The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian

The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian is unlike any book you are likely to find on bookshelves today. Self-help books can be helpful, but they are usually focused on what to do after you have encountered certain problems. Business books are often a collection of case studies or war stories. The Art of Worldly Wisdom teaches the same sort of lessons (and more) in a much broader context. It is a manual on how to be successful at anything in life. Considering that it is still amazing relevant today despite being first published in 1647, it is a classic masterpiece.

Certainly there have been other books in the same genre, but I have yet to find another one as penetrating and objective. La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims (1660-80s) is insightful as well, but it is colored by a lifetime of bitter experiences. Though Gracian had his own troubles, perhaps being a priest allowed him to observe clearly without becoming jaded by the excesses and pitfalls of worldly life. Also, The Art of Wordly Wisdom contains only 300 aphorisms, considerably less than the Maxims while packing the same amount of substance or more.

Other notable thinkers have been influenced by The Art of Worldly Wisdom. Nietzsche wrote that “Europe has never produced anything finer or more complicated in matters of moral subtlety,” and Schopenhauer considered the book “Absolutely unique… a book made for constant use…a companion for life” for “those who wish to prosper in the great world.”

So read The Art of Worldly Wisdom; you will not regret it. I wish that I had many years ago. Perhaps I could have done things better, or perhaps I could have learned some lessons less painfully. In either case, it could only have helped!

Below are links to some Gracian aphorisms, sorted into categories that I found useful.

Knowledge and planning
Importance of balance
Mystery
Social mastery
Peers
Action

Comments welcome!