When was the last time you got really excited about a book? For me, it was a couple of weeks ago. I saw a review of a book called The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons From Dead Philosophers by Eric Weiner. I sort of fell in love with the cover—bright yellow with a cartoonish version of Rodin’s “The Thinker” sitting in a train seat.
The last time I was on a train was in March, racing across the French countryside on the TGV and then hopping onto the Eurostar to get back to London and hopefully home before the borders were closed. We made it. Just in time. But with more gray hair than when we left.
Since then, life has been crazy in ways I never imagined it could be, so when I saw what looked like a philosophy book, but with trains, and only 350 pages long, I was intrigued. I got a copy and have been rationing myself to reading a chapter a day for the past couple of weeks, even though I often want to read more.
I love this book. I want everyone I know to get a copy. And I want to have book club meetings again—even if they’re over Zoom—so I can talk about it with my friends.
Each chapter of the book describes a train ride the author took to visit a dead philosopher’s old stomping grounds. Then he talks about what he’s learned from each of these great thinkers. He encourages us all to practice philosophy in the same way that you’d practice football or piano or anything else that requires some dedication to learning the skill.
Weiner is excellent at distilling each of the philosophers’ works to a fine point. For example, Marcus Aurelius asks the question: “Why should I get out of bed?” I won’t spoil the answer for you. Read the chapter.
Thoreau teaches us how to really see things.
Schopenhauer, how to listen.
Gandhi, how to fight.
And Weiner is funny. One of my favorite quotes from the book is in the Gandhi chapter. Weiner says of himself,
“I do practice non-violence but inconsistently and with passive-aggressive undertones.”
If, like me, this year has thrown you for a bit of a loop and you’re questioning your place in the world, I’d like to recommend this book as a starting point for your philosophical journey. It’s not going to provide all the answers for how to live your life, but it will help you realize how much fun it can be trying to find them yourself.Do you have an interest in Philosophy? The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor offers exciting degrees through the College of Christian Studies. We invite you to stop by for a visit, and see if UMHB is a fit for you.