Fausta's buys

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Stoics in review

I picked up a few books that visitors to this blog might find interesting.

The first one is not the most interesting. Live Your Best Life: A Treasury of Wisdom, Wit, Advice, Interviews, and Inspiration from O, The Oprah Magazine is a compendium of previously-published articles from O Mag, with 1-2 page long articles on the usual Oprah fare. There's plenty of advice by O, Suze, Dr. Phil, et al, and some interviews, but I can't say I found much wit or inspiration. Skeptics might refer to it as the Book of Common Fare for the Church of Oprah.

The confessional self-help and possitive affirmation tone of the Book of Common Fare for the Church of Oprah couldn't be further from Nany Sherman's fascinating Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind. One might even say that Oprah is from Venus and Nancy is from Mars, to paraphrase another of Oprah's protégés, which would mean short-changing Nancy but wouldn't be too inaccurate. As Ms Sherman says in the first line of the preface,
This book is about "sucking it up".
and thank G-d for that. Control, self-discipline, endurance, "can do" agency, and stiff upper lip are virtues (yes, virtues) we can all use in these our trying times. As Sherman explains (p. 27),
Virtue alone becomes sufficient for happiness, without dependence on external goods or luck. This position, in essence, is what the Stoics return to and embrace.
Think of Stoic Warriors as the Oprahantidote.

While Ms Sherman at times plods through the psychology of facial expressions and the "ritualized aesthetics of garments" in the military, the book is both interesting in its exploration of the military and in its explanation of the Stoic philosophy. She gives clear descriptions of what the Stoics believed, and quotes appropriately from Cicero, Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. All these authors' works are available for free on line at The Internet Classics Archive and other sources, in addition to being available at Amazon.

If the name Marcus Aurelius sounds familiar, it's because Bill Clinton (arguably the least stoic president in history) claimed to have as bedside reading The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Bill didn't specify on whose bedside, so maybe it was.

I also came across Arthur Cotterell's The Encyclopedia of Classic Mythology, beautifully illustrated with Victorian (mostly Pre-Raphaelite) and Eduardian paintings and drawings. Each character description is complete while not too lengthy.

Cotterell's The Encyclopedia of Classic Mythology is a very nice reference book on Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Norse mythologies, which also comes in handy when trying to decypher the meaning of the art and music of the Western tradition. My only misgiving is that the print is very small and the captions to the illustrations are smaller yet, and in lighter font, which makes them harder to read, so please keep that in mind if you're buying the book as a gift.

While not related to the ancient Romans or the Stoics, Olivia the pig continues to amuse her many fans. The latest installment of the charming series, Olivia Forms a Band, brings back my favorite girl pig and will bring a smile to your face. The series is brilliantly written and illustrated by Ian Falconer, and each Olivia book is a classic.

Olivia Forms a Band is delightful. Buy one for yourself and one for a friend!

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