Wednesday, September 21, 2022

On Our "Virtual Route 66" This Week: In America

 


In 1761, 55-year-old Benjamin Franklin attended the coronation of King George III and later wrote that he expected the young monarch’s reign would “be happy and truly glorious.” Then, in 1776, he helped to draft and then signed the Declaration of Independence. An 81-year-old man in 1787, he urged his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to rally behind the new plan of government they had written. 

“I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them,” he said, “For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.”

The framers of the new constitution hoped it would fix the problems of the first attempt to create a new nation. During the Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress had hammered out a plan for a confederation of states, but with fears of government tyranny still uppermost in lawmakers’ minds, they centered power in the states rather than in a national government. 

The result—the Articles of Confederation—was a “firm league of friendship” among the 13 new states, overseen by a congress of men chosen by the state legislatures and in which each state had one vote. The new pact gave the federal government few duties and even fewer ways to meet them. Indicating their inclinations, in the first substantive paragraph the authors of the agreement said: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.” 

Within a decade, the states were refusing to contribute money to the new government and were starting to contemplate their own trade agreements with other countries. An economic recession in 1786 threatened farmers in western Massachusetts with the loss of their farms when the state government in the eastern part of the state refused relief; in turn, when farmers led by Revolutionary War captain Daniel Shays marched on Boston, propertied men were so terrified their own property would be seized that they raised their own army for protection. 

The new system clearly could not protect property of either the poor or the rich and thus faced the threat of landless mobs. The nation seemed on the verge of tearing itself apart, and the new Americans were all too aware that both England and Spain were standing by, waiting to make the most of the opportunities such chaos would create.

And so, in 1786, leaders called for a reworking of the new government centered not on the states, but on the people of the nation represented by a national government. The document began, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union….” 

The Constitution established a representative democracy, a republic, in which three branches of government would balance each other to prevent the rise of a tyrant. Congress would write all “necessary and proper” laws, levy taxes, borrow money, pay the nation’s debts, establish a postal service, establish courts, declare war, support an army and navy, organize and call forth “the militia to execute the Laws of the Union” and “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” 

The president would execute the laws, but if Congress overstepped, the president could veto proposed legislation. In turn, Congress could override a presidential veto. Congress could declare war, but the president was the commander in chief of the army and had the power to make treaties with foreign powers. It was all quite an elegant system of paths and tripwires, really.

A judicial branch would settle disputes between inhabitants of the different states and guarantee every defendant a right to a jury trial.

In this system, the new national government was uppermost. The Constitution provided that “[t]he Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States,” and promised that “the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion….”

Finally, it declared: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

“I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such,” Franklin said after a weary four months spent hashing it out, “because I think a general Government necessary for us,” and, he said, it “astonishes me…to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our…States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats.” “On the whole,” he said to his colleagues, “I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility—and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.”

On September 17, 1787, they did.

Notes:

https://allthingsliberty.com/2019/05/the-annapolis-convention-of-1786-a-call-for-a-stronger-national-government/

https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a7s3.html

https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/articles-of-confederation#transcript


Thursday, September 8, 2022

On Our "Virtual Route 66" On this First Week In September: Thoughts Courtesy Ryan Holiday

 As we continue our "Virtual Route 66" journey this week, we present the following thoughts courtesy of Ryan Holiday: 

Unlike the “pen-and-ink philosophers,” as the type was derisively known even 2,000 years ago, to the Stoics, Stoicism is something you DO. They were most concerned with how one lived. The choices you made, the causes you served, the principles you adhered to in the face of adversity. They cared about what you did, not what you said.

Throw away your books, Marcus Aurelius said. “Don’t talk about what a good man is like. Be one.”

So in this article, I want to show you some DOERS. I want to share with you some of the most extraordinary, most inspiring moments of Stoicism in the real world, in history, practiced by real philosophers—whether they knew that’s what they were doing or not.

Shunzo Kido

At the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California, a flashy Japanese equestrian named Shunzo Kido gave one of the most remarkable performances in the history of sports.

He was competing in the 22 ½ mile, 50 obstacle jump endurance horse race. It wasn’t his usual event. His horse wasn’t trained for it. But a teammate was injured and without hesitation Kido replaced him. Off to a solid lead, he surprised the crowd and was in a position for gold. But just as he pulled away from the pack going into the finish and cleared the second-to-last jump, he stunned the crowd by pulling the reins and dropping out of the race.

Why?

He could feel the horse struggling and sensed that even just a few more seconds at full speed would kill the horse as it crossed the finish line.

As the plaque on the Friendship Bridge along the Mount Rubidoux Trail commemorating his unprecedented displayed of sportsmanship reads,

“Lt. Col. Shunzo Kido turned aside from the prize to save his horse. He heard the low voice of mercy, not the loud acclaim of glory.”

As the Stoics would say—it’s not winning that counts. It’s character.

Epaminondas

Plutarch tells us about a general and statesman in Greece named Epaminondas who, despite his brilliance on and off the battlefield, was appointed to an insultingly minor office in Thebes responsible for the city’s sewers.

In fact, it was because of his brilliance that he was put in this role, as a number of jealous and fearful rivals thought it would effectively end his career.

But instead of being provoked or despairing at his irrelevance, Epaminondas took fully to his new job, declaring that the distinction of the office isn’t brought to the man, the man brings the distinction to the office.

With discipline and earnestness, Plutarch wrote, “he proceeded to transform that insignificant office into a great and respected honor, even though previously it had involved nothing more than overseeing the clearing of dung and the diverting of water from the streets.”

By the way, this story is adapted from my latest book, Discipline is Destiny: The Power of Self-Control. The aim of the book is to teach you how to harness the powers of self-discipline and self-control so that like the many great men and women throughout the book, you too can fulfill a great destiny. It officially releases on 9/27, but you can pre-order it right now!

We’ve put together some exciting bonuses, including a signed and numbered page from the original manuscript. You can learn more about those and how to receive them over at Dailystoic.com/preorder.

Jackie Robinson

In 1945, a couple years before Jackie Robinson broke into Major League Baseball, he had a meeting with Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. “l’m looking for a ball player,” Rickey said, “with the guts not to fight back.”

There would be hotel clerks refusing him a room, rude waiters, and opponents shouting slurs. Any bit of retaliation, Rickey knew, would not only end Robinson’s career, but would set back his grand experiment of breaking MLB’s color barrier for at least a generation.

The manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, Ben Chapman, was particularly brutal. “[He was] the most vicious of any of the people in terms of name calling,” Robinson said.

Despite, as he later wrote, wanting to, “grab one of those white sons of bitches and smash his teeth in with my despised black fist,” Robinson never retaliated. Not only that, but a month after playing the Phillies in 1947, he agreed to take a friendly photo with Chapman to help save the man’s job.

The thought of touching, posing with such an asshole, even sixty years removed, almost turns the stomach. Robinson would write in I Never Had It Made, “I have to admit that having my picture taken with this man was one of the most difficult things I had to make myself do.” He was willing to do it, he said, because it was part of a larger plan.

Knowing what he wanted and needed to do in baseball, it was clear what he would have to tolerate in order to do it.

Marcus Aurelius, who also brushed up against a fair share of terrible people, said that asking to never encounter a shameless person is to ask for the impossible, but, “the best revenge is not to be like that.”

George Marshall

George Marshall never wanted anything more. It was the promotion he worked for his entire career, the opportunity he dreamed of his entire life. To lead a historic military invasion—it’s what a soldier’s reputation depends on. It was Marshall’s for the taking. But he turned it down.

The U.S. was preparing to launch the invasion at Normandy. Marshall wrote the document outlining the strategy. It was assumed he would command the invasion.

But President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to keep Marshall in Washington. Marshall was his chief of staff. In the waging of a global war, Roosevelt said he didn’t think he’d be able to sleep without his chief of staff in Washington. But Roosevelt also knew what Marshall wanted. He wanted to storm the beaches of Normandy. He wanted to be an American hero.

So Roosevelt left it up to Marshall. If he wanted the command, it was his.

No, Marshall said, this isn’t about what I want. He told Roosevelt to, “act in whatever way he felt was to the best interests of the country…and not in any way to consider my feelings.”

Roosevelt gave the job to Marshall’s protégé, Dwight Eisenhower. The next day, Marshall had to draft the letter to President Stalin, informing him that, “The appointment of General Eisenhower to command of OVERLORD has been decided upon.” Roosevelt added the word “immediate” before “appointment” then signed it. Marshall sent the original copy of the letter to Eisenhower with the note: “Dear Eisenhower: I thought you might like to have this as a memento. It was written very hurriedly by me as the final meeting broke up yesterday, the president signing it immediately. G.C.M.”

Eisenhower became the famous leader of the Normandy invasion. Eisenhower became president. Eisenhower became the American hero. Not Marshall.

Eisenhower later called that copy of the letter, “one of my most cherished mementos of World War II.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

At the SCLC conference in 1962 in Birmingham, Ala., Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before a large, integrated audience and gave the closing address. As King spoke, thanking the audience and reminding them of plans for the next year, a white man named Roy James walked onto the stage and began to savagely beat him.

The first punch struck King with such force in the face that he spun around. King turned to face his assailant and dropped his hands, “like a newborn baby,” as one observer recalled, to receive more blows.

The next blows came in rapid succession, hitting him in the head and the back, filling the now silent auditorium with the sickening sound of bone connecting with flesh.

He was opening himself to an attacker, instinctually, under fire, proving his commitment to nonviolence.

As an angry crowd of people tried to come to King’s defense, he shouted, “Don’t touch him! We have to pray for him.” As the crowd began to pray and sing, King spoke kindly to the man who had just beaten him, reassuring him that he would not be hurt. After he went to a private office where he was given two aspirin by Rosa Parks, King concluded the conference as he held an ice pack to his face.

I tell this story in more detail in Discipline is Destiny—King appears throughout the book and is one of the great examples of what one can achieve with self-discipline and self-control. As I said above, Discipline is Destiny officially releases on 9/27, but you can pre-order it right now!

Zeno

Zeno lost everything. He was forced to start over. He could have resented this. He could have been bitter. It could have broken him. Instead, he used his disaster to change the world.

He was a merchant from a family who made their fortune trading Tyrian, the purple dye used to dye the robes of kings.

On a voyage across the Mediterranean, Zeno’s ship and all its cargo sank.

No one knows how it happened. All we know is that Zeno was stranded somewhere in Athens, while his ship sat at the bottom of the sea.

He made his way to the nearest city and walked into a bookstore where the bookseller happened to be reading works about Socrates. Spellbound, Zeno asked the bookseller where he could meet someone like Socrates. He introduced Zeno the famous Cynic philosopher Crates of Thebes.

Zeno trained with Crates and other Socratic philosophers for the next twenty years. Eventually he founded his own school on a public porch in Athens called the Stoa Poikile

“Well done,” Zeno would later say to Fortune, “to drive me thus to philosophy!” “I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered a shipwreck,” he said.

Theodore Roosevelt

It was over a century ago now that Theodore Roosevelt walked out of the Gilpatrick Hotel on his way to the Milwaukee Auditorium to give a speech to a packed crowd as part of his independent campaign for president.

As he approached the venue, a man rushed from the crowd and shot him at close range.

The bullet—a .38 caliber—hit Roosevelt in the chest but was miraculously slowed by the eyeglasses case and the thick folded speech he had in his overcoat pocket.

His staff tried to rush him to the hospital, but Roosevelt insisted he still had to give the speech.

He walked on stage, quieted the crowd, and said, “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”

When something goes wrong, a Stoic isn’t cowed by it. They don’t quit. They say to themselves, It’s going to take a lot more than that to stop me. They don’t just accept that it happened, they love that it happened.

Marcus Aurelius said when things happen that we would have preferred didn’t happen, there’s basically two kinds of people: people who see an obstacle and people who see an opportunity. He loved the metaphor of fire—he wanted to be like the “blazing fire [that] takes whatever you throw on it and consumes it, and rises higher” because of it.

Like a Bull Moose, a blazing fire, a Stoic, next time something goes wrong, say to yourself: it’s going to take more than that to stop me.

Steve Scott

In 1996, Tiger Woods headed into the U.S. Amateur Championship having won thirty straight matches. With a win at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, Tiger would become the first golfer to ever win three straight U.S. Amateur Titles.

The first five rounds of match play were uneventful. Woods advanced to the finals where his opponent was the relatively unknown 19-year-old Steve Scott.

After the first 18 of the 36-hole final, no one could believe it: Scott led by 5 holes.

The final 18 holes were a battle. Tiger cut Scott’s lead to 1 by the back 9. On the par-3 10th, Scott drained a flop shot from the deep rough to stretch his lead back to 2. Then Tiger sank a legendary thirty-five-foot putt for eagle to move within 1.

On the 16th hole, down two with three holes to play, Tiger hit his wedge shot within six feet of the pin. He placed a quarter to mark his ball before picking it up. The marker was in Scott’s putting line, so he asked Tiger to slide it over, and so he did. Scott made his par putt.

Forgetting he’d moved his marker, Tiger put his ball down and was about to putt from the wrong spot. If he did, he’d automatically lose the hole and the tournament.

But before Tiger could make this historic mistake, Scott intervened, “Hey, Tiger, did you move that back?”

Tiger paused, returned his marker then his ball to the correct spot, and made the putt. He birdied 17 to force a sudden death playoff. On the second playoff hole, Scott’s putt lipped out, and Tiger tapped his in for the victory and his place in history.

It would be Scott’s one and only moment in the spotlight. He hoped to have a career on the PGA Tour but it didn’t quite pan out. But in an interview for a piece commemorating the twenty-year anniversary of that 1996 match, Scott said “[I’ve] gone on to have a great life. I think I’m walking proof that you can win in life without winning.”

“Runners in a race ought to compete and strive to win as hard as they can,” the Stoic Chrysippus said, “but by no means should they trip their competitors or give them a shove. So too in life; it is wrong to seek after the things useful in life; but to do so while depriving someone else is not just.”

Frederick Douglass

It was the 1840s. Only a couple years after Frederick Douglass had escaped the slave state he was born in and “bade farewell…to that slavery which had been my abhorrence from childhood.”

The young man, still in his early twenties, was on a mission. A member of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Douglass toured all across the Northeastern United States. He attended abolitionist meetings. He told the story of his escape from bondage. He lectured at churches and chapels and universities and small town centers and anywhere there was a chance people might congregate.

Traveling somewhere in Pennsylvania, Douglass was forced to move and ride in the baggage car because of his race.

A white supporter rushed up to apologize for this horrible offense. “I am sorry, Mr. Douglass, that you have been degraded in this manner,” the person said.

Douglass wouldn’t accept any of the gentleman’s consoling.

No, he wasn’t angry. He wasn’t hurt. He replied with great fervor: “They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me.”

The ancient Stoics—because of their independent thinking, their positions of leadership, and their willingness to stand on principle—were often the subjects of verbal and physical mistreatment.

But it was Epictetus, the slave turned Stoic teacher, who said that a person can only degrade you with your consent. “It is not enough to be insulted or to be harmed. You must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.”

James Stockdale

On September 9, 1965, Admiral James Stockdale’s A-4 Skyhawk jet was shot down in Vietnam.

“Five years down there, at least,” Stockdale said after ejecting from his plane. “I’m leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.”

The North Vietnamese used thirteen prisons and prison camps. The Hỏa Lò Prison was famously the worst. Hỏa Lò means “fiery furnace” or “Hell’s hole,” which is what it was—a dark dungeon where captives were physically and mentally tortured to the unimaginable extreme.

It was the center of North Vietnam’s propaganda exploitation and psychological warfare where no limits were placed on getting the enemy to break down and confess war crimes. So if you were a high ranking American troop that got captured, you went to Hỏa Lò.

Stockdale was not only high ranking, of the 800 prisoners estimated to enter Hỏa Lò, Stockdale had no superior. Victory then for the captors in the “Hanoi Hilton,” as Stockdale and his fellow inmates would come to call it, was getting Stockdale to break.

His captors kept him in the main torture room in the most isolated part of the prison. After a month straight of torture, they thought they had him. They thought he was broken and ready to be marched down town to commit treason in front of television cameras.

Before they could, they needed him to look presentable, so they took him out of the torture room to a bathroom where he’s told to shower and shave.

Left alone in the bathroom, Stockdale grabbed the razor he was given to shave, and sliced open his scalp. He’s bandaged and thrown in a cell while his captors look for something to cover the wounds, now even more determined to parade him in front of cameras.

Stockdale, realizing he needed to further disfigure himself, took a wooden stool and bashed his face until he could barely see.

Guards rushed in and debated with one another about what to tell their commander. “You tell him,” Stockdale interrupted, “that the captain will not be going downtown.”

The sheer bravery and strength. It’s just unreal—a living embodiment of what Epictetus said, “you may bind up my leg, but not even Zeus has the power to break my freedom of choice.” His captors deprived him. They tortured him. They beat him. They stripped him of his possessions. But they could not break him.

Simone Biles

She was called “selfish,” a “quitter,” a “shame to the country,” and the proof that, “we are raising a generation of weak people.”

But actually, what she did was incredibly disciplined and unselfish.

At the Tokyo Olympics, four-time gold medalist Simone Biles withdrew from the all-around competition, an event she won gold in at the Rio de Janeiro games. Had she competed, Biles would have been vying to become the first woman to win back-to-back gold medals in the all-around in over fifty years.

The day before she made the decision to withdraw, Biles felt off. Her take-offs felt off. Her aerials felt off. Her landings felt off. And she knew, if she were to perform the way she was performing, she would have cost her teammates a medal.

So Biles put the team first. “I can’t risk a medal for the team,” she explained, “so I need to call it.” She admitted, “you usually don’t hear me say things like that because I’ll usually persevere and push through things, but not to cost the team a medal.”

Stoicism, being disciplined, is not about punishing yourself. It’s a firm school, for sure, but as Seneca, after a lifetime of study of philosophy, came to judge his own growth: “What progress have I made?” he wrote. “I have begun to be a friend to myself.”

It is an act of self discipline to be kind to yourself, to rest when you’re not feeling your best, to put the team first—that’s what friends do.

Marcus Aurelius

Late in his reign, sick and possibly near death, Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius received surprising news. His old friend and most trusted general, Avidius Cassius, had rebelled in Syria. Having heard the emperor was vulnerable or possibly dead, the ambitious general declared himself Caesar and assumed the throne.

Marcus should have been angry. After all, this man was trying to take his job and possibly his life. If we think about what other emperors did to their rivals and enemies–for instance Nero killed his own mother and Otho had Galba murdered in 69 A.D. and paraded his head around Rome–it makes Marcus’s response all the more unusual. Because he didn’t immediately set out to crush this man who had betrayed him, who threatened his life, his family, and his legacy. Instead, Marcus did nothing. He even kept the news secret from his troops, who might have been enraged or provoked on his behalf—and simply waited: Would Cassius come to his senses?

The man did not. And so Marcus Aurelius called a council of his soldiers and made a rather extraordinary announcement. They would march against Cassius and obtain the “great prize of war and of victory.” But of course, because it was Marcus, this war prize was something wholly different.

Marcus informed them of his plan to capture Cassius, but not kill him. Instead, he would “forgive a man who has wronged one, to remain a friend to one who has transgressed friendship, to continue faithful to one who has broken faith.”

In a true Stoic fashion, Marcus had controlled his perceptions. He wasn’t angry, he didn’t despise his enemy. He would not say an ill word against him. He would not take it personally. Then he acted—rightly and firmly—ordering troops to Rome to calm the panicking crowds and then set out to do what must be done: protect the empire, put down a threat.

As he told his men, if there was one profit they could derive from this awful situation that they had not wanted, it would be to “settle this affair well and show to all mankind that there is a right way to deal even with civil wars.”

It brings to mind a line from another Stoic, Seneca: “Bestow pardon for many things; seek pardon for none.” This is a common theme in Stoicism—one we hear often in the writings of Marcus Aurelius: Hold yourself to a very high standard, and don’t make excuses when you fail to meet it. Meanwhile, leave other people to their standards and make every excuse you can when they fail. Be tough on yourself; be understanding to your fellow citizens.

Stoicism is not a philosophy for school. It never has been. It’s been a philosophy for life.

“Show me a Stoic, if you know of one,” Epictetus said. “Show me someone untroubled with disturbing thoughts about illness, danger, death, exile or loss of reputation. By all the gods, I want to see a Stoic!”

So go and do as the Stoics have done all throughout history. Do the right thing. Be strong in the face of adversity. Show us a Stoic. Show us the actions of a philosopher.

Today. Tomorrow. Always.

We honor work…by not working. How could that possibly be right?

It’s an idea that seems particularly out of step with the glorification of long hours and hustle that has come from the startup world. We’re supposed to be working 80- to 100-hour weeks, coming into the office on weekends, dedicating ourselves exclusively to our careers or our businesses, moving fast and breaking things. We’re supposed to, as Marcus Aurelius himself said, find something we love and wear ourselves down doing it.

Just look at the reaction to Simone Biles, who created global controversy by withdrawing from the Olympics, prioritizing her mental health over her athletic performance. She was called “selfish,” a “quitter,” a “shame to the country,” and the proof that, “we are raising a generation of weak people.”

In fact, the relationship between work and leisure, working hard and taking it easy, hustling and relaxing, is ancient and essential. It was Aristotle who believed that virtue was the result of balance, of finding a middle ground. It’s no coincidence that he also said, famously, that, “This is the main question, with what activity one’s leisure is filled.”

The word leisure, in Greek, is scholé—that is, school. In antiquity, leisure meant freedom from the work needed to survive. It was the freedom for intellectual or creative pursuits. It was learning and studying and the pursuit of higher things. It was Marcus’ warning, “to not be all about business.” It was Seneca reminding his friend Lucilius, “The mind must be given relaxation. It will rise improved and sharper after a good break. Just as rich fields must not be forced…so constant work on the anvil will fracture the force of the mind.”

This warning is all the more crucial in a time when digital devices and working from home make work ubiquitous. Who has time for leisure? For a book? For a long bike ride? For an afternoon with friends and family? Emails and Zoom calls beckon. Responsibilities call. This client needs you and that coworker needs you to check Slack.

But what kind of shape will we be in if we do this without respite? If we stigmatize and shame people who prioritize their long-term mental and physical health over the short-term gain of tasks completed, meetings attended, emails returned, conference calls joined? If we don’t heed that ancient advice to not be all about business?

Your brain is not meant to be constantly connected. You need time to relax, recover, and restore. You need to celebrate Labor Day. You need to honor work by not working. You need to not be all about business.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

#OutsiderVibes (Special Labor Day Editioni): Fire in the Sky

As the Labor Day W-End dawns here in the United States, our team chose this special #outsidervibes to honor all who have served.   We look forward to the continued privilege to serve as we go dark in our properties for the labor day weekend.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

On Our Final "Virtual Route 66" For the Month

 

We present the following #RandomThoughts as we bid farewell to August and await September--We will be dark through labor day here in the United States: 

Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants To Be by Steven Pressfield

Before I start any book project, I take a few hours and re-read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, maybe the greatest book ever written on the creative process. Well, on this book I just ar of Art by Steven Pressfield, maybe the greatest book ever.   Well, on this book I just started, I changed it up a little because I got an early copy of Pressfield’s new book, Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be. I love the title so much because it’s the perfect advice for nearly every difficult thing. If you want to get in shape, put your ass in the gym. If you want to have a great relationship with your kids, get your ass down on the floor where they’re playing. If you want to write a book, put your ass in the chair. Even when you’re tired. Even when you don’t want to. Even when you don’t see the point. That’s what it’s about. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to show up. (In a word, he’s also talking about discipline). I was very glad to have him out to interview about the book too, (which you can listen to here). And he was nice enough to sign copies of pretty much all his books (Gates of FireA Man at ArmsVirtues of WarTurning ProThe Artist’s Journey, and The Authentic Swing, which we have at the Painted Porch Bookshop).

Truman by David McCullough

I also talked last month about the swarm strategy, and I’ve been swarming Truman. I first read this biography in 2020, I reread it at the beginning of August, and then I was sad to learn about the passing of McCullough on the 7th. If you haven’t read his work, you must. (If you’ve ever been to The Painted Porch, you know I only carry my favorite books and among that selective inventory are McCullough's TrumanThe Johnstown Flood, and Mornings on Horseback). McCullough is a world-class biographer and an amazing storyteller, and Truman was a singular American president. I think he is the most unique and interesting President ever. He didn’t go to college, failed as a clothing store owner, somehow ended up succeeding FDR and ushered in the Nuclear Age, and was generally a stand-up guy. He was also a big reader. We built the Daily Stoic reading course around his famous quote: “Not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers.” Truman was a reader after my own heart—he devoured books on all topics, lived and breathed history and almost certainly drank deeply from thinkers like Plutarch. Don’t be put off by this big book (1,120 pages)—the pages turn like that. I also read Citizen Soldier: A Life of Harry S. Truman by Aida D. Donald, a much shorter but also fascinating volume biography of Truman. I enjoyed The Trials of Harry S. Truman: The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953 by Jeffry Frank. I absolutely LOVED Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman by Merle Miller, which I found trying to track down a passage about how Truman read and marked up Meditations. Oral histories are an underrated form of book and this one, mostly from a collection of interviews for an unrealized TV project, is one of the best I have ever read. Just a masterclass of lessons on leadership and life—I folded over just about every page.

Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945 by Evan Thomas

If you’ve been to the Painted Porch or seen pictures, you’ve seen our book tower. It’s 20 feet tall and made of some 2,000 books, 4,000 nails, and 40 gallons of glue. A good chunk of the books in the tower came from Books by the Foot, which will send you boxes and boxes of random books. When the tower was finished, among those 2,000 books, I spotted Sea of Thunder. I’ve long been an Evan Thomas fan (his book Being Nixon: A Man Divided is one of the best books I’ve ever read about a politician and I got a lot out of his book First, about Sandra Day O’Conner), so when I saw Sea of Thunder, I immediately ordered my own copy. It’s a fascinating book about the naval battles of the Pacific War, which I did know know much about. Thomas does a remarkable job portraying the Japanese side (shocker: their racism was at the root of many of their strategic mistakes in the war). I complemented this book with a visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War which happens to be located… in the middle of a small town in the Texas Hill Country. All these books tie in with two books I’ve recommended recently: Sailing True North and To Risk it All by Admiral Stavridis. You can also see my talk to the US Naval Academy from earlier this year on YouTube.

Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni

I first read a galley of this book in 2011, before I published any books about Stoicism. To reread it more than a decade later, I continue to be impressed by Cato’s ability to live on principle, his bravery, his self-sufficiency, the standards he held himself to. But I now better appreciate the criticism from his opponents about his inability to compromise, to be flexible, to assume formlessness, as Robert Greene puts the final law of power. For Cato, to compromise—to play politics—would have been moral capitulation. But playing politics is the very job of a politician. No one captured this tension better than Plutarch did in his profile of Cato in The Parallel Lives. Related, I highly recommend Plutarch’s How to Be a Leader. We were able to feature excerpts from the book on the Daily Stoic podcast, which you can listen to here and here.

Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry

I’ve said that Rising Tide is one of the greatest narrative non fiction books I’ve ever read. And I absolutely raved my head off about The Great Influenza many times during COVID (if you haven’t read it, you must!). When I was interviewing Barry for the podcast, I mentioned the phrase church and state to which he replied, "you know I’ve written a book on that?" I didn’t know! But once again, writing about the past, Barry nails exactly what’s happening in this moment—when people are trying to insert religious beliefs into politics, betraying the genius of our founders, who intended not just to respect differences of opinion on these impossible questions, but fundamentally enshrine that in the law. Roger Williams, fleeing not just the religious persecution of Europe at that time, but impossible, intractable conflicts that come from trying to answer inherently personal questions with the levers of state, built Rhode Island on a fundamentally different premise…and we are lucky he did so…and fail to follow his example at our peril. As you’d anticipate, this one is a little drier than a book about the 1927 Flood or the Spanish flu, but it is equally timeless.

Misc.

I wrote a Daily Dad email about a great piece in The Atlantic by Mary Laura Philpott, and it turned out Philpott’s husband is a Daily Dad subscriber (you should be too!), and they sent me a copy of her book Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives. It’s a sweet and moving book. Being a parent the last few years has not been easy, but then again, has it ever been? Have you read the Bad Art Friend piece in the New York Times? It’s unreal. Humans are crazy! Just do your best to be less crazy. I loved listening to Michael Mann on Marc Maron and am picking up the book he just wrote about the characters from the movie Heat. And I really enjoyed this piece by former NFL quarterback Jamarcus Russell published in The Players Tribune. It's a good reminder that you never know the full story, you never know what all someone has been through, you never know what someone is going through.

Kids

As a parent, one of our most important jobs is raising our kids to be readers (“Thou Shall Raise A Reader” is one of the commandments in The Stoic Parent course). Author Maya Payne Smart wrote an amazing new book, Reading for Our Lives, that helps parents not only understand why your child should read, but how. Smart stopped by the Painted Porch to sign copies, which you can pick up in person or online. It’s August, so my oldest just started back at school. Fittingly, we read Pigeon Has to Go to School! Our youngest isn’t quite old enough for school yet, but also in the back-to-school spirit, we read Time for School Little Blue Truck to him. This month one of our biggest kid’s book sellers at the Painted Porch has been Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which is a great back-to-school gift. And if your kids like graphic novels I recommend New Kid by Jerry Craft. We began carrying it after it was banned in a Texas school district.





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