The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life

A. C. Grayling


Philosopher, academic, literary journalist and broadcaster A. C. Grayling, breaks down some of life's challenging topics, such as courage, sorrow, love, death, hope, betrayal and blame, into bite size chapters and offers some accessible philosophical ideas to help us think about life and what it means. 



This is a small book that is full to the brim with big ideas. Grayling has collated 'sketch maps' on some of life's more challenging subjects and offers succinct, yet thought provoking discussions on each. They began their life as contributions in the Guardian newspaper's Saturday Review, which may give you a sense of their length and readability.

This book isn't designed to be read in one go, each essay is self contained and stand alone and this is one of my favourite things about it. It was easy to pick up, flick through, pausing on a topic that caught my eye on any given day. The essays are categorised into three parts; Grayling points you in the direction of 'Virtues and Attributes', 'Foes and Fallacies' or 'Amenities and Goods'.  Some 'sketch maps' naturally lead you to another - love and hate, betrayal and loyalty - but reading one a day and then giving myself time to really think about what I had just read became an enjoyable bedtime routine. 

Although the topics in this book may seem dense at first glance, I felt able to access philosophical ideas that I would normally have run a mile from. Each essay begins with a fantastic quote which was enough to get my brain whirring. A brilliant way to dip your toe into some big thinking!


Despite it's accessibility, this is still a book about the meaning of life. Some days my brain was just a bit too tired to contemplate capitalism, privacy or death!


Read this if you are in the mood to be challenged, to ponder on some more tricky areas of life or to simply read the thoughts of an incredibly intelligent man. How you engage with this book is entirely up to you, but I would recommend setting aside half an hour, making a cup of tea, reading an essay and then sitting back and having a think. 


This book taught me not to be afraid of difficult thoughts, conversations or debates. To embrace these knotty elements of life and to challenge myself to challenge myself. It can be easy to want to stay in a 'safe place' where everything feels simple, and it can take great courage to step outside of our comfort zone, but that is where we can do some of our best learning. 


'...courage can only be felt by those who are afraid. If a man is truly fearless as he leaps over the enemy parapet or hurls himself into a rugby tackle, he is not courageous.'

p. 22, 'Courage'

“Defeat is always an opportunity...nothing happens without a lesson to offer, or without opening other routes into the future.”

p. 25, 'Defeat'  

"Hope is a virtue independently of its realisations; it is an intrinsic value, an end in itself, allied to courage and imagination, an attitude full of possibility and aspiration. For that reason you discover more about a person when you learn about his hopes than when you count his achievements , for the best of what we are lies in what we hope to be.”

p. 36, 'Hope' 




For me to try and summarise key lessons seems to go against the spirit of this book. My advice? Pick up a copy, read, think and decide for yourself. 

Lots of love, A x