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The Socrates Express

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Wonderful read, immensely quotable and useful for handling quotidian crises.Informative and funny. The book made philosophical concepts approachable, not intimidating.
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Leveraging his narrative flair evident in his previous books, Weiner provides a breezy journey into the world of philosophy.   The juxtaposition of his personal reflections, the actual train journey, and abstracting the core thoughts of a philosopher (in each chapter) makes for a very entertaining and informative read (despite the too-often self-deprecating and teenage daughter jokes).    The selection of the philosphers do not really have a pattern (thankfully) and Weiner does his best to offer an affectionate but informational look at each subject.  One could argue he really didnt have to go on the train to talk about each philosopher, but that would take away the imagery of a travel - and a self-realization that no matter where and how you travel, core ideas of human psyche have been common with or without religious wrappers.   It also provides an introduction to lesser-discussed thought leaders, provides a more nuanced and fair look at personalities like Gandhi, and overall succeeds in educating the reader on the core tenets of each chosen"philospher".   One gripe, though, is the lack of explicit building of any connection points - all "transfers" and "destinations" seem too random - a more sustained attempt in cross references throughout the book to build on key ideas would have been very welcome.  Overall, one of the best books on reflective thought.
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I loved the personal feel that this books presents from the very beginning. I have always thoroughly enjoyed learning about philosophers and schools of learning. (I’m a research Professor, so it comes with the territory). However, this book presented them as sort of “neighbors next door” kind of people and I really enjoyed the human element this brought into these historic figures. This was a wonderful change of pace from my normal reading and I truly enjoyed it.
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A very personal tour through life with famous philosophers as guides
In The Socrates Express author Eric Weiner explores life and the world from the vantage point of a train, his preferred mode of travel.  Each of the fourteen chapters visits a particular aspect of life with a different philosopher as guide. We learn how to get out of bed like Marcus Aurelius, how to fight like Gandhi, how to appreciate the small things like Sei Shonagon (the only one of our guides I had not heard of), and so on until finally we learn how to die like Montaigne. This IS an express train, so each leg of the journey is fairly short, but, like the best journeys, there is a lot to enjoy along the way.
It is also a personal journey, and Weiner makes clear, not just what the philosophers have to say but why he was attracted to the thinking (or disagreed with it!) and what insights he came away with. It is philosophy for an interested general reader, so he devotes a fair amount of time to each philosopher’s life and the  background of the school of thought to which he (or she. There are three women philosophers included.) belonged. As someone who is rather results-oriented (The Bhagavad Gita so beloved by Gandhi would not be a book I would easily relate to.), I sometimes found myself impatient to cut to the chase and focus in on the specific topic of the chapter more quickly, but the context provided was very appropriate and many of the biographical details fascinating.
One of the problems with a lot of philosophy is that the writing is abstruse and ponderous.  Weiner has done the heavy lifting for his readers, though, and his writing is pithy and enjoyable. This is definitely a book to read on Kindle, because you will want to highlight beautifully phrased passages. Most of these are Weiner’s own words, but there are also unforgettable quotes from the philosophers,  like Cicero’s observation that “ Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it.”
I enjoyed learning more about these famous thinkers, but Weiner says that his  life’s work is “therapeutic travel”, and he talks a good bit about what the  philosophers’ thoughts meant for him personally. Not all of the philosophers spoke to me as they did to him, but there were definitely a number who seemed like great traveling companions, and I would not mind taking another trip with them. 
I received an advance review copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher.
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THE SOCRATES EXPRESS

Philosophy is hard. It takes as its subject that which is often ineffable and adopts as its methodology ceaseless questioning for which there are no easy or obvious answers. To succeed at philosophy requires mental tenacity, patience, and a capacity for self-reflection lacking in some people.

For all that, though, philosophy is important precisely because it helps us understand the ineffable and develops within us habits of the mind that would otherwise remain untapped. In that respect, when done right a book that helps engender an appreciation for the subject (remember Sophie’s World?) should always be welcome. 

Enter Eric Weiner’s The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers.

Weiner touches upon that age-old question asked by many a college sophomore: what is philosophy for? To such a query, the appropriate response would seem to be “to answer life’s most difficult questions.” As Weiner notes, most disciplines make straightforward inquiries, posing questions of “what?” or “why” that afterwards may be codified into some body of knowledge. Philosophy, on the other hand, often asks the more complicated question “how?”—of which there is none more complex than “How do you live a meaningful life?”

This is the central theme of The Socrates Express, as Weiner writes about what we might learn from great philosophers in between vignettes of his travels by rail to further research the same. To this end, he writes about how the following philosophers might contribute to make specific aspects of our lives more meaningful:


1. Marcus Aurelius: How to wake up in the morning
2. Socrates: How to question
3. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: How to walk
4. Henry David Thoreau: How to see
5. Arthur Schopenhauer: How to listen
6. Epicurus: How to enjoy
7. Simone Weil: How to pay attention
8. Mohandas Ghandi: How to fight 
9. Confucius: How to be kind
10. Sei Shōnagon: How to appreciate the small things
11. Friedrich Nietzsche: How to have no regrets
12. Epictetus: How to cope
13. Simone de Beauvoir: How to grow old
14. Michel de Montaigne: How to die

It’s an idiosyncratic list, and some may argue that Weiner’s treatment is likewise. At first blush, the book’s train-riding conceit appears to have little to contribute to the philosophy under consideration, in much the same manner that Weiner can’t help but make himself central to his own narrative (often with an acerbic comment or other while explaining his journey to understand more about this philosopher or that). Then again, this is a book about living a more meaningful life, and what better way to contemplate such a thing than while transiting from where one is to where they’d like to be, and as seen through the eyes of an otherwise ordinary person (albeit with an above-average vocabulary and command of the written language)?

The Socrates Express illustrates that philosophy need not be so hard: just by contemplating even a little philosophy while on a train ride can do wonders towards helping anyone lead a more meaningful life.
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Eric Weiner invites readers to join him on the Trans Socrates Express as he travels the world in search of lessons from humanity's greatest thinkers. While The Socrates Express reads easily and isn't too technical with its theoretical explanations, it definitely would still pay to have some sort of background in Philosophy the get the most from this book. 

It's interesting to note that this is the second book published this year that I've read about injecting "life lessons" from philosophers into every day modern life. Philosophy is a tricky genre that is arguably overstuffed with endless books already, so while the train travel may seem gimmicky and at times be grating to read, I do give Weiner credit for trying to inject some sort of "newness" to well trodden topic. 

**I was given a copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster**
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This gives you a great idea of what philosophy is, although it's one's perceptions in life of life, it can differ because of lifestyles. 
According to a whole slew of philosophers and their perceptions or thoughts, many ideals and formulations are based on it, where we fit, how we fit.  
Bringing up Nietzsche, he said God is dead.  God said Nietzsche is dead.  Which do we know to be fact?
Teaching one to think and learn for themselves, wasn't always popular, ask Socrates, he was murdered.  
A good read for thinking, not a fast read, but thought provoking, even disagreeable at times.  
I didn't read this all at once, just bits at a time, it covers a multitude on this journey of lessons.  Take from it what you will, up to each reader, in my opinion.  
I received an ARC thru Netgalley.  All thoughts are my own and voluntary
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As the name suggests, the book combines philosophy lessons from famous philosophers and the author’s train journeys. In each chapter, the author writes about visiting the city of a different philosopher and, and along with experiencing the train rides, he tries to experience the philosophy of that philosopher. You could say he tries to reimagine the era of that philosopher and walk in their shoes along with sharing little tidbits or facts of their life. He visits the place where they lived—homes, workplace (if any), and also museums which contain their belongings or artifacts. 
So, I chose to read this book because of my interest in philosophy, but in just the first chapter, I got bored of the author’s ramblings about the train travels and the dumbed-down versions of the philosophies. Being an ex-philosophy student, this book failed to keep me captivated. The philosophy lessons seemed to be for the layman. And well, so I never got to finish the book. 
Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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For anyone wanting to dip their toes into philosophy, then this is the book I would recommend.  I am interested in philosophy in the sense that I have never read it and never really understood how to read it or apply it to my life.  In this one you join the writer as he applies the philosophies of some great thinkers to his travel and all the while considers middle age and what matters – two things I find myself dwelling on more than I probably should.
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I really enjoyed The Geography of Bliss, so I thought that I would similarly fall in love with this book. However, I do not think that Weiner could bring philosophy to life. For some reason, the subject matter just felt too dry and I was not able to quite finish this read.
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This book was my first foray into reading philosophy and it was the best place to dive in. The author has a very accessible style of writing, which made, usually dense reading, very easy to digest & understand.

The author takes a train journey to the places where some of the world's best philosophers lived and then tries to walk in their shoes AND read their books. It was an interesting blend of the philosopher's biography, philosopher's works and Eric's commentary.

The book is divided into 3 sections with 14 chapters. 3 sections are aptly titled Dawn, Noon and Dusk. The chapters are in theme with the sections - How to See Like Thoreau in Dawn, How to Fight Like Gandhi in Noon and How to Die Like Montaigne in Dusk.

My personal favourite was How to Fight Like Gandhi and it brought tears to my eyes.

It's obvious that the author loves his daughter very much. Sonya makes an appearance in almost every chapter and then also takes a trip with the author later on for one/two of the philosophers. Her comments are always very thought-provoking and challenge us readers as much as the author. 

This book has given me an appreciation for some great people and how they lived. It has also made me want to read more about each one of them.

There's this thing about reading philosophy. You are suddenly thinking about things that you haven't thought of before and that leads to having a 30000 ft view of life. Your own problems start appearing smaller and smaller.

The only complaint I have from this book is the absence of philosophy on 'good marriage'. I would have loved such a section and read it with great interest.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley.
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Being a huge fan of both the author and the subject, this book was an easy choice. I eagerly waited for Netgalley to approve me for a copy and then, no less eagerly, read it. Although, actually it was a measured eagerness, I didn’t want to overcram my brain with a reading binge, opting instead to make it more memorable and distinct, so it was 3 major sections of the book over 3 different days. And so hop on onto the Socrates express, the man might have highjacked the title, but in this book he shares billing with a bevy of other great thinkers, from ancient world all the way up to the last (it remains to be seen whether this one will produce any greatness) century. And oh what an excellent ride. The author is passionate about train travel, so much so that it’s included into every chapter of this volume as he travels to various destinations over different continents in search of…well, that’s the crux of the book, isn’t it…in search of a different way to think, act, live. In search of a different perspective or frame through which we experience all around us. A way to process information, mere data, into something higher and more sophisticated, the way you can be not merely knowledgeable but wise. For which there’s a great quote in the book by a British musician named Miles something and I paraphrase…if knowledge is knowing tomato is a fruit, being wise would be not including it in a fruit salad. Thoughts and ideas don’t just exist, they are meant to be processed, interpreted and utilized to the best of one’s ability. This ability might be greatly enhanced by learning about the men and few, so very few (this seems like a men’s game) women in this book. So first off, as previously mentioned I’m a huge fan of the author, I loved his Geography of…books and he certainly doesn’t disappoint with this one. Weiner’s got a natural talent for both engaging the readers with his adventures and, especially important, explaining complex ideas simply. In this book you’ll find great philosophies throughout the ages presented in a relatable, accessible way that never veers into pedagogic or tedious. Maybe I’m biased, I already find the subject fascinating, but no, I do think that this might be somewhat close to objectivity, Weiner makes the subject exciting for everyone. Through biographical sketches, practical examples and utilizing a charming, humorous, self deprecating approach, Weiner rides a train from place to place (though presumably some planes and automobiles were also involved) to teach himself and us in the process about what philosophy can do for us. Sure, as a degree it’s pretty much useless, but as a practice it has tons of applications. Most importantly it helps improve our thinking, genuinely improve it, elevate it to new levels, with the eventual goal of optimizing or lives. It’s yoga of the mind. Practice this. After all, wouldn’t you want a strong and flexible mind?  Lean to delight in small pleasure and the art of enough like Epicurus, debate to the truth like Socrates, experience compassion like Weil, enjoy nature like Thoreau and so on. For me this was a very edifying and rewarding read. I recognized aspects of myself and my ways in many of these theories. My personal model is a mix of things, I’m proud of my stoic leanings and Shopenhauer would be proud of my misanthropic ones. I enjoy a good Socratic debate and I’m a strong believer in Epicurean good enough. It was actually great to read this book and behold one’s own thoughts reflected (much more eloquently and profoundly) by the great thinkers throughout the ages. Or is that humblebragging? Sorry. Ok, so for as many of these as I’ve agreed with, there were some that just…didn’t and don’t work for me. This, after all, isn’t a perfect book, it’s just a really really good one. And so the chapter of Confucius was set in NYC, because what…statue, neighborhood, odd, almost like a slight. The chapter on Soi Shenagen, the author of Pillow Book, is interesting, but for me didn’t merit an inclusion, unless philosophy is to be taken here strictly as way of life. Well, this courtesan’s way of life was making lists of small things she enjoyed and, while yes, enjoyment of small things is important, it doesn’t seem like an intellectual equal of other great minds included in the book. And then there’s Gandhi. Weiner’s favorite gets a practically schoolboy fawning over and, of course, the Father of India is greatly popular in the west and everyone has seen the Be the change you wish…stickers, but…but…this is a man whose peace loving theories were brutal on his followers, a man whose rampant asceticism was difficult to take (Weiner thinks he’s go to a Gandhi ashram back in the way, what a joke, the author, strictly from his own descriptions, is as soft and self indulgent of a westerner as they come, he’d last a day) and has everyone forgotten the horribly misguided at best and horrifically offensive at worst things Gandhi said about the Fuhrer (nice chap, really) and Jewish people (why didn’t they promote peaceable resistance by killing themselves to attract attention of the world). Or how about the fact that Gandhi systemically mistreated his wife, wasn’t all that great to his kids and at 75 decided to test his wows of celibacy by sleeping naked with young women including his own grandniece. And yes, I understand that people are fickle and random in their political correctness and self righteousness, judgmental only when it is convenient, which is why we still dance to Michael Jackson, but banish Louis C.K. And everyone is the west is sort of mesmerized with eastern philosophies, which mostly means yoga and Gandhi stickers. But still…Weiner’s unilateral heroworshipping of Gandhi, while (kudos for) acknowledging, but then (no kudos) completely glossing over his faults, hit a wrong note with me. But other than that, this book was aces. It would be a terrific introduction to someone completely new to the subject and a lively refresher for those familiar with it. It’s engaging, fun, very readable, it has travelogue elements (which this armchair always loves), clever (and dare we say wise) personal observations and so on. It’s basically like travelling and talking about a fascinating subject with a smart, erudite, funny person. All you’d want in a nonfiction book, really. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
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I liked this book. People who are interested in philoshopy will most probably be interested in reading this book. This book is very interesting. I give it 4 stars.
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