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On the Shortness of Life

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  2,218 ratings  ·  194 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

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
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
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
Oct 26, 2007 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" - that is, 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 the 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 ...more
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
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
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
Wow, a recommendation from a friend that blew my hair back. Great book!
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
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
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
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
Thoroughly enjoyed this. Familiar sounding people and incidents found in this book. Reinforced convictions I already held and taught me several new ones.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Seneca is one of the greatest Roman stoic philosophers. This book is very readable and very profound. (Be careful —he may inspire you to get sell all your stuff and live a Spartan life (no pun intended)).

While the principles discussed are secular, the book reads more like easy-to-read scripture. I highly recommend to everyone who needs a solid grounding in reality, remembering what's most important.

Seneca makes a spirited attack on materialism and the pains that come with it. While I don't agree
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."
Purnacandra Sivarupa
Of all the many books often seen on tables in bookstores with signs saying "PERFECT FOR GRADS", it's a wonder that a few true classics never find their way there: Bhagavad-Gita, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, and, of course, On the Shortness of Life. I suppose they aren't conducive enough to existence as a temporary cog. Seneca in particular goes far in reminding us that the better we play the role of cog, the ...more
Miguel Mayher
This is not a book to read once.

This is a book to have by your bedside. To peak at every day. To assimilate.

Seneca's words are like darts: precise, accurate, carefully thrown. The subject matter of his essay is inevitably timeless. Until we find a cure for mortality that is, but even then his advice is solid like a rock.

Buy today. Read it (it's very short!). And make it a practice to remind yourself of the wise words of this roman philosopher.

Your life will gain in depth and dignity.
Ambrose Chi
Seneca spoke a lot of sense, and I really loved one of the things he said about Time, which goes like this:

'Men trifle with the most precious thing in the world; but they are blind to it because it is an incorporeal thing, because it does not come beneath the sight of the eyes, and for this reason it is counted a very cheap thing - nay, of almost no value at all. Men set very great store by pensions and doles, and for these they hire out their labour or service or effort. But no one sets a valu
Clara Mazzi
Interessante, ma troppo soggettivo. Oppure: l'idea di fondo di Seneca, di quello che intende lui con "vivere bene la vita" non incontra il mio assenso. Non è vero che tutte le esperienze ci derubano di tempo prezioso, da dedicare a noi stessi, quel tempo che ci serve per arricchirci interiormente e farci vivere più a lungo, in quanto spendiamo meglio la nostra vita. Ritengo che ciascuna esperienza, se vissuta con accettazione e di conseguenza passione ed interesse, siano fondamentali per il nost ...more
Liz Polding
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. A prompt to reflection and as relevant now as it was when it was written. Leaving aside the slavery issue, which is unavoidable in any book of this period, but always grates horribly, this is a reminder of the importance of a balanced life. Seneca advocates the avoidance of excess and greed and points out the importance of living your life, not squandering it or becoming so preoccupied that you suddenly realise that years have vanished and you have no idea what y ...more
A good reminder of the mortality of life, which humans try stupidely to forget about. Although the book, I guess, was written in 1 A.D. but the contained message is never old.

While reading, I felt every single line, but the ones that touched me the most was:

"It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of 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 inves
Will Stokeley
Like Seneca, I will try to keep this brief.

This is a wonderful series of three essays.

The first is a treatise on the shortness of life. It is Seneca's call to action - not to watch our days slipping idly by, nor to waste time on those who don't deserve it. It is, he argues, our most precious resource, but the one we are the most profligate with. This part is excellently written and contains some gems of Stoic Philosophy. However, I agree with most other commentators that Senca's argument for the
Julio Escobar
Este libro antiquísimo, escrito por Séneca para Paulino, enfocado a la pérdida de tiempo y a lo efímero de nuestra vida, me lo molesto tanto porque cada capítulo me hacía sentir que algo estoy haciendo mal, me enfade con las reprimendas, me sentí estúpido por leerlo, pero sabía que sería peor no continuar...Lo irónico que Séneca critica a los previsores, pero en sí eso fue él al escribir el libro. ¿Puede haber algo más estúpido que la actitud de algunos,me refiero a esos hombres que presumen de ...more
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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
More about Seneca...
Letters from a Stoic Medea Four Tragedies and Octavia The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters Phaedra

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“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire” 109 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.” 98 likes
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