Great Thinkers Book Summary - Great Thinkers Book explained in key points
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Great Thinkers summary

The School of Life, Alain de Botton (series editor)

Simple Tools from Sixty Great Thinkers to Improve Your Life Today

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Brief summary

Great Thinkers by The School of Life is a guide to the most influential ideas of history's greatest minds. From Socrates to Michel Foucault, this book explores how philosophy can help us make sense of the world and lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

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    Great Thinkers
    Summary of 8 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 8

    Stoicism can help us overcome anxiety and paranoia.

    Stoicism is a philosophical movement that dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, starting around the third century BC. Famous stoic philosophers include the philosopher and teacher Seneca the Younger as well as Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

    The aim of stoicism is to help people be steadfast and courageous in the face of life’s suffering. Since the Stoics believed that the one true source of pleasure in life is virtue, they saw little sense in getting overly emotional about life’s many ups and downs.

    One of the benefits of stoicism is its potential to curb anxiety.

    The stoics believed that anxiety can develop as a result of two possible outlooks: having very high hopes or harboring great fears about what might happen.

    So, you might be anxious about nailing an upcoming audition and realizing your dream of being a movie star, while at the same time worrying about losing your day job and ending up homeless. Both scenarios are causes for high levels of anxiety.

    Now, generally speaking, the common approach to dealing with anxiety these days is to try and remind ourselves that everything will likely work out one way or another, so no need to fret.

    But the Stoics have another way to calm anxiety: to let go of the high hopes and embrace our deepest fears head-on.

    This means that if you’re really worried about being homeless, you could spend a few days eating scraps and sleeping on a park bench. After that, you’ll be familiar with your worst-case scenario and it won’t be so scary anymore.

    Another thing Stoicism teaches is how to live life with serenity, now.

    While they weren’t particularly religious, the Stoics did believe in fate, particularly the Roman goddess Fortuna. This is quite different than karma, though, because at any moment Fortuna can throw something very good or very bad your way, no matter how good or bad you’ve been.

    The advantage of this approach is that it allows you to stop blaming yourself if something doesn’t work out; at the same time, it can keep you from getting a big head when things do go your way.

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    What is Great Thinkers about?

    Great Thinkers (2016) provides a handy guide to some of the most creative and ingenious people who have ever lived. These are thinkers who have changed the way we perceive and think about the world, and their wisdom continues to be highly relevant to people everywhere. By keeping these ideas close at hand and not far from our minds, the great thinkers of the past can continue to help us live better lives today.

    Best quote from Great Thinkers

    Stoicism is nothing less than an elegant, intelligent dress rehearsal for catastrophe.

    —The School of Life, Alain de Botton (series editor)
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    Who should read Great Thinkers?

    • Culture vultures
    • Wisdom seekers
    • Students of the humanities

    About the Author

    The School of Life is an organization that promotes general knowledge and culture. It believes that the humanities can help us develop emotional intelligence, wisdom, empathy, communication skills and much more. Based in cities like London, Amsterdam and Seoul, the School of Life produces educational films, as well as classes and therapy sessions.

    Alain de Botton is the writer of multiple nonfiction books aimed at helping people live better lives by being intellectually curious and raising important questions. His previous books include The Architecture of Happiness (2008) and How Proust Can Change Your Life (1998).

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