How many questions about life have you asked yourself in the past few months?
These are atypical times. Times that put everything in perspective and make us question who we are and what life is supposed to look like. Who are we as individuals? Who are we as societies? Why do we feel the way we do? What is the meaning of what we are living?
While each of us is probably finding our own answers, it feels good to know that we are not alone. The way we deal with this, as humans, is shared by others who are going through the same, and it was shared by many generations that came before us.
Throughout time, there have been answers to the questions above. Books that can help us make sense of what it means to be human and that can give us a new pair of lenses through which to look at our new daily life.
I would like to suggest five of the most impactful books I ever read. I found comfort, inspiration, and perspective in them. I hope you do too.
1. "The Tao of Seneca: Practical Letters From a Stoic Master"
This is a compilation done by Tim Ferriss of Seneca’s letters to his disciple Lucilius.
Seneca the Younger was a Greek philosopher who promoted stoicism. In the words of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, another stoic master, stoicism is:
"Objective judgement, now, at this very moment. Unselfish action, now, at this very moment. Willing acceptance, now at this very moment, of all external events."
This very practical philosophy is paramount at a time like the one we live now. If we follow its teachings and learn to control our perception of the world, our actions and our will, we have everything we need to navigate these times.
2. "The Social Animal" by David Brooks
This book tells the story of Harold and Erica. But it also tells the story of me, of you, and everyone.
The book’s subtitle is “A story of how success happens”. Most success stories are explained at the surface level. But this story is told one level down, at the level of emotions, intuitions, genetic predispositions, and deep inner longings.
“The Social Animal” allows us to dig deep into our emotional personalities. At a time like this, knowing who we are is probably the only certainty we can have, and definitely a valuable asset in dealing with harder days.
3. "How The World Thinks" by Julian Baggini
There are very few moments in history when the whole world is affected simultaneously by one single event. But we are living in a time like that: across the globe, people of different cultures and walks of life are united in the same fight against the common enemy.
This is a time for solidarity and to realize that what brings us together is stronger than what takes us apart. But it is important to understand the diversity of the world’s cultures. Just so, once the worst period is over and we start working on rebuilding our lives, we keep alive the respect and brotherhood through nations and cultures.
In “How the World Thinks”, Julian Baggini explores the philosophies of Japan, India, China, and the Muslim world, and the oral traditions of Africa and Australia’s first people. By gaining greater knowledge of how others think, we take the first step to a greater understanding of ourselves.
4. "Sapiens" by Yuval Noah Harari
This narrative of humankind’s creation and evolution is essential to make us see the world with a new perspective.
This is not the first time that humans deal with a large-scale threat to their societies. In fact, in the great history of time, moments like this keep repeating and helping shape the face of the world.
5. "The Obstacle Is The Way" by Ryan Holiday
Another book that brings the stoic philosophy into the spotlight, “The Obstacle Is The Way” shows how we don’t control what happens to us but we do control how we respond to that. Therefore, there is no such thing as a problem or an obstacle, there is only an opportunity.
The author takes the example of diverse people throughout history who took “obstacles” and turned them into success — an inspiration for the days of “obstacles” that we live now.