From the Cutting Room Floor: Zorba the Greek

After three years of blood, sweat and tears, the manuscript of my crowdfunded book Carpe Diem Reclaimed is now under the fine scalpel of my editors at Unbound. I remain sitting in my study, surrounded by the detritus that accompanies a near-finished book project: piles of notes, books read and unread, newspaper clippings, obscure scholarly articles, and multiple chapter drafts covered with corrections.

Amidst all the debris is the text that never made it into the final manuscript – aborted chapter openings, irrelevant paragraphs written in flights of fancy, and whole sections that couldn’t stand up to the critics. I like to keep everything from the cutting room floor as mementos of my peripatetic authorial wanderings. In case you are curious about what can be found there, here is one of the rejected paragraphs, about one of my great literary heroes, Zorba the Greek.

If there is one figure who represents the essence of an experiential approach to living, it is Alexis Zorba, the boisterous, larger-than-life character from Nikos Kazantzakis’s 1946 novel Zorba the Greek. Zorba is the ultimate carpe diem junkie. He exudes exuberance. He throws himself into life. He’s impulsive. He laughs and cries, he dances and plays the santuri (a kind of dulcimer) with passion and longing deep into the night. His sexual appetite is unquenchable, he revels in friendship, and immerses himself in hard work and helping others. On his deathbed he exclaims, ‘I have no regrets…I’ve done heaps and heaps of things in my life, but I still did not do enough. Men like me ought to live a thousand years. Good night!’ By contrast, the other main character in the novel, a young intellectual (who is the unnamed narrator), lives a kind of shadow existence. Timid and bookish, he seems almost afraid of living. Zorba attempts to inspire him – to teach him – to grasp life, to seize the day. ‘I’m free,’ he insists at the end of the novel. ‘No, you’re not free,’ replies Zorba. ‘The string you’re tied to is perhaps longer than other people’s. That’s all…You come and go and think you’re free, but you never cut the string in two….You have to risk everything! But you’ve got such a strong head, it’ll always get the better of you.’ The young man protests but, in the end, has to admit to himself that Zorba is right.

Those of you who know the fabulous 1964 film version with Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates, will remember that in the final moments, the repressed book-lover manages to let go of his inhibitions and says to Zorba, ‘teach me to dance’, and they dance the sirtaki together on the beach. Here’s the clip, for your delectation.

It’s still possible to pledge support to Carpe Diem Reclaimed – you can sign up here for a lovely hardback edition with your name printed in the back, or other goodies such as attending an exclusive two-hour workshop, or even get yourself some (temporary) carpe diem body tattoos (you’d be joining actress Judi Dench, who just got ‘carpe diem’ tattooed on her wrist for her 81st birthday).

Have a great summer – and don’t forget to have yourself a dance on the beach.


Empathy an an Age of Extremism

These feel like turbulent times. From mass shootings in the US to the rise of far-right parties and terrorist attacks in Europe, we seem to be entering a new age of extremism.

If there is any solution to this, I think empathy has to be part of it.

In this new five-minute video for Aeon Magazine, I argue that tackling extremism, and creating a more moral world, requires shifting our focus from empathy as an individual emotional response to empathy on the collective level.

1001 Books is now open! And come and borrow a stranger too…

1001 Books 5

The Empathy Museum’s new pop-up library, A Thousand and One Books, is now up and running (and looking rather beautiful). It’s outside the NOW gallery, next to the O2 Arena in London. Come and visit! The show will be open until July 2.

As part of the festivities, we’re holding a Human Library event on June 25, where instead of borrowing a book you can borrow a stranger for conversation. Our ‘living books’ include an Iraqi refugee, a Holocaust survivor and a community organiser. Reserve a ticket here. There will also be storytelling and an empathy-based film on the day.

The show naturally includes our famous giant shoebox, A Mile In My Shoes, where you put on the shoes of a stranger and literally walk in them while listening to an audio narrative of them talking about their life. There are over 50 stories, including an Imam who is the UK’s first Muslim chaplin, a sex worker, and a Sikh taxi driver.

We’re still looking for books for the library, so if you would like to make a contribution of your favourite book to share with a stranger, you can do so here. Our collection already includes books donated by a huge range of people, from prisoners to Sir Ian McKellan. (Also, check out our newly-launched website for the project.)

With Britain about to vote on its place in Europe, and the enormous fear of immigrants that has been generated as part of the political debate, this is an important time to spread the message of the Empathy Museum – that if we want to build a democratic culture of peace and tolerance, we need to learn to see the world through the eyes of people who are different from us and hear their individual stories.

Best wishes


Founder, Empathy Museum

1001 Books: Take part in the Empathy Museum’s new project!

1001 Books

Is there a book – one you absolutely love – that you would like to share with someone you’ve never met?

The internationally acclaimed Empathy Museum is asking 1001 people to donate a book to a unique pop-up library called A THOUSAND AND ONE BOOKS, which will appear at the London International Festival of Theatre in June, then tour in the UK and internationally.

To take part, you simply need to visit this website. You’ll be asked to give the name of your book, why you love it, and donate £10, which will be used to buy it from an independent bookshop.

Your book will then appear in the library with your dedication on the cover, where it can be read, borrowed, passed on or left on a park bench for a stranger. You’ll be able to track your book’s journey online as it travels the world, and find out who read it and what they thought of it.

I’ve just donated a book – Theodore Zeldin’s beautiful, witty and humane masterpiece, An Intimate History of Humanity.

I’d be so grateful if you would be a part of this project – we’d love to have your book in the library!

Roman Krznaric

Founder, The Empathy Museum

The Secret to the Good Life: Live Every Day Twice

‘Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.’

This mind-bending maxim is courtesy of the Austrian existential psychotherapist and Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl. He considered it to be one of the keys to living a meaningful life and confronting ‘life’s finiteness’. So what does it really mean, and what light does it shine on seizing the day?

One way of interpreting it, which I explore in my crowdfunded book Carpe Diem Reclaimed (now 93% funded!), appears in the 2013 film About Time, directed by Richard Curtis. What at first looks like a typical romantic comedy turns out to be an enlightening take on Frankl’s idea.

About Time concerns a young man, Tim, who on his 21st birthday is told by his father that, like all men in his family, he has an inherited ability to transport himself back in time to any date or place in his memory. After overcoming his disbelief, Tim first uses his new power – unsurprisingly – to get himself a girlfriend.

But the film becomes far more philosophically interesting towards the end (get ready for some spoilers). Tim’s father is dying of cancer and reveals to his son the secret to a happy life: live each day as normal, with all its tensions and worries, then go back and live it again, but this time making an effort to notice all the beautiful moments and small pleasures life has to offer.

Tim tries this himself, but then discovers an even richer philosophy which doesn’t require any time travel at all: ‘I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it.’ Now that’s a profound idea and one we can all try out.

We see him putting it into practice – kissing his wife tenderly as she wakes in the morning rather than rushing out of bed; having fun with his kids while he makes them breakfast before school; and making an effort to look the cashier in the eye and smile when buying his lunch. Treat yourself to some of this in the wonderful final scene here.

The carpe diem message of About Time is about being in the moment, being attentive and present, noticing the sweetness of the world. As Richard Curtis said in an interview, the ‘movie is saying that we should relish every normal day and live it just for the day itself, not for what the day might achieve’.

I doubt Frankl would have agreed with this approach to life (he believed it was important to focus on future goals), but I think if he’d watched this film he still might have given it five stars.

Carpe Diem Reclaimed has reached 93% of its funding target. If you’ve been thinking of supporting the book but haven’t quite got around to it, now is the moment to seize the day and help push it over the finishing line!

Frankl Live Twice

Steve Jobs Was Wrong: Don’t Live Each Day Like It’s Your Last

Steve Jobs 1

Live each day like it’s your last. It’s been the mantra of everyone from the Ancient Roman philosopher Seneca to the digital sage Steve Jobs. In my humble opinion, however, there are five fundamental reasons why it is one of the most misguided pieces of life advice to have emerged in Western history. You can find out more by reading a new article I’ve written over at YES magazine.

The article is based on my forthcoming crowdfunded book Carpe Diem Reclaimed.

A quick update on the campaign: it’s speeding along and is now almost 70% funded. Thanks to everyone who has supported it.


1.Join Philip Pullman. You’ll be one of more than 250 supporters with your name printed in the back, alongside great authors like Philip Pullman (who made the first pledge).

2.Unique rewards. Sure, you can get a beautiful book. But you can also pledge to be an Editorial Advisor, giving comments on the manuscript itself, or take part in an exclusive Carpe Diem Workshop (or give it to someone as a gift).

3.Save the world. Yes, I believe that carpe diem is a great untapped political force for our times, and a cure for the apathy that stands in the way of tackling wealth inequality, climate change and corruption.

And that’s just for starters…

My aim is to reach 100% by May 1. I’d be thrilled if you gave your support. All power to the crowd!

Pre-order Carpe Diem Regained

What song makes you seize the day?

I’m crowdfunding my new book Carpe Diem Reclaimed with the lovely and rather funky publisher Unbound – in just two weeks it’s already reached 55% of the target, so big thanks to everyone who has backed it.

One of the best things about crowdfunding is the crowd bit: it’s not every day that an author gets to know a book’s readers before the book is even finished. And it’s a great source of ideas. Last week I posted the following message on Facebook and Twitter: Continue reading

Carpe Diem Reclaimed – thank you for seizing the day!

Carpe Diem Reclaimed video still 1

Dear Friends

I’m delighted to let you know that the crowdfunding campaign for my new book Carpe Diem Reclaimed has got off to a great start. The support so far has been amazing: over once-third of the target has been reached in under a week, with pledges from around 150 people.

A huge thanks to those of you who have already backed the book. It’s been wonderful to have the support of everyone from old high school friends to some of my favourite writers such as Philip Pullman (who made the first pledge). There’s been some great media coverage too.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to look at it, you can watch the 2 min video and read an extract here. If you like what you see, you can pledge to get a beautiful edition of the book with your name printed in the back. The funds will be used to finance production costs, from editing and proof reading to cover design and printing. The faster the target is reached, the sooner the book will come out. I would be thrilled to have your support.

If you are outside the UK, you can use the promotional code ‘overseas’ to get a discount on postage abroad.

It would also be great if you could share the link with some friends – this really helps spread the word:

Finally, for those of you who are curious why I wrote the book, have a look at this blog post about how an epiphany on the stairs sparked it all off.

Best wishes


Carpe Diem Reclaimed – help crowdfund my new book!

Carpe Diem Reclaimed

I’ve got some big news. Today I’m launching the crowdfunding campaign for my new book, Carpe Diem Reclaimed: The Story of A Cultural Hijack, and I’d love your support to make it happen.

The book explores how the spirit of carpe diem – seize the day – has been hijacked by consumer culture, 24/7 entertainment and the mindfulness movement, and how we can claim it back for the art of living and social change.

I’ve made a bold, seize-the-day decision and turned down a contract with a major commercial publisher to launch the book instead with the award-winning crowdfunding publisher Unbound. Crowdfunding is a compelling approach – once used by Dickens and Voltaire – that enables readers to take the lead in deciding the kinds of books that get published. I’m putting my ideas on the line and hope you agree that Carpe Diem Reclaimed is worth backing.

How does it work? Simply visit the campaign page where you’ll see a video and extract from the book. You can then, if you choose, make a financial pledge (think of it like a pre-order with benefits). For £20 you will receive a beautiful hardback edition of the book with your name printed in the back. For larger pledges the rewards range from an invitation to an exclusive Carpe Diem Workshop, to a Real Tennis lesson from the author! When we hit the funding target, the book gets published.

So I would be delighted if you wanted to seize the day with me by pledging support to the book, and sharing the campaign page with friends, family and on social media:

This book is a story that I believe urgently needs to be told, but it needs backing. The most successful crowdfunding campaigns are those that get off to a strong start, so if you believe it’s time to reclaim carpe diem, please seize the day by acting now and help build the momentum!

Best wishes



Are We Really All Driven by the Fear of Death? An Interview with Psychologist Sheldon Solomon

Deathstyle seventh_seal chess with death

This evening I told my six-year-old-twins the bad news: we have to put down our aging tortoiseshell cat Scully. Part of what made the task emotionally difficult was not just that they love the cat but that they live in a culture where they are shielded from death. If they’d been living in the nineteenth century they probably would have already seen a dead body, maybe laid out in someone’s home or at a neighbourhood funeral. But not today, where our contact with death, and conversations about it, are remarkably limited. Death is a subject as taboo as sex was during the Victorian era, even though issues such as euthanasia and palliative care are creating an element of public discussion. Continue reading