My good friend Ronnie Nurss recommended this book to me some time ago, and like all books he recommends, I quickly got a hold of it to give it a read. The Art of Worldly Wisdom was written in 1637, and it’s a collection of maxims on all things life and how to live well. The almost 400-year-old book compiles 300 ideas and suggestions on what it means to live a successful, responsible life.
These shouldn’t be taken as undeniable truths (everything deserves to be challenged), but as great starting points for deeper thinking and personal reflection. It’s not to be read quickly and then forgotten, but rather to digest slowly, and let each maxim spark new ideas on how to improve our life.
It’s hard to say who this book is for, since it talks about many topics relating to human nature. Therefore, I’ll recommend it for anyone that likes books that make us think, and challenge us to become wiser and more responsible.
Below are some of my favorite excerpts of The Art of Worldly Wisdom…
On being a perfect man:
“Words and deeds make a perfect man. Speak what is very good, do what is very honorable. The first shows a perfect head, the second a perfect heart, and both arise in a superior spirit.”
“Have something to hope for, so as not to be happily unhappy. The body breathes and the spirit yearns for things. If all were possession, all would be disappointment and discontent.”
On enjoying people’s company:
“It is useful to know exactly how to enjoy each person. The wise person esteems everyone, for he recognizes the good in each, and he realizes how hard it is to do things well.”
On how to ask:
“Know how to ask. There is nothing more difficult for some, or easier for others. There are some who do not know how to say no; you need no lever, no skeleton key to deal with them. Others say no automatically, and here you need effort. With all of them, do things at the right moment. Catch them when they are in good spirits, after their minds or bodies have been feasting, unless, of course, they are attentive enough to penetrate your intent.”
On personal growth:
“Renew your character with nature and with art. They say that one’s condition changes every seven years: let this change improve and heighten your taste. After the first seven years of life, we reach the age of reason; let a new perfection follow every seven years thereafter.”
On leadership and command:
“Ruling others has one advantage: you can do more good than anyone else. Friends are those who do friendly things.”
On being with others:
“Adapt to those around you. Don’t show the same intelligence with everyone, and don’t put more effort into things than they require. Don’t waste your knowledge or merit. The good falconer uses only the birds he needs. Don’t show off every day, or you’ll stop surprising people. There must always be some novelty left over.”
On dealing with others:
“Deal with others in a grand way. Aspire to elevation. The great should never be petty. You needn’t go into all the details when conversing with others, especially when the subject is distasteful. Notice things, but do so casually; it isn’t good to turn conversation into detailed interrogation. Act with a courteous, noble generality, which is a sort of gallantry. A large part of ruling lies in feigning indifference. Learn to overlook most of the things that happen among your close friends, your acquaintances, and especially your enemies.”