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The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods Paperback – August 28, 1992
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"Discusses with a wealth of illustration and insight such subjects as the organization of the intellectual worker's time, materials, and his life; the integration of knowledge and the relation of one's specialty to general knowledge; the choice and use of reading; the discipline of memory; the taking of notes, their classification and use; and the preparation and organization of the final production." -- The Sign
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"I would put The Intellectual Life on the desk of every serious student, and most of the unserious ones. . . . We should read through this classic book, make its teachings ours after our own manner. Adapting what Sertillanges suggests to our own computer, to our own books, to our own hours of the day or night should be no problem. The book will have an abiding, concrete effect on our lives. If we follow its outlines, it will make us alive in that inner, curious, delightful way that is connoted by the words in the book's magnificent title--The Intellectual Life. I see no reason for settling for anything less. The great French Dominican still teaches us how to learn, but only if we are free enough to let him teach us."-from the Foreword by James V. Schall, S.J.
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I very much liked this book. It's a fascinating set of recommendations for those who want to focus on a particular (intellectual) task, successfully. While Newport's book is very practical, this book almost borders on the inspirational. There were definitely times when I found myself pumped up by the author's great writing style and his advice.
Sertillanges was a monk, so there is a liberal dose of Christianity throughout. Take it as you will. To me (a non-Christian), I found his evangelical advice as compelling and revealing as his practical advice.
xviii - “Do you want to do intellectual work? Begin by creating within you a zone of silence, a habit of recollection, a will to renunciation and detachment which puts you entirely at the disposal of the work; acquire that state of soul unburdened by desire and self-will which is the state of grace of the intellectual worker.”
- Self-importance means you put yourself before the work. You have to surrender to the work.
- Sertillanges says 2 hours per day of uninterrupted, deep study will do.
- LOVE is the guide. Literally - do what you love. Surrender to what you love and let it carry you. "Float downstream" in life.
- Find your GROUP!!! They can be anywhere - but it should be people who help drive you in your goal, that share a common goal, and have several people who are better than you at it!
- The phases of work are - Conceiving, planning, carrying out, and perfecting. Reduce the detours, bottlenecks, and delays!!
Page 132 - "Activity which is too intentional makes our intelligence less sure and less receptive; if we strive too anxiously, we remain shut up inside ourselves, whereas to understand is to become other, and in happy receptivity to let truth pour in upon us."
Read only what you want to retain, retain only what will be useful, and manage your brain by not cramming it absurdly.
Being a McLuhan-fan, I was astounded by what seemed like direct quotes from McLuhan (of course, it would have been the other way around) in this book. Sertillanges says that “God is a radiant center from which all points on the circumference of time are at an equal distance.” Did McLuhan see Acoustic space as GOD?…is that why he converted to Catholicism, devout Catholicism? More study will have to be done! At least I have a good plan to do that now...
My only qualification of the book is the price. Unfortunately, right now there's no way to separate comments about the publisher/format and the actual work itself. The work stands on its own. But it is a small paperback book. The price seems too high.
Among the most interesting of Sertillanges' arguments is the idea that an intellectual life must be a vocation in the sense that an individual must have an inborn desire for intellectual work, and further that a personal lacking such a call will not have the will to accomplish anything in the intellectual sphere, despite perhaps possessing great intelligence or other virtues. So the first insight is that will to do and an interest in intellectual work is the first, most important qualification, and that success or failure in an intellectual occupation is mainly an issue of disposition rather than intelligence.
Another principal argument is the idea that an intellectual has a moral obligation to the rest of mankind, and that this obligation demands that all intellectual work must have an eventual practical use for society. The same moral obligation also dictates that an intellectual should prefer a project that is within their ability to complete rather than another greater and perhaps more interesting project that is too large for their gifts, because a completed project does service to the world while an uncompleted work does not serve anyone.
Sertillanges also argues that while we should initially develop a broad intellectual base of knowledge to build upon, a deep speciality knowledge is essential to actually understanding the world. He believes that real knowledge is always a knowledge of root causes. One cannot hope to develop this knowledge by a broad survey of many subjects, but instead by endeavoring to understand at least one subject down to the fundamentals. To know one thing is necessarily to neglect others, and a certain amount of ignorance is necessary and unavoidable for a true intellectual.
Other reviewers on this site have criticized Sertillanges as being uncomfortably effusive over religious themes, and this is without a doubt a fair criticism. Additionally, many of his arguments rely on appeals to Catholic theology and morality, and it follows that readers who do not share Sertillanges' beliefs may have trouble accepting certain of his conclusions. The Catholic idea of service and good works does however adapt pretty well to a humanist paradigm, and readers who approach the work from this angle will likely be able to resolve the issue to their satisfaction.
A related criticism is that most of Sertillanges' arguments are unscientific in nature, and rely more on metaphorical examples and biographical episodes than on cause and effect or logic. This criticism is harder to answer, except to say that many of Sertillanges' conclusion really have the ring of truth when contemplated in the context of one's own education experience, and seem to be effective when put into action.
Aside from those qualifications, this book is the most insightful I've read on the topic of education and learning, and among the first rank of anything I've ever read. On an initial approach, many of Sertillanges' conclusions are ideas that you may feel that you have a decent understanding of already. There is, however, a significant functional difference between half-knowledge and actual knowledge, that is to say that you will get more out of an idea that you have developed to enough of a degree to trust in action as compared to another idea with which you are merely familiar. Additionally, many of Sertillanges conclusions share a counterintuitive element with the arguments I summarized above. For those reasons, I give this work my very highest recommendation.
Sertillanges outlines the nature of and the virtues needed for the intellectual life. He discusses the balance of the physical, mental, and social aspects of the intellectual life. Much of it centers on balancing the depth and breadth of focus: studying and recreation; sitting and walking, reading and looking around; learning and creating, etc.
Open to any random page and you are likely to read an inspiring thought in a well-turned phrase. As I read I kept imagining one sentence after another being posted to someone's Facebook status.
This is an ennobling manifesto of living a life devoted to thought.