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The Waste Books (New York Review Books…
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The Waste Books (New York Review Books Classics) (edition 2000)

by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

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304755,492 (4.42)5
Member:HadriantheBlind
Title:The Waste Books (New York Review Books Classics)
Authors:Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Info:NYRB Classics (2000), Paperback, 264 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
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The Waste Books by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

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» See also 5 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Man loves company, even if it is only that of a smouldering candle.
Lichtenberg's THE WASTE BOOKS is a book I've been dipping into for years and years. Chock-full of humorous, insightful, wise and quirky thoughts and observations, it is a great book to have on one's bedside table. Within its pages the reader will discover a mix of brilliantly crafted aphorisms, philosophical jottings and sketches, linguistic experiments, proverbs, jokes and curious phrases - 1,085 entries in all. Highly recommended to those who enjoy "wit and wisdom" in equal measure.
The most successful tempters and thus the most dangerous are the deluded deluders. - Notebook F, aphorism 120. ( )
  BlackGlove | Jan 20, 2018 |
Fantastic. ( )
  ChewingPencils | Oct 21, 2015 |
Through the wonderful Gert Hoffmann's Lichtenberg and the Little Flower Girl I came to Georg Christoph Lichtenberg's The Waste Books, which, alas! after more than a year of judiciously timed reading, I have finished. The selection of observations by this 18th-century scientist and professor was made and nimbly translated by the late R.J. Hollingdale, who also supplied admirably few notes to identify people mentioned or other specifics.

The title is Lichtenberg's own, drawn from the books which, in English business practice, transactions are entered as they occur during the day, before being transferred to permanent accounts. They're not diaries, which Lichtenberg also kept, but ideas as they occur. Not everyone enjoys this sort of noting down of the thoughts: I offer a few below, from the dozens I marked as I read, as a sample of the pleasures to be found.

The man was such an intellectual he was of almost no use. p. 55

Ideas too are a life and a world. p. 91

Presupposing we do not regard ourselves as an object of observation like a prepared specimen but always as the sum of what we now are, we are lost if we acquire too much time for reflecting on ourselves. We become aware of so much that is dismal and wretched that at the sight of it all desire to organize it or hold it together departs from us. p. 157

The Socratic method intensified -- I mean torture. p.204

1 vote V.V.Harding | Apr 21, 2015 |
I first heard of Lichtenberg in Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia, which might well be my most costly purchase of all since it gave me so many unfamiliar names to go through. The Waste Books are just that, a collection of what were called ‘waste books’ (simply notebooks in modern terms) which Lichtenberg kept over the course of his life. They consist almost entirely of aphorisms, which rarely last longer than a few lines. As such this isn’t a cohesive reading experience as there’s no pattern or progression to it but it’s one which rewards being read in bite sized chunks and with the odd line here and there left to roll around your mind. It’s one to keep by your bedside or any other places you might read and contemplate rather than attempt to plough through in a sitting or two. It’s also strikingly modern in presentation, Lichtenberg’s admirable gift of concision being one more than two hundred years ahead of his time – he’d have been an absolute natural on Twitter. By turns witty, deep and sharply observed, this is a book to make the mind fizz. ( )
2 vote JonArnold | Apr 18, 2015 |
"I have jotted down a host of little thoughts and sketches, but they are awaiting not so much a final revision as a few more glimpses of the sun that will make them blossom."

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg was a German scientist of the late 18th century, who in science is most remembered for his discovery of Lichtenberg figures, radial treelike fractal figures which arise from electrical discharge on insulating material.

If I might use an incredibly ham-fisted metaphor here, this discovery is similar to his own literary endeavors. These 'scraps' are like lightning. These may be tentative conversational musings, or pleasant little aphorisms, but you can find the earliest roots of so many other Germans from Nietzsche to Wittgenstein, on herds, the church, morality, and language. In his aphorisms, you see the roots of other German thinkers.

To be sure, Lichtenberg is a more of a multitude of a man than this, and not everything is a scathing and profound investigation of humanity. At times, he can be very funny. Let me quote three examples:

"Whenever he composes a critical review, I have been told he gets an enormous erection."
"Nowadays three witty turns of phrase and a lie make a writer."
"If countries were named after the words you first hear when you go there, England would have to be called "Damn It"."

But Lichtenberg was also a scientist, too, and the rest of his books detail a curious and questioning eye towards all philosophies, ideas, and actions. He questions, he prods, he mocks. If anything, these aphorisms serve as the means for understanding a truly scientific mind.

"Of all the animals on earth, man is closest to the ape." (Pretty revolutionary for the late 18th century!)

"Ideas too are a life and a world."

"What has always pleased me about man is that he, who himself constructs Louvres, everlasting pyramids and churches of St Peter, can take delight in observing a cell of a honey-comb or a snail-shell."

"A book is a mirror: if an ape looks into it an apostle is unlikely to look out."

"The first rule with novels as well as plays is to regard the various characters as though they were pieces in a game of chess and not to seek to win one's game by changing the laws which govern these pieces-not move a knight like a pawn, etc. Secondly, to define these characters exactly and not render them inactive in order to reach one's final goal but rather to win by allowing them to be what they are. To do otherwise really means wanting to work miracles, which are always unnatural."

“You believe I run after the strange because I do not know the beautiful; no, it is because you do not know the beautiful that I seek the strange.”

"A bound book of blank paper has a charm all of its own."

"There are very many people who read simply to prevent themselves from thinking."

"Among those things that have most made me smile is the idea entertained by certain missionaries of baptizing a whole yardful of proselytes with a fire-engine..." But I might intrude here, this was indeed done in China in the 20th century.

"Non cogitant, ergo non sunt."

"Whisper, immortal muse, of the insanity of the great."

"Is our conception of God anything more than personified incomprehensibility?"

And so forth. On Kant, fashion, the French revolution, cats, drinking, his fellow Germans, bad books, bad book reviewers, all in the same way. This is not an organized book of philosophy, but it has enough interesting ideas and buds to entertain and amuse any reader who stumbles across them.

But again, I'll leave with another little aphorisms which sums up his own book perfectly: "There is no mistaking a good book when one meets it. It is like falling in love." ( )
3 vote HadriantheBlind | Apr 7, 2013 |
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Georg Christoph Lichtenbergprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hollingdale, R. J.Introduction/Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This is the same book as LichtenbergAphorisms pub. by Penguin in 1990. ISBN 9780140448190
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0940322501, Paperback)

German scientist and man of letters Georg Christoph Lichtenberg was an 18th-century polymath: an experimental physicist, an astronomer, a mathematician, a practicing critic both of art and literature. He is most celebrated, however, for the casual notes and aphorisms that he collected in what he called his Waste Books. With unflagging intelligence and encyclopedic curiosity, Lichtenberg wittily deflates the pretensions of learning and society, examines a range of philosophical questions, and tracks his own thoughts down hidden pathways to disconcerting and sometimes hilarious conclusions.

Lichtenberg's Waste Books have been greatly admired by writers as very different as Tolstoy, Einstein, and Andre Breton, while Nietzsche and Wittgenstein acknowledged them as a significant inspiration for their own radical work in philosophy. The record of a brilliant and subtle mind in action, The Waste Books are above all a powerful testament to the necessity, and pleasure, of unfettered thought.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:01 -0400)

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