When enough people whose opinions you’re interested in tell you to read something, you should probably do it. That was the thought that finally got me to read Seneca’s Letters. I’ve been reading Tim Ferriss’ books and blog for a long time, and he talks about Seneca a great deal. Ryan Holiday, who partially inspired my challenge to read and review 52 books this year also recommends Seneca. Antifragile, a book I just read last month discusses Seneca, and as I recall, it was also mentioned in Thinking, Fast and Slow – a book I read last year that had a big impact on me. As you can see, I was bound to get to Seneca sooner or later.
I took a humanities class in high school that covered philosophy, and I minored in philosophy & ethics in college. And yet somehow I never managed to read anything about stoicism. I find myself wondering now if that was a good thing or a bad. It turns out that stoicism is the style of philosophy that I relate to most, and have been inadvertently discovering on my own. I can’t help but wonder whether I would have appreciated this book if I had read it sooner.
There is a lot of wisdom in Seneca’s Letters. It is one of the most-highlighted texts on my Kindle (4th most; yes, I did the math. 1) Rational Optimist 2) Antifragile 3) Paradox of Choice 4) Letters from a Stoic). I do have to admit that there were individual letters that I either couldn’t grasp or couldn’t relate to, which is why this book didn’t get a perfect rating. But when Seneca hits, even thousands of years later, he hits hard.
I can’t seem to find a way to sum up this book. So instead, I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes from the book. If you find any of them relatable, I would absolutely recommend you read it.
It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.
we are plunged by our blind desires into ventures which will harm us, but
certainly will never satisfy us; for if we could be satisfied with anything, we
should have been satisfied long ago
I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and
is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road
Besides, he who is feared, fears also; no one has been able to arouse terror and
live in peace of mind.