on 23 December 2011
Roman Krznaric's Wonderbox is an amazing combination of high intellect, deep empathy and accessibility. Covering the 'big' issues, of death, family, nature, love, travel etc he draws on the wisdom of the ages and melds those ideas into something far bigger than the sum of their parts. But by setting itself such a high mark as to offer us a guide to life it is a shame that there are gaps - and my main criticism is that these gaps included some of the things that mean most to me - music and animals for example. However, this is still an exciting and entertaining book. It is one of those books that makes you feel cleverer and better about yourself on completion - and perhaps there will be another ... filling in some of those gaps ...
on 14 January 2012
Secular society has failed to provide us with a guide on how to live. As Krznaric suggests, the self-help literature and the psychology of happiness seem unsatisfactory and superficial. His approach, which seems so obvious and compelling once embarked upon, is to seek guidance from history. This beautiful book draws inspiration from how those before us have made sense of the things that matter most to us: love, family, empathy, work, time, money, creativity, belief, and death. Krznaric effortlessly draws on the vast richness of how people have lived in the past. We discover that despite our many forms of progress, often those before us had far deeper conceptions of how to live. Love has a far more subtle and varied form in Confucian, Buddhist and ancient Greek thought. Time, "the tyranny of the clock" which Krznaric describes, has not always been our master. Rushing to achieve more we often succeed only in experiencing and understanding less. There are wonderful alternatives, such as the Balinese concepts of "full days" and "empty days". Nothing in this book is predictable, or dull. Intriguingly, family conversation is something we have struggled with as much in the past as the present. But the ways in which we have failed, and the examples of cultures that succeed, can provide guidance. The range of sources and relevance of this book is impressive. But Krznaric keeps his erudition hidden; his wisdom comes to the fore. This book is not just a guide on how to live. Reading this book is an end in itself. It is a deep, moving, pleasure.
Loved this book: I enjoyed, too, the writing style and also how the author discussed examples from his own life which added interest and gave it more grounding.
Some chapters were more interesting than others and I especially liked the first on the six forms of love as held by the ancient Greeks. I would have liked a little more on the ex KKK member and his Damascene conversion and why this took place. I also thought the discussion on male roles in the family could have been more interesting. The discussion about time difficult to take on and I am not sure that covering up the digital clock on the cooker is the answer and trying in some way to disengage from time is a luxury, I suspect, few professionals can afford. The last chapter on 'deathscene' also difficult and the author's condemnation of nursing homes a little severe. Whether we like it or not they are an essential part of our care for the elderly and though there are some that are badly run, with poor care for the residents; there are many others where excellent standards of care apply and people are treated, at all times, with sensitivity, dignity and respect by people who often don't earn very much.
Many more discussions in the book were amazing and I believe that the discussions as aired in the book are precisely the areas that our society in general will need to have in the coming years.
During a holiday to Kenya a couple of years ago I was interested to hear the views of the taxi driver. Walking along the mud roads were many school children, all of whom were dressed in uniform and would walk miles to attend school. They live in muddy shacks for the most part. I asked him if he thought the people were happy? He slowed his taxi and said, "You know, I think they are." I then told him that people at home took tablets to make themselves happy. At this point he nearly stopped his taxi as he turned to me with amazement. "I've heard that!" I didn't have the heart to tell him that I am the guy who dishes them out in increasing quantities. For all our modern lifestyles, I find people less happy not more. In addition I suspect that it's gathering pace. People resort to tablets not because they are weak or want a quick fix, but simply because there is something wrong with our current lifestyles that means, quite simply, that an increasing number would not be able to get by without resorting to either medication or counselling or both. There is no shame in this but I worry that it's symptomatic of wider ills.
I don't have the answers, but what I do know is that sometimes we all need the courage to espouse two of my favourite maxims:
The "be out" theory and the "be someone else" theory. This book discusses such things in much more detail across the whole panoply of human endeavour and interest and for those, who have the courage, it isn't a bad starting point. So, in summary, an essential read for modern lives that few will fail to be touched and impressed by.
on 1 March 2012
Normally, books that tell me how to live an authentic life leave me cold. But this is different. It is a compendium of how learned (and sometimes unlearned) people from a different time and/or place have tried to live a good life. How was time managed before we had clocks and watches, and how is time managed in Bali? Why do we approach death with dread? Does it have to be that way? How have people in the past made travel meaningful and life affirming. The writer is clearly exceptionally well read and is himself open to experiences as evidenced by dozens of personal anecdotes. This is at once a moving yet humorous read, and often inspirational. Many will be familiar with story of Helen Keller's sense deprivation and how she overcame it. Few will know the story of Ku Klux Klan chief CP Ellis and how he came to empathise with and later befriend, for life, a Black woman, Ann Atwater. The book is a treasure trove of anecdotes from times and places less well endowed materially than our world and time, but which nevertheless throw a sharp light on our times and values and hints at how we can make our lives today more fulfilling.
on 17 February 2012
Kznaric's Wonderbox is a chamber of surprising revelations, full of fascinating links between the past and the present. Learning from history is not just for historians, but for all of us (including, we could wish, our politicians). Krznaric is more of a philosopher than a historian, and it could be rather irritating to be told how to live by someone who makes his living by writing and teaching: how many of us would love to be able to do just that? But his writing is so crystal-clear, and his historical examples so illuminating, that it is hard to remain irritated and easy to be enlightened. As for living differently...
on 15 January 2012
This is quite the best book of 'popular' wisdom I have read in a very long time and I warmly recommend it to all customers. It is superbly written, tendering well-argued and humbly offered suggestions on how one can, at the very least, perform some very useful fine-tuning of one's general outlook on life, whilst bravely confronting some of the 'big' issues. The final chapter, on Deathstyle, is masterly. There is nothing hectoring, preachy, partisan, sectarian or unrealistic about any of the conclusions the author comes to, and, whilst at 63 I do not consider myself wholly without some insight into the important elements of what constitutes a well-lived life, I wish I had been able to read it 20 years ago. It is truly an edifying read for all ages.
on 4 March 2013
This book really is a wonderbox that challenged what I had taken for granted and exposed the flux of western culture for good or ill. If you want an adventure of the mind and to come away with a chance of living a little differently read this book. The best philosopher and thinkers book I have read in an age showing you what delights history can reveal about how to live now. It covers so many topics succinctly and elegantly.
I can't recommend it enough.
on 1 May 2013
A wonderbox indeed: the author links out quest for the good life to some surprising facets of history. He explains how many of the things we consider essential to our happiness are actually recent phenomenons, and we could all do with slowing down and living a little more mindfully. His style is never heavy, yet very elegantly written, and his erudition is impressive. I think anybody would benefit from a dip into this lovely book.
on 24 June 2012
I second what the other reviewers have written but what hasn't been mentioned much is how entertainingly Krznaric writes. I really enjoyed reading this as well as finding the material fascinating (a combination that doesn't always happen).
I'd also recommend his other book, "How to Find Fulfilling Work".
He's a very interesting writer and I look forward to whatever he's going to come up with next.
on 19 March 2012
This book is brilliant. It makes you think and consider whether the way we live now is actually better than in the past. It makes you look at the way you form relationships and how you put up with jobs you don't enjoy because you don't think there's an alternative. It's a book you can put down and pick up anytime and read a lot or a little.