The Wonderbox

Wonderbox front cover‘The Wonderbox is a cornucopia of delights. Completely fascinating, beautifully written and brimming with insights.’ Michael Wood, historian, film maker and author of The Story of England

‘Think Alain de Botton meets Niall Ferguson – a wonderful mix of social history and good ideas for everyday living.’ Robert Kelsey, author of What’s Stopping You?

Buy at Amazon UK (paperback/ebook) or at your local bookseller. Now out in KoreanPortuguese, Croatian and Dutch. Coming soon in Spanish, Chinese and Serbian.


HSWL Cover finalIn the United States The Wonderbox has been released under the title How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life.

‘Krznaric writes with passion and lucidity.’ Elizabeth Lowry, Wall Street Journal

‘An illuminating and awakening read in its entirety.’ Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

Buy at Amazon US or at local booksellers.

About The Wonderbox

What can three millennia of history tell us about better living?

It is common to turn to philosophy, religion or psychology for insights into life’s big questions, but we rarely look to history for inspiration – and when we do it can be surprisingly powerful.

Uncovering the lessons that can be learned from the past, cultural thinker Roman Krznaric explores twelve universal topics, from work and love to money and empathy, and reveals the wisdom that we’ve been missing. What might we learn from the Ancient Greeks about the different varieties of love, from the industrialising British about job satisfaction, or from ancient Japanese pilgrims on the art of travel?

Just as a Renaissance ‘Wunderkammer’ was a curiosity cabinet full of fascinating objects, each with a story behind it, The Wonderbox is full of stories and ideas, ranging from the history of the househusband to the ten senses of the Middle Ages, along with a cast of characters including Mary Wollstonecraft, Helen Keller, and Ku Klux Klan leader CP Ellis, whose approaches to the art of living shed invaluable light on the decisions we make every day.

We often read about the past without thinking about the present, but The Wonderbox is ‘practical history’ – gaining insights from our predecessors on how to live better lives today.

Wonderbox News

So you think the superdad who can change nappies blind-folded is a modern invention? Not so, they’ve been around for hundreds of years, I argue in The Guardian.

The Secret to a Happy Life – Courtesy of Tolstoy, published by BBC News Magazine (an earlier version appeared at Daily Good in the US).

The Movement to Live More Simply Is Older Than You Think. Article at Yes Magazine on some of the great simple livers from history, from Socrates to Thoreau.

An article on The Six Varieties of Love, published by Yes Magazine, where I reveal why the Ancient Greeks were far more sophisticated in the art of loving than we are today, and argue that we need to get over our addiction to romantic love. You can also watch an 11-min video of it too. And here’s a Portuguese version of the article.

Are you in need of a digital diet? In this article in The Independent on Sunday I discuss whether social media is killing the art of conversation (with a little help from Dr Johnson, the most disastrous conversationalist in British history).

What might we learn about life from an eighteenth-century feminist firebrand and a wandering Zen poet? In this article in The Huffington Post – based on The Wonderbox – I profile my Five Icons for Better Living in 2012.

Why do we spend so much of our precious holiday time queueing up to see famous artworks and monuments, even if we’re not that interested in them? I talk about my ideas on alternative ways to travel in this feature on the BBC World television programme Fast Track. There’s also an accompanying article on five ways to make our holidays a life-changing experience.

Put yourself on a chronological diet! My call to arms against the tyranny of the clock, in The Guardian. Part of a special feature Make The Most of Your Time, curated by The School of Life.

Why do men find it so hard to talk about love? Here are some thoughts in The Telegraph.

In this podcast on ABC Radio National in Australia, I talk to Geraldine Doogue about The Wonderbox, especially the forgotten history of the senses.

An interview at The Browser, where I talk about five books to inspire adventurous living in 2012 – and which inspired The Wonderbox too. From tales of tramping the streets of East London to life lessons from a Holocaust survivor.

Have we lost sight of the sanctity of death? In this appearance on the 4thought slot on Channel 4, I draw on ideas in The Wonderbox to discuss why it is so important for us to have conversations about death – and reflect on my mother’s death when I was a child, and a Mayan death ritual I witnessed in the Guatemalan jungle.

In this author profile and review of The Wonderbox in The Australian, I discuss how growing up in a multicultural household  in Sydney – including watching my Polish father play poker with his Eastern European mates – shaped the way I think about the art of living.

In this podcast interview with Pat Kenny on RTE Radio 1 in Ireland, I discuss – amongst other things – Henry David Thoreau’s idea that ‘a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone’.

This is a feature article in Psychologies Magazine about my attempts at conversational travel, including some fine fuzzy photos of me on holiday as a teenager.

Here’s a review of a talk I gave on The Wonderbox at the Swindon Festival of Literature. The first and surely the only time I’ll ever be described as ‘the Brian Cox of philosophy’.

In this podcast for BBC History Magazine I discuss The Wonderbox, and what we can learn about the good life from Aka pygmies, nineteenth-century organists and even Spanish conquistadors. And why did Goethe say, ‘he who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth’?

Why do we need to start talking about Deathstyle? Discover the answer in this interview for BBC Radio Scotland’s Book Cafe.

Why is the PhD one of the most disastrous inventions of modern times? And why do I want I want to found the world’s first Empathy Museum? The answers appear in this interview in the Belgian magazine Knack Weekend (brush up your Dutch for this one).

An article in the Irish Independent, where I offer ideas for rethinking our holidays, such as making a ‘personal pilgrimage’.

An extract from the chapter on Love chronicling the six different varieties, at UTNE Reader

How to be more outrospective – a slideshow article about empathy at Glo magazine.

A radio interview for New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of Mouth programme on how we can rethink out attitudes to time, death and simple living.

Radio interview for WRLN South Florida’s Topical Currents Programme. I get grilled about whether ancient Greek love ideas are really relevant today.

Interview with one of my favourite radio hosts, Charlie Bennett from WREK in Atlanta. We discuss life, the universe and everything (and why my book has a different title in the US than in the UK!).

Dutch journalist and poet Wim Brands reviews The Wonderbox on his TV programme Books.

Interview in the Croatian newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija.

Interview for the Croatian blog Najbolje Knjige.

10 books that will change how you see the world. Lifehack.


‘A fascinating rattlebag of intelligent, stimulating essays. The Wonderbox is very much in the mould of Alain de Botton’s bestsellers: densely researched but readable, wise and witty. By taking the long view to debunk some myths of modern life (house husbands are not such a new invention; family meals were never golden times of civilised conversation), Krznaric frees us from passing trends to answer the fundamental question: how should be live now?’ Carl Wilkinson, Financial Times

‘A truly visionary guide that is delightfully quirky and immensely stimulating. Utterly indispensable.’ The Good Book Guide special selection.

‘If you fail to dazzle at Mastermind, fall back on Roman Krznaric’s amazing compendium of inspirational guidance from the past to improve your lot. Krznaric has produced the ultimate self-help book with advice from agony aunts and uncles as diverse as Aristotle, Tolstoy and Jane Fonda.’ Sally Morris, Daily Mail

‘This potent lifestyle guide [is] several notches above commonplace self-helpers…a sophisticated pep talk for the achievement of truly better living.’ Kirkus Reviews

‘Taking one hefty theme per chapter – such as love, work or home – Krznaric serves up a fascinating series of accounts of how we got where we are now, sifting the valuable from the worthless with an impressive indifference to current fashions. After reading The Wonderbox, endlessly shopping for stuff you already have will seem distinctly strange.’ Reader’s Digest, selected as the January 2012 Recommended Read

‘The author’s enthusiasm for direct solutions to modern dilemmas is infectious.’ Sue Gerhardt, author of Why Love Matters and The Selfish Society

‘Ranging from such lofty issues as love and death to the finer points of carpentry, Krznaric offers a compendium of fascinating and quirky anecdotes and character studies, refiguring them as practical fables for everyday life. Though a pleasure to read cover-to-cover, this book lends itself perfectly to the occasional reader looking for workable solutions to any dilemma. The scope of the stories and the versatility of Krznaric’s interpretations are at once fascinating and illuminating.’ Emily Best, We Love This Book

‘This modern guide to living a good life by nurturing relationships, giving more to others, and resisting the self-imposed tyrannies of work, time, ambition and achievement, is entertaining and instructive.’ Iain Finlayson, The Times

‘A pot-pourri of delights. Krznaric has a genuine skill in examining aspects of life that most people take for granted and he can make the reader look at them again from a fresh and new angle. The chapter on the senses was intriguing and made me look at an everyday aspect of life in a truly new way. The range and breadth of learning on display in this book is combined with a chatty style that makes it an easy and delightful read.’ Five-star review, Clare Reddaway, The Bookbag

‘The Wonderbox is a beautifully lucid book of provocations to freedom of mind and spirit. Krznaric writes in a most engaging, down-to-earth manner, without fear or favour, but also without humbug or pretension. This book is neatly structured and covers so much everyday ground so thoughtfully one could almost urge: “Read this book a chapter at a time, a week at a time, and let its reflective observations slowly fertilise the way you see your life. Above all, don’t rush through it.”‘ Paul Monk, The Australian

‘History has the answers if we care to listen to them – a premise so simple it is surprising no one has highlighted it before. Krznaric selects some of the most telling, assembling them in a Wunderkammer or cabinet of curiosities.’ James Attlee, The Independent

‘A guaranteed pick-me-up for the early days of January! And a book I’m going to be returning to for years.’ Clare English, BBC Radio Scotland Book Cafe

‘Not many self-help gurus would advise you to chuck in your job, throw away your wrist watch and spend time living on the streets…A grab bag of bon mots and life lessons taken from the greatest minds in history.’ Jasper Hamill, The Big Issue

‘A good read with lots of food for thought.’ Padraig O’Morain, Irish Times

‘A fascinating exploration of humanity that is heady and compelling without being pretentious or patronising. Even readers with a phobia of self-help books will find plenty of philosophical meat here to chew on, and the author’s straightforward prose and dry humour make the journey entertaining. Ambitious, but it works.’ Terry Oberg, Brisbane Courier-Mail

‘An intriguing upmarket self-help guide.’ The Guardian

‘It’s easy to see how modern life could get us down. But fret not: Roman Krznaric’s new book The Wonderbox provides solace. He delves into the lives of social, economic and cultural historians to track down ideas from the past that could help us lead a happier life in the Western world today.’ Helen Brown, Elle Decoration magazine

‘What is love? Help has come from the author Roman Krznaric in his new book The Wonderbox, a kind of self-help manual that uses historical precedent to shine an old light on new problems. Mr Krznaric’s service is to break down love into the six varieties recognised by the Ancient Greeks. A great guide for the confused in love.’ Tom Hodgkinson, The Independent on Sunday

‘Krznaric is just what you’d want from a guide on a historical tour of the good life: knowledgeable, congenial company, and passionate about his subject.’ A beguiling mixture of lightly worn scholarship and unashamedly eclectic offerings, the book is driven by Krznaric’s unshakable optimism about daily life’s improvability.’ Rebecca Abrams, The Jewish Chronicle

‘Inspiration for bold experiments in living.’ Review and author profile in The Oxford Times

‘Roman Krznaric delves into the wonderbox of history…and reveals how the past can prompt us to aim higher than we do.’ London Metro.

‘Original and intriguing.’ National Library of Scotland

‘A fascinating book – and an illuminating canter through places and epochs – that uses history to inform us about our lives and to help fill the spiritual vacuum that haunts the 21st century.’ Miriam Cosic, The Australian

‘Krznaric’s discussion of the ancient Greeks’ understanding of the many varieties of love from eros and ludus to philia and agape is an example of shades of emotion that we’ve lost and could rediscover. As philosophy, it’s an intriguing, if idiosyncratic, approach. Krznaric encourages us to fossick around in his curiosity cabinet for whatever life lessons we find useful or appealing.’ Fiona Capp, Melbourne Age

‘Brim-full of insights drawn not from philosophy, religious teachings or psychology but drawing on the writing and lives of great writers including Tolstoy, Thoreau and Orwell. Krznaric weaves together a compelling, fresh argument about how we conduct our relationships, make decisions about the life we lead and the crucial importance of empathy.’ Steve Moore, CEO The Big Society Network

‘The Wonderbox is a treasury of history and philosophy that manages also to be truly, practically motivational.’ John-Paul Flintoff, author of Sew Your Own

‘The pages of the Wonderbox are crammed with inspirational stories.’ James Cronin, Reviews in History

‘There are fascinating essays on family life, empathy, making a living, and nature – and the chapter on ‘Deathstyle’ was a real eye-opener. It should certainly be in every preacher’s library’. Canon George Burgon

‘Roman Krznaric redefines the self-help book with thoughtful historical analysis of how life should be lived.’ Thomas H. Brennan, ForeWord Reviews

‘Intriguing….This is an interesting philosophical look at comparative cultures, past and present.’ Harriet Klausner, Genre Go Round Reviews

‘This is a wonderful book, filled with ideas and historical precedent to help shed light on this new and often chaotic world we live in.’ Axie Barclay, San Francisco Book Review

‘Krznaric…does a wonderful job of explaining the connection between philosophers of the past and our modern world.’ Library Journal

Why aren’t we given life handbooks when we are born or at least one college course in how to live? Krznaric made me think about what’s really important in this life.’ Linda Barber, Philadelphia Review of Books

‘Krznaric is unabashed in his prescriptions for good living, beautifully supported by his examples. His writing is engaging and interesting, and flows easily across history from the ancient past to the modern world.’ Gretchen Wagner, San Diego Book Review

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