Breakfast with Socrates by Robert Rowland Smith.
However mundane your ride to work in a packed train full of similarly browbeaten commuters, however tedious the mere thought of queuing for the bus once again might be, it is a small relief to think that these moments could be similar to the sort that have been meticulously dissected by some of the greatest minds that ever lived in order to find the root cause of human behaviour.
Rather than think of these moments as small burdens that one is required to bear in pursuit of a happy and successful life, it would be nice to think that they are capable of motivating relentless discourse on the very nature of life itself. The idea that your decisions about breakfast might be overlaid with existential uncertainties stretching back centuries is an appealing one.
Robert Rowland Smith’s book, Breakfast with Socrates, attempts to bring together some of philosophy’s most celebrated ideas and merge them with the everyday activities of an average person.
In Rowland Smith’s own words: “It shows how history’s greatest ideas relate to how you live your life, and how you can be more thoughtful about it.”
When you wake up, are you really awake? Does putting your socks on in a certain manner betray your addiction to routine?
Following Descartes from the moment you open your eyes to Nietzsche on the train to work and, later, Machiavelli to a party, the book lays out a fairly relatable breakdown of an average day (although this is perhaps understandably stretched to quite tenuous levels at certain points) in order to place these ideas within a person’s immediate surroundings.
Rowland Smith is clearly passionate about the subject he explores as the book unfolds, often invoking a dry sense of humour and pop culture references including Seinfeld, which inject a little light relief into some depressing trains of thought and certainly help to make some heavy subjects an entertaining read.
The book is certainly well written, if sometimes prone to wandering slightly off course, and offers easily digestible summaries of philosophical revelations that serve as a welcome introduction to some of history’s greatest thinkers.
The Being at Work chapter is particularly good as it starts with the sometimes familiar temptation to walk away from all things mortgages to start a vineyard in the South of France. It also invites you to explore why 34 per cent of lottery winners prefer to stay in work after landing the jackpot.
A minor criticism applies to the chapter entitled Getting Ready, where I found it slightly odd that a book which clearly wants to encompass as many different schools of philosophical thought as possible only seems to consider the prospect of how God might exist, rather than whether he exists at all.
The appeal of Rowland Smith’s book for me was that it introduced so many different critical aspects, but this did mean that many points received only a passing mention.
Those looking for an in-depth analysis of philosophical discourse might find it a little lacking. But if, like me, you are happy with a simpler introduction to the subject, it offers a fascinating insight into human behaviour that is both educational and entertaining.