4 stars: Enjoyable Russian background, good story, sprinkling of Peaceful Warrior philosophy
This novel, though written later, is a prequel to Way of the Peaceful Warrior and Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior. As with those novels, there is much debate on what is fact and what is fiction. From my perspective, that debate doesn’t matter…this is an enjoyable read, which echoes the leanings and lessons of the first two novels.
For pure reading enjoyment, I would rank this one with the Way of the Peaceful Warrior. The Journeys of Socrates is a better story, with less lecturing/preachiness of the original Peaceful Warrior, while the Way novel laid out Millman’s personal philosophies in more detail.
I also enjoyed the Russian history and culture included in this novel. Insights into both Russian Jewish plight and livings and Cossacks are provided.
Sergei/Socrates experiences enormous heartache and challenges, some violently so, mainly to drive home the point of Mr. Millman’s “peaceful warrior” teachings: martial artists/warriors train not to fight, but to gain peace through self-control and deeper internal understanding. By having half Jewish/half Cossasck Sergei experience and witness loss, feel revenge and work at overcoming those violent feelings, Millman drives home this point in a way that the setting of the first two books would not allow.
I also enjoyed the views into the Russian “martial arts”, without mentioning Systema. The concept of “bracing” (dousing yourself with cold water everyday to build up strength and immunities) and breathing methods are well weaved into the fabric of the story of Sergei’s training.
I would have enjoyed more detail on the “world council of martial artists” that is mentioned a few times towards the end of the book. A potential fourth novel, Mr. Millman?
Final note: there is a certain amount of violence and loss in this novel, some scenes which may bother some readers.