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Posted October 3, 2006

Book: The Art of Worldly Wisdom
Author: Baltasar Gracian
Double Day. New York. 1992. Pp. 182

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Throughout the centuries, mankind has produced three great, timeless wisdom books: Machiavelli’s The Prince, Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War, and Baltasar Gracian’s The Art of Worldly Wisdom: A Pocket Oracle. And yet, until now, Gracian’s astonishing classic has been largely unavailable to modern readers.

The Art of Worldly Wisdom was written three hundred years ago by one of Spain’s greatest writers — a worldly Jesuit scholar and keen observer for many in positions of power. Gracian’s work draws on careful study of statesmen and potentates who managed to combine ethical behavior with worldly effectiveness. Each of the elegantly crafted maxims in this volume offers valuable insight on the art of living and the practice of achieving.

According to novelist Gail Godwin, “The oracle scintillates with Machiavellian know-how, only with scruples . . . .The reader today who faithfully follows its precepts will never make a fool of himself or herself and may even go on to become useful and wise.”

Newly translated, Gracian’s advice is as astonishingly appropriate today as it was in seventeenth-century Spain, a society resembling our own in its contiguous splendor and abject misery. These secular moral reflections on reality and appearances, self-love and friendship, wit and ignorance are sharply pragmatic, but still leave room for spirituality, tempered by prudence and discretion.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Be skilled in conversation. The art of conversation is the measure of a true person. No human activity calls for so much discretion, for none is more common. It is here that we win or lose. It takes prudence to write a letter, which is conversation thought out and written down, and even more to converse, for discretion is soon put to the test. Experts feel the tongue and quickly take the pulse of the mind. “Speak,” said the sage,” and you will be known.” To some the art of conversation lies in having no art at all, letting it fit loosely, like clothes. This may be true of conversation among friends. In more elevated circles, conversation should be weightier, revealing the great substance of the person. To converse successfully, you must adapt yourself to the temperament and intelligence of others. Don’t set yourself up as a censor of words — for you will be taken as a grammarian — and even less as a prosecutor of sentences — which will make others avoid you and keep you from communicating. In speech discretion matters more than eloquence.

Table of Contents:

300 Aphorisms