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The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  3,436 ratings  ·  404 reviews
**International Bestseller**

For the first time an award-winning Harvard professor shares his wildly popular course on classical Chinese philosophy, showing you how these ancient ideas can guide you on the path to a good life today.

Why is a course on ancient Chinese philosophers one of the most popular at Harvard?

It’s because the course challenges all our modern assumptions
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published April 5th 2016 by Simon Schuster (first published 2016)
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Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Good News From the East

The Path, like the Harvard lectures on which it is based, is exceptionally popular for a book of its kind - on the face of it an esoteric philosophy which doesn’t offer self-help so much as the re-definition of what constitutes self. I suspect, however, that the reason for its appeal is not its ‘doctrines,’ of which it has none, but its offer of a sort of religion which has been lost in the West for almost two millennia. The Path outlines a religion of ethical and ritual h
This unusual gem is difficult to classify! It's easier to say what it's not: definitely not a dry philosophical tome or a comprehensive guide to ancient Chinese thinkers. Also not a run-of-the-mill, feel-good, self-help manual. Instead it answers a need that, as a parent and educator, I see all around me. Now that many of us are fortunate enough to have our basic needs met, we have the time and energy to think about the meaning of our lives - to worry about authenticity and purpose, and to try t ...more
The Path deals with two subjects I’m very interested in, Chinese history / philosophy and questioning how we should live, but sadly it left me distinctly uninspired.The arguments and advice do not work coherently throughout the book - I think it would have worked better to consider fewer philosophers but in more depth as the analysis of different schools of thought seemed pretty glancing. At times Chinese history was viewed through very rose tinted glasses, for example they promote Chinese legal ...more
Amy Sturgis
It's clear why the Harvard course upon which this book is based ranks among the best-loved classes at the university. This is a powerful and inspiring introduction to intellectual history text, and I was particularly impressed by the causal connections drawn between Chinese thought and the Enlightenment in the West. Including newbie-friendly discussions of Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, the anonymous text The Inward Training, Zhuangzi, and Xunzi that provide plenty of springboards for further/deeper ...more
♡ Kim ♡
Jan 28, 2016 marked it as own-will-read-soon
Shelves: arc, giveaway-wins
My kid opened my mail - sent me a picture of this book - and told me he read two pages and it is very good so far. :)
I knew almost nothing about Chinese philosophy, so an introduction like this was very welcome. Puett and Gross-Loh lead you through the thinking of the old Confucian masters. They do this in a very didactic way and contrast this thinking nicely with the way we look at things in the West. It was especially refreshing to have a completely different view than that of classical Buddhism; for as far as I have understood, Confucianism is much more focused on the real world, and also much more pragmati ...more
Seema Singh
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this. Simple concepts but powerful messages.
Julian Worker
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Path is a reference book I know I will return to over the years. I will read some of the reading suggestions from The Path (e.g. The Analects) and then return to The Path to make sure I have understood them correctly. The writing style is completely non-academic as the author wants the reader to understand the concepts rather than dazzling the reader with his academic knowledge. Academic writers who can do this are rare (e.g Frank Close) and should be treasured.
Justin Neville
2.5 stars

An ultimately disappointing book. It promises to change the reader's way of looking at life and thus transform how we live through highlighting the thinking of the ancient Chinese philosophers.

However, although the authors do accessibly summarise the approach of each of these key philosophers and try to place this within the context of our own 21st century lives, once you've read about each of them, that's the end of the book. Given that each of them had different approaches to offer, I
Mar 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is not what I expected- It's a really well written philosophy book that offers great day to day advice. I hate self help books cause they always seem either so obvious or don't really acknowledge how complicated life is, but The Path avoids both of those problems and is just really enlightening. So glad I read it. ...more
May 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
I was looking for an introductory book on Chinese philosophy this book seemed to be the right one.
Unfortunately, this book failed to provide sufficient historical information on the works and lives of the Chinese philosophers, moreover, the book could also not provide any satisfactory philosophical ideas, especially not about "the good life". Instead, the book turned into a typical american "how to be successful" kind of book with some references to Chinese philosophers.
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really recommend this one. I’m usually not a big fan of typical self-help books that wish to ‘change the way you think’ as a lot of them are patronising and ‘work’ only until you put the book down. However, I do enjoy quality pop philosophy and The Path is exactly that. Even though I should say I'm not an expert - I switched my Eastern Philosophy class to Hegel (why oh why did I ever do that) and can’t say I’ve encountered the original texts in an academic setting.

Take note that the book is qui
This is a short, stimulating book that offers an interesting perspective on the challenge of effectuating individual and societal change. Here in the West, we have been stuck in a linear, 'managerial' way of thinking. We routinely rely on the assumption that when we push button A, this will have predictable effect B. This is true for us individuals who are diligently working on our project of self-realisation, assuming that there is a stable, authentic core to our personality that is waiting to ...more
Jul 30, 2017 rated it liked it
A decent informal introduction to classical Chinese philosophy, but rather thin. I would recommend reading most of the thinkers presented here before looking at a treatment like this, simply because the originals are fairly accessible, especially Confucius and Mencius. Laozi and Zhuangzi are less so, but that is due to their mysticism rather than any inherent difficulty in reading them. It's not like reading Kant or Hegel. It's easy to see why Puett's class is so popular though -- he simplifies ...more
Apr 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An amazing book. I've already started rereading it. ...more
Jun 01, 2016 rated it liked it
3 1/2. Started out interesting, but stumbled and left me wanting more in terms of specifics.
Bernie Gourley
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in Chinese philosophy applied to today's world.
Shelves: wisdom
This book is organizationally and conceptually similar to a book by Edward Slingerland that I reviewed recently entitled “Trying Not to Try.” I’ll first discuss how the books are alike before differentiating them as I believe they are both worth reading. First, both books essentially look at how the ideas of ancient Chinese philosophers—both Confucian and Taoist—can be put into practice to improve one’s life in the modern world. Second, the heart of each work consists of chapters devoted to the ...more
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ideas
This book gave me a new perspective with which to view life's challenges. I gained lots of valuable insights from the Chinese way of viewing the world which is so different from the Western tradition. This book is mildly anti-Christian but I did not find it offensive. At one point the author used some politically-charged examples from the West to illustrate how a famous person was influential by being weak. These were interesting but a little bit challenging to listen to without resistance simpl ...more
Robert Day
Mar 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These things have been said:

- there is an unchangeable past
- this unchangeable past binds us
- there is a unified order to the cosmos
- we should adhere to this unified order
- we should follow a set of rational laws
- we should heed ethical doctrines.

Here's the thing: if you assumed none of these things to be true then you would change your nature and (probably) your whole life. Bear that in mind the next time you decide to do something (or not).

Let me know how you get on.

Here's how I'm getti
Sleepless Dreamer
May 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing

I love philosophy. In fact, I'm now celebrating a year since I decided to start studying philosophy. In my studies, I steered clear of Asian philosophy because it felt intimidating and I naively thought it had nothing to contribute next to Western philosophers.

I think it's a huge pity these philosophers aren't studied next to the Western ones. These ideas are mind-changing. They're a breath of fresh air, an answer to the flaws of Kant.

Philosophical clarity aside, I can see exactly how thes
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
An admixture of Chinese philosophy and self-help advice, with more weight on the latter. Written for a general audience, this book deploys Chinese thinking as a foil to expose pitfalls in Western thinking habits. Reading Mencius, for example, Puett tells readers to rethink the idea that "I can be anything I want to be," and instead adopt a new one: "I don't know yet what I can become."

For the disenchanted, rootless and pessimistic asking themselves the question "what's the point of it all?", thi
Laureen Hudson
May 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
There is a particular talent involved in being able to connect multiple centuries-old philosophies from a culture completely different from ours, and make them timely, relevant, and applicable. This is the kind of book that you read a few pages at a time, so as to take each nugget of wisdom out, and truly mull it over, to make life connections of your own.

I highly recommend the audiobook; listening to Puett and Gross-Loh read their own words lends emphasis to some things that reading the book d
Apr 18, 2016 rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book. And in some ways I found it of value and worth reading: the sections that deal with the ancient Chinese philosophers were very good. The authors bring these old thinkers to life, and they do a reasonably good job of explaining their philosophies.

But when the book veers into its stated purpose (i.e., to "teach us about the good life"), it becomes a poorly written and often incoherent self-help book. Neither of the authors is a psychologist, and it shows.

One ex
Maja Šoštarić
Apr 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This little book is such a gem. I discovered it by accident, at Harvard Book Store, where the author gave a talk. I knew him from before (praised as one of the most popular Harvard professors), having heard one of his lectures and thinking about it for months afterwards, and so I was very much looking forward to reading the book. It's nothing short of spectacular.
Michael Puett is such a wonderful human being (before being a wonderful lecturer and philosopher), and in my view, he is simply using
Apr 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
"But remember that who you think you are - and especially what you think is "you" when you are making decisions - is usually just a set of patterns you've fallen into. Just as you can become a pessimistic person simply because you think of yourself as pessimistic, you can make decisions that shape who you become, just because you think they reflect who you are. But when you do this, you bought yourself and before you even begun."

"Dying in shackles means failing to respond properly to what befall
Paul Ataua
Dec 01, 2016 rated it did not like it
Having come across mention of Michael Puett's course at Harvard so many times over the last year or so , I was so excited to find this book. Unfortunately, it was so totally disappointing. I am sure the university course must deal with the subject in a reasonable amount of depth, but this was diluted to the understanding of the least common denominator, and left me feeling emptiness of having just finished a poor self help manual. Gone was the critical edge that might have made it enjoyable. ...more
The Path by Michael Puett & Christine Gross-Loh – how to turn your life around

Can Harvard’s most popular professor (and Confucius) radically change your life?
Ying Ying
This book is very theoretical despite its claims to offer pragmatical advice. In over 200 pages long, tips that can actually be immediately applied to real life might be limited to 1-2. The book is an interesting read if you enjoy long lectures and have no idea of Chinese thinking, otherwise the book might be quite disappointing.
Apr 24, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

I thought this was interesting enough.

It was clearly written and there were lots of practical examples given to illustrate the different philosophers' views and approaches.

I knew very little about any of them. The one that I'm interested in finding out more about is Mencius

May 20, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I found this read via a LinkedIn article. Disappointing purchase, book was all over the place and lacked substance. Yadda, yadda, yadda to page 100, then a couple of unoriginal notions which stirred my interest...then nothing.
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“We tend to believe that to change the world, we have to think big. Confucius wouldn't dispute this, but he would likely also say. Don't ignore the small. Don't forget the "pleases" and "thank yous." Change doesn't happen until people alter their behavior, and they don't alter their behavior unless they start with the small.” 5 likes
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