Book Review: Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

This year I wanted to challenge myself. To do that I selected one of the Great Books of Western Civilization to read. This was in part to meet one of the challenges from the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge. It was also because I have heard this book recommended on many occasions to include Entrepreneurs on Fire, and most recently, in a Tim Ferriss interview with Arianna Huffington. The content was appropriate but challenging. The book I chose was Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
My version of Meditations is a translation by George Long. Meditations is a cornerstone book for many people to include President Clinton and General Mathias. I could see from his autobiography that Ben Franklin took his inspiration from the Stoics to include Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius lived from 121 to 180 AD and was Roman Emperor From 161 to 180 AD. Aurelius was a philosopher leader and known as the last of the Five Good Emperors.

I found Meditations to be a complex piece of writing. It was challenging to follow Aurelius’ thoughts, yet what I did understand it resonated with me. Meditations has twelve books. Each book was 10-15 pages long in my copy. I could not find a dominant thread in any of the books. Often, Aurelius repeated the same thoughts or concepts over and over again. I could only read a book or two at a time at each sitting before I tired from the complexity. I can only imagine the struggle John Adams and Thomas Jefferson must have had reading Meditations in Greek.

Here are some of the lessons that I picked up while reading Meditations:

  • First of all, the world is complex and interconnected. Everything is a small or large piece relative to a greater whole. Man is an item of this greater whole. What man does has an impact on the greater community. It is thus important to strive for goodness.
  • Change is constant. Everything according to nature begins, matures, and dies. We should accept this and appreciate this because it is the wonderful power of nature. We should act as a partner with nature.
  • Aurelius talked on many occasions about great leaders and philosophers who once lived and then have passed away. The memory of them also passed away unless they were notably good.
  • He also emphasized that you should always be striving for doing the best work that you can and to help as many people as you can. You should use your own intellect and faculties to keep on going if somebody hinders you or creates an obstacle. Keep pursuing the greater good.

“Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good.”

  • He also reiterated to not worry about what others are doing and not get upset by their actions. He is under the assumption that people are trying to do good. If they do not then it is because of an involuntary action or lack of knowledge. You should then try to educate them on a more appropriate course of action.

As I tie this back to Ben Franklin I can understand how Franklin was trying to live his life. I’m glad that I read Franklin’s autobiography first because it helped me actually better understand where Marcus Aurelius was coming from. They were stressing that one should focus on his own responsibilities and not worry or concern himself with what others are doing. It is important to go out and make the world the best possible place to live because life is short. I would definitely recommend reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius if you’re looking for a challenge.


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