The Practicing Stoic 📚

    Finished reading: The Practicing Stoic by Ward Farnsworth 📚

    If I were in the business of judging books by their covers, this one would be a solid 10/10.

    The Practicing Stoic by Ward Farnsworth is the best secondary introduction to the wisdom of the Roman Stoics I have yet seen, owing to the book’s unique structure. Each chapter takes on a recurring theme of Stoic wisdom, and presents a wealth of quotations from the Stoics1 (and adjacent thinkers, such as Cicero) with commentary from the author. Unlike many other secondary popular works on Stoicism, this format allows the Stoics to speak in their own words. The result is a book that is scholarly but not academic, and accessible without being a dumbed-down self-help popularisation.

    Farnsworth openly admits he is not trying to give a full, rigorous account of Stoicism as philosophy per se. Rather, his goal is to provide a readable and useful collection of what the Stoics said on a range of topics such as death, desire, and adversity, while offering some of his own thoughts in each chapter on how one might learn from these teachings today. It’s clear that this is a personal interpretation of these ancient thinkers that is faithful and reverent without being dogmatic. After all, the Stoics each had their own spin on the philosophy, and so can we.

    This is most evident in the final chapter, in which Farnsworth responds to the common criticisms of the Stoics. On the perceived heartlessness of the Stoics, Farnsworth offers an idiosyncratic but quite instructive analogy as to the kind of emotional character the student is Stoicism is aiming toward — essentially, that of the kindly old person. Their hotheadedness, greed, and anxieties have been softened through experience, allowing a gentle compassion to shine through without interference from emotional reactivity. In Farnsworth’s view, Stoic wisdom and practice accelerate the student toward something like this ideal.

    I would recommand this book to anyone interested in Stoicism. There’s no substitute for the primary texts, but if you’ve read Marcus’s Meditations and Epictetus’s Handbook, this book is a wonderful thematic tour of the rest of the Stoic canon.


    1. By “the Stoics”, I mean the three Roman Stoic writers — Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius — whose works have survived. Virtually nothing has survived from the earlier Greek school. ↩︎

    Finished reading: The Shortest History of Israel and Palestine 📚

    Finished reading: The Shortest History of Israel and Palestine by Michael Scott-Baumann 📚

    After the events of October 7th, I decided it was time to fix my ignorance of the basic history of the conflict between Israel and Palestine by picking up the Shortest History of Israel and Palestine. It is not the first time I’ve tried to understand this situation, but I bounced off other, denser books I tried. The Shortest History is clear and accessible. It focuses on key events and outcomes, not on details like blow-by-blow accounts of battles.

    Here is how it has left me feeling.

    I do not see how any impartial judge could look at the foundation of Israel and not regard it as a crime. The UN Partition Plan of 1947 was a crime, and the ensuing 1947 and 1948 conflicts that established Israel’s statehood was a catastrophic crime that created 700,000 Arab refugees. Virtually all Gazans are descendents of those refugees.

    Since the foundation of Israel, the Palestinian Arabs have been a people without rights. Since 1967, they have been a people without rights living under the occupation of a hostile colonial power, in Gaza and the West Bank. That power has continued to illegally appropriate land, and harass and humiliate the Palestinian population ever since.

    These are the base facts of the situation. There have been atrocities on both sides. Palestinian resistance has often been violent. Israel’s land grabs and responses to violence have also been violent (and much more powerfully so). But these atrocities have not altered the base facts: a people without rights living under the occupation of a hostile colonial power.

    Israel’s human rights abuses are aided and abetted by the United States and its allies, including the UK. US and British politicians have given their full support for Israel’s campaign since October 7th, despite clear evidence of crimes on a massive scale. Biden and some others may have begun to voice euphemistic misgivings about the mass slaughter currently occurring in Gaza. But this is much too little, too late. The scale and brutality of Israel’s response was predicted by many of us from the start; the willingness of our politicians to turn a blind eye for this long lays bare a damning lack of concern for Arab lives, not to mention international law and human rights.

    And now we must wait in horror as Israel begins it’s assault on Rafah, and wonder if any Western leader will finally take action.

    I do not just wish for peace, I wish for justice. The return of land seized since 1967, and reparations for all the infrastructure and homes destroyed, and lives lost, during this brutal 45-year occupation.

    The only hope for any of this is massive international pressure, including material pressure through sanctions, and particularly from the US and its allies. I do not hold my breath.

    Currently reading: Technofeudalism by Yanis Varoufakis 📚