Summary: Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Summary: Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Quick Summary

“Ego Is the Enemy” is a book that utilizes examples and anecdotes from historical figures, such as Steve Jobs, Genghis Khan, Howard Huges, Catherine Grahan, and many others, to illustrate the effect of Ego, or the lack thereof, on people’s lives and careers. The author himself, a person who became successful early in life, shares his personal experiences with battling with Ego after reaching a certain level of success and how the ability to keep his Ego under control and stay humble helped him in his life and career. 

Full Summary

As a modern practitioner of Stoic philosophy, Ryan Holiday addresses the question of Ego and its effect on our wellbeing and decision-making, with a specific focus on our professional lives. He argues that the most significant problems we’re facing are not coming from the outside world, such as our interactions with other people, but rather from the inside, within ourselves, and in the way, we process and deal with life.

Holiday states that egoism is especially prominent nowadays when modern tools like social media have created a culture that boosts our ego and influences us to focus on the dream instead of the journey. This is why it’s essential to keep our ego in check, and the author provides different situations that may occur in our lives that could be challenging for our ego, argues why it’s essential to keep it under control, and provides some context alongside historical examples of how some people managed (or didn’t), to find success due to the suppression of their ego. 

The author divided the book into 3 main parts, depending on the stage of life the reader currently found themselves in – aspirations, success, and failure. Depending on the point in life readers find themselves in at the moment of reading this book, one part will be more beneficial compared to the other two.

Each of the three main parts is divided into chapters that deal with the specific aspect of emotions, feelings, or actions attributed to ego, and each chapter as an introduction has a brief story from the life of a historical figure, more or less known to the average person, describing how certain moments in their life and actions taken to deal with them led to their success or failure, depending on their ability to suppress their ego. After the introduction, the author concludes each chapter with a clear message to the reader, in the form of self-help advice on overcoming ego.

Excerpt of Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

What does the book promise to deliver?

After “The Obstacle Is the Way”, Holiday’s book that deals with the external factors that affect our lives and how to turn obstacles into opportunities, in “Ego Is the Enemy,” the author focuses on the internal roadblock – our ego. The book focuses on 3 key stages in our professional lives and how our ego stands in the way of each of them.

Holiday uses examples from historical figures, some well-known to the majority of readers, some less-known, from all areas of life, including sports, politics, arts, etc. They are used as examples of how the ego, or the lack thereof, led these people to either succeed or fail.

Holiday doesn’t utilize the word Ego in a classic, Freudian way of self-consciousness and identity but instead wants to describe Ego as a disruptive, unhealthy sense of our self-importance. Because of this, there are a lot of emotions and actions attributed to our ego in this book, and Holiday uses real-life examples to illustrate how each of these led to some roadblocks in people’s lives.

Since Holiday is well known for his adoption of Stoic philosophy, “Ego is the enemy” has a lot of elements of Stoicism in self-help form. The book is rather practical than philosophical, and readers are given concrete examples and advice on how to overcome egoism and avoid the trap of thinking that the world revolves around you.

The tone of the book

Ryan Holiday was mentored by Robert Greene, and his mentor’s influence is obvious in this book – Holiday uses historical figures and anecdotes to describe the problem he’s dealing with in every chapter of the book. In doing so, Holiday uses a straightforward approach, without much humor and sugarcoating things, especially the consequences of extreme egoism described in the book.

The author’s straightforward approach makes the read a bit dispassionate and even aggressive at some moments. Some readers noted that Holiday has a “preachy voice” at times, and they had a feeling that the author in this book leans too much on declarations that contribute to the “preachy” tone of the book.

This aggressiveness is described as a common pattern in Holiday’s books, which makes reading his books a bit difficult for some of the readers. It gives way like an author is lecturing and even imposing his thoughts on the reader, and some people had a hard time finishing the chapters of this book, which is where Holiday makes his point after the introduction with the example from historical figures.

Back of of Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

What type of reader would enjoy this book?

Considering the structure of this book and the way the author divided the chapters, people who would benefit the most from reading this book are the ones that already have a firm, clear idea of what they want to do and accomplish in their life. For them, this book can serve as an excellent guide on not to get full of yourself, keep your ego in check, and provide some specific steps in order to achieve your goals in a healthy way.

However, even though the author argues that most of us begin with a clear idea of what we want to achieve in our lives, some people are still not quite there, and for them, this book might not provide the level of insight that the author originally intended. This is why “Ego Is the Enemy” is more suitable for readers who have already figured out the direction of their professional life and who are focused on a specific goal.

The book also teaches humbleness and humility in success and aspirations and, as such, is excellent for people who have a lot of pride in their accomplishments to take down a few notches and stay with both feet on the ground. On the other hand, people who lack confidence and self-esteem, who don’t believe in themselves and their abilities, might want to skip reading this book before working on building confidence and overall trust in their capabilities.

How well does “Ego Is the Enemy” compare with other titles in this field?

Readers who usually don’t prefer self-help books mostly speak very favorably about “Ego Is the Enemy” as a combination of philosophy and self-help genre. Most of them compare Holiday’s writing with Robert Greene’s, and considering that the latter was his mentor, it’s not a surprise.

Some of the readers compared this book with the works of Dale Carnegie in terms of the utilization of interesting stories and anecdotes of historical figures. However, they found Carnegie’s books a bit more insightful and exciting, mainly because these readers were not supportive of Holiday’s “preachy” writing style.

Alternatively, some readers feel like the insistence on suppressing your ego is ultimately harmful and counterproductive for a person. These readers recommend the works of Ayn Rand, specifically “The Fountainhead,” as the book to read if you want to find out the consequences of denial of your ego.

Spine of Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Audiobook review

The audiobook version of “Ego Is the Enemy” is 6 hours and 56 minutes long and is narrated by the author himself. The general opinion of the listeners is that the story was valuable and worth listening to while criticizing the author’s narration.

Most of the listeners found the content of the audiobook interesting and even eye-opening. They universally praise the core message addressed in the book, and most of them appreciate the reminder to stay humble and keep their ego in check.

On the other hand, listeners were mainly critical of the style of narration presented by the author. They found Holiday’s voice monotonous and dispassionate. Some of them stumbled upon this book from listening to Holiday on Tim Ferris’ show, and they were disappointed that Holiday couldn’t replicate his intonation and passionate speech from that appearance in the book. 

What do readers say about “Ego Is the Enemy”?

Humbling experience

Regardless of what the readers think about the author’s writing style and choice of examples utilized to make a point, the consensus among the readers is that “Ego Is the Enemy” delivers a powerful message worth revisiting – keep your ego under control. This was a universal message from the readers, even from the ones that were critical of the book’s structure, examples used to make a point or the lack of in-depth examination of the nature of ego.

Many readers appreciated the humbleness and humility as the core message of the book and were grateful to the author for the reminder to try to get over themselves and stay humble. They also respect the authority of the author and find him trustworthy in relating these messages, as Holiday is someone who found success at a young age and went through quite a lot of ego-baiting situations in life.

Complicated topic explained in a simple way

Standing at just over 200 pages, “Ego Is the Enemy” is a short and fast read, especially considering the complexity of the topic. This is one of the things that readers really appreciated about Holiday’s work, the ability to summarize complex topics in a concise and straightforward way.

Even the readers already familiar with Holiday’s writing were somewhat skeptical about the quality of this book, with their main fear being that the author would fall in the same trap that most authors who deal with the topic of ego do – making this complicated, often elusive subject challenging to understand and scraping away the readers. However, readers were positively surprised by the author’s ability to digest the topic of ego in an understandable fashion while still maintaining all the essential aspects of the subject.

Valuable examples from historical figures

“Ego Is the Enemy” draws a lot of inspiration from the real-life examples of historical figures, some widely known, some less-known to larger audiences, as the introduction of the chapters and means to illustrate the effect that ego, or the lack of it, had on their lives or careers.

It was interesting to the readers to see how some of the most successful people battled with their egos and how contrary to the popular belief that a successful person needs to possess some selfish and self-centered attributes, some people managed to stay humble, suppress their ego and still find success in life.

Reading of Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Ego is not very precisely defined

Rather than using the word Ego in a classic, Freudian sense, Holiday utilizes the word for a much broader scope of terms, feelings, and emotions. This broad scope of aspects that the author incorporates under the terms Ego confused some of the readers and made them somewhat unable to digest the book completely.

The “vague” definition of ego also made some readers feel like the author attributed any negative, mistaken, or delusional activity of a person to their ego and felt like this created a massive bag of terms and emotions mixed under one word. These readers wanted to understand the nature of ego and go more in-depth about the term itself, but instead got only a brief overview of all the potential things that are consequences of egoism.

Brief examples require more depth

While readers generally felt positive about the utilization of historical figures and anecdotes from their lives as a way to illustrate the effect of ego on human beings, some readers thought that Holiday should’ve used more context and details surrounding the circumstances that led to specific actions. They felt like the author failed at providing a background story on the characters mentioned in the book, thus making their actions and the consequences of those actions harder to understand and analyze.

However, the author himself was probably aware of the issue and intentionally kept the stories brief, as he included books that deal with each of the figures mentioned in the book at the end, providing more bibliographical information on the characters described and used as examples.