The Meditations are a translation of the surviving notebooks of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who’s famous for his espousal of Stoic philosophy and for being pretty decent at his job. Because these notes were intended to be private, Marcus frequently accuses himself of pride, blindness, procrastination, and so on—although in other ways he exhibits the ego you would expect from a ruler.

It’s hard to reconcile the aphoristic wisdom in these pages with what I know about life in the Roman Empire. It’s all well and good for an emperor to philosophize about fulfilling your station in life as a source of inner happiness, but what comfort would that have given a slave, or a soldier’s wife? The gap between our eras makes it hard to subscribe to Marcus’s brand of Stoicism.

Five stars anyway, because of passages like these:

Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. (2.1)

For the entire earth is but a point, and the place of our own habitation but a minute corner in it; and how many are therein who will praise you, and what sort of men are they? (4.3)