Podcast & Book Reviews

Book Review | Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

January 28, 2021

Book Review | Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Book Review | Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

By Nelson DeMestre | Associate Analyst at NAOS Asset Management

“Keep constantly in your mind an impression of the whole of time and the whole of existence - and the thought that each individual thing is, on the scale of existence, a mere fig-seed; on the scale of time, one turn of a drill”

Meditations, the personal and philosophical diary of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, is a genuinely fascinating book in terms of the life lessons it offers.

Never intended for publication, later discovered and translated, it is now central to the philosophy of ‘Stoicism’, which has recently been embraced by some in the investing world. Quotes from Meditations are for example published in the latest editions of Benjamin Graham’s ‘The Intelligent Investor’, Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger has noted the impact fellow Stoics Seneca and Epictetus have impressed upon him. Meditations is also practised by entrepreneurs such as Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, investor and ‘Black Swan’ author Nassim Taleb and the U.S. billionaire Thomas Kaplan has even funded a course on Stoicism at Brown University.

What makes ‘Meditations’ so captivating is that it captures a Roman Emperor in moments of unfiltered honesty, reflecting on human rationality, questions of virtue, the universe, life’s brevity and elements of human nature that are eternal (often eerily true in the modern context).

What lessons does Meditations offer investors?

The power of remaining unfazed by short term price declines. The importance of both conviction and what Buffet terms an “internal scorecard”:

“Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.”

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”

And an extremely rational optimism:

“Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.”

The sheer diversity of this book enables one to glean lessons at whichever point of life, career and worldview one is currently at.

Link to book