The Power of History & Reflections on Mortality - Robert Greene & Ryan Holiday

Added: Jan 30, 2024

In a podcast featuring Robert Greene and Ryan Holiday, the two authors discuss the importance of history and the impact of singular moments on people's lives. They emphasize the idea that history is not just a collection of dry facts, but a series of moments that have the power to change the course of someone's life. They also discuss the significance of reading about historical figures and the lessons that can be learned from their experiences.

Key takeaways


History is not just facts; it's a collection of moments that can change lives, offering valuable insights and lessons.


Technology, especially AI, shapes thinking and interaction, but critical thinking remains crucial amidst digital convenience.


Embrace difficulty for growth; struggle through challenges rather than bypassing them for true intellectual development.


Engaging with information in a meaningful and deliberate way leads to a deeper understanding and growth.


Reflection on mortality brings awareness; memento mori mindset emphasizes appreciating life's fleeting moments.

The Power of History

Robert Greene and Ryan Holiday both express their passion for history and the impact it has had on their lives. Greene shares his perspective on the importance of understanding the past and how it can provide valuable insights into human behavior and decision-making. He emphasizes the need to view historical figures as living individuals who faced similar challenges and choices as people do today. Greene also highlights the value of learning from the mistakes and successes of those who came before us.

Living Through History

The conversation then shifts to the present moment and the unique challenges and complexities of the current era. Greene and Holiday discuss the difficulty of defining the zeitgeist of the present time, noting the absence of a unifying narrative or belief system. They also explore the impact of technology and the internet on the way people experience and interpret the world around them. They discuss the lack of functioning institutions and the disillusionment that many young people feel towards traditional systems and structures.

The Impact of Technology

Greene and Holiday delve into the role of technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), in shaping the way people think and interact with the world. They express concerns about the potential negative effects of relying too heavily on AI and digital tools, highlighting the importance of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Greene shares a personal anecdote about the value of struggling through a difficult translation task, emphasizing the character-building and intellectual growth that comes from facing challenges and working through them.

The Value of Difficulty

The conversation turns to the value of difficulty and the process of grappling with complex problems. Greene and Holiday discuss the benefits of engaging with challenging tasks and the importance of developing patience, discipline, and humility. They contrast the experience of struggling through a difficult task with the ease and convenience of using digital tools to bypass the effort and thought required to solve a problem. They emphasize the importance of embracing the struggle and the growth that comes from facing and overcoming obstacles.

The Role of Research

Holiday shares his experience working with Greene as a researcher and the value of the note card research system that Greene taught him. They discuss the benefits of physically engaging with information and the process of translating ideas from one medium to another. They highlight the importance of the physical and mental effort required to process and internalize information, contrasting it with the ease of digital copying and pasting. They emphasize the value of the struggle and the depth of understanding that comes from engaging with information in a meaningful and deliberate way.

Writing Process and Organization

Greene and Holiday discuss their writing processes and the organization of their work. They talk about the use of note cards and the challenges of writing books. Greene shares his experience of writing multiple books simultaneously and the need for organization and discipline in managing different projects. Holiday also talks about breaking down tasks into smaller components to maintain momentum and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Ego and Success

The conversation delves into the topic of ego and the dangers of success. Greene shares his personal struggles with ego and the challenges of managing success at a young age. He reflects on the impact of early success and the need to constantly work on oneself to avoid the pitfalls of ego. Holiday also shares his experiences with ego and the lessons learned from observing the downfall of others due to their inflated egos.

Lessons from Near-Death Experience

Greene shares a profound experience of a near-death encounter and the impact it had on his perspective on life and mortality. He describes the feeling of dying and the visceral connection he still has to that experience. Greene emphasizes the importance of being aware of the strangeness of being alive and the illusion of life. He also discusses the significance of wearing a shirt that was torn during the medical emergency as a reminder of the urgency of life.

Reflections on Mortality

The conversation concludes with reflections on mortality and the ephemeral nature of life. Greene and Holiday discuss the ancient practice of memento mori and the importance of being mindful of death. They explore the idea that death teaches valuable lessons about the illusion of life and the need to appreciate every moment. Greene emphasizes the visceral connection he still has to the experience of nearly dying and the impact it has on his daily life.


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