Many “smart” people aren’t actually smart. They just know a lot of trivia. Sure, they can tell you all sorts of facts, they have a library of big thick books filled with enormous words, or they can give you the up-to-the-minute news about a political race. But can they tell you what any of this means? Do they do anything important with this information? Of course not.
And these types have always existed. Seneca spoke critically of literary snobs who could speculate for hours about whether The Iliad or The Odyssey was written first, or who the real author was (a debate that rages on today). He disliked hearing people chatter about which Roman general did this or that first, or which received this or that honor. “Far too many good brains,” he said, “have been afflicted by the pointless enthusiasm for useless knowledge.
Harry Truman famously said that not all all readers are leaders but all leader are readers—they have to be. And they certainly aren’t reading to impress people or for the mental gymnastics. It’s to get better! It’s to find things they can use. Not at the dinner table or on Twitter, but in their real lives.
The same must be true to us. We have to learn how to read to be better leaders, better people, better citizens. We must learn how to read for our own benefit—and so that we might have aid to offer to a friend in pain, or a soul in crisis. Seneca’s point was that only knowledge that does us good is worth knowing. Everything else is trivia.
If you’re looking to be a better reader—to build a real reading practice—the Stoics can help. We built out some of their best insights into our Daily Stoic: Read-to-Lead Reading Challenge. It’s going to walk you through more than a dozen actionable challenges that will help you elevate your game as a reader, learn how to think more critically and discover important books that will change your life. We’ve got videos and worksheets and all sorts of recommendations and strategies for you. If you’ve liked any of our other courses, you’ll love this one—it’s awesome, it’s actionable and it will help you get a better ROI out of one of the most important ways we spend our time and enrich our minds.