The Art of Worldly Wisdom

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

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by Joseph Jacobs, Baltasar Gracian

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This perenially popular book of advice on how to achieve personal and professional success is valued for its timeless insights on how to make one's way in the world. Written in the seventeenth century by a Spanish Jesuit scholar, the teachings are strikingly modern in tone and address universal concerns such as friendship, morality, effective leadership, and how to


This perenially popular book of advice on how to achieve personal and professional success is valued for its timeless insights on how to make one's way in the world. Written in the seventeenth century by a Spanish Jesuit scholar, the teachings are strikingly modern in tone and address universal concerns such as friendship, morality, effective leadership, and how to manage one's emotions. The Art of Worldly Wisdom is for anyone seeking to combine ethical behavior with worldly success.

This edition includes an introduction by Willis Barnstone, former Distinguished Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Indiana University. Barnstone, a noted translator, critic, and poet, explores Gracian's background and places him within his historical and literary context. Like Sun Tzu's Art of War, Machiavelli's Prince, and Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, Gracian's Art of Worldly Wisdom is one of those rare books that serve as enlightening guides and companions for life.

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Shambhala Publications, Inc.
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Shambhala Publications
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is at its peak of perfection. This is especially true of the art of making
one's way in the world. There is more required nowadays to make a single wise
person than formerly to make the Seven Sages of ancient Greece, and more is
needed nowadays to deal with a single person than was required with a whole
people in former times.


and intellect. These are the two poles of our capacity; one without the other
is but halfway to happiness. Intellect is not enough, character is also
needed. On the other hand, it is the fool's misfortune to fail in obtaining
the position, employment, neighborhood, and circle of friends of his choice.


matters for a time in suspense. Admiration at their novelty heightens the
value of your achievements. It is both useless and insipid to play with your
cards on the table. If you do not declare yourself immediately, you arouse
expectation, especially when the importance of your position makes you the
object of general attention. Mix a little mystery with everything, and the
very mystery arouses veneration. And when you explain, do not be too explicit,
just as you do not expose your inmost thoughts in ordinary conversation.
Cautious silence is the sacred sanctuary of worldly wisdom. A resolution
declared is never highly thought of—it only leaves room for criticism. And if
it happens to fail, you are doubly unfortunate. Besides, you imitate the
divine way when you inspire people to wonder and watch.


and courage. These are the elements of greatness. Because they are immortal
they bestow immortality. Each is as much as he knows, and the wise can do
anything. A person without knowledge is in a world without light. Wisdom and
strength are the eyes and the hands. Knowledge without courage is sterile.


people depend on you. It is not he that adorns but he that adores that makes a
divinity. The wise person would rather see others needing him than thanking
him. To keep them on the threshold of hope is diplomatic, to trust to their
gratitude is boorish; hope has a good memory, gratitude a bad one. More is to
be got from dependence than from courtesy. He that has satisfied his thirst
turns his back on the well, and the orange once squeezed falls from the golden
platter into the waste basket. When dependence disappears good behavior goes
with it, as well as respect. Let it be one of the chief lessons of experience
to keep hope alive without entirely satisfying, by preserving it to make
oneself always needed, even by a patron on the throne. But do not carry
silence in excess or you will go wrong, nor let another's failing grow
incurable for the sake of your own advantage.


person at his peak. We are not born perfect. Every day we develop in our
personality and in our profession until we reach the highest point of our
completed being, to the full round of our accomplishments and of our
excellences. This is known by the purity of our taste, the clearness of our
thought, the maturity of our judgment, and the firmness of our will. Some
never arrive at being complete—something is always lacking. Others ripen
late. The complete person—wise in speech, prudent in act—is admitted to the
familiar intimacy of discreet people and is even sought out by them.


outshining your superiors. All victories breed hate, and that over your
superior is foolish or fatal. Preeminence is always detested, especially over
those who are in high positions. Caution can gloss over common advantages.
For example, good looks may be cloaked by careless attire. There are some that
will grant you superiority in good luck or good temper, but none in good sense,
least of all a prince—for good sense is a royal prerogative and any claim of
superiority in that is a crime against majesty. They are princes, and wish to
be so in that most princely of qualities. They will allow someone to help them
but not to surpass them. So make any advice given to them appear like a
recollection of something they have only forgotten rather than as a guide to
something they cannot find. The stars teach us this finesse with happy tact;
though they are his children and brilliant like him, they never rival the
brilliance of the sun.


without passions. This is the highest quality of the mind. The very eminence
redeems us from being affected by transient and low impulses. There is no
higher rule than that over oneself, over one's impulses; there is no higher
triumph than over your free will. When passion rules your character do not let
it threaten your position, especially if it is a high one. It is the only
refined way of avoiding trouble and the shortest way back to a good reputation.


the faults of your nation. Water shares the good and bad qualities of the
channels through which it flows and people share those of the climate in which
they are born. Some owe more than others to their native land, because there
is a more favorable sky in the zenith. There is not a nation among even the
most civilized that has not some fault peculiar to itself that other nations
blame by way of boast or as a warning. It is a triumph of cleverness to
correct oneself in such failings, or even to hide them. You get a great credit
for being unique among your fellows because what is less expected is esteemed
all the more. There are also family failings as well as faults of positions,
of office, or of age. If these all meet in one person and are not carefully
guarded against, they make an intolerable monster.


and fame. Where the one is fickle and the other is enduring. The first is for
life, the second is for the next; fortune against envy, fame against oblivion.
Fortune is desired, and sometimes nurtured, but fame is earned. The desire for
fame springs from virtue. Fame was and is the sister of the giants; it always
goes to the extremes—either horrible monsters or brilliant prodigies.

Meet the Author

Joseph Jacobs (1856–1916), the translator, was a prominent scholar, literary critic, and folklorist, best remembered for his brilliant retellings of traditional legends and folktales.

Baltasar Gracián was an aphorist, imaginary biographer, and novelist, who published studies of ideal figures and handbooks on the arts of rhetoric and comportment. His books include The Hero, Shrewdness and the Art of the Artist, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, and The Master Critic. Many high officials felt attacked by the controversial and critical works of this Jesuit priest-professor. Gracián refused to be censored, and was eventually confined to solitary house arrest, where he died.

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The Art of Worldly Wisdom (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Jeffreythebookworm More than 1 year ago
I collect "wisdom books" of all types. They must meet certain criteria. (1) they must meed the demands of a busy life; (2) they must have ideas that are immediately accessible -- no time to "dig;" (3) they must be well written; (4)they must be written in a spirit of education and personal growth, and (5) they must not be just a set of techniques. I agree with the philosopher Schopenhauer's assessment--that this book teaches lessons that would otherwise require a lifetime to learn. The author was a high ranking Jesuit, and his dual focus is on devotion as well as the maneuverings necessary to stay out of trouble with the types of personalities everyone must deal with on the job. The book helps the reader to keep egg off his/her face, avoid gaffes, observe the changing environment carefully, avoid getting ripped off by glib talkers and hare brained schemes, and to get along with superiors in most, and even viscious, circumstances. I think this book should be required reading of everyone, along with Aesop's Fables and the Book of Proverbs.
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Legate_Scipio More than 1 year ago
This work is brilliant even centuries after its writing. It offers sound wisdom for social interaction. It seems to convey that while times change and technologies progress, two variables always remains constant--self and other people. This book seeks to teach proper conduct of one's self and on dealing with others.
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tlt- More than 1 year ago
clever to the point of genius, perhaps the greatest aphorist of all time.
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DonnaMom1 More than 1 year ago
I haven't finished the book yet, but I am really enjoying reading it. It is amazing how the advice is so timeless. Sometimes I have to reread the passage to grasp its full meaning, but it is definitely worth it. I keep it by my bedside and try to read a page or two every night.
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Janus More than 1 year ago
A collection of 300 anecdotes, Gracian's The Art of Worldly Wisdom is for the most part, relevant even today. The reader will find many inspiring words to live by. However, each anecdote starts with the central idea Gracian is trying to convey, but quickly degrades into an exercise in verboseness. I would suggest only reading the first sentence or two of each one. That's the important part anyways.