The Life of the Mind:
On the Joys and Travails of Thinking
Johnson: "Sir, be as wise as you can; let a man be aliis laetus, sapiens sibi. You may be wise in your study in the morning, and gay in company at a tavern in the evening. Every man is to take of his own wisdom and his own virtue, without minding too much what others think." - Boswell, Life of Johnson
THIS is one of those unique books that you can return to again and again and always learn something new. The genius of the book is the way it approaches the gaining of wisdom from different perspectives. Thinking, walking, reading, and meditating come to mind as ideas essayed in this small book that is large in its wealth of ideas. In what perhaps could be considered the signature essay of the book, "On Taking Care of One's Own Wisdom" we learn about the importance of understanding ourselves and the world. The title is a reference to Samuel Johnson who, Schall explains, argues that each individual is "ultimately responsible for [their] own learning of what is true." He says further, "It is only by the activity of our won minds, whereby we intentionally possess the universe, that wisdom may become ours."
The essays in this book do not give or provide wisdom, but do show the ways each of us may educate ourselves. The book leans heavily on the classic authors from Aristotle to Arendt and, yes, most of them are dead, but their thoughts are still worthwhile for our edification. There are many aspects of the book that recommend it from the chapter epigraphs to the appendices and bibliography. If the essays have not stirred your mind enough Schall provides a list of twenty books "That Awaken the Mind". This is a gem of a book for readers who delight in the opportunity to engage in the search for wisdom.
The Life of the Mind by James V. Schall. ISI Books, 2008 (2006).