The book “Life A User’s Manual” by Julian Baggini and Antonia Macaro has become one of my all-time favorite books. It’s filled with life advice that answers the hard and interesting questions of life. Each piece of advice is in the form of a short text, based on advice from the great philosophers.
I found this book in a cute small bookstore when I was visiting Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. The book immediately caught my eye since I was in the midst of an existential life crisis (still am) and it contains exactly the type of advice that I need to read.
One especially fun feature of the book is that the texts are based on themes such as contentment, achievement, solitude, anxiety, boredom, carpe diem, community, empathy, consumerism, death, and so on. And the book is formatted as a dictionary, where each “chapter” of the book is a letter (e.g. A, B, C), and in each chapter comes all the topics that begin with that letter. It’s the first time I’ve encountered a book with such a layout!
Related: Your success comes from your daily habits – Atomic Habits (Review)
Favorite quotes from “Life A User’s Manual”
Here are some snippets from the book that I loved to read and that resonated well with me, to give you a taste of the content!
“… some degree of achievement is necessary for everyone. Spending our days in a drug-fuelled stupor is no way to live. We need to develop our talents” and “… the sense of achievement that comes from developing our capacities can help to give life value”.
This quote resonates with me because I’m in the midst of struggling to find meaning in my life, and so far, working on this blog for example, or other creative projects have been the things that have given my life more meaning. I have found that resting all the time isn’t fun in the long run, at least not for me. This ties well to the next quote I’ll insert.
“Kirkegaard, for example, thought that “Boredom is the root of evil”. For him, it is not an absence of stimulation or of things to do but an absence of meaning, a sense of emptiness. ‘How dreadful boredom is’. You can’t break this kind of boredom by simply doing things – you have to understand why life has become drained of meaning and how you might recover it“Boredom
As mentioned, boredom has really been my biggest enemy. It’s a luxury to be able to afford to be bored, but it’s also a feeling that makes life feel meaningless and torturous almost. Being bored makes my skin crawl and makes me feel locked. The rest of the text on this topic says that the solution may be to find your values and honor them, instead of constantly trying to find “distractions” to counter boredom.
“He (Aristotle) allowed a moderate (this is important) amount of bodily pleasures – like ‘fine food and wine and sexual intercourse’ – in the good life. It is only excessive indulgence that is harmful”.Asceticism
I enjoyed reading this because some days I find myself restricting myself too much in regards to the pleasures of life such as unhealthy food or alcohol in order to live a “better” life. But I agree with Aristotle’s idea that such things should be okay, just not in over-indulgence.
“For him (Nietzsche), being authentic was not about finding a true self waiting to be discovered, but rather meant creating. We have to choose who we are and make ourselves the heroes of our own life. We create ourselves just as we might create a work of art or write a novel. The sign of authenticity is that the signature of the author of our being is ourselves.”Authenticity
This book is filled with topics and quotes like this, which is such good food for our minds, especially if you’re one to think about such questions and topics frequently.
A book that makes philosophy easy to understand
Perhaps you’re like me, interested in reading and learning about the teachings of great philosophers such as Aristotle, Camus, and Nietzsche. But then you pick up one of their books or original texts and just can’t seem to get through them. They’re so often such a struggle to really understand and sometimes you just want quick bite-size pieces of information, not a novel of 400+ pages. This book gives you those bite-size pieces of philosophy, minimizing the effort you need to assert to learn what you want to learn.
Some “proper” philosophy-interested people seem to have the idea that one must read the entire original works of a philosopher to learn something, and perhaps they’re right. I don’t know. But I do know that this book is perfect for lazy philosophy-interested people like me! So, if you sometimes think about philosophical questions of life, and seek answers based on “proper” philosophy, but don’t want to make too much of an effort yourself, then this book is absolutely perfect. And, highly enjoyable and helpful!
The texts in this book are also quite objective. On every topic, they bring in multiple philosophers’ opinions and arguments for and against different ways of seeing things. So it’s very nuanced which I feel makes it more authentic. Many other books I’ve read have a strong agenda and opinion that they’re trying to push onto you, but this one is just like an objective dictionary where you get to choose what you want to read about and what to think of it.