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The Wonderbox: Curious histories of how to live [Kindle Edition]

Roman Krznaric
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

There are many ways to try to improve our lives - we can turn to the wisdom of philosophers, the teachings of religions or the latest experiments of psychologists. But we rarely to look to history for inspiration - and when we do it can be surprisingly powerful.

Showing the lessons that can be learned from the past, cultural historian Roman Krznaric explores twelve universal topics, from work and love to money and creativity, and reveals the wisdom that we've been missing. There is much to be learned from Ancient Greece on relationships, from the industrial revolution on job satisfaction, and from Ming-dynasty China on bringing up our children.

Just as a Renaissance 'Wunderkammer' was a curiosity cabinet full of fascinating objects, each with a story behind it, The Wonderbox is full of stories and ideas from history, each of which sheds invaluable light on the decisions we make every day, whether we think about the different uses of the senses or changing attitudes to time.

History is usually read for pleasure or for insight into current affairs, but The Wonderbox, stepping into the territory of Alain de Botton and Theodore Zeldin, is 'practical history' - using the past to think about our day to day lives.

Editorial Reviews


A fascinating rattlebag of intelligent, stimulating essays. The Wonderbox is very much in the mould of Alain de Botton's bestsellers Financial Times Entertaining and instructive The Times A cornucopia of delights. Completely fascinating, beautifully written and brimming with insights -- Michael Wood, historian, film maker and author of The Story of England The author's enthusiasm for direct solutions to modern dilemmas is infectious. -- Sue Gerhardt, author of Why Love Matters and The Selfish Society Think Alain de Botton meets Niall Ferguson ... a wonderful mix of social history and good ideas for everyday living. -- Robert Kelsey, author of What's Stopping You? Taking one hefty theme per chapter - such as love, work or home - Krznaric serves up a fascinating series of accounts of how we got where we are now, sifting the valuable from the worthless with an impressive indifference to current fashions. After reading The Wonderbox, endlessly shopping for stuff you already have will seem distinctly strange Reader's Digest Ranging from such lofty issues as love and death to the finer points of carpentry, Krznaric offers a compendium of fascinating and quirky anecdotes and character studies, refiguring them as practical fables for everyday life. Though a pleasure to read cover-to-cover, this book lends itself perfectly to the occasional reader looking for workable solutions to any dilemma. The scope of the stories and the versatility of Krznaric's interpretations are at once fascinating and illuminating. -- Emily Best We Love This Book A guaranteed pick-me-up for the early days of January! And a book I'm going to be returning to for years. -- Clare English BBC Radio Scotland Book Cafe Inspiration for bold experiments in living. The Oxford Times An intriguing upmarket self-help guide. The Guardian Roman Krznaric delves into the wonderbox of history...and reveals how the past can prompt us to aim higher than we do. Four star review Metro Brim-full of insights drawn not from philosophy, religious teachings or psychology but drawing on the writing and lives of great writers including Tolstoy, Thoreau and Orwell. Krznaric weaves together a compelling, fresh argument about how we conduct our relationships, make decisions about the life we lead and the crucial importance of empathy. -- Steve Moore, CEO The Big Society Network The Wonderbox is a treasury of history and philosophy that manages also to be truly, practically motivational -- John-Paul Flintoff, author of Sew Your Own Almost like an opera, it begins with love and ends with death. But it isn't operatic in style. It is earthy and literate in an old-fashioned style, iconoclastic and realistic. It throws light into the world of personal fulfilment and issues a call to ethical action on a global context. The Australian

About the Author

Roman Krznaric is a cultural historian and faculty member of Alain de Botton's School of Life. He has taught sociology and politics at Cambridge and City University, London and is an adviser to organisations including Oxfam, the Red Cross and the United Nations.

Product Details

  • File Size: 8499 KB
  • Print Length: 369 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (December 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006UU2TDU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #429,823 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to live: history as a guide January 14, 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.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible and rich, a very important work April 28, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
What the author manages to do very well in this book is to raise deeply important messages and discuss them in a very rich, yet very accessible manner. This is very fitting for our time. Our minds are overloaded by information and stimuli of mostly dubious value. This book strives for and achives the opposite: its enormous value is rendered in a succint prose, which is both warm and personal, and full of inspiring and instigating energy. Make no mistake: the message here is as important as is simple, because it touches us in a very direct yet profound way.

I suggest you read first the section on "Belief", then put the book down for a day in order to absrb that one specific message. Let it resonate in your consciousness with unrestricted selff-honesty. That will sure move something deep inside your mind, and your very notion of being. Then move on to the rest of the book and let the author's clear-minded, mature, empathic, and passionate prose travel freely in every realm of your existence and change your life. For the wisdom expounded in the book is transformational, in that it can set you free from the many virtual shackles our age.

If you want to (re)claim freedom and (re)set yourself on a path of practical wisdom and liberating happiness, you should absolutely read this book and recommend it to your dear ones.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing perspective February 17, 2013
By Gwen
I had the chance to hear Roman Krznaric speak at the Wilderness Festival in 2012 and because of that, bought his book The Wonderbox. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Mr. Krznaric writes about love, friendship and community (and many other subjects) with a sense of introspection and excitement at the possibilities of how they could be defined in a more fulfilling way. The lovely thing is, that he does it using history as context. It was quite an interesting, uplifting read - I have passed my copy on to family and friends and think it will stay on our library shelves indefinitely.

(Please note that I didn't give it five stars because I think that would set unrealistic expectations about any piece.)
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing all around April 26, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Of course it's always a question of expectations, but I thought this book would offer more solid philosophy than opinion. Sadly, no. And the writing is turgid and slow. Oh well.
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