Great Books: 7 Days’ Worth of Wisdom and Life Advice From Paulo Coelho, Henry David Thoreau, Marcus Aurelius, and More…

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The following “Life Advice” was re-published from my FREE daily email course on the “Great Books”, which you can enroll in by clicking here. Enjoy!

You’ll hear me say this quite often:

In many ways, great books are like puzzle pieces.

If the “puzzle” you’re trying to solve is the fundamental nature of reality (which is the most fascinating puzzle around, to be honest), how to live courageously in the world, how to achieve worldly success, or whatever else, then reading the best books will help illuminate your path.

To continue with the metaphor that I’m inordinately pleased with myself for having thought up on my own, the best books are like “edge pieces” that help you develop your macro-level worldview,and the lesser (though by no means unimportant) books serve to fill in the details of whichever puzzle you’re trying to solve.

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The edge pieces give you an idea of how big the puzzle might be, what its basic structure looks like, and then, if you want to dive deeper and really “fill out” your knowledge, you can keep doubling down on your reading and read more books on the puzzle in question, even if those additional books aren’t as paradigm-shattering as the edge pieces you started with.

Follow me?

The funny thing is though (albeit maddeningly frustrating at times) is that you’ll soon realize how much you didn’t even KNOW that you didn’t know!

If you think of what you “know” right now as one giant room, each book you read leads you into an entirely different room.

And once you get to THAT room, you’ll find that it opens up into three ADDITIONAL rooms that you didn’t even know were there.

Clearly, reading is a giant rabbit hole.

You’ll never find all the edge pieces (because most of them haven’t even been written yet), you’ll never be able to explore every room, and you’ll never get to the bottom of the rabbit hole.

But the attempt itself is the intellectual adventure of a lifetime.

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Myself, I’ve set the worthy goal of reading 1,000 books before I turn 30, but I’m quite sure that there are probably tens of thousands of books that are WORTH reading.

So, with some measure of sadness concerning the finitude of human life and the immensity of available knowledge, I decided to launch a (free) daily email course where I discuss what I believe are the greatest “edge pieces” that I’ve read so far.

If I were to mix my metaphors, I would say that these edge pieces are the books that pack the strongest one-two punches I’ve ever experienced in all my years with the printed word.

I’d love it if you enrolled in the free email course and received these lessons from me via email, but even if you haven’t signed up to my mailing list, I still wanted these discussions to be available to you.

I love nothing more than to push books into people’s hands, and running the course benefits me too, because I’ve realized that the best way to learn this stuff is to teach it to others.

Below, there are 7 days worth of course material, free as always, on the books we covered that week in the email course.

If you like what you read here, please don’t hesitate to sign up for the REAL email course and get individual lessons sent DIRECTLY TO YOU dealing with the “Great Books” of human civilization.

And while I have your attention, I will say that ALL of my book notes from every single book that I’ve ever read are available on my Patreon page.

My study-notes include thousands of pages of quotes, insights, lessons, etc and I’ve also distilled the BEST notes from each book into one “master” document that is now over 400 pages long! You can get all of that on my Patreon, and I update my notes monthly as I read more and more books.

My daily email course, however, is absolutely free; all I ask is that you never, ever stop learning, and that you never, ever, stop asking questions.

Anyways, enough of all that. Let’s get to the books!

DAY #1: “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius

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From My Notes:

“Be willing to accept truth wherever you find it.”

I had been living under a rock recently, and I only just started hearing about the “crisis in the humanities” within Western universities when I started listening to and learning from Dr. Jordan Peterson.

For those of you who have been my neighbors under the aforementioned rock, certain books have come under attack recently by students (and academics, activists, etc) who say that those books only serve to advance the agenda of “White Anglo-Saxon Protestants”, or “Privileged White Males”, etc.

While I think that, for the most part, such people are making idiots out of themselves, there is no denying that some of the most frame-shattering ideas that I’ve ever come across have come straight from the Eastern wisdom traditions: Sufi poets like Rumi, books like the Tao Te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, etc.

The knowledge contained in those books is AWESOME.

Yet, do we really have to throw away ALL of Western culture just because of the actions and beliefs of some of its members? What about accepting truth wherever we can find it, no matter the source?

Sure, it saves us a lot of time, discounting all of Western civilization (it means we have a lot less reading to do), but at what cost? What are we missing?

Maimonides and the Prophet Muhammed both say the same thing: Accept the truth wherever you find it!

The wisest among us have always sought knowledge and wisdom for its own sake, wherever that search led them.​​​​​

So be discriminating, think for yourself, and take the opposite point of view for a little while. At least until you understand that opposing view and how some people might be inclined to believe it.

Every single person on earth knows something that you don’t.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I’ve ever read. Organized so that you can find what you’re looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the “Great Books”. It’s basically in this format that you’re reading now, except sent directly to your email.

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DAY #2: “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” by Commander Chris Hadfield

From My Notes:

“I decided to ask what an astronaut would do if he were my age and do that.”

Commander Chris Hadfield knew from a very young age that he wanted to be an astronaut.

His book, “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” was a major influence on me in a variety of ways, but what stuck with me the most was his commitment to preparedness.

The above quote in the book came from when he was talking about being 9 years old, wondering how one gets to become an astronaut anyway. He knew that he had a goal, but he didn’t know what the next logical step was for him.

“What are they going to be looking for in an astronaut?”

“What kind of special training am I going to need?”

“Is there anything that I could be doing right here, right now, that will put me in a position to be considered for the job?”

“Where do I go from here?”

We can all ask ourselves these same questions, substituting our personal vision for Hadfield’s of becoming an astronaut.

We can set our sights on a higher-order goal and start thinking about what we can do TODAY that will help carry us there.

Now, obviously, our goals may change shape as we get closer to them, and they might shift completely over time. But you will never regret being as prepared as you can possibly be.

We may have to adjust our specific tactics, but our strategy of always being as prepared as possible will ALWAYS serve us well.

It’s a meta-skill, much like self-discipline. It’s always useful, and indeed, often instrumental with respect to achieving other things that you might care about.

So if you want to be a CEO, an accountant, a fitness model, an event promoter, a bus driver, a politician, or anything else…just ask yourself what someone like that would need to do in order to prepare.

And then go do that!

You’ll never regret your choice to be as prepared as possible. Just remember that you have a lot of choices of what to do with your time, and every decision matters.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I’ve ever read. Organized so that you can find what you’re looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the “Great Books”. It’s basically in this format that you’re reading now, except sent directly to your email.

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DAY #3: “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm

From My Notes:

“Love is the only rational answer to the problem of human existence.”

Reading that made me in 2015 made me fall in love with Erich Fromm.

I had read “The Sane Society”, and “Escape From Freedom”, both by him, and came to really respect his radical humanism and his deep insight into human motivation.

Today, however, I think there’s something wrong with that formulation.

What’s wrong is that there are probably MANY rational answers to the problem of human existence. Granted that you even conceive of human existence AS a problem.

Zen Buddhists would not, for example. Same deal in Hinduism, which conceives of the entire world as “drama”, as the unfolding of Brahman, with no “problems” to be found anywhere; just unfolding of reality, terrible and beautiful.

So you can see how nuanced this idea can become.

Of course, life is hard. Life is suffering. Everyone you know is going to DIE, and then, you too. But before that happens, there’s going to be a lot of pain along the way, and a lot of it is going to be unfair.

So what do you do about that?

Well you need to come up with a rational answer to that problem, and Fromm believed that he found one: “Love one another”.

There’s a lot of emotive force behind that statement and I don’t think it’s very far off the mark; there’s not nearly as much love in this world as there could be.

But, isn’t suicide ALSO a rational answer to the problem of human existence?

Sure it is.

But it’s not very “productive”. And that’s worth pointing out.

It doesn’t contribute to what Aristotle would call eudaimonia, or “flourishing”. Love is a MUCH more productive answer to the problem of human existence than suicide.

Of course, love isn’t always rational…so many ways to think about this! So many subjects to branch off into!

Then again, instead of overthinking this, maybe we could just love whoever is around to be loved. Maybe we can, in the words of Mother Theresa, find just one person who believes that they’re all alone in the world, and convince them that they’re not.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I’ve ever read. Organized so that you can find what you’re looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the “Great Books”. It’s basically in this format that you’re reading now, except sent directly to your email.

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DAY #4: “Escape From Evil” by Ernest Becker

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From My Notes:

“Evil rests on the passionate person motive to perpetuate oneself, and for each individual this is literally a life-and-death matter for which any sacrifice is not too great, provided it is the sacrifice of someone else and provided that the leader and the group approve of it.”

Ernest Becker won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for showing how the subconscious fear of death motivates a great deal of human behavior.

It’s a phenomenal book, and I strongly urge you to check it out.

The impulse for transcendence wouldn’t be such a bad thing if other people didn’t get in the way.

Other people obstruct us in our quest for symbolic (or literal) immortality; conflicts between belief systems become inevitable, and this naturally causes tension.

Human evil then, emerges largely from this urge, usually benign, to perpetuate the self. This is what Becker came to understand.

Of course, there are a multiplicity of causes, but inter-group conflict becomes a serious business when people believe that immortality is at stake.

All they need is for a leader, or a large group, to sanction such attitudes and then you have a recipe for potential disaster and heartbreak.

I don’t think I need to cite the multiplicity of examples from world history bear this out. Just look at the twentieth century.

Ernest Becker struggles to maintain optimism about our human future, but concludes finally that there is nothing inherent in man that prevents good from triumphing (however impermanently) over evil.

This is a heavy, HEAVY read, but well worth it.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I’ve ever read. Organized so that you can find what you’re looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the “Great Books”. It’s basically in this format that you’re reading now, except sent directly to your email.

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DAY #5: “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau

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From My Notes:

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake.”

Ironically enough, I’m exhausted today.

I just finished a 16-hour shift at the hospital, and the last thing that I want to do is write this.

But ANYWAY…

Henry David Thoreau, the great American transcendentalist, is one of those vital forces in world literature; one of those writers who jolts us into awareness whenever we get too complacent. All we have to do is come back to him.

He built his own house in the woods for less than $800 in today’s currency and lived there for 2 years.

“Walden” is the book that came out of his written reflections during that time.

It’s…”enlivening”, to say the least.

Wakefulness is one of my highest virtues; “Wakefulness”, that Nietzschean term used by the great man himself to denote the strongest sense of aliveness one could allow oneself to feel.

Only that day dawns to which we are awake.

Are we even alive if we don’t feel that we are?

Has that day come that we aren’t awake enough to see?

Are we missing the life that is going on all around us?

Look for life.

Routine, malaise, apathy, resentment…these are nothing to one who is fully awake. The causes and effects of life are evident all around us. The opportunities for recognizing happiness are abundant, and if you miss them it’s a damn shame.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I’ve ever read. Organized so that you can find what you’re looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the “Great Books”. It’s basically in this format that you’re reading now, except sent directly to your email.

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DAY #6: “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau

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From My Notes:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

This is probably one of the most famous quotes from Walden, besides maybe the one about “quiet desperation” (if you’ve ever heard that phrase before, they’re ripping off Thoreau).

To me, this sense of living “on purpose” or “intentionally” is what’s missing from a great many people today.

You don’t NEED to have a purpose, or some sort of meaning to your life, but I’m just saying that it makes your life go a lot better if you have one, in my opinion.

As Alan Watts would say, the purpose of life is simply to be alive. It’s so plain, and so simple, and so obvious, and yet people rush around in a great hurry, as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.

There’s nothing wrong with living your entire life working one job, spending time with your family, living in one town, etc. In fact, you should be suspicious of anyone using the phrase “upward mobility” except ironically.

But what Thoreau is saying is that there is way too much noise, and it tends to drown out the signal, so to speak.

Almost nothing is essential, but if you figure out what IS essential, you’re on your way to a great life.

The quote is also tinged with the fear of regret; something that Thoreau must have felt acutely, and that I feel as well. You may have heard me say things like “the pain of discipline is always less than the pain of regret”, and I absolutely mean that.

I say it so often, and have it written down in so many places where I’ll see it during the day, that I’m quite sure it will stay with me for life.

In the final analysis, you want to minimize your regrets, generally.

Living intentionally, figuring out what you stand for and how to make that the biggest part of your life is what Thoreau can help teach us.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I’ve ever read. Organized so that you can find what you’re looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the “Great Books”. It’s basically in this format that you’re reading now, except sent directly to your email.

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DAY #7: “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

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From My Notes:

“Those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and will accompany us as we give up everything for our dreams.”

I find it very difficult to ask for help.

Always have, and that isn’t going away any time soon.

So I’m reluctant to ask people to sacrifice anything for me, even though my parents have sacrificed a LOT without me even asking.

You have to take this seriously: whether what you are willing to give up for your dreams will be rough on other people as well.

Maybe we don’t “owe” anyone our companionship, but if achieving your dreams means that you’re going to be unavailable to the people who care about you, then that’s a big deal.

However, what Coelho is saying here is that if that person genuinely wants you to be happy, they will support you. Greedy people won’t let you give up anything if it means they’ll have to give up something as well.

So basically, you end up finding out who really cares about you the more you sacrifice.

Not everyone you care about will understand, but everyone who genuinely wants you to be happy WILL.

Maybe not right away, but in time.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Want More? Click here to get thousands of pages of my personal study-notes on every single book I’ve ever read. Organized so that you can find what you’re looking for simply and easily.

Also, click here if you would like to enroll in my FREE daily email course on the “Great Books”. It’s basically in this format that you’re reading now, except sent directly to your email.

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EXTRA CREDIT:

In the email course where these lessons were originally published, I occasionally offer up something interesting that I came across in my reading, or whatever.

Some of it is time-sensitive so it would be out of date if I were to re-publish it here. But I’ve gone ahead and linked to some cool things I mentioned that should stil be running by the time you read this.

As well some additional helpful resources that I may or may not have mentioned in the course directly.

Here they are:

“7 Thought-Provoking Questions From Dr. Jordan B. Peterson”.

Controversial and well-known Canadian psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson is something of an intellectual role model of mine, and we write about him fairly consistently over at HighExistence. He was once asked what were some of the most important questions an individual could ever ask themselves, and these are what he came up with.

The Bouncer’s Book Club

This is a Facebook group I started where we discuss books and ideas. You’re welcome (and encouraged) to join, but spamming the group will get you kicked out. I AM a nightclub bouncer after all.

My Patreon Page

Here’s why I don’t have time for a girlfriend: I take notes on every single book I read, and over the years, those have grown into a collection of thousands of pages of study-notes on hundreds and hundreds of books. I’ve even distilled the best notes from each book into a “master” document that is now over 400 pages long.

You can get ALL of my notes by clicking here, and these are updated monthly. I read around a dozen books per month, so this collection of notes is growing all the time. There are some other cool rewards on this page too. Check it out!

Blinkist

Don’t have time to read for 7 hours a day like me? Well have no fear! Not only can you get my OWN notes by checking out my Patreon page, you can also use a handy app called Blinkist, which gives you access to thousands of excellent non-fiction books, and distills their key ideas into 15-minute summaries.

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Top Writer in Books and Reading. Physique Competitor. Nonprofit Leader. Best Books: https://cutt.ly/hhmTASC

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