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The Waste Books - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg,  R. J. Hollingdale (Translator) “Ideas too are a life and a world.” (p. 91)

The Waste Books is a collection of 1,085 aphorisms and other short writings by a curious German hunchback who had a crater on the moon named after him. He was primarily a scientist, but also a satirist, and this is a book he never intended to publish, being a compilation of notebooks of his observations, thoughts and reflections.

“I would give something to know for precisely whom the deeds were really done of which it is publicly stated they were done for the Fatherland.” (p.208)

“A golden rule: We must judge men, not by their opinions, but by what these opinions make of them.” (p.170)

Schopenhauer called Lichtenberg someone who enjoyed thinking “for his own instruction,” and in one longer entry, Lichtenberg says we shouldn’t go to bed without having learned something that day, and he doesn't mean a vocabulary word! Sometimes Lichtenberg’s inclination toward reflection and a summing-up is expressed with bite and wit.

“Because he always neglected his own duties he had time to observe which of his fellow citizens neglected theirs and to report the fact to the authorities.” (p.114)

Lichtenberg has some pet topics, including morality (“Before we blame we should first see whether we cannot excuse.” p.194),

society (“There are countries where it is not uncommon for officers who have served well in a war to be reduced in rank when peace arrives. Would it not be a good thing if in certain departments of government the officials, or some of them, were reduced in rank whenever war breaks out?” p.209),

books (“Nowadays we already have books about books and descriptions of descriptions.” p. 49),

education (“Diminution of one’s needs is something that certainly ought to be inculcated in youth. ‘The fewer needs one has the happier one is’ is an old but much-neglected truth.” p.223),

and human nature (“The most perfect ape cannot draw an ape; only man can do that; but likewise, only man regards the ability to do this as a sign of superiority.” p. 152).

Some of the aphorisms are also hard to categorize. Here are a few of my favorites:

“The celebrated painter Gainsborough got as much pleasure from seeing violins as from hearing them.” (p.222)

“We do not think good metaphors are anything very important, but I think a good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on.” (p. 78)

“There are people who believe everything is sane and sensible that is done with a solemn face.” (p. 72)

“He who says he hates every kind of flattery, and says it in earnest, certainly does not yet know every kind of flattery.” (p.194)

I suggest approaching this book as something to gnaw on in brief sittings, rather than to sit down and attempt to “read it as book.” Would make a great coffeetable book for the thinking wo/man.