⭑⭑⭑½ (3.5/5 see book reviews)

Three sentence summary

A personal development book from the turn of the century — a time, like today, where despite meeting our societal obligations, it’s common to feel a want of the challenge of personal development (as the author says: a desire to “exceed one’s programme”).

The author argues workers (those without a private income) fritter the time spent outside of work — treating the “day” as the hours between 10am–6pm instead of the full 24 hours.

The scheme the author advocates is to take 1½ hours of your evening three nights a week for deep study of art, music, or serious reading (not novels, he emphasizes, but nonfiction or poetry); and, instead of reading the newspaper on the train, use your morning transit time to meditate on Marcus Aurelius.

Random thoughts

I first heard about this book from Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which quotes an observation from refuting the idea that working on personal development may leave you too mentally exhausted to fulfill your obligations:

One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change—not rest, except in sleep.

– Arnold Bennett, How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

This all seems to fit with Theodore Roosevelt’s dichotomy of the life of “ignoble ease” versus “the doctrine of the strenuous life.”

Privilege makes the idea of a strenuous life novel.

Indeed, the notion of “spare time” feels like a modern invention — sprung out of the age of enlightenment — it’s something most modern knowledge workers take for granted. But the idea of “free time” was singular as recently as 1948 when brilliant people representing the human rights interests of the United Nations saw fit to enshrine it in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”

I have a luxury kept from my forebearers: an expectation of a base level of life satisfaction.

Satisfaction turns to ennui without new strenuous intellectual endeavour, which is what the author — and, later, Cal Newport — argue is essential, now as it was then, to human happiness.


  • Title: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day
  • Author: Arnold Bennett
  • Pages:
  • Format: AudioBook
  • Publisher: Independent
  • ISBN: 1500807877
  • Genre: Personal Development