How to Be: Life Lessons from the Early Greeks (Hardcover)
Nicolson crafts a geography of the ancient world and a brilliant exploration of our connections to the past.
What is the nature of things?
What is justice? How can I be myself?
How should we treat each other?
Before the Greeks, the idea of the world was dominated by god-kings and their priests. Twenty-five hundred years ago, in a succession of small eastern Mediterranean harbor cities, a few heroic men and women decided to cast off mental subservience and apply their own thinking minds to the conundrums of life.
These great innovators shaped the beginnings of western philosophy. Through the questioning voyager Odysseus, Homer explored how we might navigate our way through the world. Heraclitus, in Ephesus, was the first to consider the interrelatedness of things. Xenophanes of Colophon was the first champion of civility. On the Aegean island of Lesbos, the early lyric poets Sappho and Alcaeus asked themselves, “How can I be true to myself?” On Samos, Pythagoras imagined an everlasting soul and took his ideas to Italy, where they flowered again in surprising and radical forms.
The award-winning writer Adam Nicolson travels with us through this transforming world and asks what light these ancient thinkers can throw on our deepest preconceptions. Enhanced with maps, photographs, and artwork, How to Be is an expedition into early ideas. Nicolson takes us to the dawn of investigative thought and makes the fundamental questions of the ancient philosophers new again. What are the principles of the physical world? How can we be good in it? And why do we continue to ask these questions? It is an enthralling, exhilarating journey.
"Wise, elegant . . . richer and more unusual than [the self-help genre], an exploration of the origins of Western subjectivity." —Dennis Duncan, The Washington Post
"This eminently readable tour of Greek philosophy from approximately 650 to 450 B.C. brings the “sea-and-city world” of Heraclitus and Homer to life . . . [He shows] the early Greeks developed intellectual habits, chief among them the use of questioning as the basis of knowing, which laid the groundwork for Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and for how we reason today." —The New Yorker
“I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that marries such profundity with such a mischievous sense of fun . . . [How to Be] is like a net strung between the deep past and the present, a blueprint for a life well lived.” —Alex Preston, The Observer
"[Nicolson's] exploration of the period is wonderfully rich . . . How to Be teaches many lessons, but most of all that we should savor the strange and stimulating legacy of this lesser-known era." —Timothy Farrington, The Wall Street Journal
"A dazzling meditation on the quest of the early Greek philosophers to understand the world . . . Nicolson is an excellent writer, his work shot through with wonder, erudition, and curiosity. He effortlessly pulls together strands of history, philosophy, language, art, culture, and archaeology . . . Much deeper than a self-help book, this work returns to the past and shows how the ancients’ struggles were in many respects our own." —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Nicolson (The Life Between the Tides) illuminates in this meditative account the vital influence geography had on the evolution of Greek philosophy from the 11th to the 5th centuries BCE, arguing that places gave rise to frames of mind that served as wellsprings of new ideas . . . Lyrical and insightful, this graceful analysis is an alluring must-read." —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Seductive . . . A poetic tour of philosophical thought." —Thomas W. Hodgkinson, The Sepctator
"Nicolson's own gaze is deeply attentive . . . He weaves . . . a vivid picture that puts flesh on shadowy bones. He has infused his quest for wisdom with a sense of poetry." —Noonie Minogue, The Tablet (UK)