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BOOK REVIEW: A sagacious guide to the meaning of life

Dan Klein has written a serious philosophical treatise that employs judicious bits of humor to make serious points about life’s biggest questions.

Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It: Wisdom of the Great Philosophers on How to Live

By Daniel M. Klein


Published by Penguin Books

224 pages, $20

ISBN 9780143126799

The key to Daniel Klein’s writing success has always been his ability to combine incisive analysis with his own brand of easygoing humor and charm. Books like the New York Times bestselling “Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar” (co-authored with Thomas Cathcart) have made Klein famous for his ability to illustrate philosophical precepts in ways that people of all ages can understand and enjoy.

When Klein was a philosophy student at Harvard, he began collecting quotes from the world’s greatest thinkers, hoping to learn a few things about living a good life. Now that he’s in his 70s, he’s taken a new interest in his old notebook: “I am struck anew,” he writes, “by how eloquent and inspiring great philosophers can be with just a few well-chosen words.”

You needn’t be in your seventies – or eighties — to enjoy Klein’s philosophical musings, but if you are, the author’s hard-won wisdom will especially resonate with you, and you’ll understand more of his jokes than your grandchildren will.

Daniel Klein
Daniel Klein

Klein’s discussion of hedonism, alone, is worth the price of this book, because hedonism isn’t what most of us thought it was, at least not as the celibate Epicurus described and practiced it. For example, the first entry in Klein’s notebook reads: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you have now was once among the things you only hoped for.” Epicurus, writes Klein, was “a careful hedonist.” He goes on to explain that “in this aphorism, Epicurus is making two related points: First, desiring what we do not have now diminishes or even cancels our appreciation of what we do have now; and second, when we take a moment to consider the outcome of actually getting that something else that we now desire, we will realize that it is just going to put us back at square one — desiring yet something else.”

In this way, Klein sheds new light on the teachings of Camus, Sartre, Emerson, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Niebuhr (whose words provided the title of this book), and many others. He even brings his own dog, Snookers, into the picture.

As funny as Daniel Klein can be, this is not a joke book. It’s a serious philosophical treatise that employs judicious bits of humor to make serious points about life’s biggest questions.

About the author

Daniel Klein is the author of the London Times bestseller “Travels with Epicurus” and, with Thomas Cathcart, the New York Times and international bestseller “Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar.” A graduate of Harvard in philosophy, he lives in the Berkshires with his wife, Freke Vuijst.


Daniel Klein will be discussing his latest book at the Lenox Library on Sunday, January 24, at 4 p.m.


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