What emerges in Carpenter’s prose is an abiding enthusiasm for the subject matter, a consistent optimism, and a clear mastery of the material. The reader is drawn in, and engaged. – Quintus Curtius
The Central Question
Are you your own man or are you whatever your preferred news source assigns you as? This is not an abstract question. Aristotle observed that there were two kinds of excellence: of thought and of character. Unfortunately, the most powerful people in our world are thoroughly lacking in both, but that doesn’t mean you need to follow their lead.
The Crux of the Problem
Our ruling class created (and was created by) a world that values knowledge without wisdom, easy living over good living, hedonism over glory. This leads to an attitude of hysteria and unwise decision-making, which will surely leave its victims more vulnerable to reversals of fortune. Think of a luxury ship guided by a self-assured navigator, reveling in his most prized possession – only for him to crash on a crag and discover that he doesn’t know how to swim.
To avoid such a fate, classical writers and philosophers understood that it was important to develop a good character. This could be achieved through cultivating optimal habits and a sound education. One of the best ways to imbue good character would be to look at examples of conduct by figures in history and determine what traits were involved in their successes and downfalls. This was largely the aim of historians like Herodotus and Plutarch. They were not interested merely in disembodied facts, but the larger moral picture of the men they profiled. This kind of wisdom literature was common in past ages, but has been neglected since the mid-20th century, when the study of classics declined. It would be hard to conclude that the corrosion of our national character, particularly in our ruling class, was not related to this decline.
I credit my study of classical philosophy and the character traits of historical figures as a major part of the reason why I’ve stayed, to the extent possible, my own man. In this world of algorithm-driven lies and hysteria, maintaining a cool demeanor and good decision-making skills has never been more important. It was for this reason that I started the Masculine Epic, and why I’ve collected its best historical biographies, improved them, and added some new ones, to Lives of the Luminaries.
About the Book
Lives of the Luminaries is a collection of 51 essays examining the careers and character traits of notable historical figures ranging from ancient Egypt to our own time. They run the gamut from kings and conquerors to scientists and athletes. Each chapter is a short biography that usually focuses on that individual’s character traits and how they influenced the events described. Through an examination of these careers and characters, the reader may learn valuable lessons about building the appropriate habits, thoughts, and mindset to live a flourishing life, resilient against reversals of fortune. Here is the book’s table of contents:
- Narmer Forges a Nation
- Imhotep Climbs the Steps to Godhood
- Thutmose III: Egypt’s Greatest Pharaoh
- Akhenaten Plunges Egypt into Revolution and Chaos
- Ramesses II’s Propaganda Machine Turns Failure into Victory
- The Harem Conspiracy Against Ramesses III
- King Croesus Learns the Meaning of Happiness and Prophecy
- Alexander the Great Puts Down Two Mutinies
- How Alexander the Great Won the Battle of Gaugamela
- Scipio Prevents Mass Desertion after Cannae
- 11 Lessons in Leadership from Julius Caesar
- Octavian’s Invective Against Antony
- Was Attila the Hun Really the “Scourge of God?”
- William the Conqueror Imposes his Will on a “Bad Omen”
- Genghis Khan Does the “Impossible”
- Masculine Virtues at the Battle of Crecy
- Henry V: Brother and King
- Joan of Arc Emerges from Nowhere and Tips Fortune’s Scales
- A King in Queen’s Clothing: Elizabeth I at Tilbury
- Charles I Retains his Dignity in a Show Trial
- Charles II Escapes Certain Death
- 10 Life Lessons from Louis XIV
- England Codifies Mass Hysteria with the Test Acts
- Marlborough, the Improbable Genius
- Blenheim: Marlborough Risks it all for “A Famous Victory”
- South Sea Mania Sweeps Isaac Newton
- The Indomitable Will of George Washington
- Daniel Morgan: Secret Weapon of the Revolutionary War
- Frederick Douglass warns us About the Corrupting Nature of “Irresponsible Power”
- Going Unconventional: Ulysses S. Grant Wins at Vicksburg
- Heinrich Schliemann: Discoverer of Troy
- John D. Rockefeller’s Business Model
- Louis Pasteur Beats Rabies and an Ossified Medical Establishment
- Theodore Roosevelt Reestablishes the Balance of Power
- Henry Ford: Inventor of the Modern World
- My Grandfather, the Dinosaur
- How Harry Truman Outworked Certain Defeat in 1948
- Michael Ventris Deciphers Linear B and Stumps the “Experts”
- Fidel Castro and the Corruption of Talent
- What Made Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage so Special
- A Eulogy for Justice Scalia
- Alex Rodriguez: The Power, the Glory, the Fall, and the Rebirth
- The Mystique of the Undertaker
- Did Mayweather vs. McGregor Live up to the Hype?
- Giancarlo Stanton, Derek Jeter, and the Importance of Ending Well
- Why the Undertaker Should Have Stayed Retired, and When You Should Call it Quits
- A Tribute to Quintus Curtius
- A Tribute to the Unanimous Mariano Rivera
- Boris Johnson: Clown or Genius?
- A Few Mindset Lessons from Derek Jeter
- Carl Sagan’s Warnings and the Importance of Character
As you can see, the essays cover people from quite different time periods and career paths. You will see who they were and who they interacted with, the character traits involved in their successes or failures, how fortune varied among them, and what wisdom you can glean from them. Such are the unifying themes of the book.
Throughout, we’ll venture from the Step Pyramid to the stars, and encounter courage, timidity, love, mania, demagoguery, confidence, hubris, charisma, and much more as we see the frailty of our humanity interact with the implacable force of fortune. Through the glory and rubble, we hope that our wisdom will be advanced, and that we can imitate the best while avoiding the worst.
The book is currently available in four places:
- In print form on Amazon, which you can find here.
- In ebook form directly from my Payhip store here.
- In ebook form on Nook here.
- My Patreon, here. You can get the book in epub or PDF format by joining at the $5 tier and effectively get it for half off. This offer is permanent.
The cover was designed by fitraalgha on Fiverr, who was very helpful, and who I would recommend if you need similar artwork done.
Lives of the Luminaries has been reviewed by Quintus at Fortress of the Mind. Click here to read it.