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The Waste Books (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – September 30, 2000

4.7 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Scientific American

Odd title, unusual book. Lichtenberg (1742-1799) was a German polymath: astronomer, experimental physicist, mathematician and critic of art and literature. In his student days he began the lifelong practice of recording his thoughts, observations and reminders in notebooks that he called Sudelb¸cher after the "waste books" in which English business houses of the time entered transactions temporarily until they could be recorded in formal account books. By the end of his life he had accumulated 11 Sudelb¸cher, which he labeled as volumes A through L (skipping I). Hollingdale, a translator of Nietzsche, Goethe and Schopenhauer, has translated the notebooks. Here he presents excerpts, focusing on what he says are best called aphorisms. Lichtenberg turns out to be quite an aphorist, repeatedly surprising and entertaining the modern reader. Examples: "Whenever he was required to use his reason he felt like someone who had always used his right hand but was now required to do something with his left." "You can make a good living from soothsaying but not from truthsaying." "The book which most deserved to be banned would be a catalog of banned books." "Astronomy is perhaps the science whose discoveries owe least to chance, in which human understanding appears in its whole magnitude, and through which man can best learn how small he is."

EDITORS OF SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

Review

''Among the great achievements of the German spirit.'' -- Gordon Craig, author of The Germans

''One of the most compulsively readable books to come out of the 18th-century German Enlightenment.'' -- The Vancouver Sun
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Main edition (September 30, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940322501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322509
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #283,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By KC Tang on October 11, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Lichtenberg truly observes and thinks, forgive my cliched phrase, with a child's wonder. Thinking and Observing are, for him, downright entertainment not, as for most of us, labour-work. Even such strict critics as Schopenhauer and Nietszche have to off-hat to this unusual man.

One point to note for this translation: Mr. Hollingdale sometimes omits some part of an aphorism without obvious reasons. Take the first aphorism as an example: the translation reads:'the great artifice of regarding small deviations from the truch as being the truth itself is at the same time the foundation of wit...'; while the original is 'Der grosse Kunstgriff, kleine Abweichungen von der Wahrheit fur die Wahrheit selbst zu halten, worauf die ganze Differentialrechnung gebaut ist, ist auch zugleich der Grund unserer witzigen Gedanken...'; why the phrase 'worauf die ganze Differentialrechnung gebaut ist' is not translated? Sometimes Lichtenberg's idea just keeps rambling, and it makes sense on the translator's part to cut it short, but in some cases Mr. Hollingdale's chopping puzzles me.

All the same, this edition is a valuable one, supplementing the "Lichtenberg Reader" translated, edited and introduced by Franz H. Mautner and Henry Hatfield. Readers who have German can consult the 4-vol. "Schriften und Briefe" edited by Wolfgang Promies (with 2 useful vol.s of "Kommentar"; Hanser Verlag, 1967).

I guess any lover of Lichtenberg would often murmur to themselves: 'May this wonderful man be better known!' And I think this translation has served well to make Lichtenberg better known in many parts of the world.
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For those that tire of Montaigne or need to weed out the bad parts from the Oxford Book of Aphorisms, this title nearly does the job. Its one downside is that it is themed on the idea of thoughts which are not primary.

However, I find hints in here, just as the description says, of a deep influence. It is wittier than most sources, and the quality of thought is rather high. Some may be disappointed at how dirty and uncut these thoughts seem, but in a way it's a good quality. To paraphrase one of Lichtenberg's enigmatic quotations, 'the work wouldn't get done if we did a good job'.

Excellent overall, but less striking than Friedrich Nietzsche or Elias Canetti.
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"The American who first discovered Columbus made a bad discovery." This is a cynic notation considering the fate of the Red Indians. "A handful of soldiers is always better than a mouthful of arguments..." sounds like George W. Bush - but is written down by Professor (not Condoleezza Rice), by Professor Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, 1742-1799. He has been a philosopher, but his writing-style was more comfortable to any reader, than the work of the other German genius of that time: Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Lichtenberg loved the ideas of the French Enlightenment and he tried to explain the ideas of empiric science with humor. He was critical against Christian dogmatics. He once shortly noted: "An Amen face." Or longer: "Nothing offers me such clear proof of how things stand in the world of learning than the circumstance that Spinoza was for so long regarded as an evil, worthless person and his opinions as dangerous." Lichtenberg has been a philosopher - but writing with esprit. If you can tolerate his bile, buy his book: "Who has two pairs of trousers turn one of them into cash and purchase this book." But bear in mind: "A book is a mirror: if an ape looks into it, - an apostle is unlikely to look out!"
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Good book, fast shipping. Fun to read and it doesn't matter if you put it down and pick it back up. A book you can read or reread and still enjoy. Witty and smart even in current day.
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This is an amazing book. I would never have found it if it weren't for a class I was taking but i would recommend it to anyone who loves to expand their mind.
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