by Kieran Setiya
Felt a bit like a bait-and-switch. I was expecting a book with a focus on the hardships of life, perhaps with lessons about acceptance. But while the chapter titles lead us off with the various types of “hard” we’re likely to encounter through life, the conversation quickly shifts to general philosophy and pop psychology. And little of that conversation was genuinely compelling or enlightening. I did bookmark this interesting tidbit, though – Setiya is quoting somebody else, a historian named Keith Thomas, on the topic of friendship in early modern England – “friends were valued because they were useful. One did not necessarily have to LIKE them.” Ha! I never heard such an analysis; I guess it makes sense, if you think about how marriage used to be much more of a social contract based on utility rather than a way for fulfilling love matches. Maybe friendship was similar… not based on any bosom-buddy kind of feeling, but more of a mutual aid society.