The Good: Interesting, Psychologically and sociological valid, Witty.
The Bad: Simplistic language, Historical allusions.
The Basics: Very readable, wise and interesting, Meditations is a quick, informative collection of philosophies.
Meditations is a discreet volume of philosophies that is easy to read, easy to understand and fairly accurate in its observations on the human condition. It's easy to evaluate the book from a historical perspective (Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor) or from a philosophical one (as in how truly Meditations captures the Stoic philosophy) but those would be boring to you and make me sound pretentious.
Meditations is a simple book of observations, often witty, on the workings of society, individuals and family. A good number of them catch right on the nature of the human animal and when Aurelius actually gives advice as opposed to making a simple observation, it is usually done in a classy way. That is, unlike the biblical sternness of god ("Thou Shalt Not . . .!"), Marcus Aurelius reads like a friend giving you his ear and sharing his wisdoms. My personal favorite is "To refrain from imitation is the best revenge." (Book six, 6. p. 91) Such one-line simplicities are the gems of Meditations and the bulk of the book is a collection of such advice or observations in the 1 - 4 line range.
What does slow the reader of Meditations down are the sheer number of pointless historical allusions. That is, there are places (like the first line, "Courtesy and serenity of temper I first learnt to know from my grandfather Verus." Book One, 1., p. 35) where Aurelius gives the origins of his thoughts or credits people lost in time to his traits. The first line seemed like a dedication, but such things pop up throughout the book and it is bothersome in that it serves no real purpose. Who cares where he learned such and such; far better to hear WHAT it was he learned than from where!
While in biblical storytelling, chain of custody for information is important, it seems less useful in Meditations. Simply put, because in Biblical times, how the information was passed down needed to be authenticated, the similar function in Meditations is distracting because there aren't hundreds of years between events and their recording. Aurelius simply could have been more direct with some of his beliefs as opposed to telling us where he got the beliefs from.
Despite being labeled as a Stoic, there's a lot of material here that points to the origins of Existentialism. Aurelius clearly cares about people and the nature of man and where we as a species are going, which is much more Existential. Who cares what it's labeled as? It's philosophy made fun and readable.
For other viewpoints on the world, please check out my reviews of:
The Souls Of Black Folk - DuBois
The Communist Manifesto - Marx and Engel
Leaves Of Grass - Whitman
For other book reviews, please check out my index page!
© 2010, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.