Andrew Burke

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iPad-Friendly eBooks of Gracian's Art of Worldly Wisdom
Posted on: 2010-10-13

(This is cross-posted from my business/technology blog at shindigital.com).

While waiting for my iOS diary app Remembary to hit the App Store, I decided to put together an eBook version of Balthazar Gracian's "Art of Worldly Wisdom".

The Art of Worldly Wisdom - ePub Version

The Art of Worldly Wisdom - PDF Version

(If you like this and want to show some appreciation, take a look at Remembary and consider buying it from the App Store. If you're the kind of person who is interested in Gracian, it's likely you're the kind of person who would be interested in Remembary.)

I came across Balthazar Gracian's "The Art of Worldly Wisdom" several years ago - mostly from this 43Folders post. Gracian was a 17th-century Spanish courtier, solider, diplomat, writer, and Jesuit priest (among other things) and "The Art of Worldly Wisdom" is a collection of 300 brief paragraph-long essays on how to make your way through a world of public exposure and powerful people.

It turns out that human nature hasn't changed much over the centuries - in fact, the only major thing that has changed is that many more people now have to deal with the kinds of power politics that Gracian describes. In Golden Age Spain, this advice was useful for diplomats, courtiers, and members of the aristocracy. Nowadays this advice is useful for anybody who has to deal with office politics, or who works with the rich and the powerful, or who runs a business, or who has to manage their public image (i.e. anybody with a blog, or a Twitter or Facebook account).

Even if you don't find it immediately applicable to your own life, this book provides a useful guide to the behaviours of politicians and CEOs and other modern 'Ruling Class' figures.

Note that this book is not called "The Art of Heavenly Wisdom" - in other words, it's not about pursuing the abstract Good, but instead it's about how to survive in the real world. This means that much of his advice is jarringly practical - Machiavellian, even. Gracian doesn't produce a completely coherent system - it is easy to find contradictions in his advice - but that once again reflects the 'Worldly' nature of the book.

I'm not a particularly Machiavellian person, and I've been very careful in my personal and professional life to avoid situations with a lot of interpersonal politics - but I find this book endlessly fascinating.

The Art of Worldly Wisdom is a refreshing change in a world of business and life advice dominated by books filled with simplistic platitudes or outright lies like "Who Moved My Cheese" and "The Secret". Gracian is not a motivational speaker who will tell you that the secret to success is to make lots of to-do lists and to think positive thoughts - instead he says things like this:

Attempt Easy Tasks as if They Were Difficult, and Difficult as if They Were Easy. In the one case that confidence may not fall asleep, in the other that it may not be dismayed. For a thing to remain undone nothing more is needed than to think it done. On the other hand, patient industry overcomes impossibilities. Great undertakings are not to be brooded over, lest their difficulty when seen causes despair.

Do not Become Bad from Sheer Goodness. That is, by never getting into a temper. Such men without feeling are scarcely to be considered men. It does not always arise from laziness, but from sheer inability. To feel strongly on occasion is something personal: birds soon mock at the mawkin. It is a sign of good taste to combine bitter and sweet. All sweets is diet for children and fools. It is very bad to sink into such insensibility out of very goodness.

Make an Obligation Beforehand of What Would Have to be a Reward Afterwards. This is a stroke of subtle policy; to grant favours before they are deserved is a proof of being obliging. Favours thus granted beforehand have two great advantages: the promptness of the gift obliges the recipient the more strongly; and the same gift which would afterwards be merely a reward is beforehand an obligation. This is a subtle means of transforming obligations, since that which would have forced the superior to reward is changed into one that obliges the one obliged to satisfy the obligation. But this is only suitable for men who have the feeling of obligation, since with men of lower stamp the honorarium paid beforehand acts rather as a bit than as a spur.

I've given out many copies of this short book to many colleagues and friends: people who are starting businesses, who are working inside entrenched bureaucracies, who are suffering through poisonous office politics, or who are showing themselves more on the public stage. Now that I have an iPad, I wanted to get a version of this book onto it, for quick reference any time. However, the only version I could find was a poorly formatted Kindle edition that I didn't find particularly readable.

Since the text is in the public domain (written in the 17th century, translated in the 19th), I decided to make my own version. I removed the introductory essay, the quotes, and the footnotes - anything that wasn't just the Wisdom itself - and put each saying on its own page. I then saved it in PDF and ePub formats (easy to do with iWork's latest version of Pages).

To get these texts onto your iPad, download them to your computer, and then drag them into the 'Books' part of iTunes. The next time you sync up your iPad, the new books will show up.

Some versions of the text have the first lines of each essay highlighted as titles, but this seems to have been done after the fact, and doesn't work in all cases. So in the PDF version I merged them back into the body of the text. However, Pages uses headings to automatically build a table of contents for ePub, so I separated the headings back out for the ePub version.

The original source text is from The Internet Sacred Text Archive, who did a great job with the initial scanning and OCR - give them a visit and consider buying their CDs, eBooks, or coffee mugs!

Feel free to download and enjoy these texts. Let me know what you think. I'm sure there are some typos and OCR errors still in there, which I can fix if you let me know.

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