Echoes through time: those who simply act like lions

[A prince] must learn from the fox and the lion; because the lion is defenceless against traps and a fox is defenceless against wolves. Therefore one must be a fox in order to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves. Those who simply act like lions are stupid.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 – 1527), The Prince

Downtime: A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe

A Man In Full was my first Tom Wolfe novel. It had been on my Must Read list for a few years and, when Tom Wolfe died, I finally ordered a copy.

It’s a beautifully observed, beautifully written book that shows you its worlds through the eyes of each character, immersing you in their perceptions and prejudices.

It is often referenced because of its use of Stoic philosophy and that seems to come on two levels.

There’s the slap-in-the-face-obvious storyline of a man in his hour of darkest need, who comes across a Magic Book. The constant references thereafter to Zeus  play to this surface reading, so I guess that may have been Wolfe’s intent.

However, at a more interesting and subtle level, all of the main characters go through something of a Stoic revelation. In each arc, we see and experience their  own version of  “being a man”, from former football hero and real-estate mogul Charlie Croker’s trophy-wifed, quail-hunting, plantation-owning,  machismo, through Roger White’s educated, elegant, professional career, to young Conrad’s desperation to provide for his family. As the story progresses,  each evolves a different – and perhaps more Stoic – view of what it means to be a “man in full”.

I enjoyed it enormously, yet I came away feeling slightly let down by the final 100 pages or so (of 740). They felt rushed and, I suppose, I wanted a slightly different ending.

That said, it’s well worth a read over the summer.


Echoes through time: whoever offers to another a bargain

Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens.

Adam Smith (1723 – 1790), An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

Too often, focus is on the [wicked] “self-love” rather than on the proper context.


Image: Shutterstock

Personal eternal truths from Nicholas Bate

Twenty-two personal and eternal truths? How can you resist?

In particular…

2. Worthwhile stuff is hard.

3. We are wired to be distracted: it has huge evolutionary benefit. But that benefit evolved when distraction was infrequent. Now its frequency is numbing our brain, reducing romance to sex and killing the album.

4. A schedule and ‘no’ will get amazing things achieved.

7. Everybody now runs their own business. Ask: why would anyone want to employ me?

22. Writing (1) by hand (2) for no reason at all (3) regularly is remarkably therapeutic.

Read the full 22, here.


Photo by Art Lasovsky on Unsplash


Entrepreneurs, parasites, fat cats and mice

Here’s a fascinating piece from the Times.

A few years ago, I was intrigued to read how the toxoplasmosis parasite modified the behaviour of mice it infected so that they were more likely to be caught and eaten by cats, thus achieving the parasite’s (presumed, none have been interviewed) goal of moving up the food-chain and perpetuating its species.

The parasite increases risk-taking behaviour in infected mice: they are less scared of cats and more likely to explore unfamiliar spaces. I read somewhere else that they are more likely to be seen during the day, too.

The Times’ Tom Whipple reports on a study by Stefanie Johnson at the University of Colorado, Boulder to see if the parasite had a similar effect on human behaviour:

To investigate that theory, they looked at three groups. The first was a sample of 1,500 US students who were studying biology or business. Those on the business course were almost 50 per cent more likely to have the parasite. The second was 200 people attending entrepreneurship events. There, infected people were 80 per cent more likely to have started their own business.

Finally, they investigated how global infection rates — which range from 9 per cent in Norway to 60 per cent in Brazil — correlated to an index of entrepreneurial activity. Again, the presence of the parasite was linked to being more orientated towards starting a business, and less troubled about a fear of it failing.

Stefanie Johnson, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, said that she was not surprised by the findings. “Other data has looked at autopsy results from people who died doing risky things — riding a motorcycle without a helmet or skydiving,” she said. They were more likely to have toxoplasmosis than people who died from less risky causes.

The Times article is here.

The University of Colorado’s piece is here.

As we so often find, we are never quite the masters of our fate that we like to think.

Thus, I confidently predict that we sovereign professionals are a parasite-ridden bunch. Happy Friday!


Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev on Unsplash


Echoes through time: the totality of all Being

Think of the totality of all Being, and what a mite of it is yours; think of all Time, and the brief fleeting instant of it that is allotted to yourself; think of Destiny, and how puny a part of it you are.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 120 – 180), Meditations (5.24)