Review: The Emperor's Handbook

The Emperor's Handbook, a new translation of Marcus Aurelius' meditations by the Hicks brothers, is a must for any practicing stoic as well as for anyone who is interested in wisdom literature. Aurelius' writings provide the rare opportunity to share in the daily thoughts of a common stoic. Not common concerning his position as emperor, but common in that he is seriously applying stoic principles to his lived experience. He is not a teacher addressing students nor an old man addressing his protege. His only audience is himself. As such, the Handbook provides a guide for how high a bar stoics should set for their own judgments and actions. This new translation makes Aurelius all the more potent.

Prior to being gifted this translation (thank you Christy) I was using a free version of the Meditations on my Kindle. Here's some practical advice from Emperor Aurelius,

Use thyself even those things that thou doest at first despair of. For the left hand we see, which for the most part lieth idle because not used; yet doth it hold the bridle with more strength than the right, because it hath been used unto it.

Here's that same thought updated for modern eyes,

Practice also the things you don't expect to master. The left hand, clumsy at most things from inexperience, grasps the reins more confidently than the right because it's used to them. (Book 12, 6)

My guess is that the second version came off a bit less stilted, and Marcus is just pumping himself up to practice something he's not a natural at. When his writings are more philosophical and more technical, the difference in impact between the two translations is night and day.

The Emperor's Handbook has helped me to appreciate a strong stoic voice that I had previously dismissed. Before I would read him and think, "I get it, you've read Epictetus have I pal." Then I'd go read Epictetus again. Now I find a brother in the pages. He's a peer who also struggles to live a joyful stoic life in a turbulent world. Every stoic should have this book on their nightstand or next to a favorite reading chair. If you do, Marcus will become a daily counselor and friend.