Book Reviews

In Search of Meaning; Reflections on Life

In search of meaning is a series of blog posts intended at reviewing ancient philosophical textbooks.

Today I will be reviewing Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It was one of the books in my reading list that was recommended by many, including people from all walks of life. This title was also one of the common entries for all the answers to ‘What are the must read books in one’s life?’ in quora.

Meditations is a collection of books on the reflections of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who lived in the 1st century and was one among the best rulers Rome ever had. Once you read the Gregory Hays’ [translator] portrayal of Marcus Aurelius’ character, you will discover that the characterization of Marcus Aurelius in the 2000 hollywood blockbuster, Gladiator, is a fair one.

Meditations were a set of notes he wrote to himself and was never intended to be published for general public. This book is classified under stoics in philosophy. Stoics by definition is a way of philosophical living in which the follower endures pain and hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.

With this book I realised how much the translation of a book matters. Meditation is translated by many publishers but the one I enjoyed the most was by Gregory Hays. Readability of Hays’ translation has to be appreciated and his thought of providing the socio-economical and political background of that time, to make the literature more meaningful, is worth mentioning.

Meditations is a book of practical advices. What you get out of this book depends on what you have gone through in life. If this book had been taught in schools and colleges, we could have had better citizens and better humans.

Some of the quotes worth quoting here are:

The real nature of things our senses experience, especially those that entice us with pleasure or frighten us with pain or are loudly trumped by pride. To understand those things – how stupid, contemptible, grimy, decaying and dead they are – that’s what our intellectual powers are for.

I have never read a better explanation for what intellectualism means!

Look inward. Don’t let the true nature or value of anything elude you. If you can cut yourself – your mind — free of what other people do and say, of what you have said or done, of the things that you’re afraid will happen, the impositions of the body that contains you and the breath within, and what the whirling chaos sweeps in from outside, so that the mind is freed from fate, brought to clarity and lives life on its own recognizance — doing what’s right, accepting what happens, and speaking the truth

Isn’t this this ultimate spiritual awakening, all the mortals are after?

To the world: Your harmony is mine. Whatever time you choose is the right time. Not late, not early

How many of us have waited long enough to start something? That wasn’t a good idea even in the times of ancient Rome.

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself “I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do.” People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat.

Do you need a better motivational piece of text to start working on your purpose in life ?

Don’t feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human – however imperfectly – and fully embrace the pursuit that you have embarked on.

The only quote you need to read to be resilient in life.

Meditations may be the only book you need, at times of difficulties and at times of triumph.

Book Reviews

Creating Content That Matters

Great writers write everyday, great coders code everyday, great musicians compose every day, great artists paint everyday. It’s no surprise that all this greatness comes with a cost – the willingness to sacrifice the trivial matters in life. Even if we have got the willpower to do it we find ourselves falling back into the vicious loop of mediocrity. From high school physics we all have studied that all objects tend to remain in its state of stable equilibrium, the state which requires the minimum amount of energy, and for us humans this state of stable equilibrium is being mediocre, to follow the crowd.

But the ambitious ones aim for the nonconformity and search for the tools to get there. We live in an internet age where everyone from a 5 year old kid to the retired scientist seek the help from Google for each and every question that pops in their head. And Google gets us a ranked list of websites it believes is great in content, but the truth in most cases are, at least for these ambitious people, these are nothing other than some naive advices from a higher level mediocrity group who are devious bloggers/content creators who trick the search engine algorithms. These advices might work for someone who is only trying to reach this higher level of mediocrity but not the ones who are looking for a intense quality works on which they can reflect upon.

I have become a fanatic of this deep work since I have started my graduate studies and I always ask to the people who create deep works, ‘How do you create such deep literatures?’. Most of their replies are, ‘We too started first as admirers of deep works and by seeking more deep works and enjoying such literature we have learned to create works of such magnitude, the hard way, somehow halfway through the journey’ . We can’t blame them for giving us such a half-baked response. This happens to us as well: We might acquire a skill through various means but once we master it, it becomes so straightforward that we too might have a hard time telling other the exact set of steps through which we acquired it.

Finding these superheros, who create such deep literatures, is hard. Because these are not the ones who try to use search engine optimization tactics to gain huge audience through click baits and plan to exploit them but rather the ones who are interested in delivering intense quality literatures. The literatures of these authors find their audiences eventually, but not as easily as the mediocre ones. It requires effort to scout such literatures because in my opinion almost 95% of the information we receive from the internet is rubbish and only 5% accounts for the quality work that we could gain insights from and recommend to others with full confidence. Some of such personalities in the limelight, whose books I have enjoyed the most, are authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Yuval Noah Harari and Daniel H Pink. There exist a thousand more, in the ocean of internet, whom are yet to be discovered.

While reading some literatures of such a personality, the author mentioned about Cal Newport’s articles in his references as a resource of motivation for the author’s own creation. The name stuck.

I happened to see Cal Newport’s recent book ‘Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world’ in my goodreads feed yesterday and I decided to give it a try. [ Cal Newport is a professor at Georgetown University and he writes books and blog posts on productivity.] Deep Work was one of those few books that I have read in one sitting. Most of the advices he give are simple and may seem as common sense. In the chaos of information that is seeking our constant attention, where we are losing sight of even such simple rituals or common sense and thus making our lives miserable, these simple advices in an organised format looks as if they are words of pure wisdom.

The book is divided into two half. The first half, which accounts to the one third of the book content, explains why deep work is important in the new economy and workplace and the second half gives advices and tips on how to create deep work routines.

The author emphasis the importance of scheduling each day of your work and making them a ritual. He also asks the readers to reconsider the use of social media and observe if it is having a negative or positive impact on their work and personal life.

In short “Deep Work” is a great book for the ambitious who had been looking for the ways in which they can create deep lasting quality work.