I am continuing along my path to read fifty books in 2020 and I’m way ahead of where I thought I would be. Today I tell you about books sixteen through twenty.
Letters of a Stoic, Seneca
Aside from The Bible and Mere Christianity, I have no book as dog eared or as marked up with highlights, lines and my own thoughts. I also have no book that I re-read as much or go back to for reference as, like the Bible, it has become vital to the core of who I am, or at least who I want to be.
It is tough to explain this book, written as a series of letters from 63 – 65 AD, to you without going into a full analysis of stoic philosophy, as this book is one of it’s foundations. This is a book about human nature and the best way to live life each day, which I find especially important in a time when none of us relax or enjoy individual moments, constantly interrupted by social media, twenty-four news networks and our phones. We are never disconnected. We are never at true peace.
Instead of giving you a full breakdown of this book, which I find as impossible as the Bible, I will simply give you some of my favorite quotes:
Happy the man who improves other people not merely when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts.
For the only safe harbor in this life’s tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to be bothered about what the future will bring and to stand ready and confident, squaring the breast to take without skulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us.
One of the causes of the troubles that beset us is the way our lives are guided by the example of others; instead of being set to rights by reason we’re seduced by convention.
True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.
A good character is the only guarantee of everlasting, carefree happiness.
But when you are looking on anyone as a friend when you do not trust him as you trust yourself, you are making a grave mistake, and have failed to grasp sufficiently the full force of true friendship.
Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor strengthens the body.
Why be concerned about others, come to that, when you’ve outdone your own self? Set yourself a limit which you couldn’t even exceed if you wanted to, and say good-bye at last to those deceptive prizes more precious to those who hope for them than to those who have won them. If there were anything substantial in them they would sooner or later bring a sense of fullness; as it is they simply aggravate the thirst of those who swallow them.
Now there are short and simple exercises which tire the body rapidly, and so save our time; and time is something of which we ought to keep strict account. These exercises are running, brandishing weights, and jumping…But whatever you do, come back quickly from body to mind.
It is not the man who has too little that is poor, but the one who hankers after more.
Supposing they say they are happy, will their own opinions to this effect make them happy? It does not make any difference what a man says; what matters is how he feels, and not how he feels on one particular day but how he feels at all times…Only the wise man is content with what is his. All foolishness suffers the burden of dissatisfaction with itself.
I could go on and on and perhaps just quote this entire book. As I re-read it for about the fifth time I underlined new passages that I didn’t catch before. And thus the beauty of stoicism. It hits you where you are today. I recommend this book to every single person reading this.
Conspiracy, Ryan Holiday
Tabloid website Gawker.com was an Internet juggernaut, until it messed with the wrong men. The first mistake was outing gay Silicon Valley investor and billionaire Peter Thiel. The second mistake was publishing Hulk Hogan’s sex tape. When a group of people get together in secret to take down another group of people, we call that a conspiracy.
Peter Thiel didn’t let his hatred for Gawker go after he was outed. He assembled a group of strategists and attorneys and then he sat back and waited for the right opportunity. It took ten years. The opportunity finally came in the form of famed wrestler Hulk Hogan. Hogan’s wife called and said she wanted a divorce. In despair he called his best friend for a shoulder to cry on. His friend gave him more than that. He gave him his wife. The friend said that he and his wife were in an open marriage and that the wife wanted to have sex with Hogan. It happened. Multiple times on multiple days, taped without Hogan’s knowledge. And of course, those tapes were leaked online.
Hogan wanted to sue Gawker, but he didn’t have the funds. Thiel stepped in and secretly funded Hogan’s case. Hogan himself didn’t even know who the funder was. Everything was secret and Gawker never saw it coming. That’s why Gawker no longer exists. They were sued out of existence.
I’m not spoiling the book for you. This is all common knowledge. This book is the story of the intricate details, the amazing strategy and how it all went down. And this is the story of the aftermath and how it bled over to a presidency.
I picked up this book because I’ve become a huge Ryan Holiday fan and after I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. It’s a real page turner. I recommend this book to anyone interested in conspiracies, men with big egos, drama or just a good ole fashioned story about a balding fat man with sex tapes.
Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
Stoicism is vogue. Everyone seems to be talking about it, so I started investigating. First I simply Googled “what is stoicism?”
The answer: the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.
That certainly hooked me. You know why. Endurance of pain and hardship is my thing. It’s who I am to my core. But while that’s what hooked me, it’s not exactly what reeled me in. Stoicism isn’t just about pain. It’s about a whole new perspective on yourself and on the world. And I can honestly say that I haven’t encountered anything since maybe the birth of my first child, that has so fundamentally changed my thought process.
Last year I started reading a bunch of books that were basically summaries and explanations of stoicism. I also started reading Seneca. But I didn’t dive into individual Stoic thinkers like Marcus Aurelius for the simple reason that they are so dense. You cannot breeze through these books. In fact, you can barely read a full page at a time. Reading each line is something you have to think on for an entire day. Perhaps that’s why this book is titled “Meditations.”
Just a few of those meditations:
“At dawn of day, when you dislike being called, have this thought ready: ‘I am called to man’s labour; why then do I make a difficulty if I am going out to do what I was born to do and what I was brought into the world for? Is it for this that I am fashioned, to lie in bedclothes and keep myself warm?’ ‘But this is more pleasant.’ ‘Were you born then to please yourself; in fact for feeling, not for action? Can’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees each doing his own work, helping for their part to adjust a world? And then you refuse to do a man’s office and don’t make haste to do what is according to your own nature.’ ‘But a man needs rest as well.’ I agree, he does, yet Nature assigns limits to rest, as well as to eating and drinking, and you nevertheless go beyond her limits, beyond what is sufficient; in your actions only this is no longer so, there you keep inside what is in your power. The explanation is that you do not love your own self, else surely you would love both your nature and her purpose. But other men who love their own crafts wear themselves out in labours upon them, unwashed and unfed; while you hold your own nature in less honour than the smith his metal work, the dancer his art, the miser his coin, the lover of vainglory his fame. Yet they, when the passion is on them, refuse either to eat or to sleep sooner than refuse to advance the objects they care about, whereas you imagine acts of fellowship to bring a smaller return and to be deserving of less pains.”
“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”
“Some things are hurrying into existence and others are hurrying out of it and of that which is coming into existence, part is already extinguished. In this flowing stream then, on which there is no abiding, what is there of things which hurry on by on which a man would set a high price. It would be just as if a man should fall in love with one of the sparrows which fly by but has already passed out of sight.”
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
“The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”
“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”
“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”
“Keep this thought handy when you feel a fit of rage coming on—it isn’t manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance—unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.”
“No, you do not have thousands of years to live. Urgency is on you. While you live, while you can, become good.”
I could go on all day. In fact, I could just publish the whole book here. Every line is that important.
This wasn’t a book Marcus Aurelius wrote for the world. These are meditations that he wrote to himself. These are directions from him to him. I’ve taken them as directions to me too.
I cannot possibly recommend this book enough. If taken to heart and meditated on, this book could change the core of who you are. While I am not yet a Stoic and certainly not an Emperor or a philosopher, I will be diving deeper into these teachings throughout the year in an attempt to become a better and happier man.
Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, Neil Gabler
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve slowed down on my book reviews. This one really bogged me down and took what I felt like was forever to finish.
This is an exhaustive biography of one of the world’s best known entrepreneurs. I’ll go one step further and say that from name recognition alone, Walt Disney is historically the world’s best known entrepreneur. Even a two year old in China knows the name. What most people do not know is the entrepreneurial journey behind the name so prominently featured on parks, movies, shows, merchandise and what seems like everything else in the world these days.
Mostly, what people do not know about are all the total failures Disney had on his way to success. I certainly did not and it was refreshing to to read. We just assume that geniuses like Disney had it so easy on their path to greatness. This book tells the story of a man who failed to success through brute persistence and extreme work hard. Even the things we all think were successes were total failures. Dumbo, Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, Fantasia and so much more nearly put Disney into bankruptcy over and over. Then through pure luck he would stumble on an idea like merchandising, Cinderella, Davy Crockett and especially Disneyland that saved him from absolute devastation.
That’s a refreshing story for entrepreneurs like me. One day we think we are taking over the world. The next day we think we are going out of business. There’s never an in-between. The bipolar cycle repeats itself over and over and over again, and it’s through persistence and hard work that we keep our operations together with our fingertips. Walt Disney’s is the story of every entrepreneur. He just happened to have more creativity, the ability to see the future and a bit more luck that led him to eternal fame. More than that though, he dreamed big and risked bigger.
This was a long biography and like every long biography I’ve ever read, there were parts that didn’t keep my attention. There were many more parts where I could not put the book down. Gabler obviously spent years doing research to write this book and it paid off to show the complete view of such a fascinating figure who built a global phenomenon many times over. I really enjoyed this one and recommend it to everyone.
The Ride of a Lifetime, Robert Iger
WOW! That’s 20 books in 2020. Only thirty more to hit the big goal! I hope you guys are finding something useful in these short reviews.
I really enjoyed this book. So much so that I knocked it out in just twenty-four hours. After reading about the beginnings of the Disney company in Walt Disney’s biography, I wanted to read about Disney today, which became an unstoppable behemoth under Bob Iger’s leadership. When Iger took over Disney was in complete disarray. Now it owns just about everything I love. All it needs now is Star Trek.
Bob Iger is the man. He led the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and Fox. He fathered Baby Yoda… I mean sorta. He literally led Disney into the future by cannibalizing the company’s own business model and being the first to go on iTunes, embracing streaming for ESPN and then launching Disney+ a few months before his retirement. Dude wasn’t at all scared to take a risk. What I love most about Iger was his obsession with the intersection of creative and technology.
I just loved this entrepreneurial story but this isn’t a book for just entrepreneurs. I recommend to all the Disney fans.