The Path

The Path

What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life

Book - 2016
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For the first time an award-winning Harvard professor shares his wildly popular course on classical Chinese philosophy, showing you how these ancient ideas can guide you on the path to a good life today.

Why is a course on ancient Chinese philosophers one of the most popular at Harvard?

It's because the course challenges all our modern assumptions about what it takes to flourish. This is why Professor Michael Puett says to his students, "The encounter with these ideas will change your life." As one of them told his collaborator, author Christine Gross-Loh, "You can open yourself up to possibilities you never imagined were even possible."

These astonishing teachings emerged two thousand years ago through the work of a succession of Chinese scholars exploring how humans can improve themselves and their society. And what are these counterintuitive ideas? Good relationships come not from being sincere and authentic, but from the rituals we perform within them. Influence comes not from wielding power but from holding back. Excellence comes from what we choose to do, not our natural abilities. A good life emerges not from planning it out, but through training ourselves to respond well to small moments. Transformation comes not from looking within for a true self, but from creating conditions that produce new possibilities.

In other words, The Path upends everything we are told about how to lead a good life. Above all, unlike most books on the subject, its most radical idea is that there is no path to follow in the first place--just a journey we create anew at every moment by seeing and doing things differently.

Sometimes voices from the past can offer possibilities for thinking afresh about the future.

A note from the publisher:
To read relevant passages from the original works of Chinese philosophy, see our free ebook Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Xunzi: Selected Passages , available on Kindle, Nook, and the iBook Store and at
Publisher: New York :, Simon & Schuster,, 2016
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
ISBN: 9781476777832
Branch Call Number: 181.11 Pue
Characteristics: xvi, 204 pages
Additional Contributors: Gross-Loh, Christine


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Oct 13, 2016

Easy read, started out strong. Not a typical philosophical book, but not a great one either. It ties into daily life activities and decision making.

Oct 02, 2016

As the mother of a child with physical and learning disabilities, so much about "The Path" resonated with me. I learned early on that there's only so much you can plan for as life throws you curve balls. However, even with having an atypical parenting experience, it was easy to absorb mainstream American messages about authenticity and playing to your strengths without really stopping to question them. Like a kaleidoscope, this book shifted my perceptions enough for different patterns emerge. Is there a down side to always expressing exactly how you feel? What is the long-term effect of avoiding things you're not that good at? We've been conditioned to see "authenticity" as always focusing on expressing yourself and as an unqualified good. But as I've watched my daughter grow, I've begun to question a lot of parenting decisions that well-meaning people of my generation have made in reaction to the admittedly problematic parenting norms we grew up with. "The Path" shows us that it's not a choice between emotional repression vs. always saying exactly what you think, or between being a doormat vs. asserting yourself whenever you can. Similarly at work I've been successfully using the "as if" concept to interact with a difficult coworker in a way that nudges things in a positive direction. No big heart-to-heart, no writing someone off as hopeless - just changing what I do, despite how I feel, which in turn changes how the other person responds. This book shows that you can start off from a different set of assumptions and find yourself on a new path to destinations you hadn't ever imagined.

May 31, 2016

This one took a while--it's full of ideas about Western and Eastern philosophies and how we can live our best life. The authors' main assertion is that we, citizens of Western cultures, have taken only the very basics of Chinese philosophy and bent them to fit our Western mindset. The authors posit that if we truly follow the teachings of Confucius, Mencius, Laozi and others, our focus should be outward--thinking of others and working to create the life and society that we want. The authors believe that because our world is forever changing, there is no such thing as fate or free will--with each decision we make, from what to eat, to thanking others, to our choice of a life partner, we live in an ever-changing world. Sometimes things seem to have played out well and sometimes not--but our lives are influenced by a mixture of our actions and the actions of others, as well as other external influences. If we want to learn new skills and live different lives, those possibilities are within our grasp, as long as we remain open to possibility and change.


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Feb 20, 2017

We have broken from the natural world and seek to control and dominate it, but people in the traditional world tried to live in accordance with the patterns of nature.

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