To Understand It, Get The Children’s Book

It’s said that the movie There Will Be Blood is such an incredible piece of art that it should be hung up in MoMA. Paul Thomas Anderson, the writer and director of There Will Be Blood, was asked how he did it.

How did he so perfectly capture not just the literal landscape and details of California’s early twentieth century oil boom but the ethos and ambition of its characters?

One secret was a piece of advice from the legendary production designer Jack Fisk. “He said the greatest thing,” Anderson said. “He said, ‘I found that if you can get a children’s book about a topic, it’s really better than trying to get through the kind of books that are really thick.’ And it was one of the great lessons…Get the children’s book first.”

Fisk explained that a good children’s book on a specific topic drills down to the essence of that topic. And to do that, the author has to have a full command of the topic. As the physicist Richard Feynman liked to say, If you can’t explain a topic to a child, you don’t understand it. And thousands of years before Feynman, the Stoic Epictetus told some students who were proudly talking about having digested the complex works of the least straightforward Stoic, Chrysippus: if Chrysippus had been a better writer, you’d have nothing to brag about.

Over at Daily Stoic, one of the most common questions we get is: How can I teach my child about Stoicism? How can I get my children interested in an ancient school of philosophy?

The answer is that you have to understand the topic so well that you can explain it to a child. That’s why we’ve spent the last year and a half working on the sequel to The Boy Who Would Be King:

The Girl Who Would Be Free

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