A train journey can be a time of reflection, of watching the world go by. For Eric Weiner it’s a time for grappling with life’s most existentialist experiences and questions, which he brings to life aboard The Socrates Express: In Search Of Life Lessons From Dead Philosophers.
In the book, Weiner delves into the lives of 14 of history’s most diverse thinkers and translates their actions into steps to apply to our own lives. From Michel de Montaigne to Simone Weil, Weiner brings the figures within his pages to life in stunning detail.
Philosophical train journeys
The Socrates Express traverses the railways of the world, with Weiner presenting his own experiences aboard trains on route to the places where the philosophers of his book lived, wandered and applied their wisdom.
Self-deprecating, wistful and poignant, the author channels the lessons of each philosopher into a kind of ‘how to’ guide. In the first chapter, Weiner teaches us how to get out of bed like the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who put Stoic practices into action every morning.
In the next chapter, it’s how to wonder like Socrates, questioning everything, even during the times when it makes you a pain in the ass. Weiner also consults Rousseau and Thoreau on how to better engage with the senses through walking and seeing.
In ‘How To Enjoy like Epicurus,’ Weiner dines on a simple meal with a modern day Epicurean and dispels all the errors that have been made about Epicureanism. I found this chapter to be particularly enlightening because it gets to the heart of what that specific worldview is about.
Philosophers from all genders and generations
Weiner also consults several women philosophers on the art of paying attention, appreciating little things and how to grow old.
Simone Weil spent her whole life paying attention and through her we learn what it means to sacrifice everything you have for an act that sounds so simple and yet it so profound. For Sei Shonagon, who served Empress Teishi during the Heian period in Japan, appreciating the little things was a way of life and she wrote down all her observations in The Pillow Book.
Simone de Beauvoir grappled with the immensity of old age, fighting it every step of the way, as many of us do. She also learned to accept it and turn it into a reason to keep on living as many of us become better at doing.
The stories of these women all carry a thread of similarity. Each wrestled with life’s most important questions in their own way and left behind lessons for us to learn from.
Through writing about all the philosophers in his book, Weiner also reaches an acceptance of his own. It’s the acceptance of being flawed and striving to be better, an experience that anyone can relate to. It’s the essence of philosophy boiled down to the essentials.
The Socrates Express is well worth reading, especially if you’re on a train. Buy a copy now.