I have now answered a question that had bothered me for a while: “how many books could I read and review in one month, if I set my mind to it?”. Most of the projects I undertake are attempts to answer a question that has been bothering me. The rest are normally just assuaging my OCD impulses in compulsive collectathons . So, my reading blitz is over. I’ll continue reading and reviewing but not at such an extreme pace.
Tony Robbins once said: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” . I think it a very wise statement and I endeavour to live my life in accordance with it .
Today’s book, Empires Ascendant really brings out the clarity of the statement. It concerns a time when Alexander the Great carved out the world’s largest empire in just eleven years and shortly after when Julius Caesar became Emperor of Rome. Many men struggled and vied for supreme power. And like Queen Cersei says, “in the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
There are certain dogmas in the manosphere that are reflective of equivalent dogmas in the mainstream world. I find they are particularly acute in the USA due to it’s own cultural history (the American Dream, the industrial giants, and so on). There is a certain idea, tangible in the air, in the zeitgeist of what success is.
Money. Power. Girls. Respect. 
The modern male self-help community is mostly about grasping and striving. The white hats tell you to build you value, the black hats tell you to fake it till you make it. The white hats advise on entrepreneurialism and the black hats tell you to buy crypto-currency or run affiliate programs. They differ in whether you should earn your success or steal it. A worker’s vs a grifter’s mindset. But they both seem to agree on what success is.
Does the dog chasing cars ever wonder what he’ll do if he eventually catches one?
Back in the summer of 2013 I was sitting in a restaurant on Knez Mihailova with he-who-cannot-be-named  as we each tucked into a delicious steak washed down with red wine. The sun was shining, beautiful girls sauntered by, and we both had dates lined up for the evening.
“This is it” I said, with a mouthful of beef. “This is living the dream. Just 200 years ago you had to be a prince or an Emperor to eat food like this, travel like this, shag women like this. And now it’s available to any man with gumption.”
It set me off thinking. When Alexander the Great swept through Babylon and towards the Indus river, what was his quality of life like? Was his steak any tastier, his wine any winier, or his bed any more comfortable? It wasn’t just his army crossing the swamps, mountain passes, or rivers – he had to ride his horse Bucephalus over them too.
I kept thinking. Does Bill Gates read better books than me? Does being the richest man in the world give him access to books better than The Count Of Monte Cristo, War And Peace, or Daygame Infinite? No. They all cost just a few pounds  It doesn’t buy him better movie-going, or video-gaming, or greener trees or grassier parks. There are extremely harsh diminishing returns to increasing riches. It doesn’t even buy you much better health care, as Steve Jobs found out.
I’ll admit I have occasionally entertained the thought of being an Emperor. Just once or twice. There are certain upsides, such as having a statue of myself on every town square and free run of a harem, but I suspect they’d become boring very quickly. As any common man who has rutted a dozen whores can tell you, having sex with girls who don’t fancy you just isn’t much fun.
Lets say that’s the profit of having gained the whole world. What is the cost?
I remember watching Saddam Hussein get executed. Not literally – I wasn’t there – but there were clips on TV News and the whole thing on LiveLeak. This was a man who held absolute power in Iraq for 24 years. He had a statue in every town square, huge palaces, a fleet of Italian sports cars, lots of concubines, and whatever else he wanted. However, he could barely enjoy it.
I read The Devil’s Double, a memoir by a man who was hired as a bullet-catcher for Saddam’s son Uday, due to the ever present assassination risk. He describes the time he met Saddam. He was held in a room and stripped naked, then searched head to toe including cavities and hair. Then he was dressed in a special outfit, taken to another room, searched again, and then finally met Saddam.
That’s the level of security Saddam lived under. He was playing the game of thrones.
When you’re at that level of power you can’t just book a flight to Belgrade and hit on some birds. You can’t get shitfaced drunk in a strip club and wake up covered in your own vomit on a park bench. You can’t buy a ticket to an FA Cup match of your favourite team. You are trapped by your own power.
Look at how the Mafioso lived as described in Donnie Brasco, flitting away money on strippers because money laundering laws stopped them doing anything useful with it.
Empires Ascendant makes it clear that winning the game of thrones is a Pyrrhic victory . Almost all of the major leaders of the era died young, violently, or both. Here’s a roll call:
- Phillip II – “as Phillip entered the stadium to preside, a body-guard named Pausanias stepped forwards and ran a sword through the King’s heart” p.19
- Artaxerxes Ochus – “had been poisoned by his own grand vizier” p.22
- Darius III – “was murdered by a rebellious Persian satrap, and Alexander went after the killer. He caught up with the man in the wastes of Turkestan, had him flogged and turned him over to a Persian court, which sentenced him to death” p.29
- Alexander – “while inspecting a drainage project in the Euphrates swamps, he was bitten by an infected mosquito and contracted a [fatal] fever” p.31
- Roxane [wife] and young Alexander [son] – “were murdered; so were most of the dead king’s other close relatives” p.35
- Hamilcar Barca (of Carthage) – “during those years Hamilcar Barca died in battle. His son-in-law succeeded him as leader of the Carthaginian forces in Spain, but not long afterwards he was murdered.” p.56
- Hannibal – “he fled to Syria, then to Bithynia, where he committed suicide by poison in 183 BC just before he was turned over to his enemies” p.58
- Gracchus – “was campaigning for re-election, he and about 300 of his supporters were set upon and clubbed to death by a huge mob led by senators” p.66
- Pompey – “escaped and fled to Egypt… It is said Caesar wept when Ptolemy later handed him his old ally’s severed head” p.73
- Julius Caesar – “60 senatorial conspirators fell upon him as he presided over the assembly, inflicting 23 dagger wounds.” p.73
- Cicero – “his head and hands were displayed nailed to the Rostra in the Forum he had so often graced with his eloquence; a nail had been driven through the orator’s tongue” p.75
Mark Antony committed suicide by stabbing himself in the stomach, Caligula was murdered by his guard, Claudius was poisoned by his wife Agrippina who was herself murdered by her son Nero. Nero committed suicide when his guard turned against him. His immediate three successors all died in the same year, two murdered one arkancided suicide. Titus was stabbed to death by a servant.
Phew! That’s a lot of short-lived runs at the top, is it not? Augustus, Tiberius, Vespasian are among the few who lived into old age and died peacefully. Generally speaking, the shelf-stacker at Tesco who rents a comfortable flat and has Netflix will live a longer and happier life than most of the above tyrants and kings.
Back in 2013 I came to the conclusion that high level success is not a goal worth chasing. Reason one is that it’s wildly unlikely that you’ll succeed and thus you waste precious years on a failed project. Reason two is that even if you do succeed, the rewards probably aren’t worth it, because the best things in life are fairly cheap. Reason three, is even if somehow you dodge those landmines you are faced with the central problem addressed by Zen philosophy – the material accoutrements and phantasms of ego aren’t actually satisfying anyway. You’re just chasing chimeras.
And lastly, if you somehow become incredibly successful and powerful you’ve just lost all of your freedom – which in itself is more valuable than all the palaces, sports cars and hookers put together.
If you thought that was a long-winded rationalisation for myself being very comfortable with exactly where I am right now, you may be onto something and would definitely enjoy Daygame Infinite.
 It’s why I like Ubisoft games.
 Okay, technically it was Matthew 16:26 in the King James Bible but I’m sure we can all agree that it’s not wisdom unless an internet marketer self-help guru says it.
 Another good one is “victors write the history books”. Those five words are a rabbit hole all of their own, the degree to which I even now struggle to comprehend.
 Dan Bilzerian, basically.
 “my mate from Wales”
 Except the last one. You get what you pay for.
 Page 53 also told me what that is, “one more such victory over the Romans,” Pyrrhus supposedly said, “and we are utterly undone.”