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The Emperor's Handbook: A New Translation of The Meditations Hardcover – November 26, 2002

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Editorial Reviews


Steve Forbes A must read for business leaders. This is a fantastic achievement.

Josiah Bunting II Superintendent, Virginia Military Institute Timeless, magnificent, simple: the essential book on character, leadership, duty. No translation does the Emperor's Meditations better or nobler justice.

Admiral Stansfield Turner Former Director of the CIA All of us today would do well to take counsel from Marcus Aurelius. His pithy aphorisms lay out a philosophy of individual responsibility that should be of great value to each of us, whether in leading fulfilling lives, managing corporations, or leading countries.

Kenneth L. Woodward author of The Book of Miracles David and Scot Hicks have endowed serious readers with a marvelous new translation of a text that still challenges any society that hopes to understand what it means to be civilized.

Donald Kagan Hillhouse Professor of History and Classics at Yale University The wisdom contained in this handbook has been admired through the ages. The Hicks brothers' excellently clear translation happily now makes it accessible.

Jacques Barzun author of From Dawn to Decadence The Meditations is a work I disliked for its flaccid piety and self-concern from the time I read it years ago. But a look for curiosity's sake into this new translation has led me to read it all with genuine pleasure. The philosophical observations are the same but the tone is manly and there is a subtle and agreeable variety as the subject changes from self to the world and to the gods.

Victor Davis Hanson Professor of Classics at California State University This new, accessible translation by Scot and David Hicks of the emperor's famous Stoic handbook reflects far better the flavor of Marcus Aurelius's own style. Americans should read Marcus -- and this new edition now makes it a joy.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Greek

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (November 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743233832
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743233835
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

169 of 174 people found the following review helpful By Ingles on November 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Hicks brothers have produced a handsome volume of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius that is also the best translation available. The old Penguin edition translation was servicable. George Long's translation was incomprehensible in many parts. The Gregory Hays translation does very well but is not as transparently clear and as elegant as this one. I got this book the first week that it came out and it will be my preferred edition for many years to come. Highly recommended.
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224 of 234 people found the following review helpful By Warren Keith Wright on October 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This translation of the Greek writings that the author called "To Himself" is smooth, deft, and self-assured; the book sits well in the hand; the subject index is thorough. For generations Marcus Aurelius has proven not only a welcome counselor, but a worthy opponent to measure oneself against. Why does this version leave one feeling not refreshed but harangued?

In an earnest attempt to reach modern readers, something has gone wrong with the tone. The pages are peppered with the imperative contraction "Don't," and the "You" being addressed is not a man conferring with his soul, but a smug preacher hectoring us with his own perfection. Yet consider how often Marcus returns to certain themes---that you should not mind what other people think of you; that you should cease to assign blame, or feel resentment for ill-treatment; that since life is but breath you should not care whether yours is long or short. The very repetition shows how hard it was for him to attain permanent detachment: you need not exhort yourself to meet standards you have already mastered.

Perhaps a claim made in the introduction, explaining the rationale for a new edition, hints at what seems amiss in The Emperor's Handbook: "[W]e tend to conceive of freedom, even the religious freedoms we take pretty much for granted, in largely political terms, perhaps because, second, we have come seriously to doubt our psychological freedom, or freedom of mind." (9) (How's that again? Rather, in an era of contracting public freedoms and increasing pressure toward conformity, many contend that the only true liberty lies within.) A version inspired by such assumptions skews the even-tempered voice of the fellow human being who wrote these meditations.
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82 of 84 people found the following review helpful By James R. Reiff on June 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Hicks brothers' collaboration has produced a masterful translation of a masterpiece. "The Emperor's Handbook" captures the sublime essence and ancient character of "The Meditations" but never strays into the arcane terminology of the ancient Stoics. The Hicks brothers also avoid the forced and complex grammatical constructs found in other translations. This translation could easily be understood by a sixth grade child yet it sacrifices none of the profound meaning or prosaic beauty of the original. Most refreshing is the absence of any effort to turn the work into some New-Age mystical revelation.
Having read about nine translations I must say, this one is, by far, the best contemporary English translation available. There are other fine ones such as the work by Hard and Gill or even the Loeb Classics version but they are better suited for people already familiar with Marcus Aurelius and Stoic philosophy.
My warmest thanks go out to David and Scot Hicks for a work that I hope will broaden the audience of Marcus Aurelius.
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87 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Wintertiger on August 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This review is of the translation, not of the work (which I would rate 5 stars).

The translation in "The Emperor's Handbook" is probably more readable to a general audience than the much more accurate Loeb Classical Library translation, but the writing has been spun into soundbites. Marcus Aurelius did not write in soundbites. This results in a punchier work that is more accessible yet unfortunately shallower as well. The tone of a man writing for his own edification is turned into an almost preachy self-help book. Which is apparently what the publisher wanted, something to follow "The Book of Five Rings" and "The Art of War" as the latest book to help businessmen sound pseudo-intellectual and impress their non-reading fellow businessmen . . . and there are lots of readily-quotable soundbites separated out for easy use.

I am not being snarky. Read the intro and see who their target audience is. See what they are trying to accomplish.

Marcus Aurelius never would have named his work "The Emperor's Handbook," because he was not trying to teach people how to be emperor. He did not write in preachy soundbites.

Marcus Aurelius was a man trying to remind himself how to be a better person and live according to his stoic principles. This translation abandons that basic point.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Gianluca Bortini on June 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"What is its individual make-up? Its essence, form, and matter?..
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, VIII, 11)
I recall when I had in-class Greek examinations, and we were asked to translate quotes of Marcus Aurelius chosen at random. Chance did let me encounter this verse a few times, and each time I did put more effort finalized in the understanding and expression of meanings implied in these straightforward questions.
The greatness of this work could best be found in its brevity and simplicity. The plain style, and the naturalness of writing are persuasive. The moral truths that Marcus Aurelius had accepted in the past, and that much had enlightened his being both an emperor and a conflictual human-being, have been transposed in memorable form. Marcus Aurelius'soliloquy and self-analysis are a great spiritual exercise. As such, the book is an exhortation to think and meditate, and it is especially addressed to those who hold the power, and are in charge of other people who stand for them. The dynamics of leadership haven't changed in the millenia: [Yet] I ask myself if today's leaders are driven and inspired by such honesty of intents?!
Marcus Aurelius had been influenced by the work of Epictetus. Both belong to the late Stoicism: A period that didn't produce anything of original. In this viewpoint, it could be argued that "the Meditations" were a moral set of catchphrases of the earlier Stoa. As such, this work doesn't bring any novelty neither in physics, nor in logics, and ethics, or epistemology. It could also be argued that Marcus Aurelius was not a philosopher at all, but rather a self-disciplined and very well-educated man and leader. He didn't produce these chapters neither for a vast audience nor for publication. Things are best remembered when written down.
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