Though Seneca was an old man’s philosopher, young readers can benefit a lot from his letters. While I disagreed with some of his views on conservativeThough Seneca was an old man’s philosopher, young readers can benefit a lot from his letters. While I disagreed with some of his views on conservative living, many others would have helped me mature faster when I was young and restless. Particularly the letters about moderation, patience, and friendship:
“Enjoy present pleasures in such a way as not to injure future ones.”
“All this hurrying from place to place won’t bring you any relief, for you’re traveling in the company of your own emotions, followed by your troubles all the way.”
“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.”
Insights like these are in great abundance through the book, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees with them. Others, however, were more questionable. I found his insights on exercise and limiting ones reading material detrimental to personal growth. Personally, nothing changed my life for the better more than exercise did. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. However, I’m not 60+ years old like Seneca was, living in opulence under the influence of a crazed emperor like Nero. Things would sure be different walking in his shoes!
Secondly, while I do feel that some books should be returned to from time to time, reading only a select few over the course of one’s life would become stale and dogmatic. In another letter he says, “The more a mind takes in the more it expands”. Well, what better way to do this than by reading a variety of materials? He seems to contradict himself there, but to be fair it’s the only time he does so among the hoards of his healthy axioms. (Side note- as a testament to its greatness, this is probably one of the books I'll be re-reading in the future.)
Many of these axioms have relationships with eastern thought, such as the ones seen in Buddhist teachings. He writes about the release of desire as a means of achieving wholeness in a world that causes imbalance with all its temptations. I don’t know if the Buddhists and Stoics ever came into contact during ancient times, but if they did they might have thrown quite a, um, *subdued* toga party....more
Man, Kurt Vonnegut might have been the bleakest dude to come out of the war generation. I wouldn't be surprised to see his picture next to the definitMan, Kurt Vonnegut might have been the bleakest dude to come out of the war generation. I wouldn't be surprised to see his picture next to the definition of a "pessimist" somewhere....more
In short, this is a book about life. All of us have things that hold us back. In the protagonist Philip’s case they are his clubbed-foot and the lackIn short, this is a book about life. All of us have things that hold us back. In the protagonist Philip’s case they are his clubbed-foot and the lack of guidance he had growing up. Born an orphan and raised by an uncle who never paid him much attention, the impressionable Philip must learn the hard facts of life on his own.
Early on he drifts from study to study, including art and accounting, unbound to any particular discipline due to the fact that each sacrifice of freedom they require makes him uncomfortable. He finally settles on becoming a doctor in his late 20s, but by then he has grown helplessly infatuated with a wretched woman who uses his kindness to get what she wants. The paradox is that he unconsciously becomes bonded to something so hideous that it compromises his judgement after all the drifting he’d done. His attachment to Mildred, which marks the first time in his life when he gave up his progress for someone’s happiness, ultimately made him miserable in all the ways he’d feared. The decision to be constantly forgiving and benevolent to her inspite of all her scandalous ways, suggests that the bonds of the heart are stronger than those of the mind, at least in Philip’s case. When this happens reason takes a back seat to obsession, and for that he is doomed to figure out why his philosophy has crumbled just beyond reaching adulthood.
As a grown man Philip yearns to travel, but once he meets another woman- one who treats him in all the ways Mildred should have- the broken bones of his childhood are finally able to heal. The losses that had caused him to drift from place to place in uncertainty slowly become mended, and he begins to find true meaning in a happiness caused by his decision to finally love a deserving person. It could be said that his bondage with Mildred was a lustful one, while the one with Sally was truly based on love, which I believe is what most of us are trying to find in life.
Somerset Maugham took this simplest of human conditions and created a masterpiece in the genre of coming-of-age classics. Though written over a hundred years ago, it’s still an easy read by today’s standards. There are many tangents on art and philosophy, all of which I found enjoyable, but may be a hindrance to a lesser humanist. Philip’s troubles seemed to run parallel with a lot of the issues I had growing up, so that’s given it some extra sentimental value, as I’m sure it has to many other young men. Reading this at age 30, it’s comforting to know that he finally found things in life worth settling on. I can only hope the novel has the same affect on other readers....more