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On the Shortness of Life (Penguin Great Ideas)

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4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  2,809 ratings  ·  259 reviews
The Stoic writings of the philosopher Seneca offer powerful insights into the art of living, the importance of reason and morality, and continue to provide profound guidance to many through their eloquence, lucidity and timeless wisdom.

Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves—and each other. They have inspired de
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Paperback, Great Ideas, 106 pages
Published September 6th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 50)
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Glenn Russell

The great Roman philosopher, statesman, dramatist Seneca ( BC 4 – AD 64) wrote many letters encouraging friends to apply themselves to the task of living a free, wise, tranquil and joyful life. ‘On the Shortness of Life’ is one of my personal favorites since Seneca, ever the true eclectic, brilliantly draws from the various streams of ancient wisdom: Stoic, Epicurean, Platonic, Skeptic, and Cynic, as he addresses some of the most important questions we face as humans. Below are several quotes al
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Sara
It is amazing how something written so long ago can have such relevance today. I found this essay really inspiring.

here is a good quote:

"Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it
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Priyanka
Haven’t we found ourselves, at some point or the other, wondering how we are not given enough time in which to live. But is this really true? Or are we just gripped by an insatiable greed and a laborious dedication to useless tasks mistakenly calling them productivity and a busyness which is nothing but the surest distraction from living.

“… you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply – though all the while that very day which
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Frankie
This is, so to speak, Seneca the Younger's greatest hits album. The first "On the Shortness of Life" is probably his most popular, but I prefer the last "On Tranquillity of Mind". I realize there has been some apprehension for Seneca because of his supposed dissipation and association with Nero. I simply don't believe these details are historically accurate. Not only is history written by the victors, and we all know of what distortions the Roman empire was capable, but being on the staff of a d ...more
Kevin
Mar 09, 2015 Kevin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Ancient Greco-Roman Stoic devotees or anyone else who thinks they might not live forever
This is a very short book, really a collection of three letters. The first one is primarily cautioning a friend about getting caught up in "life" - meaning the demands and expectations placed on us, and the forum for empty ambitions that the business of the world provides - to the detriment of our contentment or long-term happiness. A classic analogy from this letter is that one who is old has not really necessarily lived long, any more than one who embarks on a ship and is tossed around on the ...more
André Bueno
I really like this read. I compiled some of my favorite quotes and organized them by order of importance, in my opinion of course. My favorite ones follow:

“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire”

“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which y
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Ryan Holiday
As a general rule, avoid any translation of a classic work that comes up with its own new title. It normally means that the author is trying to appeal to contemporary readers more than the spirit of the original work. They'd rather have some catchy name than describe it as the anthology it actually is. This was the reason I was skeptical of reading On the Shortness of Life since Seneca wrote no such collection (it's the title of one of his essays) but I was thankfully proven wrong. Although ther ...more
Rebecca Washecheck
I was wary of this, as a sexily recovered, retitled thing that looks like something you'd read on a train to look clever--but it really is a wholesome anthology of 3 essays and letters from the justly beloved Seneca.

Deeply satisfying and soothing advice, tremendously timeless (if you set aside issues like forums and slaves, or find a good metaphor to translate these), and as peaceful as watching The Frugal Gourmet was when I was tiny--I feel like Seneca is the sage parent we all wish we had, wh
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Mario Tomic
Nearly every sentence of this book could be a quote for an inspirational poster. It's one of the best books I've read on the value of ones time, Stoicism in general is one of my favorite philosophy schools especially Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. Definitely check out this book, it's easy to read and understand while still being so powerful. I've read it 2 times in a row just because there's so much value concentrated in such a short book.
Aaron Wolfson
Hiding behind my copy of On the Shortness of Life

This set of three essays by Seneca has been on my list for a long time. A death in the family moved me to buy it and read it now.

But the titular essay isn't really about death at all. It's about this:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.


The key to understanding Seneca's thesis is the phrase, "highest achievements." Seneca ge
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Louis
Seneca here pleas for people to consider how much time (or rather how little) a common life holds and points out how people find safety in postponing everything from minor plans to massive dreams.

The text, filled with on the one hand plain language but on the other metaphors and other figures of speech, provides the reader with the sound advice of not living in the past nor the future but in the here and now, to act upon ideas today rather than tomorrow. Rather than resting vague and superficia
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Ananya
Jan 07, 2015 Ananya rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Ananya by: Ryan Holiday
"You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire".

First book of the year. Thought provoking. Quite like digging an archaeological site and discovering gems.
Dan
This short essay on the shortness of life was written in 49 AD by Seneca to his friend Paulinus, but it could just as well have been written today. Man has still not learned to stop wasting his most precious resource; time.

"It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good ac
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John
Wow, a recommendation from a friend that blew my hair back. Great book!
Tanay
Just as I was about to finish typing a lengthy review of this book, I accidentally closed my browser -- aargh! Too soon Fortune, too soon!

I discovered Seneca after reading a few quotations from the first essay, 'On the Shortness of Life', which were featured on Brain Pickings. Having no prior acquaintance with Roman or Greek philosophy, I dove into the first few pages enthusiastically. But soon, I felt encumbered by an uneasy impression - it was feeling more of a rant. But then again, Seneca's
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Jeremy
Seneca - an important stoic - wrote 'on the shortness of life' in the first century A.D. Firstly I will outline what he says, then I'll briefly state my agreements and disagreements.

He comes down on the reader without restraint - time is the most precious thing we have, it is irreplaceable and priceless yet people just barter it away. When we squander our life away doing unimportant things we effectively shorten our life-span.
"The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of exis
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Yulenka
Apr 30, 2015 Yulenka rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Yulenka by: Braydon
My friend bought this book for me and it's probably one of the best book recommendations I've had in a while. It's just filled with life lessons, and titbits of applicable advice. Although at times the anecdotes are a little thick to wade through, the overarching ideas and themes are sound.
I wouldn't have expected a book like this (just because I tend to not read this genre of literature) to change the way I thought about time and life, but it did.

Good read to take notes on and discuss. Actual
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Fraser
Jan 02, 2010 Fraser added it
Ah, the stoics... I do love the Romans, regardless of their faults, and their equanimity is always reassuring. These three essays/letters by Seneca are the perfect sort of thing to read at the start of the New Year, pondering how it is that we can get the most satisfaction from the time we are given. Seneca's answer? Relax. Stop worrying so much about getting rich and famous and popular. Instead, do what you must - and then, philosophize. Humans have three times: the past, the present, and the f ...more
Ben
Thoroughly enjoyed this. Familiar sounding people and incidents found in this book. Reinforced convictions I already held and taught me several new ones.
Amy Alkon
I've long valued the thinking of the Stoic philosopher Seneca (along with his fellow stoic Epictetus), but the additionally wonderful thing about this book is the form it comes in. Beautifully done little paperback edition by Penguin with an inlaid-print cover -- only about $7 new at Amazon.
Nada Sadek
"People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy."
Lucas
Um dos livros mais belos, importantes, e transformadores que eu já li. É bem curtinho (na verdade é uma carta) , e escrito há 2000 anos, mas muito, muito atual.

"É portanto evidente que não seja apenas curta, mas também muito infeliz a vida daqueles que a preparam com grande trabalho e que só a podem conservar com esforços maiores ainda. Adquirem penosamente aquilo que desejam, possuem com apreensão o que adquiriram, Enquanto isso, não se dão conta do tempo que não voltará, novas preocupações sub
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Simon
Astonishingly contemporary and timeless thoughts on how to lead a happy life, what makes life worth living, and what ambitions to refrain from. Time and again I lingered on well articulated ideas.
Here are two quotes that may about summarize the book:
"Let us learn to increase our self-restraint, to curb luxury, to moderate ambition, to soften anger, to regard poverty without prejudice, to practise frugality , even if many are ashamed of it, to apply to nature’s needs the remedies that are cheaply
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Katty
As I was buying a Starbucks coffee one day, the cashier spotted me holding On the Shortness of Life and eagerly praised it. "It's like a balm for life," he claimed. "Perfect for anyone dealing with anxiety."

As someone who's in a long, tumultuous relationship with anxiety and is typically hell-bent on graduating from college, building a career, and attempting to win at life, Seneca's philosophy resonated with me. The crux of the argument is that we become overly preoccupied and waste too much ti
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Fraser Kinnear
This book has three essays, the first of which is On The Shortness of Life. The middle essay is a letter to his mother essentially consoling her, and was the least interesting. The third essay is basically about stoicism and went on a bit too long, but had some gems for me criticizing people who collected book collections without reading them.

On The Shortness of Life is good, but I disagreed with a lot of his sentiment. Seneca seems to disregard a lot of productive uses of one's time (namely, ho
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Alberto Jacobo Baruqui
No es breve la vida, nosotros la abreviamos.
Las ocupaciones inútiles, los vicios, el tiempo desperdiciado, las vanalidades laborales roban una parte del precioso tiempo del que contamos.
Aceptemos con buen ánimo todo lo que se ha de padecer por la constitución del universo; estamos sujetos a la obligación de soportar las condiciones de la vida mortal y no perturbarnos por lo que no esta en nuestro poder evitar...

Es el juicio y tesis de este filósofo Cordovés sobre la vida y la famosa frase " la
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Michael William West
There's nothing I like more than charm. Some people I've met are averse to it, believing it the most heinous kind of insincerity and malicious Machiavellian emotional scheming. Either way I like to be charmed and Seneca knows just what to say: essentially that time doesn't really exist, sitting around reading all day is the greatest thing a human can do, and if it seems like everyone else in the world is completely stupid, it's because they actually are. I do think these Penguin Great Ideas seri ...more
Nelson Rosario
For some reason I had difficulty reviewing this book. It's not that I am short of things to say, or that I don't like the book (I loved it and really wanted to give it 5 stars), but I'm not sure what to highlight.

The book is divided into three letters that Seneca wrote. In the letters Seneca reflects on what a good life means. The examples he takes from history, and the hypothetical situations he offers, show what isn't a good life. I think the reason I may not be able to give the book five sta
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Petr Herold
What a timeless book. Seneca's wisdom is incredibly relevant. No matter if he speaks of exile, friendship, greed and wealth, food or outlook on life, it's all mind-boggling how useful it seems even two thousand years later. It shows how we never change. Sure, our environment changes thanks to our ability to cumulate education and information, but we as humans, our minds, don't change. Humanity and its perks are still the same and probably always will be. Worth reading slowly and cautiously.
Tracey
Jan 10, 2015 Tracey rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2015
A clear and fluent translation which makes this, essentially three essays on how to live, a pleasure to read. Whether Seneca lived by his own advice, we don't know, but there is much here that would be good advice today.
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Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca) (ca. 4 BC – 65 AD) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero. While he was later forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors, he may ...more
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“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire” 150 likes
“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. ... The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” 120 likes
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