So, I've mentioned Derek before around these parts. He's a very sharp guy. Actually, I think his book reviews here - http://sivers.org/book - are basically the best on the internet.
You can get more nuanced, flowery, beautifully written reviews elsewhere. But you can't find as much raw distilled practicality as you will in Derek's reviewing. He takes notes and excerpts as he's reading, and puts his notes online when he's done with the book. 90% of one of his reviews are excerpts, with only 10% commentary.
This in and of itself is actually kind of rare, but other people do that too. What really sets Derek's reviews apart is that he picks the right stuff to excerpt. He's able to separate the fluffy parts of a book from the most actionable and impactful parts. A long, fluffy story that's meant to rouse the heart might get a single line in a Sivers review, but then he'll distill down the most practical elements into a mixed summary checklist that becomes extremely valuable. Since I personally look for practical advice rather than flowery emotional content, this suits me very well.
For instance, check out his review of Chet Holmes "Ultimate Sales Machine" - http://sivers.org/book/UltimateSalesMachine - first, I gotta agree with him on the 10/10. It's one of my top five favorite business books. But then look at how he chooses to excerpt -
TEN STEPS TO IMPLEMENT ANY NEW POLICY:
1. Get everyone to feel the pain
2. Hold a workshop to generate solutions
3. Develop a conceptual solution or procedure
4. Leader personally performs procedure or task
5. Set a deadline for testing the conceptual procedure
6. Document step-by-step procedure or process
7. Have show-and-tell role playing
8. Have another workshop on how to improve
9. Monitor the procedure directly
10. Measure and reward the outcome
"What if it took a little extra work in the beginning to gain this learning curve, but once you had it, would dramatically reduce many if not all of these challenges?"
People respect what you inspect.
Rewarding comes last.
Set very specific criteria for rewarding your team.
Make a big deal out of the reward process.
People work even harder for recognition than money.
Having read the book, there's a lot of things in that section. But then he picks out - I think - the most interesting and relevant and important quote in there to excerpt. A checklist of the steps that becomes a good summary of the content for people thinking of buying the book, and also serves as a good refresher for someone whose already read it. Then five of the key points from the end of the chapter... it's practical, no-nonsense, very good reviewing.
His newest review is on "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" - http://sivers.org/book/StoicJoy. That book looks awesome.
In case it wasn't obvious from "Give me Strife and Suffering (but in manageable doses)," "Chase Meaning, Not Happiness," and "Rule an Empire, a Fistful of Rice" - I'm also a devotee of Stoicism.
When I finally found the actual ancient philosophy of Stoicism from Antiquity, I felt like I'd found something I'd looked for for a very long time. Actually, my introduction to the basic tenets of Stoic philosophy didn't come from stoicism -I got it from Japan of all places. The philosophies of bushido are very similar to the stoics. The Budoshoshinsu, Eiji's Yoshikawa's Musashi, Mushashi's own Go Rin No Sho (Book of Five Rings), Yamamoto Tsunetomo's Hagakure... these have been important for my philosophy and ethics. Mushashi by Eiji Yoshikawa is the most important fiction I've read in my life and had the biggest impact on me.
Stoicism and bushido work very well together - they're both philosophies based on duty/service/ethics as more important than pleasure/hedonism/happiness. They're both heavily virtue-based while almost entirely discarding guilt, neurosis, and martyrdom.
This is important. I respect most of the virtue-based philosophies, but things like shame, guilt, neurosis, martyrdom, and self-destruction are not virtuous at all to me. Stoicism and bushido both reject these very pretentious, self-centered destructive emotions, and focus instead on service, self-development, willpower, self-control, training, and self-mastery.
So, it's a pleasure to read Derek's review on the book. Some choice quotes:
If you lack a grand goal in living, you lack a coherent philosophy of life. When you are on your deathbed, you will look back and realize that you wasted your one chance at living. Instead of spending your life pursuing something genuinely valuable, you squandered it because you allowed yourself to be distracted.
Whatever philosophy of life you adopt, you will probably have a better life than if you tried to live without a coherent philosophy of life.
Why is self-discipline worth possessing? Because those who possess it have the ability to determine what they do with their life. Those who lack self-discipline will have the path they take through life determined by someone or something else.
Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes. [Sebastian note - bold added by me. This one is very important.]
We differ from other animals in one important respect: We have the ability to reason. We were designed to be reasonable.
A Stoic sage is free from vanity. He is indifferent to good or evil report. He never feels grief, since grief is an irrational contraction of the soul. [Sebastian note: What a great quote on grief - I never thought of it that way before. Very valuable]
You rob present ills of their power if you expect them. Misfortune weighs most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune. [Seb note: Also very important]
As we go about our day, periodically pause to reflect on the fact that you will not live forever and therefore this day could be your last. [Seb: This is the central tenet of bushido - Keep death in mind]
There is a difference between contemplating something bad happening and worrying about it. Contemplation is an intellectual exercise. Conduct such exercises without affecting your emotions.
I think it's an excellent use of your time to bookmark that page and go through all of them. Very smart reviews - good for getting a feel on important points in a book you haven't read, and an exceptionally good refresher for books you have read. I agree with almost all of the rankings in his reviews, too - except maybe for The Paradox of Choice, whose author is probably the most intelligent, soft-spoken, kindest, gentlest fascist of all time.
But aside from TPOC, I agree with much all the other review rankings, and there's tons of valuable excerpts. Highly recommended, go spend some time on Derek's book reviews page if you want to learn a whole hell of a lot of good stuff.
I finished the Lone Wolf and Cub series, which was excellent. It's 28 books, a tale of a fallen samurai out on a quest for vengeance. Very philosophically deep and powerful. The whole series is very, very good, though I feel it dragged on a little bit at the end. There's an amazing duel between a great marksman and Itto, and then then Itto hijacks a ship to Edo (modern day Tokyo). After that, the series kind of meanders around - it could've ended in 2-3 books after that, but instead it went much longer, introducing a new antagonist and plotlines, fleshing out the backstory of the primary antagonist... it seemed just unnecessary, which is why I had a hard time getting through the last five books after enjoying the first 20 so much.
With that said, it's one of my favorite stories and my favorite comic of all time now. Well, calling it a "comic" doesn't do it justice - it's beautifully drawn, with lots of great philosophy and deep points. You definitely want to read at least the first three books. I wrote about this in Rule an Empire, a Fistful of Rice, with excerpts from the comic and discussion on the philosophy. If you're curious about the series, go read that post right now - I think you'll enjoy it, it's been a favorite around here.
I finished "The Ultimate Sales Machine" by Chet Holmes. Wow, that was a great read. Brilliant. Highly recommended, probably the best business book I've read since The E-Myth by Michael Gerber.
I listened to "The Greatest Salesman in the World" on audio - a very nice book, quite moving. It has some basic lessons for sales and life in the form of a narrative back in Biblical times. The audio was recorded by its author, Og Mandino, some 20 years after the book came out, so he's in his 50's or so. Really lovely, thoughtful piece, with good lessons. I really enjoyed it. His voice is nice to listen to too - it's very different from professional vocalists who are more steadfast, this one feels more like your grandfather is telling you a story.
This is why Marcus, immediately after advising readers to spend time thinking about how much they would miss their possessions if these possessions were lost, warns them to "beware lest delight in them leads you to cherish them so dearly that their loss would destroy your peace of mind." Along similar lines, Seneca, after advising us to enjoy life, cautions us not to develop "over-much love" for things we enjoy. To the contrary, we must take care to be "the user, but not the slave, of the gifts of Fortune." Page 83.
I just recently finished reading A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy and no recent book has resonated quite as strongly with me. I enjoyed so many parts of this book that I didn't want to write a traditional review but instead wanted to share direct quotes that will explain much better than I what Stoicism is and is not.