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Sleeping with the Fishes

Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Or: How to Escape a Madman Offshore

Captain Nemo was a man so angry at the world that he turned his back on society and fled into the sea in a magnificent submarine. Below the water’s surface, he felt above mankind’s laws. But Nemo found no peace in his self-inflicted exile. Escape, after all, is a spinous temptress: It’s impossible to run away from a pain you carry with you – even when you have a technological marvel at your disposal.

What It’s About

Marine biologist Pierre Aronnax joins an American mission to hunt down a monster that causes havoc across the oceans. When he and two of his companions are thrown overboard in an attack, they find that the monster is in fact a technically highly advanced submarine, the Nautilus. Its captain takes them prisoner, and they embark on a journey of experiencing the wonders of the world under the sea.

Image of: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Book Summary

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Tension and 19th-century scientific utopia join forces to create one of the best-known works of early science fiction.

Jules Verne
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Three Life Lessons


1. Man Cannot Live on Bread – Or Sea Cucumber – Alone

Passengers on board the Nautilus can enjoy great luxuries: a drawing room containing priceless works of art, a nobly stocked library and a dining room featuring elegant meals (admittedly all sourced from the sea). Author Jules Verne referred to the submarine as “a masterpiece containing masterpieces.” And though the men who find themselves stranded on the ship are initially impressed at all the brilliant tech and the amenities afforded to them, with time they come to see that material comforts and futuristic technology are scant replacement for what really counts in life: freedom, respect and integrity.

While you may never find yourself prisoner aboard a splendid submarine (it would be a seastead or a spaceship, these days) you might be tempted by a world of material opulence and fancy tech gadgets. If so, remember to concentrate on the things that give you real, lasting joy in life. Otherwise, you could one day find yourself searching for an escape hatch.

2. Electrify Your Rails

When a group of aggressive natives attack the Nautilus, Captain Nemo hardly bats an eyelid. Is he fearless in the face of death? Perhaps. But that isn’t what keeps him from panicking. His calm demeanor is because he knows there is no danger, not for him anyway: The submarine’s rails are electrified. When the attackers touch them, they receive a shock like a thunderbolt – and flee, accordingly, in terror.

Though you may not want to employ this trick on the door of your sedan – DIY electrics will likely land you in hospital, or worse – you can find ways to apply the same level of preparedness in other areas of your life. Being ready for all manner of attacks, from bears to coworkers, can make you more confident in your dealings.  

Image of: Ready for Anything
Book Summary

Ready for Anything

Don’t prioritize: write down everything to face each task and clear your mind. Get free to be productive and creative.

David Allen Penguin
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3. You Can’t Outrun Your Demons

The reasons for Captain Nemo’s rejection of society are never disclosed, but one thing is certain: He cannot allude the torture he is attempting to escape because he carries it with him wherever he goes. The few among us who haven’t, at one time or another in their lives, experienced the kind of trauma that gives one the urge to turn and run to distant lands and new beginnings, can count themselves as fortunate. The problem is, running never works.

If you find yourself, as Nemo must have, constructing your own Nautilus, stop. Take a step back and evaluate what’s happened in your life to make you feel so isolated. Look for ways to heal and move forward – above the tide mark.

Image of: This Messy Magnificent Life
Book Summary

This Messy Magnificent Life

Educator Geneen Roth’s deeply personal essays urge readers to learn to be at home with and love themselves.

Geneen Roth Scribner
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An existence floating among jellyfish, octopuses and giant squid may be tempting to some, but life on land (and in community) offers its own creature comforts. And anyway, it would be difficult to find a submarine as luxurious as the Nautilus – these days, most ships lack libraries and priceless works of art. And seasteads that used to look like this actually look like that. If, however, you find yourself longing to leave behind the world on land, you could always consider a new profession or perhaps, until you get your sea legs, something a little less permanent.

Captain Nemo says: Seaweed cigars are just as good as the real thing. Honestly.
The turtle for dinner says: I’m far too crunchy to eat! Try one of the sea cucumbers instead. I hear they’re delicious.


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3 We have curated the most actionable insights from 3 summaries for this feature.
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Compressed Pages 416 We read and summarized 3 books with 416 pages for this article.
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