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On the Shortness of Life

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  6,163 Ratings  ·  544 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
Paperback, Great Ideas, 106 pages
Published September 6th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 50)
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Glenn Russell
Dec 06, 2014 Glenn Russell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Bill  Kerwin

Now that I've read a few philosophical essays by Seneca the Younger, I am inclined to believe every bad thing I have ever heard about him.

Before this, I've cut him some slack. Sure, he—along with his cronies, one of whom was Burrus, prefect of the Praetorian Guard—ruled Rome during his pupil Nero's young manhood, but the edicts and laws of this period are much more humane than the bloody despotic measures which followed. True, his The Pumpkinification of Claudius—a vicious satire attacking the n
Abubakar Mehdi
Nov 08, 2015 Abubakar Mehdi rated it liked it
This is an excellent philosophical essay written by Seneca, one of the most significant Roman philosophers and one whom we might call the father of Stoicism.
The problem is simple, we are never content and happy with our lives and at the end we think it was too short. The solution is even simpler; we must start living today. We must find pleasure in today rather then burn the midnight’s oil for a better tomorrow. Seneca is very pissed off on those who waste their present, for the sake of past or
May 31, 2016 Pavle rated it liked it
Shelves: džep-toalet-bus
Po svemu sudeći, Seneka je bio nešto kao lajf kouč antičkog Rima.

Jedan od osnivača stoicizma, njegova filozofija je vrlo zdravorazumska i uglavnom se svodi, barem u esejima prisutnim u ovoj knjižici, na pokušaj razumevanja ljudskog odnosa prema vremenu i sopstvenim životima. Iako mu je svaka apsolutno na mestu, a glas elokventan i nekako nežan, ne mogu da kažem da sam nešto oduševljen, pošto te ideje uglavnom ne pripadaju baš naročito visoko intelektualnom spektru filozofije. Kao što rekoh, sas
Nov 30, 2012 Frankie rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 22, 2015 Priyanka rated it it was amazing
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
André Bueno
Feb 19, 2015 André Bueno rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
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
Wiebke (1book1review)
This was super interesting and fascinating how much is still true today. I had many thoughts which I explain in a rather long video for such a short book, so forgive me for just linking that here. (7:34)
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 activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wastef ...more
Ryan Holiday
Jul 05, 2012 Ryan Holiday rated it really liked it
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
Feb 02, 2011 Rebecca Washecheck rated it it was amazing
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
Mario Tomic
Oct 07, 2014 Mario Tomic rated it it was amazing
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.
Nick Klagge
Jul 05, 2015 Nick Klagge rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. As so often happens on Goodreads with books I really loved, I waited forever to write the review because I felt like I really needed time to do it justice; unsurprisingly, the result is that I now have less access to the specifics of the book than if I had just written the damn thing right away.

I bought this book on a total whim. I was in New York for business, and had brunch with my brothers and sister in law the morning before my flight. I had a little time to kill be
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
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
Oct 07, 2015 Iamjudgedredd rated it it was amazing
A short, sweet read. This was my first foray into stoicism and I felt that Seneca made some excellent points. This was one of the first books in a long time that made me want to get up and grab a pencil and underline somethings and make annotations. The wisdom contained in this volume is relatively simple, and sometimes common sense stuff; hearing it said so plainly yet eloquently however made it resonate with me. I would recommend.
Graham Mumm
Jan 09, 2016 Graham Mumm rated it it was amazing
Shelves: yearly-reads
This is a book everyone should read at least once a year. Don't let the little time you have slip away...

“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today… The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”
Jan 07, 2015 Ananya rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 06, 2012 John rated it it was amazing
Wow, a recommendation from a friend that blew my hair back. Great book!
May 06, 2011 Jeremy rated it really liked it
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
Jan 07, 2016 Paul rated it really liked it
I enjoyed taking in this advice a lot and chose some quotes I highlighted from the book for this review. Ironically, however, this was the first book that I read from start to finish on a mobile device. Take from that what you will.

What I liked about this is that, for an essay written 2000 years ago in another language, it was very readable. For instance, the following long-ish quote:

"It was once a foible confined to the Greeks to inquire into what number of rowers Ulysses had, whether the Iliad
May 06, 2015 Tanay rated it really liked it
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
Dec 29, 2015 Mike rated it really liked it

It is more difficult for us to attain leisure from ourselves than from the law, Seneca writes, noting that the law does not draft a soldier after the age of fifty, nor call a man to the Senate after the age of sixty. The specifics may vary, depending on time and place, but his point is well-taken: we do not use our time wisely. Those of us who are ‘engrossed’, Seneca says, move passively from entertainment to entertainment; but when there is no gladiatorial spectacle scheduled, no fine banquet t
Oeystein Hanssen
Nov 03, 2015 Oeystein Hanssen rated it really liked it
Shelves: reread, philisophy
Any man can achieve tranquility of mind and live a happy life. He does not need any equipment for living a good life, because it is his mind that creates his wealth, not things money can buy him. Additionally, he has prepared himself in advance for any coming conflict, and will easily withstand it. This man will have a sufficient amount of time living, and when death finally arrives, he will welcome it.

But most people are not like the man mentioned above. Most people are what Seneca calls the pr
Ivan Damjanović
Dec 07, 2015 Ivan Damjanović rated it it was ok
Ovo < Epiktetov Enchiridion i.m.o. Seneka ovdje propagira ponešto kontradiktorne stvari: ljubav, vježbanje vrlina, zaborav strasti, spoznaju o životu i smrti te život u dubokom spokojstvu. Također, njegov najbolji učenik kontradiktira po nekim pitanjima njemu (što je, naravno, pozitivno). Ali… kao da ima previše irelevantnih i zastarjelih primjera (a čuj, it’s been a while) o tome što da se ne radi, a premalo o tome što da se radi. Evo, navrat-nanos nekih od misli, zatvara se knjižnica: nema ...more
Vincent Russo
Jan 02, 2016 Vincent Russo rated it it was amazing
It's enlightening to realize that so many of the things that Seneca talks about thousands of years ago still rings true today. The first and third portions of this book are by far my favorite. Seneca argues that life is not short if you spend the duration of it correctly. As Seneca puts it:

"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 an
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
Nov 15, 2014 Daniel rated it really liked it
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
Oct 30, 2016 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some parts were great, and others dragged on. Overall I am glad I read it.
Some of my favourite quotes in the book include:

"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."

"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."

"Life is long, if you kno
Aug 10, 2016 Mario rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Si este libro se enseñara detalladamente en escuelas y colegios el mundo sería en definitiva un lugar mucho, mucho mejor.
"Vemos que has llegado al término final de una vida humana, alcanzas los cien años o más allá: ea, haz que tu vida eche las cuentas. De ese tiempo extrae cuánto se ha llevado el acreedor, cuánto la querida, cuánto el patrono, cuánto el cliente, cuánto el pleito con la esposa, cuánto los desplazamientos por la ciudad para atender compromisos; añade las enfermedades que artific
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  • The Inner Life
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  • How to Achieve True Greatness
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  • Of Human Freedom
  • On the Suffering of the World (Penguin Great Ideas)
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  • Sensation and Sex
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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” 270 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.” 236 likes
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