The Shortness of Life by Seneca Book Review and Key Takeaways

There comes a time when you come across a book that really changes your life. It’s not often you read something that is incredibly life changing and leaves an impact. I’m happy to say that “The Shortness of Life” by Seneca is one of them.

Seneca was born in 4BC and died around 65AD. He is a prolific writer, statesman and stoic philosopher which was also adopted by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

I must admit, I didn’t know much about the history of Rome and also stoic philosophy but reading this book, I found this truly fascinating. I’ve read hundreds of books in modern day however reading the writings from someone who lived in the first century era is truly mind-blowing. The words that Seneca uses is truly profound and makes today’s literature a complete joke.

It’s sad to see how much crappy material is being fed to people these days it’s no wonder why the masses are uneducated, uninformed and mediocre. If you have a chance to read Seneca’s book – the shortness of life, you’ll find that every word he says is of pure quality and wisdom.

I’m truly happy to see that his work exists in libraries and on the internet today. It would be a tragedy if Seneca’s work was tampered with. Please note that there is controversy surrounding Seneca’s work because he was born in the era of Jesus Christ but there was no mention of him in his books and also other prominent figures during that time but let’s not go there.

Below are some key takeaways from the book. 

People value money more than time.

One of the most powerful quotes in the first chapter of the book is “You will find that no one is willing to share out his money but many does each of us divide up his life!”. What Seneca is saying here is that we all value money over time. We forget that time can never be replaced but money can.

As a result, we spend too much time, also known as preoccupations which consumes most of our life. When we reach the end of our life, we realise that we spent most of our lives in preoccupations, meaning we simply wasted it doing something with no purpose.

If you think about it, how often do we go out with friends and have a good time? To organise a good night out with friends, we have to call them, organise the place, prepare, travel there, find parking, meet friends, have a few drinks, eat food, get back to the car, drive back home or taxi and recover the next day.

This all takes time and if you multiply that over a long period of time, you’ll find that your time is wasted in stupid preoccupations. Seneca mentioned that the biggest consumer of time is working for someone else. In modern day terms, it’s a 9-5. If you think about it, how much time do you spend working for someone else?

Yes we need to pay the bills but the cost of paying those bills require you to spend 40 hours a week x your entire life. Why don’t we simply get rid of those crappy necessary bills and minimise our lives so we can focus more on what we love to do? Very interesting idea isn’t it?

Vices will swallow up your time.

Seneca mentions vices. We tend to focus primarily on leisure such as drinking and lust. When we always have fun and chase after pleasure, it will swallow up your time and you’ll quickly realise that you’ve wasted years of your life in leisure. Watch out for your vices for they will consume the bulk of your time.

Prepare to die.

You can’t avoid the reaper but you can live a life so that you won’t fear him. You can’t do anything about death, it will come for you but you can prepare for it. Your life is better when you accept death and you live life according to what you want to do. Don’t wait until your life is nearly over to begin to do what you want to do.

Don’t wait until retirement to finally do what you want to do. Do it now.

Below are some key points I underlined in the book. Enjoy.

I normally write articles that contain key takeaways and that’s it. However with Seneca’s book, I decided to include this bonus section where I’ll include some key highlighted points from the book for you to enjoy.

  • You will find no one is willing to share out his money but to how many does each of us divide up his life!
  • Those vices will swallow up any spaces of your time.
  • But among the worst offenders I count those who spend all their time drinking and lust for these are the worst preoccupations of all.
  • But learning how to live takes a whole life and which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.
  • Believe me, it is a sign of a great man, and one who is above human error, not to allow his time to be frittered away: he has the longest possible life simply because whatever time was available he devoted entirely to himself.
  • Mark off, I tell you, and review the days of your life, you will see that very few – the useless remnants – has been left to you.
  • So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long.
  • But nosy works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it costs nothing.
  • no one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course.
  • They exclaim that they were fools because they have not really lived, and that if only they can recover from this illness they will live in leisure.
  • Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs. All the years that have passed before them are aded to their own.
  • You should rather suppose that those are involved in worthwhile duties who wish to have daily as they closest friends Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritius and all other high priests of liberal studies, and Aristotle and Theophrastus. None of these will be too busy to see you, none of these will not send this visitor away happier more devoted to himself, none of these will allow anyone to depart empty-handed. They are at home to all mortals by night and by day.
  • None of these will force you to die, but all will tech you how to die. None of them will exhaust your years, but each will contribute his years to yours. With none of these will conversation be dangerous, or his friendship fatal, or attendance on him expensive. From them you can take whatever you wish: it will not be their fault if you do not take your fill from them. What happiness, what a fine old age awaits the man who has made himself a client of these!
  • When they come to the end of it, the poor wretches realise too late that for all this time they have been preoccupied in doing nothing.
  • Life will be driven on through a succession of preoccupations: we shall always long for leisure, but never enjoy it.
  • And so, my dear Paulinus, extract yourself rom the crowd, and as you have been storm-tossed more than your age deserves, you must at last retire into peaceful harbour.
  • You must recall that vigorous mind of yours, supremely capable of dealing with the greatest responsibilities, from a task which is certainly honourable but scarely suited to the happy life.
  • If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.
  • So when you see a man repeatedly wearing the robe of office, or one who’s name is often spoken in the forum, do not end him: these things are won at the cost of life.


As the year draws near, I tend to write my list of goals. I also include the top books and ideas that has truly inspired me. This book “The Shortness of Life” by Seneca is by far hands down the best book I’ve read this year. Check it out.

Let’s all learn to never waste an hour of our lives.

Stay Strong and Always Be Relentless.

Khoa Bui

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Author: Khoa Bui

Khoa Bui is an author, trainer and chief editor of YouBeRelentless. He enjoys reading books on self development, success, productivity, money, relationships and leadership. When he’s not writing, he likes to enjoy a glass of red wine with a fine cuban cigar while watching the entire season of Entourage. You can check out Khoa’s work at

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