This post started as something completely different. It started with me trying to put together a list of gift suggestions you guys might like. This led to my decision to send a book as a gift to a friend (let’s hope she likes it), and then through circuitous ways to a book I think I mentioned before, and finally to the author of The 4-Hours Workweek, and finally to Seneca.
Isn’t this world wide web thing a blast?
So, let’s start with a book suggestion, to wit the book I already mentioned (and NOT the one I sent as gift) – Teach Yourself to Live, by C.G.L. Du Cann, a book originally published in 1955 that I always found delightful, and I re-read at least once a year. Du Cann steals extensively from Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher, and one of the main figures in Stoicism, and while the style is all Du Cann (and part of the pleasure of reading the book), his suggestions are clearly a condensed selection of stoic practical advice.
The book is highly recommended, as a fine read and as an artifact from another time – it’s reasonably cheap, and the hardback edition is great.
Now the interesting thing is, Stoicisn has been making a comeback in the last few years – especially the so-called Late Stoa school of the Romans – as it often happens in times of crisis and confusion. Stoicism is, just like philosophical Taoism, a philosophy of personal survival when all else fails, and the Late Stoa was the expression of an empire facing a crisis.
There is even a thing called Modern Stoicism Project, that offers information, organizes a Stoic Week and provides free instruction.
I mentioned it in the past and it looks probably a little too hip for my tastes, but there you have it.
And the parallel with Taoism (or with Zen, that is, after all “taoism without a sense of humor” according to the toaists), is not that weird. Consider the following:
Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things that exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the structure of the web.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, iv. 40
I first met the stoics in high school, as part of the philosophy curriculum, and all things considered I find them quite congenial, and I am not the only one. As I said, in times of crisis, these guys come handy.
And turns out that Tim Ferriss is a fan of the stoics, too.
Tymothy Ferris is the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, a book I read and found fascinating, and inspiring, and tragically useless here where I live – this not because of the book, but because of the place: Ferriss’ principles are extremely hard to apply in a highly bureaucratic, technologically and culturally backward place as Italy right now.
I admit I am quite curious about his cookbook, but that’s another story.
But Ferriss is, as I was saying, also a fan of the stoics – he’s particularly fascinated by Seneca – and he has produced three ebooks of stoic classics. The series is called The Tao of Seneca, and the three volumes can be downloaded for free:
So I thought I’d follow Tim Ferriss suggestion, and share these links, and these books. They are quite interesting, fun to read, beautifully designed, and who knows, might provide information that’s useful in time of crisis.