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"What is the point of countless books and libraries."

Yesterday morning I opened The Daily Stoic and came across a gem of a thought written by the philosopher Seneca. It’s from his book De Tranquillitate Animi roughly translated in English, On Tranquility of Mind. 

What’s the point of having countless books and libraries, whose titles could hardly be read through in a lifetime. The learner is not taught, but burdened by the sheer volume, and it’s better to plant the seeds of a few authors than to be scattered about by many.

I guess they had hoarders back in 50 A.D. just like today?

Anyway, building on the thoughts I shared in my last blog post, Seneca’s point makes a direct hit. This isn’t “less is more”, but rather “more doesn’t equal better”. In my head, I can see a guy named MJ, one of the smartest and most well-read design leaders I’ve ever met, slightly smiling in response because two thoughts came to his mind: 1. It’s nice to have a conversation about philosophy, and 2. Greg’s interpretation is cute, not entirely wrong, but slightly pedestrian. And I’m okay with this imaginary assessment because he’s always right.

I can tell you from experience that “countless books” is indeed a burden. I have bought and donated hundreds and hundreds of books over the years. Even after I still have hundreds of books in my office and home and even more, thousands, on my Kindle. And I think I’ve written before that if I were to stop buying or borrowing any new books further, it would likely take my estimated remaining time on the planet to consume them all.

So, I take Seneca’s thought to heart. He’s right and I would do well to listen, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to quit buying books completely. That would not feel humane.