About the book
It is one of the oldest pieces of life advice in Western history: carpe diem, seize the day. First uttered by the Roman poet Horace over two thousand years ago, it has become our cultural inheritance, reflected in mottos from ‘live as if you might die tomorrow’ to ‘be in the moment’, from the iconic advertising slogan ‘Just do it’ to the Twitter hashtag #yolo (‘you only live once’).
Why is the call to seize the day so compelling to us? Because it promises a remedy for that instinctive – but often fleeting – awareness so many of us have that life is short and our time is running out. It asks us to live with greater passion, consciousness and intention, so we don’t reach the end of our days and look back on life with regret, viewing it as a series of paths not taken.
But here’s the problem: the spirit of carpe diem has been hijacked and we have barely noticed. It’s been hijacked by consumer culture, which has transformed seizing the day into impulsive shopping sprees and the instant hit of one-click online buying. It’s also been hijacked by 24/7 digital entertainment that is replacing lived experience with vicarious second-hand pleasures and an era of proxy living. And now it’s being hijacked by the mindfulness movement, which reduces seizing the day simply to living in the here and now.
This book is about how we can take on the cultural hijackers and reclaim the power of carpe diem. It explores five very different ways humankind has discovered over the centuries to seize the day, which we urgently need to revive. These include the art of grasping windows of opportunity, hedonistic experimenting, immersing ourselves in the present, becoming more spontaneous in daily life, and the forgotten realm of carpe diem politics.
It tells the stories of great carpe diem adventurers, from Oscar Wilde to Maya Angelou, and delves into everything from medieval carnival to the neuroscience of procrastination. At the same time, it looks at whether we can overdose on seizing the day, and how it may be used and abused.
This book is the first ever cultural biography of carpe diem. But it goes further, with a call to arms: the time has come to seize back seize the day, and recover it for the art of living and social change.
“Inspiring, bracing, and elegant: a timely corrective to contemporary follies, from mindfulness to workaholism. Carpe librum!” – Sarah Bakewell, author of At The Existentialist Café and How to Live: A Life of Montaigne.
Roman Krznaric is a cultural thinker and writer on the art of living and social change. His bestselling books, which include Empathy, The Wonderbox and How to Find Fulfilling Work, have been published in over 20 languages. His writings have been widely influential amongst political and environmental campaigners, education reformers, social entrepreneurs, psychologists and designers. He is founder of the world’s first Empathy Museum and is also a founding faculty member of The School of Life. Roman has been named by The Observer as one of Britain’s leading popular philosophers.
After growing up in Sydney and Hong Kong, he studied at the universities of Oxford, London and Essex, where he gained his PhD. He has taught sociology and politics at Cambridge University and City University, London, and has done human rights work in Central America with refugees and indigenous people. For several years he was Project Director at The Oxford Muse, the avant-garde foundation to stimulate courage and invention in personal, professional and cultural life.
Roman’s media work includes articles in The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal, and interviews on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Channel 4 and PBS television in the United States. He has given talks everywhere from Google’s HQ in California to prisons and primary schools, and was described as one of the ‘breakthrough stars’ at the 2014 Hay Literary Festival. Over 750,000 people have watched his RSA Animate video The Power of Outrospection.
Roman is a fanatical real tennis player, has worked as a gardener, and has a passion for making furniture.