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Midlife: A Philosophical Guide

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  737 ratings  ·  119 reviews
Philosophical wisdom and practical advice for overcoming the problems of middle age

How can you reconcile yourself with the lives you will never lead, with possibilities foreclosed, and with nostalgia for lost youth? How can you accept the failings of the past, the sense of futility in the tasks that consume the present, and the prospect of death that blights the future? In
Hardcover, 189 pages
Published October 3rd 2017 by Princeton University Press
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Antonio Nunez
Dec 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Kieran’s book on how to cope with midlife crisis was a Godsend for me.

It is hard not to fall into self-biography when considering midlife crisis. When I was about to turn 40 I was worried about what that would mean for me. Initially nothing happened. As my fifth decade advanced I became increasingly aware of my own mortality, as my father and my two grandmothers died and my son grew at a scarily quick pace. Even though I had no major health concerns, unexpected conditions started to pop up. Whe
Nick Klagge
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book of modern philosophy. A year or more ago, my dad (a philosophy professor) sent me a link to Setiya's essay "The Midlife Crisis" (, which is the seed of this book. I greatly enjoyed the essay, and looked forward to the book version when I found out it was in the works.

I'm 32, so probably at the very young end of what anyone would consider middle-aged. (My dad expressed some shock when this came up in my update feed!) But the ideas
Liz Mc2
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I found this philosophical self-help/self-helpish work of philosophy on the perils of midlife quite charming. Satiya tackles major questions of midlife (or any time of life) like whether what we do has value, regret for missed paths/wrong choices, mortality, being trapped on the project treadmill, and considers how philosophy can help us answer or cope with them. The pleasure is more in the journey, the discussion of the ideas, than in the conclusions, which are unsurprising: mindfulness can hel ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Life is engulfed within a paradox. Kierkegaard gets this best of all. I don’t think the author mentions Kierkegaard but he does mention many other philosophers and uses them to provide context for his telling of a midlife reassessment that is not necessarily characterized as a crisis. He’ll quote Kant to the effect that philosophy is most interested in three questions: 1) what can we know, 2) what should we do, and 3) what is deserving of our hopes? The author always has those questions in the b ...more
Jason Pettus
2020 reads, #3. DID NOT FINISH. This slim book is exactly what it advertises itself to be, a guide to the things that famous philosophers have said over the centuries on the issue of middle-age, so I'm not sure why it surprised me to find this out. It just wasn't quite my cup of tea, so I opted out early. ...more
Apr 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
Abandoned 44 pages in.
Apr 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Best for:
Those who enjoy a philosophical approach to things, and those who are approaching middle age.

In a nutshell:
Philosopher Kieran Setiya, as he approached mid-life, decided to explore ways philosophy might help him power through — or even stave off — a crisis.

Worth quoting:
“I recognize the luxury of the midlife crisis, with a degree of guilt and shame. Why can’t I be more grateful for what I have? But this is my life.”
“There is consolation in the fact that missing out is an inexorable side
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
philosophical and personal exploration of the challenges typically associated with midlife

suggestions on how to understand and address feelings of lack of purpose, regrets for decisions made and opportunities not pursued, and growing realisation of our own mortality

interesting exploration of decisions or events that may have caused pain or are causing regret, yet if we had the opportunity to live over would likely repeat, due to interconnected dependencies for other aspects of our lives

have a se
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Setiya is witty and erudite, and the tips that he gleans for making the most out of mid-life--focusing on others, prioritizing existentially satisfying activities rather than merely remunerative ones, examining the specific terrain of your life rather than dreaming of other roads not traveled, accepting that love (both self-love and the love of friends and family) requires letting go, and treating the projects that shape your life as processes rather than goals (atelic rather than telic). He dra ...more
Dec 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kieran Setiya lives up to the title of his book – he provides a philosophical guide for dealing with a midlife crisis, at the center of which he finds himself aged 40.
I read this at the midway point of age 39, so I couldn’t help feel that I am in the sweet spot of his target readership. While I am not suffering a ‘midlife crisis’, I extracted a lot of value from what Setiya has to say. Perhaps my takeaways from this book will be a pre-emptive strike against a future midlife crisis.
Setiya draws
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I thought this is a really interesting and well-written book: I like how Setiya approaches the topic of 'midlife' through a philosophical "lense". In his work, he suggests other ways we might think about a phase of life that is often associated with having a "crisis" (including where we are at a particular point in our lives -- sometimes questioning our past decisions, wondering whether we "should" have 'taken other roads' (for example, in the arenas of career, relationships, etc.))

He encourages
Jacob Williams
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
That is what I believe about philosophy. It could not survive without philosophers whose commitment to answering the most recalcitrant questions leads them into difficulty. But for all its disputes, uncertainties, and complications, academic philosophy has much to offer almost anyone in the midst of living, and wondering how to live, a human life.

What this book offers: thought-provoking discussions
What not to expect: firm solutions

I appreciate Setiya’s attempt to apply philosophy to practical co
Jane Costanza
Nov 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Heavy on philosophy which for me was hard to follow. The part that spoke to me the most was the last chapter regarding those who hit midlife and wonder at the futility of it all - after having completed milestones, accomplishments, projects, etc. His solution for this is to think with a more atelic mindset instead of telic, that is, think process and less project. Value the process. The other thing I got from it is how rigorous philosophy is as a study. I don't know much about it, but it is both ...more
If I might offer a simpler therapeutic: get over yourself.
Nov 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
A guide to navigating mid-life crises and a primer on thinking like a philosopher, all wrapped into one neat little book. The final chapter on atelism feels incomplete without any mention of of flow, autotelic personalities, and the grandaddy of all of this: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. But, an enlightening and wonderful read overall.
Dec 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
A kind of philosophical self-help book. Some interesting ideas on how to tackle existential questions. Interesting read overall.
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good example of philosophy made real. Asks important questions and gives wise answers rooted in a number of philosophical traditions. Well worth reading.
Jericho Eames
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
TL;DR enjoy doing things that have no end so you will always do them and not have to think about what is next for you. I'm bad at summarizing big ideas. ...more
Ken Hamner
Feb 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Midlife sounds like it’s going to be complicated and dramatic. I hope I don’t get there for a long time.
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
Ugh! I had forgotten how sterile philosophy is. I found the application of "logic" to real life problems completely unpersuasive. If I am resentful and nostalgic about a path not taken, for example, he applies philosophic principals arguing that without that path, the reality as I know it now would not exist and that somehow is supposed to help me give up the nostalgia/resentment, etc. Didn't work for me. ...more
Andrew Shaffer
Philosophers: They don’t know shit, either. 😭
Nov 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Midlife: A Philosophical Guide (2017) by Kieran Setiya presents a philosophical view of midlife and the author's musing on his own life. Setiya is professor at MIT who is married and has a child. It's relevant because his view of midlife is one from substantial success.

The book first presents a history of the midlife crisis and then look at the various reasons people often enter in a malaise in their forties. Fear of missing, regrets and pondering what to look forward to all feature.

The book poi
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book at MIT Press bookstore, where the half-full glass cover caught my eye. Coming from a prof of philosophy, it was easy to make a subject like this tedious and overwhelming. Kieran does just the opposite - the writing is compelling, cogent and simple.

I’ve complained of midlife crisis since the age of 16 😬 Which is probably more of an existential crisis, that waxes and wanes with time and situation.

There are multiple ideas presented in the book, but the central notion that sto
Sara Budarz
Years ago I taught a class that covered everything from Plato to Kant and Schopenhauer and beyond, and I will forever remember that class as thrilling and terrifying and oh so rewarding for the sheer fact that it forced me to try to not only make sense of the philosophies for myself, but rather required that I understood them so well that I was able to distill their essence to my students, and for anyone who has ever grappled with philosophy, this isn't an easy task.
And that is perhaps precisely
Himanshu Goyal
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Kieran Setiya's Midlife – A Philosophical Guide

Got it at best price from:

Philosophical wisdom and practical advice for overcoming the problems of middle age How can you reconcile yourself with the lives you will never lead, with possibilities foreclosed, and with nostalgia for lost youth? How can you accept the failings of the past, the sense of futility in the tasks that consume the present, and the prospect of death that blights the future? In this self
Vanessa Princessa
I loved this little book. Curious topic. Very nicely written.

I read it thanks to Blinkist.

The key message in the book:

Midlife presents challenges, but it doesn’t have to dismay us. Learning to deal with regret, find time for pleasures, and appreciate the atelic can help to offset some of our middle-aged angst.

Actionable advice: Savor the rich details of reality, rather than the outlines of imagined alternatives.

If you’re still dogged by regrets and a tendency to second-guess your life choices, t
Two Readers in Love
This slim volume is like a greatest hits collection of some recent favorites on my reading list (Joshua Ferris, Stephan Batchelor, Susan Neiman, Irving Yalom) and it also introducing me to "The One Cake, the Only Cake" by Andrew Miller and the mid-life stand-up of Stuart Lee ("If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One"). So, for me this book certainly had existential as well as ameliorative value, with the added atelic bonus that I enjoyed many moments of inspired wool-gathering along ...more
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book is definitely heavy on the "philosophy" and that can make it a tough slog at times. That being said, in the majority of the chapters, the author is able to convey his insights in a way that resonates with the non-philosopher. There's also a very nice six page summary at the end of the book where he revisits his major points and suggestions. The book definitely put a deeper spin on the mid-life crisis concept for me. His ultimate conclusion is that to move past the mid-life doldrums, on ...more
Sep 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Kieran Setiya used an interesting bibliography in the creation of Midlife A Philosophical Guide. His book was a somewhat helpful read based on the author's well thought out ideas on midlife and the midlife crisis. It his heartfelt effort to glean a meaningful philosophy about midlife for himself and others because the subject had not been covered previously in a philosophical way. Being a philosopher, he strove for personal understanding via a favorite filter and hoped that it might do the same ...more
Denise K.
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: most-favorites
Yet another memorable tome of 2020. This book, which I purchased on a whim one morning when I was feeling blue at turning 40 (who wouldn't feel that way, given the truths of this year?!) has exceeded my expectations. Kieran Setiya was the absolute perfect person to walk me through the birthday blues. I was desperate for something ...not cheesy or self-helpy, but able to teach me a thing or two about how to leave youth behind.
Full disclosure, it's been ages since I read real philosophy — the kin
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