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Buried in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Crack Up, a collection of the great writer’s essays and diary entries written during his sad decline, is a quick mention of a fellow alcoholic writer and a book about his struggles.

He doesn’t mention the title. He doesn’t explain anything about the author, William Seabrook, besides his name. Probably because at the time he wrote the essay, both things were self-evident. William Seabrook was, at least then, much more famous than Fitzgerald.

I remember coming across this mention and making a note of it. I looked for the book on Amazon a few days later. The only copy available was a Bantam paperback from 1947. It cost $13.98 with shipping. (Today it starts at $75.00.)

Little did I know, the book that would arrive would become one of my all-time favorites and that I would play some role in not just helping it find a new audience, but bringing it back into print after decades in obscurity.

That book? Asylum (An Alcoholic Takes the Cure)the very true story of the journalist William Seabrook who, in December 1933, as one of the most successful travel writers in the world, committed himself voluntarily into an insane asylum to treat a crippling addiction to alcohol. In a time before 12-step programs, support groups and rehab centers, there were no other options. What emerged was not just quite possibly one of the first modern addiction/recovery memoirs, but perhaps the most honest and haunting accounts of the struggle for mental health in literature.

A travel book where the journey is inward instead of outward? You can write like that? You can look at your own problems and your own role in them like that?

You cannot turn a page in the book without watching him bump, unknowingly, into the basic principles of 12-step groups and the patterns of behavior we now associate with depression and addiction. Trapped behind the walls of the institution, Seabrook wrote:

I was forced to see sober a panorama that had been nothing but a miserable series of “runnings away from myself” since earliest childhood, and in which I now fully realized for the first time, neither whiskey nor the particular trade I had adopted were anything more than incidental. I took sober stock and saw that dissatisfaction, a sense of my own inability to arrive at a harmonious adjustment in any environment—sporadically dotted with flights and attempted escapes—had been the whole pattern of my life. I had run away ineffectually at 6 to be a pirate as all children do, and instead of getting maturer powers of adjustment as I grew older, I had been running away ever since… Now I knew that all the time I had been running away from something, and that the thing had always been myself.

Like many busy, successful people, Seabrook’s busy-ness and success were as much aresult of his addiction as his addiction inhibited them. Addiction doesn’t immediately drive us to rock bottom, sometimes it takes a detour to top of the mountain first. In fact, it was only when Seabrook had his fame and career and many bestselling works—a writer with enough money in the bank can be a dangerous thing—that the toll of his behavior finally began to make itself known. Only then did the impostor syndrome begin to creep in (and in shame, he began to drink heavily to pretend it wasn’t true).

Always ahead of the curve, he was a modern man right before modern times. Which is what makes this book so powerful, so timeless, so provocative then, as now. And yet, despite the splash this book made at the time, the book was eventually forgotten and lost to history. Seabrook was too, despite his significant contributions to American culture. This was the man, after all, who gave us the world “Zombie” and was notorious for having eaten human flesh and writing about it. How could he have been forgotten while the works of other lesser writers remain? I’m not sure.

All I know is that when I read the book, I was blown away by its vulnerability and honesty. A travel book where the journey is inward instead of outward? You can write like that? You can look at your own problems and your own role in them like that? In retrospect, a lot of the most insightful observations went over my head—but in the way that the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson is so powerful to college freshman, so was the writing of William Seabrook to me.

A few months after reading it, I decided I would start a newsletter specifically to recommend obscure or forgotten books like this. About 100 people signed up. The works of William Seabrook were the first books I recommended. My recommendation read:

From the perspective of a travel writer, [Seabrook] described his own journey through this strange and foreign place. On a regular basis, he says things so clear, so self-aware that you’re stunned an addict could have written it—shocked that this book isn’t a classic American text.

I think I sold about 5 copies.

But over the years that list grew. Where the first group of subscribers nearly seven years ago was small enough to drop into the bcc field in Gmail, last month’s listwent out to more than 50,000 people. A few years ago, I wrote an article for Thought Catalog titled “24 Books You’ve Probably Never Heard Of That Will Change Your Life.” Number 14 was Asylum. The piece was read by about 100,000 people and then more when I reposted it on my own site. It was turned into a SlideShare (200,000 views) and a Business Insider piece (640,000 views) a while later. I once brought the book with me when a client was appearing on Dr. Drew’s show Loveline, but couldn’t bear to part with my only (note-filled) copy.

In any case, over the last few years, Asylum started to get some of the attention it deserved. I’ve heard from hundreds of readers who loved the book. I would see it pop up on Amazon in the recommended books on the pages of some of my favorite authors. Now, when you look at Asylum on Amazon, the “You Might Also Like” section is entirely filled with other books from my list of “24.”

(Photo: Ryan Holiday)

(Photo: Ryan Holiday)

Still, last month I was surprised to get an email from an acquisitions editor at Dover, a publisher that specializes in out-of-print and public domain books. With the help of Seabrook’s son, they were bringing Asylum back. And not just Asylum either—they were going to put multiple editions of his books “into the hands of a new generation of readers.”

A few days later, the book arrived. It has a new cover designed by the illustrator Joe Ollman and a comic that serves as its introduction. I re-read the book and fell in love all over again. It was exactly as I remembered. Insightful, vulnerable, funny. And in the years since my first reading—with my own struggles with forms of addiction and my own personal issues—I took more out of it than I had before.

As a reader and a lover of books, in many ways this is the dream. That one could stumble upon a book randomly, advocate for it and take pride in having paid it forward enough that the book is given a second life. It’s what Bukowski did for Fante and or Walker Percy did for John Kennedy Toole.

I was even able to spend some time on the phone with Seabrook’s son, Bill. Bill told me about the book’s unique path to re-publication, which began with his mother’s smart decision to maintain the book’s copyrights over the years, and continued with the work of the literary agency Watkins/Loomis, which itself is over 100 years old(and also represents writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates). He and I talked about what his father must have been looking for as he traveled to the far corners of the Earth and to the bottom of a bottle on his way to the darkest depths of his own psyche. We spoke about how that same wanderlust—though perhaps without the darkness—was passed from father to son, as it so often seems to be.

The whole thing was almost too perfect.

It’s that sense…that if some people had just had their act together a little more, it could have all turned out even better, even bigger.

I don’t want to say it is perfect because from a publishing perspective the new edition leaves something to be desired. I do wish that Dover could have taken the time to give the book a full introduction that explains to modern readers just who this great man was and why his writing deserves to be known. Having purchased a handful of Dover Thrift editions of books over the years (which Amazon tends to recommend due to their price), I’m familiar with their—let’s just say “economical”—approach to re-publishing famous works. If Penguin Classics or Library of America are the Whole Foods of book publishing, handcrafted, lovingly produced and expertly marketed, then Dover can sometimes feel like the bargain bin at Walmart.

The new cover is cool—but I can’t help but think the book would have been better served by something more subdued. Somehow they lost the book’s helpful subtitle/logline and on the back, gave even less description than the cheap pulp paperback of the mid-20th century. Just compare The Crack Up (published by New Directions) and Asylum and tell me which one you’d rather read.

As one of the book’s biggest and most public fans, I was sad to hear about it onlyafter it was out. The things I would have done for free to help this book! Nor can I be the only one. It’s that sense—common in interactions with the publishing industry—that if some people had just had their act together a little more, it could have all turned out even better, even bigger.

But as anyone who knows the arc of Seabrook’s story can tell you,“almost too perfect” is probably fitting. Because his time at the insane asylum ended in 1934 with a diagnosis that he’d been “cured” of alcoholism. His doctors’ only post-treatment plan? They asked him to promise not to drink for six months.

Seabrook lasted a little longer than that, published his book, moved on with his life and, of course, had his only son. Though eventually, with the approval of the naive medical opinion at the time, he began to drink again. And then moved on to drugs and increasingly dark sexual behavior.

He died in 1945 of an overdose in Rhinebeck, N.Y.

His perfect work and his perfect story disappeared with him.

Until now.

This post appeared originally on the New York Observer



I can no longer remember the first heavy metal song I ever listened to, but I assume it was something by Metallica. I can tell you the first album I fell in love with: Brave New World by Iron Maiden.

For metal purists, this is a strange choice. The album came out in May 2000, not exactly the heyday of the genre. In fact, this was actually the perfect introduction for me. The album was just new enough that it sounded modern and fresh, but being that it was the band’s first reunited collaboration in nearly a decade, it had just enough of their classic sound that I was hooked. It’s a damn good album too—one of the singles even got a Grammy nod.

From there, it was down the rabbit hole. The exposure had been accidental—all because in those days illegal downloads from sites like Audiogalaxy were constantly mislabeled. But it also meant that I had access to the vast back catalogs of artists that I’d have never heard on the radio.

I went through all of it. Priest. Megadeth. Dio. Sabbath. Ozzy. Blind Guardian. Dream Theater.

It’s probably every parent’s worst nightmare, especially parents of the generation mine came from. This was dumb people music to them. It was ridiculous, ugly, and only a few short steps from tattoos, drugs, long hair and dropping out of school (only a few of those things actually happened to me!)

But really, heavy metal put me on the path I am on today—in every positive sense.

A few years ago a study found that kids with the highest IQs are disproportionatelyattracted to heavy metal. The reason is that the themes of alienation, frustration, and even pain, match the experience of a smart young person struggling to fit in and make sense of the world.

So yes, most parents might think that metal songs are about drugs, violence, suicide, the devil and whatever other ridiculous stereotypes scared people project onto it. More directly, the assumption is that they somehow advocate these things to impressionable young people. Of course, the opposite is true. In fact, the music is often about coping with the complicated and dark feelings that come along with a serious intellect at an early age.

The result is often surprising. I remember that one of the first open minded and thoughtful things I heard about gay people was from a Rush song called Nobody’s Hero (the sexuality of Rob Halford, the lead singer of Judas Priest, was an open secret in heavy metal for a long time). Metallica has songs that deal with suicidedrugs and addiction in smart and moving ways and their song One is based on the anti-war novel, Johnny Get Your Gun. Metallica is not the only band to address these issues as Megadeth, Slayer, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to name a few have tackled the subject. Who else were we going to process it with?

From Iron Maiden, I fell in love with history in a new way. In fact, several studies have examined the multitude of historical themes explored by the band, ranging from Pre-History to current events, from Genghis Khan to the battle of Passchendaele. The first time I heard audio of a Winston Churchill speech wasn’t in school, it was in the intro of Iron Maiden’s 1984 music video for “Aces High”—which I downloaded off another file sharing network. It’s not as if MTV was playing it. They have a song inspired by Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade and another based on an epic poem from Coleridge.

I’m not saying it was a straight line from here to studying ancient philosophy and history, but it did start the process.

It’s not just what the music is about. There is an artistry that far too many people fail to see. There’s a line in Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls (based on Hemingway’s book, by the way) that goes:

“Crack of dawn, all is gone
except the will to be”

Even now, every time I hear it, I think: that is so good. It’s poetry in a different context, sure, and damn good writing. When what we had to read and study in school bored me out of my mind, it was music that stimulated me–that inspired me to think about how words could be used, what was worth studying and just what the human experience really was.

I remember reading a lot about Metallica and specifically its guitarist Kirk Hammett. After the band had kicked out its original guitarist (Dave Mustaine who would go on to form Megadeth), they invited Kirk to join the group. You know what the first thing he did was? Even though he was an accomplished player, he started taking lessons from a guy named Joe Satriani (who went on to be one of the greatest guitar players who ever lived). That is, even though he landed his dream job, he continued to learn and stay a student. I remember thinking how different that was than the notion that geniuses are just naturally that way. No, it actually takes practice and work to be good at something—even a thing that many don’t respect as real “art.”

I’m not saying this is what made me a writer, but it helped. Something you notice really quickly about the genre is that it’s more than just music. Heavy metal album covers are some of the best in the history of music. Because the bands understood that they weren’t just recording songs, but creating brands. Metallica’s cover forMaster of Puppets is spectacular. Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,Somewhere in Time, Powerslave and The Number of the Beast are all ridiculously cool(mostly because of Eddie their mascot). Megadeth’s Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? is spectacular. Judas Priest’s British Steel is badass too.

Heavy metal has always been the clearest proof of Kevin Kelly’s “1,000 True Fans” concept. These are acts that rarely got on the radio or on television. How did they survive? How did they keep going? How do they currently sell out stadiums—literally stadiums—when most people assumed they’ve broken up? Because they know who their fans are and exist exclusively for them. They were also smart enough businessmen to figure out earlier than the rest of the industry that the money was never in record sales. One of the common dismissals of bands like Anthrax or Maiden or Megadeth is that they sold more t-shirts than albums. Yeah, that’s brilliant. Because nobody takes a cut of your merchandise sales.

Like I said, the first Iron Maiden songs I heard were pirated, but since then I’ve probably spent close to a thousand dollars on a various related products the band sold from tickets to box sets to DVDs. This is what made Metallica’s attack on Napster so ridiculous. They’d gotten popular as a band because of bootleg tapes. Their own balance sheet should have made it clear where the profit centers of the industry were. In any case, to see these bands continue to thrive when the economics of music have supposedly collapsed is a testament to the power of a loyal fan base and a universe of products.

Of course, I’m not saying that this is what got me into marketing or even that it was responsible for my time in the music industry, but it did give me a lot of good ideas.

The most important lesson I learned from heavy metal came from the band (and the singer) that caught me first. From Bruce Dickinson, I learned that you really can be good at more than one thing. And that stereotypes are total bullshit. In Dickinson, we have a man who wasn’t content to just be the lead singer in a band that sold 85 million records. He also wanted to have an acclaimed career as a solo artist, a professional airline pilot, a bestselling novelist, Olympic-level fencer and then in his spare time, have a show on BBC radio. The guy flies the band and its equipment to Iron Maiden’s sold-out shows in a custom 757. Fuuuck…was all I could think when I was 15. It’s what I think still.

If there’s one model that I’ve used to justify my peripatetic career, it’s been Bruce. Why shouldn’t I try new things? Why wouldn’t it be possible to get really good at this thing? If he can do all he’s done, I can do a fraction of it.

I know to my parents my love of heavy metal probably seemed like the beginning of a bad dream. Where will this go, they must have thought? Is he going to end up like those losers?

Of course, the entire time it was making me smarter, introducing me to new ideas, teaching me about the business of art, and inspiring me to pick a unique career.

Plus it was fun.

I don’t listen to great music as much anymore. Honestly, my taste has atrophied intowhatever will help me tune out distractions while I work. But every once in a while, a Maiden track will come on and it takes me right back. I love it.

Heavy metal changed my life. Up the Irons.

This post appeared originally on the New York Observer



Dr. Drew Pinsky changed my life. I asked him one simple question, and his answer put me on a path that saved me from a very dark place. But more than that it ultimately helped me achieve success, made me a published author, saved my relationships, and made me happy.

I’m sure this is true for a lot of people. He is after all, a practicing medical specialist of many years and now the host of a major television show, Dr. Drew On Call. But these circumstances were a little different. You see, I am not and have never been an addict. I don’t have an eating disorder or a sexual or medical issue. I have never called into Loveline (though I was a fan). It happened because I walked up to him at 19 years old and asked him if he had any books he could recommend.

I was in college in the mid-aughts and I was invited to a small, private summit of college journalists that Dr. Drew, then the host of Loveline, was hosting. After it ended, he was standing in the corner and I cautiously made my way over to nervously ask a question I thought might be worth taking a shot with: “I heard you read a lot. What should I read?” He said he’d been studying a stoic philosopher named Epictetus and that I should check it out. He also recommended a biography of Theodore Roosevelt that remains one of my favorites (TR it turns out was also a fan of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius).

Dr. Drew—the sex doctor from MTV and KROQ—introduced me to classic philosophy. That night I emailed my friend Tucker Max (who would later go on to be a frequent guest on Loveline) to see if he’d read it. He told me it was amazing and that I should also read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius, translated by Gregory Hays, arrived first. My life has not been the same since.

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I had just gone through a breakup of a long relationship (from sophomore year in high school to sophomore year in college) and was wrecked. In fact, I’d spent most of the conference despondent in my hotel room. I was depressed. I was miserable. I been prescribed sleeping pills by a college therapist because I wasn’t sleeping.

So the words of Marcus Aurelius — a Roman emperor writing admonishments and reassurances to himself amidst the stresses of imperial life hit me in the face. The words of Epictetus, a lowly slave teaching at the outskirts of Rome had the same effect.

Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.” — Marcus Aurelius

It’s not about you, but how you react that matters.” — Epictetus

Anyone who remembers me from that time probably laughs at what a ridiculous convert to stoicism I became. “Have you read this?” I would ask people. “It’s SO good.” You know how young people are when they read Ayn Rand for the first time? I was like that. Enthralled! I was just amazed that something like this existed, something that wasn’t pretentious or impractical. Something that was real and solved my problems.

But unlike some silly Ayn Rand phase, this revelation has only grown for me over time. My understanding of stoicism is no longer so naive and simple, but it is equally fervent. It’s made me a better person, not a harder, less empathetic one.

I saw Dr. Drew again at another college conference a few months later (I guess he was speaking to a lot of college journalists at the time). I was a little late but I snuck up to a seat at the front. After it ended, I waited for everyone to ask their questions and I walked up to him and he remembered me: “You look so much better,” he said. There was a reason, I replied: “It’s because I read Epictetus.”

“I’m so glad,” he said, and then politely corrected my pronunciation. It’s “Epic-teat-us” not “Epic-tey-tus”—though to this day the incorrect one is imprinted on my mind. I said it so many times the wrong way during that period that I’ll never get it right. I think it was this moment that I realized not only the true power of books, but also that it didn’t matter whether I was a college student or a teenager but I could talk to and connect with just about anyone. It didn’t matter if they were a celebrity or rich or powerful — we all had the same problems and needs.

A few years later, Tucker was invited on as a guest on Loveline and I came with him to the taping studio. Of course, Dr. Drew no longer remembered me and I was much too shy to bring it up. But as I sat in that green room, all I could think about was how grateful I was, how lucky I’d been to have an opportunity to ask such a question, and how sometimes the fates align and you’re given exactly what you need.

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” — Marcus Aurelius

This man (and the philosopher he introduced me to) changed my life and in a very significant way contributed to the person I ended up becoming.

And now, over seven years later, I have the opportunity to introduce stoicism to even more people. My book The Obstacle is The Way (Portfolio/Penguin) is about a single exercise that both Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius lived by: “The impediment to actions advances action What stands in the way becomes the way.” We think that the terrible things that happen to us are obstacles — as I did with my breakup — but they are in fact great opportunities. For me, those dark moments contributed to a great awakening. They exposed me, they motivated me to take a risk (to ask a question of an important, busy man) and I was rewarded for it.

The obstacle became the way. And Dr. Drew showed me that.

This post appeared originally on The Huffington Post.