Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life They Change It by Daniel Klein is subtitled Wisdom of the Great Philosophers on How to Live. This small collection is that, but more specifically it is Klein’s lifetime collation of and reflection on larger philosophical ideas and publishings, and small quotes he’s collected in the past. This is his interpretation on ideas of a good life, things that have struck him in a certain time and place, things that still resonate, or even speak of that particular context. Simply structured, there is a chapter per idea or quote or philosophical movement, credited to the author or lead thinker, contextualised and interpreted and explained by Klein. He notes when and how he found this idea, why it struck him, and if it still does. The idea itself and the contemporary context around when that philosophical idea was developed is also explained, meaning that this book has feelings of being almost journal-like as well as a Western Philosophy-lite.
It is the words of Reinhold Niebuhr that are borrowed for the title of Klein’s book; throughout his life Klein has maintained a notebook collecting these witty epithets on how to life his best life and now coming toward the end he reflects on them from a different perspective. These ideas have come from Camus, Russell, Epicurus and Emerson; varied thinkers and approaches all with the unifying theme.
“…through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good” – Bertrand Russell
It ends up being a very humourous and digestible guide to philosophical thought and personal reflection. There are breathtakingly profound ideas in here, and some movements that a reader may respond to as being incredibly inappropriate for a life philosophy (I’m thinking of existentialism here, for example), but Klein has a wit and charm in introducing and interrogating each idea.
“You are made of stuff that is as old as the planet, one third as old as the universe, though this is the first time that those atoms have been gathered together such that they think that they are you” – Frank Close
This was both a delightful and challenging read because, along with Klein, I reflected on the philosophy in each chapter to test its appropriateness for my own life. It causes conversations, further research, further reading. Perhaps it is my introduction to philosophy for dummies. I thoroughly enjoyed being both guided and entertained by Klein’s collection of philosophy for life.