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books miscellaneous

90 second book review: The Obstacle is the Way

I first heard of Stoic philosophy a little over a year ago.  It immediately appealed to me (another book I just started would say that was more intuition than reasoning, but that review will come later) and I downloaded a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (the link is to the translation that everyone says you should buy, not the one I read…will pick it up in one of my quarterly book buys eventually) on my Kindle.  I made it about halfway through and stopped.  Not sure whether it was the format, where and when I was trying to read it (intervals here and there throughout the day) or my mindset, but it just didn’t take.
Fast forward a few months and I picked up a copy of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy and this time it took.  Everything in Irvine’s book was clear and had just enough explanation that understood not only the what but the why,  I was able to go back shortly thereafter and finish Meditations in a few sittings.  I’m not sure I will read it yearly, but I do have a sense that it will be one that I revisit from time to time.
In this third book on stoicism, The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday gives his spin on Stoic ideals without getting bogged down in a lot of metaphysics or epistemology.  Holiday focuses on three main topics: perception, action and will.  His main thesis is if we can master these three aspects then we can live happy, directed and fulfilling lives.  While not exactly a “classic” grouping of stoic topics, he weaves the more traditional stoic practices such as negative visualization, accepting things as they are and present moment throughout.
The Obstacle is the Way was a quick read for me.  I read each of the three 60-70 page sections in a day or so.  Again, Holiday’s goal is not to construct an argument from base principles into a fully formed philosophy, but rather to simply describe how Stoicism looks and what it produces when its put into action.  He readily admits that there are plenty of other authors who have come before that do the former, so he spends his time providing a connection between these ancient ideas and the troubles of modern times.
If you are looking a complete and consistent justification about why Stoicism is a good way to live, you may want to look elsewhere.  If you are “fan of philosophy”, interested in Stoicism specifically, or even just want to figure out a better way to be, I highly recommend you pick up a copy and give it a read.  Looking at things from different perspectives is the first step at turning the obstacle into the way forward.

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