The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers

Eric Weiner

Avid Reader Press



We think we want information and knowledge. We do not. We want wisdom. There’s a difference. Information is a jumble of facts, knowledge a more organized jumble. Wisdom untangles the facts, makes sense of them, and crucially, suggests how best to use them. As the British musician Miles Kington said: “Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

     from The Socrates Express


You are due for your 93 million-mile check-up

January is the perfect month to take stock of one’s life: to look back over the past year (…or maybe not) and to look ahead to the new year just beginning. Winter’s dark silences set the right meteorological mood for such pause and reflection.

A helpful book to assist in this reflective process is Eric Weiner’s The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers. This is a far cry from the dry, stuffy philosophy tomes one was assigned to read in college.

With humor and self-embarrassing candor, Weiner, a former NPR correspondent and author (The Geography of Bliss,) takes a very pragmatic approach to philosophy, contemplating less the eternal verities than the practical day to day drudgeries and delights of living. As he notes about the philosophers he selected, “It was not the meaning of life that interested them but leading meaningful lives.”

This practical focus is reflected in his chapter titles: How to Get Out of Bed like Marcus Aurelius (Hint: The Roman philosopher-emperor was not a morning person, yet “Every dawn is a rebirth.”); How to Wonder like Socrates—he who warned against living an unexamined life. How to Walk like Rousseau (“Walking is a sanctuary in motion,” “portable serenity”); How to See like Thoreau (“That’s the thing about lives of quiet desperation. They’re only quiet on the outside.”); How to Fight like Gandhi (“All violence represents a failure of imagination.”); How to Die like Montaigne (“the philosopher I most want to have a beer with.”); as well as other philosophers on how to cope, how to listen, be kind, appreciate the small things, how to grow old.

He confesses that “a sense of urgency propels my pen. It is the urgency of someone who does not want to die having not lived.” What he is seeking is life wisdom. Wisdom that “transcends space and time, and is never obsolete.” What was true 2000 years ago—about how to live the good life—is as true today.

This is not an answer book, full of old bromides and Dr. Phil-type advice, but a guide book to help us engage in “ruthless self-interrogation, questioning not only what we know but who we are, in hopes of eliciting a radical shift in perspective.” And perhaps thereby, transformation.

One of my nephews recently reminded me that the earth travels 92,955,807 miles in its yearly orbit around the sun. Consider this your 93 million-mile check-up.



This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (January 15, 2021.) Reprinted with permission.