Ryan Holiday is everywhere at the moment. I first encountered him when I began reading and then reviewed ‘The Daily Stoic.’ Then several friends began recommending his other books Ego Is The Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way. Further research showed that he is at the forefront of Stoicism’s revival in recent times. A discipline that is as relevant now as it was during the days of Ancient Greece.
So what is Stoicism? Well an official definition would describe it ‘as the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.‘ Personally I would describe it as staying in control.
Stoicism is practised by the best and brightest of us everyday. We see politicians and sports stars handle interviews with aplomb. We witness CEOs and our very own work colleagues evaluate situations and act with a cool head in high stakes situations. We see everyday people handle both good and bad news with an aura of calm.
In these two books Ryan Holiday looks at Stoicism from two angles. Ego is the Enemy deals largely with the concept of self-importance and how we can become more aware of it and use it to our advantage. The Obstacle is the Way deals more with how we can use Stoicism to deal with success, failure and improvement in our lives.
The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity into Advantage
‘The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.’
Out of the two books, this one was definitely my favourite and probably the one that I will refer back to the most. I loved how it was divided into three parts; Perception, Action and Will. This gave the book a very natural flow and the more I read the more I felt like I was building an important foundation of thought.
I also loved how each part was divided further into tiny bitesize chapters, each with a golden nugget of advice. This made the book very easy to read. I used to read a chapter over breakfast, lunch and when I got home from work so in a few days I had completed the book. My mother also picked up this book and devoured it in a few days when it caught her eye. It’s that good.
Holiday’s mentor, the famous author Robert Greene, described The Obstacle is the Way as ‘a book for the bedside of every future and current leader in the world,’ I cannot recommend this book highly enough as essential reading.
‘What is defeat? Nothing but education; nothing but the first steps to something better.’
Ego is the Enemy: The Fight to Master Our Greatest Opponent
‘The first principle is that you must not fool yourself –
and you are the easiest person to fool.’
Have you ever heard someone say that ‘he is his own worst enemy’?
Ego seems to be the word of the year as it continues to crop up everywhere I go in 2017. The works of Dr. Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now constantly refer to the ego as the source of all our problems and when you closely examine the behaviour of mankind you can see that their argument holds quite some weight.
Once again, the author divides his work into three parts, this time titling them Aspire, Success and Failure. This makes Ego is the Enemy a great reference book for the reader, no matter what stage of their journey they are at. By the end of the book, the author hopes that his audience will become more ‘humble in our aspirations, gracious in our success and resilient in our failures.’
Fittingly, Holiday begins the book with an insightful prologue depicting his own ego. He titles this ‘The Painful Prologue’ and he gives an honest account of the highs and lows of his life so far. In this way, he gets his own ego out of the way before he examines the egos of others.
Holiday uses many example to highlight the perils of ego when it comes to success and failure. Pride, entitlement, control and ‘the disease of me’ are replaced with sobriety, love, focus and gratitude. This makes Ego is the Enemy an excellent roadmap for navigating through life.
While I did relate with The Obstacle is the Way more, I did enjoy this book as a sobering influence on my own ego and I would recommend it as necessary medicine for both the meek and the brave. Ego is the Enemy holds a mirror up to our own self-importance. Like a fish swimming in water, sometimes we can’t see that our ego surrounds us in more ways than we know.
‘A monk is a man who is separated from all and who is in harmony with all.’
While The Obstacle is the Way focuses more on overcoming the trials and tribulations of life, Ego is the Enemy deals more with the failures and successes that come with these trials. Both books work together well as companion texts and offer something different to the read. ‘The Daily Stoic’ meanwhile offers a little bit of everything. In each book, the authors interests and talent shine through and this makes him an easy author to connect with.
Both books are positively bursting with amazing quotes, anecdotes and character studies that will inspire you to be a better person. There are also plenty of cautionary tales to remind us of the folly of our ancestors so that we can learn from their mistakes.
Even better, both books offer a seriously impressive reading list at the back that will keep you occupied for a long time! You can also access the reading list here. For an even longer and more complete list of books that have influenced the author, click here.
Two great books. Which is your favourite?