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The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

In 2022, I'd like to start reading better. Good books have a lot to offer but it requires effort to get the most out of the book. Since I usually work 10-11 hours on an average weekday, I only have the chance to read at night. My brains are fried by then. I'd say as a reader, I do an in between of Inspection Reading and Analytical Reading (Farnam Street did an article on Reading Better). Moving forward, I'd like to make an effort to take down notes and think more deeply about the themes & ideas in the book. My first attempt will be the classic "The Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway.

(Image Source: Me)

2 Bullet Point Summary of "The Old Man and the Sea"

  • To combat a streak of bad luck, an aging fisherman (Santiago) goes deeper into the sea and managed to hook a giant marlin

  • Throughout the story, he battled against the marlin, his injuries and the unpredictable sea

2 Lessons Learnt from "The Old Man and the Sea"

Lesson 1: Our Attitude

The wind is our friend, anyway, he thought. Then he added, sometimes. And the great sea with our friends and enemies.

But the old man always thought of her (the sea) as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them.

What the sea is (or could be), is entirely up to your interpretation. To me, the sea is a metaphor to life. The sea is beautiful but the sea can be treacherous. The sea gives but the sea also takes. There is a storm today but the sea can be beautifully calm tomorrow.

The sea never stays the same, and it is what you make of it. Despite the hurdles the sea throws at him, Santiago does not fight against it but focuses on adapting.

The sea is also a reflection of our professional life. The sea is obviously Santiago's workplace, given that he's a fisherman. Clearly he has weathered storms and challenges to have the techniques and wit to battle against the giant marlin.

At any workplace, there will always be stress and unwanted dramas. The sea can't be calm all the time. But those storms are there to build your skills and resilience, so that you grow as a person. You become a better fisherman. When an eighteen-feet marlin comes along, you are ready to fight it till the end.

Again, it really depends on how you see it. A third perspective is a story of a man living harmoniously with nature. From the beginning, the story hints at Santiago's poverty but it also describes a man who is living a rich life.

I know of people who prioritize designer brands and who-wears-what. They live in their own bubble. That's fine if it makes them very happy. Santiago may not have much but he shows a deep appreciation for his friends (the birds, fishes and of course the sea) and remarks about the bright, blue sky. When you are having a bad day at work, it's a good lesson to pause and appreciate what the world is already offering to you.

Lesson 2: Resilience

But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.

This has to be my favorite quote in this book.

The main story arc is Santiago's struggle with the giant marlin, a worthy opponent (Santiago has grown to respect the fish). There are great many things going against Santiago - mainly his old age and the unpredictable sea (both enemies and friends swimming within too). There were many moments he could have given up, but he pushes through and eventually triumphs in spirit and will.

A man can be Destroyed but not Defeated.

To be destroyed is to be broken.

Does destruction pave the path for a man to triumph? When you finally walk out of the battle, broken and battered, you triumph knowing you went through it all with sheer determination.

At work, there are always zero-sum games to play, whether you like it or not, .

There could only be one person being hired for that single job promotion. There could only be one vendor selected at a bidding process.

When we lose at zero-sum games, you are not defeated. How you emerge from the battle is more important. You should feel proud that you went through it all.

Would I recommend "The Old Man and the Sea"?

Yes, absolutely a 4.5 / 5


  • It's a very short novella but packs a punch

  • Thought provoking themes

  • Engaging writing

What I struggle with?

  • Fishing terminology is too difficult for me, I am not familiar with the words so I have to google pictures to follow

Click here to see the book summary in Goodreads

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