Zeno was a young man when he was given a cryptic piece of advice; one that has an extra bit of resonance today, since it’s Halloween. “To live the best life,” the Oracle told Zeno, “you should have conversations with the dead.”
What does that mean? Like with ghosts and goblins? Go spend time chatting in a cemetery?
No, of course not. The Oracle was talking about reading. Because it’s through books that we really talk to people who are no longer with us. Their bodies may be rotting in the ground, or long since turned to dust, but in the pages of a book, they are alive and well.
Harry Truman was one of the greatest readers to ever occupy the White House. As a friend observed, to Harry “history was the men who made it, and he spoke of Marcus Aurelius or Henry of Navarre or old Tom Jefferson or old Andy Jackson as if they were friends and neighbors with whom he had only recently discussed the affairs of the day, their day.”
When Truman said that “not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers,” we felt like he was talking to us. We built our Daily Stoic Read to Lead Challenge around that piece of advice from him, as if he was still here, not dead for nearly fifty years. That’s the beauty and the power of books—they can bring the past to life, they can annex, as Seneca said, all ages into your own.
You can put yourself in the same room as Lincoln. You can chat with Shakespeare. You can be inspired by Porcia Cato. To do this isn’t scary, in fact it’s the opposite. It’s incredibly reassuring, because it means you have permanent access to the wisest men and women who ever lived.
It’s also an incredible opportunity to learn. To ask questions. To be taught. If there is anything at all scary about this, it’s that millions of people decline to do this every day, day after day, for the balance of their natural lives. They reject this superpower. They decide to be illiterate. They ignore the dead, choosing to listen to the chattering voices on their television and their Twitter feed.
Be smart, be brave, talk to the dead.
There’s no better way to talk with the dead than with an active reading practice. Daily Stoic’s Read to Lead Challenge will teach you how to read the right way—you will learn the best ways to truly learn from the books you read and how to find new books to learn from as well.
Read to Lead is just one of the many courses that our Daily Stoic Life members get access to—completely free (along with great weekend emails as well). Along with free access to our popular challenges like Slay Your Stress and our annual New Year New You challenge, members of Daily Stoic Life get an exclusive clothbound edition of our best meditations, access to a private community of learners, access to four Q&A sessions a year with Ryan Holiday, and more. Learn more and sign up here.