The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence
Why this book?
Academic institutions are competitive environments governed not only by the zest to enrich and transmit knowledge, but also by politics, vanity, and caprices. In many respects, they resemble life at a royal court as described by the seventeenth-century Spanish Jesuit philosopher Baltasar Gracián. His Pocket Oracle is chock-full of advice, in the form of maximally compact yet hauntingly beautifully written maxims, on how to penetrate through the appearance of things. Imbued in the art of discernment of St. Ignatius of Loyola, he repeatedly singles out the essential qualities that make possible successful choices in academic life as well, such as taste, judgment, and an eye for talent. One of his aphorisms (no. 4) is particularly dear to me: scholarship and courage make immortal, because that is what they themselves are.