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The Art of Worldly Wisdom summary

Baltasar Gracián y Morales

A Pocket Oracle

4.2 (477 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián y Morales is a philosophical and practical guide to living a successful, fulfilling life. It offers timeless advice on topics ranging from politics to personal relationships.

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    The Art of Worldly Wisdom
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    Key idea 1 of 4

    Creating and nurturing lasting friendships is key to success.

    Let’s start off with a maxim that’s as simple as it is important: “have friends.” Sure, this seems obvious, but there’s a reason Gracián thought it was important to include. This is because the advantages of having friends aren’t necessarily as simplistic as you think. And as you’ll see, how you go about choosing your friends has a big impact on your place in the world.

    Gracián recommends trying to make a new friend every day. Even if it only results in a new acquaintance rather than a future confidant, this is an important act. If you find this difficult, then Gracián has some advice – the best way to make friends is to already act like their friend. Apply this principle to your in-person or online communications to more effectively form new friendships.

    Now, although Gracián definitely recommends casting your net wide, this doesn’t mean all friendships are created equal. In fact, you should be careful when choosing which of your friends you trust the most or those you spend the most time with. One factor to consider is that there are usually two types of friends – friends of talent, and friends of humor. Although you might value a humorous friend for the entertainment they provide you, spending time with them might have negative consequences. This is because when observed in their company, others might assume that you too are only of humorous value or, as Gracián bluntly puts it, a fool.

    To make sure this doesn’t happen, be sure also to surround yourself with talented people. Gracián even thought that if you simply spent time around people more intelligent than yourself, you would supernaturally receive some of their intelligence. While we now know that that isn’t true psychologically speaking, we can’t deny that we are influenced and inspired by those we spend time with.

    For example, take a moment to examine the lives of some of today’s most successful people. What do they all have in common? They all associate themselves with other successful people. What’s more is that in many cases, they were doing so before they made their big breaks. This is because if you cultivate a network of outstanding, talented people, it will lead to a number of knock-on effects. One of these has to do with learning. When you run into problems or need advice, having a network of thriving people around you means you’ll never be short of advice or solutions. Your constant learning and gathering of experience means that, one day, you too will be able to share your knowledge with others.

    So, now that you know who you should be seeking out to be your close friends, how do you go about cultivating these friendships? Gracián presents numerous tips on how to do so, and we’ll go through three of these.

    First and foremost, don’t hold onto your views too firmly.  Sometimes, conceding a point or accepting you’re wrong can be integral to maintaining rapport and social standing. If you’re too harsh in defending all your positions all the time, your social reputation will suffer. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to give in on everything. You undoubtedly have existential and deep-rooted opinions that shape the core of your identity, and no good friend should expect you to change them. But when it comes to everything else, don’t waste too much social capital arguing with friends.

    The second way you can maintain and deepen friendships is by not talking about yourself. For some of us, this can be hard. But, as Gracián explains, talking about yourself often leads to being perceived as either vain or meek. This is because focusing on yourself can easily lead to excessive self-praise – or self-criticism.

    Finally, the third principle behind cultivating friendships is to avoid being boring. This sounds rather obvious, but for Gracián, it’s key to social relations. He notes that when you associate with people at the top of their field, not being boring becomes even more important. This is because successful people are often very busy, meaning that they’re even more annoyed with people who they feel are wasting their limited time. So, make an effort to practice brevity and variety when conversing with friends. As Gracián says, “good things, if brief: twice good.” On the flip side, “badness, if short, isn’t so bad.”

    Sadly, even the best of friendships sometimes come to an end. It’s in situations like these where you have to be very careful – the closer the friend, the worse the future detractor if things end badly. So take care when it comes to ending friendships. Take a gentle, forgiving approach if at all possible, and avoid saying anything offensive that might come back to haunt you.

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    What is The Art of Worldly Wisdom about?

    The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647) is a timeless self-help classic. Comprising 300 short but brilliant maxims, it sheds light on how to live your life, achieve success, and win respect. It has remained consistently relevant throughout its nearly 400-year publication history, inspiring the likes of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche.

    The Art of Worldly Wisdom Review

    The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647) is a timeless masterpiece that offers valuable insights into achieving success and navigating the complexities of life. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It provides practical advice that can be applied to various aspects of life, helping readers make better decisions and navigate social situations with finesse.
    • Rich in wisdom and wit, it offers thought-provoking reflections on human nature and the dynamics of power, making it intellectually stimulating and relevant.
    • With its concise yet profound aphorisms, the book captures the essence of life's intricacies, keeping readers engaged and eager to explore its timeless wisdom.

    Who should read The Art of Worldly Wisdom?

    • Anyone looking for time-tested wisdom on how to live a better life;
    • Curious minds interested in the subtle art of giving and receiving favors; and
    • Self-help fans wanting to see how little the genre has changed over the centuries.

    About the Author

    Baltasar Gracián was a seventeenth-century Spanish Jesuit priest, philosopher, and novelist. Over the centuries, his Art of Worldly Wisdom has been reprinted countless times in over a dozen languages. In 1992, a new English translation sold over 200,000 copies and topped the American best-seller list.

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    The Art of Worldly Wisdom FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Art of Worldly Wisdom?

    The main message of The Art of Worldly Wisdom is to navigate life with intelligence, strategy, and practicality.

    How long does it take to read The Art of Worldly Wisdom?

    Reading time for The Art of Worldly Wisdom varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in 15 minutes.

    Is The Art of Worldly Wisdom a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Art of Worldly Wisdom is worth reading for its insightful advice on navigating life's challenges efficiently and effectively.

    Who is the author of The Art of Worldly Wisdom?

    The author of The Art of Worldly Wisdom is Baltasar Gracián y Morales.

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