Great Books: 7 Days’ Worth of Wisdom and Life Advice from Sarah Bakewell, Marcus Aurelius, Tim Kreider, and More…

The following “Life Advice” was re-published from my FREE 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) 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 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:

“We all love ourselves more than others, but care about their opinions more than our own.”

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I should stop being so surprised at the astonishing psychological insights available to people 2,000 years ago.

One thing they were not is stupid.

Maybe they didn’t call it “psychology” but Marcus could clearly see that there was a strange asymmetry in our self-evaluations.

Ideally we would value our own opinion of our own worth more than anyone else’s opinion of our worth, but that’s clearly not the case. We still see others’ low(er) opinions of us as damning indictments, and fail to give enough weight to our self-evaluations.

Marcus Aurelius clearly thought this was a crazy thing to do, so he wrote it down as a reminder to get himself to stop doing it. To remind him that although critical feedback is important, at the end of the day, we need to fall back upon our resources and our own opinions more than we usually do.

He thought it was important enough to record for posterity, and that little psychological insight made it into my notes as well.

Two thousand years later!

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 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: “At the Existentialist Cafe” By Sarah Bakewell

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From My Notes:

“I create myself constantly through action, and this is so fundamental to my human condition that, for Sartre, it IS the human condition, from the moment of first consciousness to the moment when death wipes it out. I am my own freedom: no more, no less.”

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Sartre is famous for stating that “we are condemned to be free”. That is, that we never escape our freedom and that is absolutely essential to the human condition.

The more you think about that, the more disorienting it becomes.

Every book you read means that you aren’t reading every single other book every published.

If you marry one person and stay with them for the rest of your life, there are billions of other potential partners whom you will never meet.

I’m not denigrating marriage, by the way, even though (maybe especially because) I’ve never been married myself.

But the point stands: we create ourselves constantly based on our actions, and our previous actions either limit or expand our future possibilities.

I mean, of course, there are things like saving money that will expand your range of potential options in the future, and there is the basic passage of time which places the extreme LIMIT on what you can do.

For no other reason other than that there is no more time with which to do anything else. Your time is constantly running out.

It takes courage to confront this, because it IS disorienting. But thinking about these things is the first necessary step, I think.

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 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: “At the Existentialist Cafe” By Sarah Bakewell

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From My Notes:

Sartre: “On my first night of freedom, a stranger in my native city, not having yet reached my friends of former days, I pushed open the door of a cafe. Suddenly, I experienced a feeling of fear — or something close to fear. I could not understand how these squat, bulging buildings could conceal such deserts. I was lost; the few drinkers seemed more distant than the stars. Each of them was entitled to a huge section of bench, to a whole marble table…If these men, shimmering comfortably within their tubes of rarefied gas, seemed inaccessible to me, it was because I no longer had the right to place my hand on their shoulder or thigh, or to call one of them ‘fat-head’. I had rejoined bourgeois society.”

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Jean-Paul Sartre was perhaps one of the most famous of the existentialist philosophers, and there’s an anecdote that appears in this book that I found hilarious.

Apparently, he received a medical day pass because of his poor eyesight and was able to leave, un-escorted(?), and he just NEVER CAME BACK!

The above quote is something he said upon returning to free society.

I’m not going to comment on it too much, but I just thought it was funny how intellectual giants such as Sartre aren’t above calling people “fatheads” and other colorful names.

His observation about how he was in some ways LESS free in free society was fascinating as well!

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 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: “Wherever You Go, There You Are” By Jon Kabat-Zinn

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From My Notes:

“As soon as you stop, here you are.”

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Last year sometime, I made a decision that I wouldn’t be so busy and stressed any more.

I just wasn’t going to play that game any more.

Instead, I wanted to take a step back, re-examine the things in my life that were the most important to me (reading, working out, my family, my nonprofit startup), and try and cut out everything superfluous.

I haven’t always succeeded, I still feel stressed sometimes, but it’s an exercise that I recommend to everyone. Decide that you aren’t going to rush around in this great panic any more, and that you’re going to take each day as it comes.

Kabat-Zinn says the same thing, in that whenever you’re finished rushing around with no end in sight, “like a chicken with your head cut off”, you realize that you’re still right here.

There are important things that you and I are missing, and we’re missing them because we’re too busy.

We can’t slow down. And we don’t even stop to think that we might WANT to slow down. We’re traveling along due to our own momentum and it’s not helping us commit to our priorities.

Don’t think of it as a New Year’s Resolution, because you and I know how those tend to turn out. We don’t have to wait for a specific day on the calendar, because it’s always NOW.

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 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: “We Learn Nothing” By Tim Kreider

From My Notes:

“Nothing anyone says in defense of such major, irrevocable life choices is likely to be their real reason for making them; the number and vociferousness of our rationales is only an indication of how irrational and primal those decisions are.”

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We are all strangers to ourselves.

After Alan Watts put the idea into my head, I think one of the most fascinating questions you could ever ask is “Who am I?”

Because the answer is so elusive, so mysterious.

Who are you, and what do you really want? What actually motivates you? What are you moving towards? What are you trying to get away from?

We may think we know the reasons behind the decisions we make in life, but how much of our self-knowledge is just a rationalization to ourselves and others about why we acted in one way and not another?

A lot of the decisions we make are emotional, and what we do after we’ve made those emotional decisions is come up with rational reasons for having made them. That’s why in the domain of rhetoric, appeals to emotion are often so effective.

And it’s also why you can present irrefutable evidence during a debate and fail to change an opponent’s mind.

The decision isn’t rational.

If it WERE rational, they would be swayed by rational argument. But since it was an emotional decision that is now only DEFENDED rationally, your words lose the power to reach them.

So what’s your new goal?

Know Thyself!

Socrates preached that more than 2,000 years ago.

Start from the assumption that you may unaware of how you really feel. Then actually take the time to think through your REAL reasons for your choices. Be yourself, and strive to know a little something about who that is.

And have some patience with the other irrational people all around you who are, in fact, just like you.

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 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: “Paradise Lost” By John Milton

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From My Notes:

“One fatal Tree there stands of Knowledge called, Forbidden them to taste: Knowledge forbidden? Suspicious, reasonless. Why should their lord envy them that? Can it be sin to know, can it be death? And do they onely stand by ignorance, is that their happy state, the proof of their obedience and their faith? O fair foundation laid whereon to build their ruin! Hence I will excite their minds with more desire to know and to reject envious commands, invented with design to keep them low whom knowledge might exalt equal with Gods.”

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Milton is referring, of course, to the Tree of Knowledge that holds the forbidden apple. Supposedly, eating from this tree is what caused the human race to be plunged into misery and misfortune.

But why should God desire man to remain ignorant? Why are we not allowed access to knowledge about the fundamental nature of reality?

What is God trying to hide?

This speech here is given by the Devil himself (to himself), as he approaches the couple currently living in Eden. He’s portrayed almost like a tragic hero, some say, and Milton uses him as a foil to ask such questions.

Certainly we would be a lot happier not knowing about misery and death, of which Adam and Eve were previously ignorant. They didn’t know anything about pain and hardship, struggle or decay.

But here, the Devil is asking if the price of obedience and faith is too high; if knowledge is really such a bad thing after all. Aren’t Adam and Eve the least bit curious? What if he were to nudge them closer to the full realization of their full human state?

This is really a cool question, and one that Eric G. Wilson wrestles with in his spectacular book “Against Happiness”.

Life in Paradise is great and all, but it’s really only half of life.

Complete knowledge involves a confrontation with suffering and death, and even today, most people aren’t prepared to handle that.

One last thing…

Were you intimidated at all by the dense passage above?

It’s OK if you were! Paradise Lost is one of the toughest works in the English language.

But if it didn’t immediately come to you, the full idea of what Milton was saying in the above quote, and if you worked at it just a little bit, you probably “got it”, right?

I felt the same way in the beginning, and I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I finally got into Milton’s rhythm and started to really “get” Paradise Lost.

You can do it too. Don’t be intimidated.

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 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: “But What If We’re Wrong?” By Chuck Klosterman

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From My Notes:

“The precise values of gravity and the mass of electrons could have been set by a simulator which created the experience we’re all having right now.”

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Klosterman is referring, of course, to the Simulation Argument by Nick Bostrom, a professor at Oxford.

His mostly-serious paper on what came to be known as the Simulation Argument features prominently in Klosterman’s book, and it’s one of the coolest thought experiments in currency today.

Basically, the idea is that a futuristic civilization with the appropriate technology (us in the future, or anyone else for that matter) could use their scientific might to re-create everything that we think is real.

Yeah.

I wrote about it at length for an article featured in HighExistence.

It’s a fun read, and hopefully it will challenge some of your most basic assumptions.

You can check it out here.

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 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:

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.

Written by

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

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