily swayed by the gatekeepers of culture and knowledge without first processing and judging something for oneself.
But Voltaire takes the parable one step further, to the point where the noble scoffs at so much that he owns and has spent his time and wealth on, that it becomes apparent that despite his independence of thought, he is just as miserable as every other character in the book. In all, a brilliant book if you take the time to peel back all its layers. A raw but honest look at the dark side of human nature, and what we can do to keep the faith and persevere in the face of all the hardships the world may throw at us.
In another twist, Candide really is a story of optimism, albeit one of a altogether different variety than expected. In honor of the Memorial Day which passed yesterday, I wanted to review one of the best military memoirs I have read so far; Beyond Band of Brothers. Written as the memoirs of Dick Winters, leader of Easy Company during WWII, the book largely follows the same events as the show Band of Brothers , and the book by Stephen Ambrose the show is based off of albeit with a little more context and more discussion on the events leading up to the war all the training.
What drew me to the book was the poise and leadership displayed by Damian Lewis in the show, and the real Dick Winters did not disappoint, this is by far the best leadership book I have read to date, and includes a fantastic final chapter in which he summarizes his philosophy on leadership. One paragraph in particular succinctly sums it up:. My men depended on me to carefully analyze every tactical situation, to maximize the resources that I had at my disposal, to think under pressure, and then to lead them by personal example.