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Stillness Is the Key

I'm a Ryan Holiday fan, have received a ton of value from other books of his, such as Trust Me I'm Lying. So, I had this one pre-ordered since it was announced. Stoicism, virtue ethics, and meditation? I'm in.

Each of us has access to more information than we could reasonably use. We tell ourselves that it's part of our job, that we have to be "on top of things," and so we give up precious time to news reports, meetings, and other forms of feedback... We must stop this.

"If you wish to improve," Epictetus once said, "be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters."
Ryan Holiday, Stillness is the Key

Unfortunately, it did none of these well. It starts well, with several brilliant quotes, and it often dips into great insights. Some of my favorite chapters include thoughtful historical stories of leaders who valued stillness in hard situations. As a whole, though, it never came together into a cohesive unit.

Past half way, it seems to fall apart. The chapters are full of appeals to the bandwagon — if lots of smart people did X, then X is worth doing. His understanding of history is incomplete, which only tripped my detector when I realized that many historical counterexamples to his point were oddly left out. Furthermore, the structure of the book left overlapping ideas in disjoint sections to fit the "mind", "spirit", "body" form he chose.

If you're new to Stoicism, you'll pick up a lot. However, I'd recommend starting with the Gregory Hays translation of Meditations.


These are entirely subjective, and roughly try to capture my personal enjoyment and usefulness, and how likely I'd recommend it to others. Don't read too much into this unless you love my judgement. Rough guidelines:

A: Top quartile. Changed the way I think about something.

B: Worthwhile. I took away something useful.

C: Didn't hit, wouldn't directly recommend. Likely won't revisit.

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