The Path

What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life

The Path

For the first time, an award-winning Harvard professor shares his wildly popular course on classical Chinese philosophy, showing you how ancient ideas—like the fallacy of the authentic self—can guide you on the path to a good life today.

Why is a course on ancient Chinese philosophers one of the most popular at Harvard? Because it challenges all our modern assumptions about what it takes to flourish.

Astonishing teachings emerged two thousand years ago through the work of a succession of Chinese scholars exploring how humans can improve themselves and their society. And what are these counterintuitive ideas? Transformation comes not from looking within for a true self, but from creating conditions that produce new possibilities. Good relationships come not from being sincere and authentic, but from the rituals we perform within them. A good life emerges not from planning it out, but through training ourselves to respond well to small moments. Influence comes not from wielding power but from holding back. Excellence comes from what we choose to do, not our natural abilities.

In other words, The Path “opens the mind” (Huffington Post) and upends everything we are told about how to lead a good life. Its most radical idea is that there is no path to follow in the first place—just a journey we create anew at every moment by seeing and doing things differently. “With its…spirited, convincing vision, revolutionary new insights can be gleaned from this book on how to approach life’s multifarious situations with both heart and head” (Kirkus Reviews).

A note from the publisher: To read relevant passages from the original works of Chinese philosophy, see our ebook Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Xunzi: Selected Passages, available wherever books are sold.

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with authors Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Asian culture and philosophy have become increasingly popular in the West, but what if much of what we think we know about Chinese philosophy is wrong? This is the central question at the heart of Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh’s book The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life. Inspired by Puett’s popular class at Harvard University, The Path asks us to reconsider popular interpretations of Asian philosophy, shift our perspective, and learn how we can best apply the teachings of masters such as Confucius, Laozi, and Mencius in our own lives. Setting aside the notion of the importance of self-acceptance and transformation through large-scale change, the authors suggest that we reexamine not only our relationship to these philosophies but our daily habits in order to change how we live. Through an accessible discussion of popular Chinese philosophers and their teachings, the authors offer compelling see more

About the Authors

Michael Puett
Photography © Margaret Lampert

Michael Puett

Michael Puett is the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University. He is the recipient of a Harvard College Professorship for excellence in undergraduate teaching and is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science.

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Christine Gross-Loh
Photograph © Margaret Lampert

Christine Gross-Loh

Christine Gross-Loh is a journalist and author. Her writing has appeared in publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and The Guardian. She has a PhD from Harvard University in East Asian history.

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