Lives of the Luminaries was finally released on November 27th, 2020. It is available in paperback and ebook formats.

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.

Lives of the Luminaries cover

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:

  1. Forward
  2. Narmer Forges a Nation
  3. Imhotep Climbs the Steps to Godhood
  4. Thutmose III: Egypt’s Greatest Pharaoh
  5. Akhenaten Plunges Egypt into Revolution and Chaos
  6. Ramesses II’s Propaganda Machine Turns Failure into Victory
  7. The Harem Conspiracy Against Ramesses III
  8. King Croesus Learns the Meaning of Happiness and Prophecy
  9. Alexander the Great Puts Down Two Mutinies
  10. How Alexander the Great Won the Battle of Gaugamela
  11. Scipio Prevents Mass Desertion after Cannae
  12. 11 Lessons in Leadership from Julius Caesar
  13. Octavian’s Invective Against Antony
  14. Was Attila the Hun Really the “Scourge of God?”
  15. William the Conqueror Imposes his Will on a “Bad Omen”
  16. Genghis Khan Does the “Impossible”
  17. Masculine Virtues at the Battle of Crecy
  18. Henry V: Brother and King
  19. Joan of Arc Emerges from Nowhere and Tips Fortune’s Scales
  20. A King in Queen’s Clothing: Elizabeth I at Tilbury
  21. Charles I Retains his Dignity in a Show Trial
  22. Charles II Escapes Certain Death
  23. 10 Life Lessons from Louis XIV
  24. England Codifies Mass Hysteria with the Test Acts
  25. Marlborough, the Improbable Genius
  26. Blenheim: Marlborough Risks it all for “A Famous Victory”
  27. South Sea Mania Sweeps Isaac Newton
  28. The Indomitable Will of George Washington
  29. Daniel Morgan: Secret Weapon of the Revolutionary War
  30. Frederick Douglass warns us About the Corrupting Nature of “Irresponsible Power”
  31. Going Unconventional: Ulysses S. Grant Wins at Vicksburg
  32. Heinrich Schliemann: Discoverer of Troy
  33. John D. Rockefeller’s Business Model
  34. Louis Pasteur Beats Rabies and an Ossified Medical Establishment
  35. Theodore Roosevelt Reestablishes the Balance of Power
  36. Henry Ford: Inventor of the Modern World
  37. My Grandfather, the Dinosaur
  38. How Harry Truman Outworked Certain Defeat in 1948
  39. Michael Ventris Deciphers Linear B and Stumps the “Experts”
  40. Fidel Castro and the Corruption of Talent
  41. What Made Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage so Special
  42. A Eulogy for Justice Scalia
  43. Alex Rodriguez: The Power, the Glory, the Fall, and the Rebirth
  44. The Mystique of the Undertaker
  45. Did Mayweather vs. McGregor Live up to the Hype?
  46. Giancarlo Stanton, Derek Jeter, and the Importance of Ending Well
  47. Why the Undertaker Should Have Stayed Retired, and When You Should Call it Quits
  48. A Tribute to Quintus Curtius
  49. A Tribute to the Unanimous Mariano Rivera
  50. Boris Johnson: Clown or Genius?
  51. A Few Mindset Lessons from Derek Jeter
  52. 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:

  1. In print form on Amazon, which you can find here.
  2. In ebook form directly from my Payhip store here.
  3. In ebook form on Nook here.
  4. 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 full coverLives of the Luminaries has been reviewed by Quintus at Fortress of the Mind. Click here to read it.