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Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life [NOOK Book]

Overview

Advice on achieving a fulfilling old age from one of the bestselling authors of Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .

After being advised by his dentist to get tooth implants, Daniel Klein decides to stick with his dentures and instead use the money to make a trip to the Greek island Hydra and discover the secrets of aging happily. Drawing on the inspiring lives of his Greek friends and philosophers ranging from Epicurus to Sartre, Klein ...
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Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life

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Overview

Advice on achieving a fulfilling old age from one of the bestselling authors of Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .

After being advised by his dentist to get tooth implants, Daniel Klein decides to stick with his dentures and instead use the money to make a trip to the Greek island Hydra and discover the secrets of aging happily. Drawing on the inspiring lives of his Greek friends and philosophers ranging from Epicurus to Sartre, Klein uncovers the simple pleasures that are available late in life, as well as the refined pleasures that only a mature mind can fully appreciate.

A travel book, a witty and accessible meditation, and an optimistic guide to living well, Travels with Epicurus is a delightful jaunt to the Aegean and through the terrain of old age that only a free spirit like Klein could lead.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In a sense, Daniel Klein's philosophical musings began with a visit to a dentist's office. Confronted for the first time with the possibility of permanent denture plates, the veteran author (Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar; The History of Now) began contemplating the jarring inevitabilities of old age. To sooth his worries and strengthen himself with a little rest and recreation, he travels to the remote Greek island of Hydra. There, strengthened by the vitality of his friends and the wisdom of ancient and modern thinkers, he makes striking discoveries about growing old, life, death, dentures, and himself.

The Barnes & Noble Review

At age seventy-nine, Philip Roth announced his retirement from writing. In his early seventies, the entertaining Daniel Klein is just getting started publishing serious books: the realistic novel The History of Now in 2009 and subsequently the philosophical excursion Travels with Epicurus. In his "youth," Klein co-authored with Thomas Cathcart the bestselling Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, an introduction to philosophical ideas through jokes, and Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates, a humorous miscellany of philosophers' thoughts on death. Way back in the earlier days of his long career, Klein wrote Elvis Presley mysteries, thrillers, and television comedy.

Presumably echoing Travels with Charley, which a seriously ill John Steinbeck published at sixty, Travels with Epicurus begins with Klein's visit to a dentist, who tells him he can choose between expensive implants or an unanchored plate, which Klein associates with old men. He chooses the plate and, at seventy-three, decides to return to the Greek island of Hydra, where he spent a year in his twenties, to learn how to best be an old man before he descends into "old old age" in a nursing home.

Steinbeck took along his poodle, to which he could articulate his thoughts. Klein packs the writings of Epicurus, the third century B.C. Greek philosopher from the island of Samos, and books such as James's Varieties of Religious Experience, Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics, and Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death. Steinbeck traveled the United States in a camper, talked to assorted natives, and delivered many judgments on the state of American culture. Klein walks the paths of Hydra, where there are no cars; talks to Dimitri, a former sailor and now a taverna owner, and to Tasso, a retired judge; and has little to say about Hydra, where, he believes, old people are satisfied with their lives.

Klein reports so few contacts with island life that I suspected that this memoir might be a fiction relying on his early experiences. I became more suspicious when I realized that Dimitri and Tasso are the names Klein gave his philosophical straight men in Plato and a Platypus. Oh well, I thought, recent research on Steinbeck says that he invented much of Travels with Charley. If Travels with Epicurus can show me at age sixty-eight how to live a "Fulfilled Life" in the near future, I don't care if it's a novel ghostwritten by Klein's wife.

In most chapters Klein begins with a brief conversation in or passing observation on Hydra, offers several pages of quotes and summaries from Epicurus that are suggested by the island stimulus, provides one- or two-page commentaries by other thinkers on the subject at hand, and supplements with memories, song lyrics, jokes, anecdotes, and other odds and ends from his own life. Chapter One moves from describing elderly card players in a taverna to a lucid explanation of why Epicurus praised old age as "the pinnacle of life." It was the point at which a person was freed from commercial activities and politics and could enjoy the pleasures of true companionship, as the card players seem to.

The best example of Klein's combinatory method — the most thoughtful and affecting — occurs in Chapter Two, where he works from the inescapable pedestrian pace on Hydra to address the feeling of emptiness that following Epicurus' praise of slowing down might bring. Klein quotes from Lars Svendsen's A Philosophy of Boredom and uses Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens to show how slow time can encourage a rewarding capacity for play. Then come relevant low comedy — when Klein describes lying down and rolling over and over in play with his dog — and near transcendence when Klein remembers seeing a group of old Greek men companionably and joyfully dancing with each other.

Klein's primary pursuit is an old age of "authenticity," a value that he believes the natives of Hydra manifest and a value that he opposes to the falsity of coevals who use testosterone patches and breast implants to stay "forever young." On authenticity Epicurus is less useful as a guide than the existential philosophers important to Klein in his earlier compendia. For Heidegger, authentic existence meant living with one's death in mind. Klein says Epicurus offers an early example of this mortal awareness, for he argued, basically, that when you were dead you were no longer you, so you need not fear thinking about death. For Sartre, authenticity was choosing one's being in the face of essentializing others. Klein again finds Epicurus anticipating the Existentialists because he valued deliberative individual happiness above responsible citizenship, which got Epicurus in trouble with his contemporaries.

Throughout Travels with Epicurus Klein illustrates the ancient philosopher's position that mental pleasures are superior to physical pleasures (a position often distorted in the English usage of epicurean), for Klein spends most of his text discussing abstract ideas rather than observing concrete behavior. Epicurus said mental life should not be filled with worry about the gods, as they had better things to do than worry about humans. Klein doesn't believe in the Olympian deities, but near the book's end he does describe an Orthodox Easter festival and list several temptations to believe in immortality, which he admirably resists in the name of existential authenticity. The closest Klein comes to the spiritual, he says, is listening to great music — and watching old men dance.

Despite the heavy tomes occasionally quoted by Klein, Travels with Epicurus is a light book, the kind — seven inches by five inches, 164 pages — one can carry in a small purse or coat pocket, the kind one sees with other wisdom texts up front near the cash registers at bookstores. In Klein's presentation, Epicurus and other thinkers are philosophy lite, very brief digests that Klein often ends up further reducing by stamping them with a cliché or folk saying.

Greece's famous light suffuses Klein's pages, but he seems blinded to actualities, the contemporary economic conditions that afflict pensioners, turning his presumed fulfilled Epicureans into grim Stoics or suicides. As a longtime part-time resident of Athens — and frequent visitor to Hydra — I learned more about Greeks and old age by reading a New York Times Magazine article on the long-lived natives of Icaria than I did reading Klein's month-long dip into the Aegean.

To Klein's credit, the autobiographical element of Travels with Epicurus is attractively lighthearted. I don't mean just the "corny old joke" or two that Klein throws in but the lightness of being that percolates through the book. When the "anticipatory depression" of old old age looms in a late chapter, Klein doesn't surrender to it. He thinks about depression, thinks through it, and his thinking keeps this heavy-footed man ever so slightly lightheaded. Sitting in a sunny taverna, drinking a glass of retsina, Klein has a Heideggerian "shiver of assent":

For an instant, I feel something like relief or even gratitude that being is. I even experience tinges of something that feels a wee bit like awe — awe that miraculously being has somehow triumphed over nothing. And that, astonishingly, I have been a part of that triumph: I have had the privilege of participating in being and of being conscious of that fact.
For the Klein that reveals himself in this book, this assent seems right — abstract, courageous, authentic.

Although Travels with Epicurus was sent to me, it wasn't, unfortunately, meant for me. I think it's for baby boomers who don't usually read books but might finish this one if it were a gift from a daughter or son anxious about their parents' retirement. Or it's for television-watching golden-agers in Florida and Arizona who have found golf or tennis less than fulfilling. Klein indirectly alludes to Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve, which won awards and sold thousands by tracing the modern influence of Epicurus through the Roman poet Lucretius. Now, there was a book for readers like me, but perhaps Travels with Epicurus is ultimately no less serious. Not because of Klein's weighty references but because, despite his book's limitations, Klein is like Wordsworth's poet: "A man speaking to men." And like Epicurus, who was criticized for inviting women to his Athenian garden, a man speaking to women.

Tom LeClair is the author of five novels, two critical books, and hundreds of essays and reviews in nationally circulated periodicals. He can be reached at thomas.leclair@uc.edu.

Reviewer: Tom LeClair

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101603017
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/30/2012
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 192,167
  • File size: 505 KB

Meet the Author

Daniel Klein is the author or coauthor of more than thirty books, including the bestseller Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . . and the award-winning novel The History of Now. Klein holds a degree in philosophy from Harvard University and lives in Western Massachusetts.
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Read an Excerpt

Epicureanism as a Living Philosophy Today

Unsurprisingly, Epicurus’s laid-back legacy survives more thoroughly in Greece’s rural areas than in its cities. Aegean islanders like to tell a joke about a prosperous Greek American who visits one of the islands on vacation. Out on a walk, the affluent Greek American comes upon an old Greek man sitting on a rock, sipping a glass of ouzo, and lazily staring at the sun setting into the sea. The American notices there are olive trees growing on the hills behind the old Greek but that they are untended, with olives just dropping here and there onto the ground. He asks the old man who the trees belong to.

'They’re mine,' the Greek replies.

'Don’t you gather the olives?' the American asks.

'I just pick one when I want one,' the old man says.

'But don’t you realise that if you pruned the trees and picked the olives at their peak, you could sell them? In America everybody is crazy about virgin olive oil, and they pay a damned good price for it.'

'What would I do with the money?' the old Greek asks.

'Why, you could build yourself a big house and hire servants to do everything for you.'

'And then what would I do?'

'You could do anything you want!'

'You mean, like sit outside and sip ouzo at sunset?'
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2012

    Wonderful, thought-provoking at any age

    How many of us have thought about how we will or should spend the later stages of our lives? Some of us already have plans and some of us are too afraid to face old age and think about it. What is the best way to spend your twilight years? I think this is an ever important question.
    With the increased speed at which we live our lives, the never-ending goals and materialistic mindset, growing old has changed in modern society. The author, who is seventy-three, takes the reader along on his journey to question how to best spend his years in old age. He looks back through pages of philosophy to try to find the best answer.
    I am not in the old age stage yet. However, this book will surely prepare you for what kind of mindset you should adopt before that time comes. It will also wake you up to the fact that you can start your search for this joy and happiness before you get there.
    This is not a sad story of an old man searching for meaning in his final days. It is the joyous story of a man in old age who as been brave enough to accept where is is in life and enjoy it as such. By asking these philosophical questions, he has already acheived meaning. He is not in denial that he is mortal and death will surely come, possibly in the not too distant future.
    On Daniel Klein's search for his philosophy on old age, he revisits many philosophers and schools of thought, such as Aristotle, Kierkegaard and Buddhism. His topics range from existential authenticity to the timeliness of spirituality. Even if you don't agree with his musings and conclusions, it will definitely get you thinking about your own philosophical ideas on old age. You might even come to some solid conclusions of your own.
    Put some thought into this one and enjoy!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 7, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Daniel Klein is well known to amateur philosophers as the co-aut

    Daniel Klein is well known to amateur philosophers as the co-author of the ‘Plato and a Platypus walk into a bar…’ series of books that illustrates basic philosophical problems via jokes. In ‘Travels with Epicurus’, Mr. Klein takes the reader on a trip of self-examination while spending one month on the Greek island of Hydra. Contained within his travel bags are the works of his favorite philosophers, many from ancient Greece, and in particular, the works of Epicurus. He mulls over the writings of these European writings while visiting old and long time friends on the island. The basic question addressed in this book is, how should we live our lives when we become old? Mr. Klein doesn’t mean ‘old, old’, as in dotty and incontinent (a stage at which he begins to agree with the Stoics that suicide should be an option). But ‘old’ as when the body is definitely starting to fail. In Klein’s case, this realization began when his dentist told him he would need either a set of dental implants that, after many months of uncomfortable procedures would produce a youthful looking smile or a set of false teeth that would make him look like an old man. He picked the later because, he admits, he had become ‘an old man’. The opening narrative describing his dental visits is the beginning of a very interesting commentary on the cult of the youth, and of his decision not to be part of it. Rather, he wants to live as an old man, with all the advantages such a lifestyle offers, including just slowing down to savor the remaining time just as Epicurus would recommend. But oddly, at the end of the book, he concludes that much of this way of living is actually just being mindful of the here and now. In fact, towards the end of the book (page 150) he makes the very Zen-like observation that ‘A mindful person is fully engaged in what he is presently doing…he is ever on guard against slipping into everydayness… In my old age…I may finally be able to do that. “ No Buddhist texts are cited despite this conclusion. This book is a great read for thoughtful baby boomers crossing into ‘old age’ who wonder how they can best use these last years. Even if you don’t agree with Mr. Klein’s conclusions (and they’re more complicated than can be described in a short review such as this one), you’ll find the options his considers to be thought provoking. And as one who has done much to popularize philosophy I’m sure this is what Daniel Klein would like from his readers.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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