This book of thoughtful mini-essays on life’s big topics is a pleasure to read. But maybe I only think that because I agree with a lot of what Grayling has to say. But maybe I only agree with him because he’s right. You’ll have to read it and decide for yourself.
Most of the essays are only a page or two, so this is a good book to delve into at random. (In fact that’s what Grayling recommends. I always ignore recommendations like that though — I’m a “begin-at-the-beginning” kind of guy.) They are grouped into three categories: Virtues and Attributes (such as Fear, Death, and Blame); Foes and Fallacies (Racism, Christianity, Capitalism); and Amenities and Goods (Education, Reading, Age). The essays originally appeared as newspaper columns, so there is some repetition and a few rough edges — the book could do with a bit of editing.
The increasing amount of choice we have now allows us to lead lives that are objectively better, but subjectively worse than before. This thought-provoking book by Barry Schwartz tries to show why the increasing amount of choice in our lives isn’t making us happier — in fact, it’s making us less happy. Fortunately, he also describes solutions to allow us to manage the negative effects of choice.
I tend to agree with him in general. Here’s a rather trivial example of a way I have tried to avoid the problem. When confronted with a restaurant menu, I try to read down the menu until I find something that sounds good to me. Then I stop, and order that thing. There are some restaurants I have been to several times where I have never read to the end of the menu, because I know that I will end up agonising over my choice and thinking I should have chosen something else anyway.
For years I have tied my shoelaces using a special knot that is easy to tie, but never comes undone accidentally. I can’t remember where I learned this — maybe I invented it myself — but I always planned to pass this knowledge on to my children (when I have them) as a valuable piece of family wisdom.
I recently discovered the excellent Ian’s Shoelace Site (“Fun, fashion & science in this quirky site about shoelaces”) as I was looking for more information on shoelace knots. He lists my knot, which is actually called the Better Bow. He seems to find it difficult to tie. Even when I first started using it, I found it as easy as an ordinary knot; that’s why I like it so much. In contrast, his own secure knot, Ian’s Secure Shoelace Knot, is more symmetrical than the Better Bow but quite fiddly to tie, especially if your laces are a bit short.