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168 of 172 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book of practical philosophy ever written
The style is direct and unpretentious. The message is simple but extraordinarily powerful: life is short, the past and the future are inaccessible, pain and pleasure have no meaning, but inside each one of us there is a ruling faculty that is touched only by itself. Only that which makes us better capable of confronting our condition with resolution and courage can...
Published on December 1, 1998

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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's a new translation
I was excited to order the penguin classic as I now live in Japan and had left my prior copy in NY. However, I am not quite so happy with this new translation as I find it diluted for the masses and less meaningful. Though Marcus Aurelius offers great wisdom the new translation offers the stoic cliches stated so colloquially that we've heard them all before. Meditations...
Published on July 13, 2007 by James


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168 of 172 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book of practical philosophy ever written, December 1, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Meditations (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
The style is direct and unpretentious. The message is simple but extraordinarily powerful: life is short, the past and the future are inaccessible, pain and pleasure have no meaning, but inside each one of us there is a ruling faculty that is touched only by itself. Only that which makes us better capable of confronting our condition with resolution and courage can be said to be good, and only that which makes us worse and more unsatisfied can be said to be bad. The only thing that is of any importance is our own private quest for perfection, which no external power can ever destroy. Marcus Aurelius delivers many insightful and inspirational observations about human nature and the human condition, and he makes an excellent rational argument for seeking the good and for acting modestly and continently. I cannot think or a more satifying and moving work, and it is all the more poignant because it was written by a man who wielded almost absolute power and lived surrounded by the luxury, yet managed to keep things in perspective and to occupy himself only with what truly matters. One sentence captures perfectly the spirit of his writings: "Where a man can live, there he can also live well." An extraordinary testimony of wisdom and fortitude.
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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's a new translation, July 13, 2007
I was excited to order the penguin classic as I now live in Japan and had left my prior copy in NY. However, I am not quite so happy with this new translation as I find it diluted for the masses and less meaningful. Though Marcus Aurelius offers great wisdom the new translation offers the stoic cliches stated so colloquially that we've heard them all before. Meditations are statements to be slowly chewed, savored and deeply thought about; while I feel the current translation offers Aurelius in a more ambiguous, predigested and less flavorful form. However, I'm a bit particular! A prior reviewer found this helpful in that it was easier to read.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read reviews carefully, November 5, 2006
By 
D. Edmunds (Oregon (Pacific NW)) - See all my reviews
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Amazon has not done a good job sorting out the various editions and translations of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. As a result, comments with many stars actually may be referring to an entirely different translation. Likewise, hardbound references don't match up with the paperback versions. I'd recommend that you find a copy somewhere and look at the text yourself before you order.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Death and the emperor, March 26, 2008
By 
Kerry Walters (Lewisburg, PA USA) - See all my reviews
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I reread Marcus Aurelius' Meditations every five years or so, and each time I do I'm struck by the sheer pathos of the book. Here's the most powerful man in the world (of his day), the emperor Marcus Aurelius, absolute sovereign of the western world, a ruler who held the power of life and death over millions of subjects, and moreover a man steeped in philosophy and wisdom traditions--who confronts his own mortality and realizes that even he must die. The Meditations is Marcus' soul-searching, occasionally disingenuous, usually calm but sometimes panicky panicky effort to come to grips with that sobering fact. If life is ephemeral, even for the world's most powerful man, how should that life be lived?

It's this intensely human need to figure out what life is about before the inevitable night closes in that makes Marcus' journals so intensely interesting and valuable to the rest of us. His answers, coming from the philosophical tradition of Stoicism, aren't for everyone. My guess is that readers with a few years on them will find stoicism more attractive than younger readers who are full of oats and hormones. Marcus argues that that a happy life is one lived in accordance with nature; that living in accordance with nature means cultivating a "just" or rational mind and virtuous behavior that accord with the rationality of creation; that humans are interconnected both with nature and one another, such that no person who tries to deny the connection can live happily or healthily; and that human freedom and happiness is proportionate to the cultivation of apatheia or indifference to those matters over which we have no control (very much like the wisdom expressed in the Buddha's Four Noble Truths).

Ultimately, each person must face death alone, as best he or she can. But if Marcus's Meditations offer much food for thought, not only about the mortality which we all carry but also about the good life for which we all yearn.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some thoughts on translations and on Marcus Aurelius., July 26, 2009
By 
greg taylor (Portland, Oregon United States) - See all my reviews
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What makes Meditations an important book is that it provides the opportunity to discuss what it is to be human, to have a soul, to live a good life with one of the most remarkable men in history.
Before I get to that I want to second a suggestion made by several reviewers. Use two or more translations when you read the Meditations. I like this Penguin Classics edition. The introduction by Diskin Clay is useful, the translation by Martin Hammond is mostly accurate and his explanatory notes are very useful. There are some solid suggestions for further reading and several useful indices (of Names, of Quotations, and a General Index).
My one qualm about the translation is that Hammond sometimes makes the book sound a little Christian. Hammond will use "sin" where other translators (like Farquharson or Frances Hutchinson) would use "impiety" or "harm". This is decidedly not a Christian text. There is nothing in Marcus Aurelius (MA) of final judgment. There is no reward or punishment for our actions in this life. MA suspends judgments on all sorts of issues. It is clear that he believes in gods and occasionally talks about God (see 12.2). But he also mentions many times the alternative belief that all is chance and that death will be followed by oblivion. It is essential to his ethics however that death is not followed by any sort of hell.
Also worth thinking about is whether MA is a man whose philosophy is to be rejected (or, at least, radically modified) because it ultimately makes one less human. With MA, everything is to be thought through with the corrosive that is reason. We must not let our attachments cause us to lose sight of the truth.
We may kiss our children good night but we must remind ourselves as we are doing so that they could be dead tomorrow (11.34 in Meditations- this bit of choice advice came from Epictetus)!
One point about this is that there is a real conflict in MA with his idea that we should accept everything that the gods see fit to visit upon us (an idea expressed too many times to quote a single source) and his desire to not be effected by any of it. I would argue that true acceptance does not seek invulnerability. True confront embraces vulnerability and fully accepts the whole of our humanity. We have a choice about how we respond to our suffering. MA, at his best, is saying that and pointing out that we can not let our suffering control our actions. At his worst, he sometimes seems to be saying that we can chose not to feel our suffering. He is such a compelling writer that I think it is all too easy to read MA in a way that avoids how radical are some of his ideas.
The desire of MA for some sort of emotional invulnerability is part and parcel of his rejection of quotidian experience. He does not seem to have liked or admired many of his contemporaries and he does not seem fond of the simple pleasures of life. His descriptions of sexuality are always mingled with tones of disgust.
Where the Meditations may be most useful is when we are dealing with some sort of very extreme situation. There are two Naval Academy essays by John Stockdale about how he survived his imprisonment during the Vietnam War using the philosophy of Epictetus that delve into the full complexity of that philosophy. (These essays are referenced in the intro to the Penguin edition
of Epictetus' writings. You can use the Amazon preview of that book to see the reference.)
Does all this mean that I think you should not immediately run out and buy a copy of this book? NO, NO, a thousand times, NO. The Meditations is one of those few books that everyone should read for help in working out their own philosophy. We all have to come to grips with how we want to live our own lives, what values we want to honor and MA is one of the writers who will help you work that out. He belongs in the company of St. Augustine, of Montaigne, of Machiavelli, of Plato, and of the Buddha (among many others- this list is mine own).
So, yes, read MA in the Hammond translation by all means. Remember that he wrote this book so that he would have constant and personal reminders to live up to his own philosophy. By reading this book, you may come to some understanding of what it would be like to live up to your own philosophy.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy that pulls no punches, August 20, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Meditations (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
My first exposure to Marcus Aurelius was "Silence of the Lambs" (when Hanibal Lector quotes Aurelius to Clarice). I was intrigued. After reading Meditations, I was even more intrigued, and started buying copies for my friends. I have read Nietzche, Plato, Sartre. But this book tells it like it IS. Aurelius did not shy away from discussing topics we find too embarrassing today: from death to sex, perversity to honesty. This small volume is PACKED with life-giving, refreshing wisdom. And the price??? An unbelievable value.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful-a friend in dark times, November 2, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Meditations (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
I love Marcus. He is noble, sensitive, and trying his best to live right despite being emperor and stuck leading an army near the Danube. A great soul, a friend, someone who understands all you have suffered. Indispensable.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Little Dry, But Great, August 31, 2003
By 
Timothy Dougal (Madison, Wi United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Meditations (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
This edition of Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' is an excellent rendition of what may be the most profound book of insight meditation ever written. It is an updating of George Long's venerable 1862 translation, with long sentences untangled and thee's and thou's modernized to you's . At first I found it a little dry and underemphatic, but as I continued reading, I became thoroughly engaged by its clarity and precision. As a literal reading, the Dover edition is a lot more readable than Loeb's Haines translation, and more direct than Staniforth's Penguin edition. And at this price, you almost can't afford not to have it. 'Meditations' really can help you be a better person.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meditations, November 21, 2007
By 
Damian Kelleher (Brisbane, Australia) - See all my reviews
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In Plato's Republic, Socrates discusses the possibility of a philosopher king; that is, a person who would rule in a way that is just, because their thoughts and desires are outgrowths of their philosophical ideologies. Socrates suggests that this would be the best of all possible rulers - and, of course, the implication is that Plato would be this greatest ruler, because the philosophy a ruler 'should' follow, was Plato's. Marcus Aurelius was Emperor of Rome from 161 A.D. until his death in 180 A.D. He was the last of the five great Emperors who ruled Rome during a period which Edward Gibbon, writing his magnificent The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, described as the time when the world was at its happiest and most prosperous. He was not, as far as anyone else knew, a philosopher - he was simply (and sufficiently) a proficient Emperor, an able ruler, a good statesmen. And yet, in those quiet moments of leisure when he was able to take off the mantle of Emperor, Marcus Aurelius composed some of the most important works of Stoic philosophy. A series of meditations, exercises for himself, admonitions to himself, exhortations of how to be a better person.

What is immediately clear about Aurelius' Meditations is that they were written for an intimate audience of one. There is no grandstanding or pompous declarations of power or influence. There are no revelations or secrets or negative comments about current affairs. Whatever Marcus Aurelius' thoughts on the world outside himself, we are left mostly in the dark for this work. Rather, what he has done - or aims to do - is to intimately examine himself, to highlight his flaws and to recognise, but not always praise, his positive qualities. Most importantly, the Meditations are just that - a collection of thoughts, concepts, ideas and moral positions which Aurelius wishes to follow at all times. It is a handbook to himself on how best to live his life.

Two strains of thought which run through almost every page of the Meditations is first, the responsibility of a person's actions, and second, the concept of death. In Book 5, Aurelius writes, 'Another does wrong. What is that to me? Let him see to it: he has his own disposition, his own action. I have now what universal nature wishes me to have now, and I do what my own nature wishes me to do now.' Personal responsibility is an important theme for Aurelius, but more than that, he requires a constant awareness within himself that while he is responsible for his own actions, he is not responsible for the actions of others, and should not let himself be affected by their bad deeds. He writes that if a man smells bad, it does no good to get angry. Rather, what should be done is to calmly inform the person, and then leave the matter in their hands. If they change and improve themselves, you have done your duty. If not, your duty has still been done - the fault remains with the other person. This concept of the self's responsibility for the self is an interesting one when taken into interactions with others. If we are to examine our feelings, does it really make sense for us to become angry at the folly of another? Surely, as Aurelius states, it is best simply to help them as much as we can, and then leave the choice of being angry or upset to them. What have we to be angry for? Nothing, if we live our lives the best way we can.

A second major thought is death. Aurelius reminds himself that death is something that will happen to everyone, and thus should not be feared. 'Think of the whole of existence, of which you are the tiniest part; think of the whole of time, in which you have been assigned a brief and fleeting moment; think of destiny - what fraction of that are you?' And again: 'How many who once rose to fame are now consigned to oblivion: and how many who sang their fame are long disappeared.' Marcus Aurelius writes to remind himself that fame, no matter how glorious, begins to fade the moment death takes you away - and sometimes before. He believed death to be either a cessation of thought, which meant it wouldn't matter to you once you were dead, or an alteration of consciousness (ie Heaven), which meant the current consciousness - your current life - would not matter then, either. Thus, the important thing to do with yourself is to be the best and most noble person you can be. 'The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.'

It is important to remember that the man who wrote these words was arguably the most powerful man in the world at the time. That he could rule the greatest Empire the world had yet seen, and still write with such modesty and grace, is something truly admirable. He calls for the moral life, the good life, and is constantly chastening himself to live the way he knows is best. As these works were most likely never intended for publication, they can and should be seen as Aurelius stripping himself of all physical and temporal difficulties to concern his mind purely and only with what is truly important. That he was able to explore himself with such honesty, and write with such clarity, is nothing short of astonishing. Each page contains short passages of great wisdom, alongside longer paragraphs of thought that tower above the carefully crafted citadel of morality which concerns most of the work.

The Penguin Classic edition of this work contains one hundred and thirty pages of notes, an index of names and an index of quotations, as well as a general index. These indexes offer the non-specialist reader a wealth of information regarding the scattered quotes and references that populate Aurelius' text. It is the notes section, however, that truly shines. Each of the twelve books of the Meditations are summarised and explained, and then the more difficult concepts and allusions are further detailed. Thus, a curious reader is able to read the explanation, while a scholar or student has, in the same book, detailed references and starting points for further research. Complimentary to that is a fine introduction by Diskin Clay, who gives an overview of Marcus Aurelius' life and times.

The Meditations is very short, at one hundred and twenty-two pages. Each book is roughly ten pages, with most of the writings being only a few lines. What this means is that it is a remarkably easy work to pick up and put down, and coupled with the directness and elegance of his writing, the Meditations becomes a novel that could easily serve as a companion for life. Marcus Aurelius' writing is not directed towards a race or class or gender or temperament, rather, it is directed inwards, at the mind and the soul, two fundamental aspects of humanity we all possess. It is somewhat trite to say that there is 'something for everything' within a work, but in the case of the Meditations, it is true. Read this book and find solace in the work of an elegant mind and a worthy outlook on life.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons of life from one of Rome's greatest emperors, January 9, 2007
Marcus Aurelius, philosopher-king of Rome for two decades, preserved his experiences not for posterity but likely for himself. A reminder of things past forming a deeply personal philosophy to guide the future. Solidly founded in Stoicism yet borrowing from cynicism, epicureanism and platonic thought the "Meditations" is a unique man's thoughts and experiences. Hardly original it is nonetheless, potent and applicable.

The main themes of the book can be summed up:

Experience as much as you can and interpret these experiences as honestly as you can.

Do what you can with what you have been given.

Do not fret over that which you cannot control..accept it.

Some of my favorite quotes:

Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what's left and live it properly.

Doctors keep their scalpels and other instruments handy, for emergencies. Keep your philosophy ready too-ready to understand heaven and earth. In everything you do, even the smallest thing, remember the chain that links them. Nothing early succeeds by ignoring heaven, nothing heavenly by ignoring the earth.
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Meditations (Dover Thrift Editions)
Meditations (Dover Thrift Editions) by Marcus Aurelius (Paperback - July 11, 1997)
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