Tony has been a close friend of Ollie's for over 20 years, they shared some great times growing up and in later years they continue to share life challenges, aspirations and the love of self-development.
On a frequent basis, Tony would WhatsApp his thoughts on his latest read for Ollie to take in, then they realised his passion for reading and writing could help men live happier. By providing insight to those books he has found of use over the years.
Enjoy the reviews and pick one to dig deeper into.
Discourses & SELECTed writings
In my new found interest of Stoicism gleaned from Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday, I decided to delve into the lives of two of my favourite philosophers – Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.
Very little is known about the slave turned stoic master Epictetus. Anecdotal evidence suggests that under slavery he was repeatedly tortured and his master broke his leg in a fit of rage, yet he was intelligent enough to be granted permission to attend stoic lectures where he became an outspoken and ruthless Stoic master himself. All his original teachings were lost and all that we know of him are from second-hand accounts from his students.
Marcus Aurelius is probably the highest profile of all the Stoics. He was the last of the “Five Good Emperors” following the treacherous reigns of the brutal Caesar dynasty. He’s remembered today not for his military victories, although there were many, but more for his posthumous philosophical teachers encapsulated in a collection of private thoughts and diaries that have been published and studied by generations for almost 2000 years.
These two books are tough going, due to the translation style they’re not easily read but I certainly came away with some interesting thoughts.
Epictetus, despite his horrendous start in live, maintained an inner strength that was unbreakable. Epictetus teaches you no matter how bad life gets, no matter how much you are tortured, persecuted or outcast, no man can take away another’s ability to think for themselves. Although we are not born into the same opportunities, we all have the ability to decide whether to remain a victim to our circumstances, or take control.
Marcus Aurelius was a reluctant leader and a family man at heart. 8 of his 13 children died before him, and although his heart was broken many times over, he worked hard to reflect on his situation, to not lose perspective on his life or his vocation. Marcus teaches us that our time on Earth is short, we have no control over the workings of the Universe and tragedy is to be expected. It’s up to us to keep learning, keep growing and to keep serving and to make the most of every single day for the greater good of mankind.
We are drowning in information, and as a society we have accepted the notion that more data ultimately leads to better quality decision making. “Blink” aims to turn this notion on its head because as a species, we humans can make pretty good decisions if we develop and learn to trust in our intuition – most of the time. Using extraordinary real-life examples, Gladwell explains how the knee-jerk decisions we make in a “blink” of an eye are massively influenced by society and the unconscious prejudices we have developed, and provides compelling arguments into how our immediate judgement of, and reaction to a situation can have a massively positive - or negative impact. The book leads with the account of a 6th century Greek marble statue of a “kouros” (a nude male youth) that was being offered to the Getty Museum in California for $10 million. With only 200 in existence the museum’s owner employed a team of scientists to analyse the piece and prove its authenticity. The results were unanimous – it was real, and the cheque was being drawn up. But when some experienced artists came to view the piece – every single one, within a couple of seconds stated that the statue was a fake. No one could explain exactly what was wrong, but each had a deep intuition developed over years of analysing and intricately working with similar pieces. It just didn’t look right. As it happens it was a fake, saving the museum a lot of money and embarrassment so despite all the “facts” and “data” the undefined and underlying intuition of the human mind was still able to spot the fake. Similarly, when faced with a difficult or stressful situation our intuition can be blinded by tiredness or by sheer panic with sometimes deadly outcomes. The underlying message is that even with all the scientific data points at hand – it can often be a mistake to rely entirely on just data when making a decision and we should never underestimate the accuracy of our own experience and judgement especially in our own fields of expertise. We live and work in a time where big data and fancy algorithms are taking the meaning and control out of the personal and professional decisions we make. Especially in these times when our response to the pandemic has been entirely based on models and algorithms, we may realise soon that we have placed too much trust in this way of decision-making, and should trust more in our own intuitions – or as Gladwell puts it: “Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking”
everything you need you have
Whilst my morning reads focus on motivational and practical subjects, my bedtime reading tends to be more spiritual. Gerad Kite is a good mate of Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace and is a psychotherapist popular amongst the famous including Chris Evans, Fearne Cotton and The Spice Girls. A good introductory book on how to gain a little perspective in our over stimulated world. I think I got this copy off Amazon second hand for something like £4. Worth a go!
Two fellas, both from broken homes grew up with the belief that earning a ton of money would lead them on the pathway to happiness. Even once they began earning 6 digit salaries they realised they hadn't become happier at all. Huge mortgages, unmanageable debts, nonsense amounts of clutter, and failed relationships bore a huge weight on their time, health and ability to form real connections with anyone ... so they decided to give it all up. In their book Minimalists Joshua and Ryan explain how living a life focused on improving your health, pursuing your true passions and building close relationships is they key to true meaningful success. Still good the second time round
silence in the age of noise
Just finished reading Silence by Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge, which I’ve read for the second time and keeps a permanent spot on my bed side table. This is the perfect book to help you to slow down, reflect and ultimately become aware of how the pressures and craziness of modern day life has worn away on our ability to be still, quiet and comfortable in pure Silence. Erling was the first explorer to reach the "3 peaks" of the N and S Poles and climb Everest and although these physical feats in themselves had a very profound effect on him, it was the complete isolation from civilisation and the pure Silence (other than the sound of blood pumping round his body) that moved him towards sharing his thoughts in this concise and easy to read book.
owning your own shadow
We've all heard about the Ego. Well the flip side to that coin in Freudian terms is the Shadow, and that side of our personality is often shielded from others and ourselves in fear of some form of social rejection. Owning your Shadow is all about exploring that shady part of your personality and working towards understanding and integrating it into your life. Ultimately its about self acceptance - of yourself and understanding that the ego and the shadow come hand in hand and in the same way that social conformity anchors you down, the shadow can become a useful tool for fuelling you towards a better life. Some good concepts but did get a bit preachy towards the end. In short - give the little bastard inside you a chance because he's part of you and if used properly can propel you towards becoming a happier person
After reading a few times of Benjamin Franklin's influence in the early rising of the United States I decided to give his autobiography a crack. Franklin was a true pioneer and independent thinker. He openly shares his thoughts on vegetenarism, gender equality and the abandonment of his religious upbringing and after being taken advantage of financially and emotionally by family members and close friends he decides to embark on life under a new set of self-defined rules and practices that he believes will help him grow into a better man. His level of influence in steering governments, international trade agreements and military units is quite remarkable especially for a man who started off as a humble printer in his family business in Philidelphia.
mary l. trump
If you ever thought your family were dysfunctional then this book will make your own seem like The Walton's in comparison. Written by Mary Trump, Donald's niece and daughter of Donald's estranged and disinherited older brother Freddy, Mary explains how Fred (Mary's grandfather) earnt the family's fortune in real estate and how the rest of the family have been tearing each other apart ever since. When Freddy failed to live up to Fred's expectations, young Donald stepped in to become the new face of the Trump Empire. However, it became apparent very early on that Donald didn't have a business bone in his body, but with Fred's intent to keep the fortune in the bloodline he made use with what he had and that was a second child who was (is) a bully, a loud mouth and a backstabber, yet someone who understood media and public perception.