Summary: A panoply of wisdom and insight. This book stands out amongst other modern books on stoicism.
I’ve read a lot of books on stoicism, including the classics by Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, as well as newer books, which I read after reading the classics. What I love most about Stoic Living for the Modern Soul is that it inspires me rather than tries to teach me with academic lessons and rote techniques. In this way it is much the same as the classic works in its approach, that is that it shows us rather than tells us. I think this is because the author, Dmitri Mandaliev, says that he wrote this book as reminders to himself, in much the same way that Aurelius’ Meditations was written. I’ve looked at his blog (tao of dirt on wordpress) and have found his ‘Letters to a Young Man’ series, a body of work which continues to grow and echoes the Moral Letters of Seneca. This is what the world needs now, I’m convinced of that. So often we are told what to do but we are not shown.
I got this book a couple of days ago and started reading it immediately. For me it’s been one of those books which is filled with moments of insight and inspiration. As I read I found myself saying, “Yes, this is what I’ve been looking for”, feeling that I have found a voice which I can relate to. So many topics are covered which are relevant to living today, including work (and dealing with having a job you don’t like), friendship and marriage, self-control, taking care of your body and mind, appreciate life in the face of turmoil, all the things you’d expect to find in such a work.
The book is divided into five books. It starts with an Introduction followed by books on: the body, the mind, the spirit, and the living of life. (Excerpts are available on his blog here.) The intro discusses what stoicism is, but it’s not your typical walk down academic lane with history. That has been done to death. Instead, it gives Mandaliev’s personal take on stoicism and parts of it are unexpected to me but nonetheless make perfect sense. In a way, it’s almost a re-framing of stoicism from a modern perspective, but one which retains the core elements and just views the words of the ancients somewhat differently than others do.
The following chapters take on each of the topics with clarity, dignity and with a personal touch which draws you into the world of the author. As I read I found myself contemplating my own life through the lens that Mandaliev presents, and I found that there are angles that I wasn’t considering. The human quality with which problems with work and with family are handled, make you feel that you have a mentor who is helping you a long, much the same way that I’ve felt when reading Seneca. Mandaliev’s ‘Letters to a Young Man’ series is much the same way, incidentally.
If you’re interested in learning about stoicism, or are a seasoned pro, I recommend this book. I dare say it could be life-changing. There’s something new here which I think has been missing from the writing on stoicism of late, and that is a personal voice which is human and that we can all relate to. I’ve grown tired of dry lessons and ‘techniques’ which always fail me. What I’ve been craving is a new voice to go along with the classic stoics, one which understands the specific troubles I have day-to-day. The ancient stoic writings and their principles still help, obviously, but it’s very helpful having someone talk about things like cell phones and how they distract us from more important things, from a stoic viewpoint. I dare say that Dmitri Mandaliev has picked up the torch from the past and is carrying it forward, and in doing so he takes it with us.
You can get the book here.