The Waste Books, Paperback
5 out of 5 (4 ratings)


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 264 pages
  • Publisher: The New York Review of Books, Inc
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Western philosophy, from c 1900 -
  • ISBN: 9780940322509



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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

Aphoristic brilliance. It belongs on every bedside table along with The Book of Disquiet.

Review by

Apothegms/epigrams/ruminations of a semi-obscure enlightenment scientist.

Review by

"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."

Review by

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.