Book Review: “The Waste Books” by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

“Merchants have a waste-book (Sudelbuch, Klitterbuch, I think it is in German) in which they enter from day to day everything they have bought and sold, all mixed up together in disorder; from this it is transferred to the journal, in which everything is arranged more systematically;  and finally it arrives in the ledger…This deserves to be imitated by the scholar. First a book in which to inscribe everything just as I see it or as my thoughts prompt me, then this is transferred to another where the materials are more ordered and segregated, and the ledger can then contain a connected construction and the elucidation of the subject that flows from it expressed is an orderly fashion.”

—Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books. New York: New York Review Books, 2000.

Not recommended. It’s a commonplace book that has some gems in it, but the audience for this book is a small one. The idea of a waste book is a good one.

Here is a sampling of quotes I liked:

“The frogs were much happier under King Log than they were under King Stork.”

“It is almost impossible to bear the torch of truth through a crowd without singeing someone’s beard.”

“Let’s let the grass grow over it.”

“I have had all last year’s newspapers bound up together, and the effect of reading them is indescribable: 50 parts false hopes, 47 parts false prophecies, and 3 parts truth.”

“What most clearly characterizes true freedom and its true employment is its misemployment.”