UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

The Golden Mean

By Trisha Elliott

The Golden Mean
By Annabel Lyon
(Random House Canada) $32.95

The golden mean, as Aristotle and numerous subsequent philosophers have said, is the elusive balance between extremes: humility and pride, stinginess and extravagance, and so on. The beauty, harmony and perfection found in the middle are golden. So is Annabel Lyon’s award-winning debut novel.

The Golden Mean strikes the perfect balance between historical fact and modern-day fiction while venturing boldly into the hearts, minds and worldviews of two of the ancient world’s most well-known figures: Aristotle the philosopher and Alexander the Great.

Aristotle narrates the book’s ambitious first-person account. It lifts off as he leaves Plato’s Academy and, much to his disappointment, is seconded by his childhood friend, King Philip of Macedon, to tutor his two sons. Aristotle finds hurdles to overcome in “the idiot prince’s” severe cognitive difficulties and Prince Alexander’s mercenary instinct. Eventually, he embraces the challenge and, to some degree, successfully mentors both princes.

But Aristotle’s insights into the boys’ personalities are more studied than warm. His wonder at the world in general rarely translates into happiness. His relationships, even his lovemaking, are clinical. Loneliness leads to bouts of depression; only new discoveries break through the grey. Occasionally, they arise while Aristotle is tutoring the young Alexander, who yearns to rush into battle and conquer new worlds.

The genius of The Golden Mean lies in its artful ability to hover. Lyon brings philosophical questions like “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is tragedy?” to earth without pinning them down. She draws the reader into the relationship between two massive historical figures, hints that they are a foil to one another and even leaves them riding off into the sunset together, but she never divulges how their relationship tipped the course of history. One comes away, however, with the sense that it must have.

Aristotle throws himself into thinking; Alexander, into acting. The novel’s lasting impression is that the golden mean lies in the chasm between the two. And that makes The Golden Mean worth falling into.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image