The most recommended aphorism books

Who picked these books? Meet our 10 experts.

10 authors created a book list connected to aphorism, and here are their favorite aphorism books.
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Book cover of The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence

Holger Gzella Author Of Aramaic: A History of the First World Language

From my list on becoming a scholar.

Why am I passionate about this?

I hold the chair of Old Testament at the Faculty of Catholic Theology at Munich University in Germany. My main area of expertise is Semitic languages, though, which is also the field for which I previously held a chair at Leiden University in the Netherlands for fifteen years (eventually, however, Munich made me an offer one cannot refuse). Hence my main occupation concerns the interpretation of ancient texts in exotic languages such as Hebrew, Aramaic, Phoenician, and others, mostly at the baseline of individual words, grammatical forms, and syntactic constructions. Despite the seemingly dry, specialized character of my work, it is, in my view, a lifestyle rather than a job. 

Holger's book list on becoming a scholar

Holger Gzella Why did Holger love 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.

By Baltasar Gracián,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A unique collection of advice for life, Baltasar Gracian's The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence is a philosophical gem, and perhaps the first 'self-help' book ever written. This Penguin Classics edition is translated from the Spanish with an introduction by Jeremy Robbins.

Written over 350 years ago, The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence is a subtle collection of 300 witty and thought-provoking aphorisms. From the art of being lucky to the healthy use of caution, these elegant maxims were created as a guide to life, with further suggestions given on cultivating good taste, knowing how to refuse, the…


Book cover of The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert

Brian Castro Author Of The Garden Book

From my list on writing that falls between the cracks of genre.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an aficionado of lost objects, lost time, afterlives; of writing which never “fitted” its era. Examples would be that of John Aubrey, Herman Melville, Fernando Pessoa, Djuna Barnes, Elizabeth Hardwick, Ralph Ellison… the list goes on. I look for writing that has stood the test of time, not celebrated for the fame and bling of the moment. I look for the futile products of those who possessed genius, but who never earned enough readers until decades or centuries later, once they were released from the prison-house of genre. I look for the posthumous brilliance of language; the phosphoric glow of its offerings and of the buried treasures found therein.

Brian's book list on writing that falls between the cracks of genre

Brian Castro Why did Brian love this book?

Joubert (1754-1824), was not published until 114 years after his death. These notebooks are neither diaries nor memoirs, neither essays nor aphorisms, but enigmas worthy of much ponder. He was uncompromisingly seeking an afterlife for the source of his writing and language, and he pretty much discovered that in the cracks of insight. For example: those who make laws can’t plant crops. One has to apply names to things: I have many forms for ideas, but not enough forms for phrases.

He is a writer’s writer, since he insists on close and silent and above all, slow reading. 

Book cover of The Diaries of Franz Kafka

B.W. Powe Author Of Ladders Made of Water

From B.W.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer-Reader Author Poet (aspiring) Storyteller Teacher

B.W.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

B.W. Powe Why did B.W. love this book?

In late high-heat summer, I sat reading in the forest-park near our house in our Ontario town. While my daughter played with her friends, I delved into Kafka’s Diaries. Another parent passed by. “What’re you reading?” she asked. “My bible,” I said. “Oh? …Which version?” “Kafka’s,” I said.

I took K.’s book everywhere through the fall. A task. It’s 670 pages, in a large-sized format.
Why Kafka years into the 21st century? There is K.: he’s endured, prevailed in his tragi-absurd precognitions of tyrannical systems. “And yet. No ‘and yet’”, he wrote: his prophetic presence looms over what we do to harm our world and psyches.

He reminds us of the serious undertaking called Writing, and of the necessary accompanying private process, Reading. (Do we need reminding? Maybe, and maybe not.) To K., our trials—to adapt his word—turn us toward experience—its suffering, its muting extravagances—and to exorcising dreams and…

By Franz Kafka, Ross Benjamin (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Diaries of Franz Kafka as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An essential new translation of the author's complete, uncensored diaries - a revelation of the idiosyncrasies and rough edges of one of the twentieth century's most influential writers

'The writing glimmers with sensitivity, and openness to the world' - The Wall Street Journal

Dating from 1909 to 1923, Franz Kafka's Diaries contains a broad array of writing, including accounts of daily events, assorted reflections and observations, literary sketches, drafts of letters, records of dreams, and unrevised texts of stories. This volume makes available for the first time in English a comprehensive reconstruction of Kafka's handwritten diary entries and provides substantial…


Book cover of Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits

Vasilis Grollios Author Of Negativity and Democracy: Marxism and the Critical Theory Tradition

From my list on critical theory, fetishism, and irrationality.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ι have a passion for critical theory since I was intrigued by the idea, which originates in Marx’s Capital, that what limits our freedom and democracy is not the apparent personified power hold by the state and politicians. On the contrary, real power lies in capital, that's in abstract labour, which is the labour that must succumb to the standards of time is money, that runs through each one of us. Therefore, in my postdoctoral research in the last 13 years, I have attempted to follow this idea in the history of political philosophy. During my research, I realized that the mainstream reading of Marxism and critical theory is far from what it should be. 

Vasilis' book list on critical theory, fetishism, and irrationality

Vasilis Grollios Why did Vasilis love this book?

Nietzsche demystifies the idea that the state provides stability and certainty in our lives and, as a result, the concept that is necessary. He has a dialectic between phenomenon and essence, for which the state is the social form that corresponds to the alienation we experience in our everyday life in capitalism. Thus, as a corresponding social form to the mass culture, it reiterates our unfreedom. Nietzsche holds a concept of fetishization that brings him much closer to critical Marxism than previously thought. 

By Friedrich Nietzsche,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Human, All Too Human as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This remarkable collection of almost 1,400 aphorisms was originally published in three instalments. The first (now Volume I) appeared in 1878, just before Nietzsche abandoned academic life, with a first supplement entitled The Assorted Opinions and Maxims following in 1879, and a second entitled The Wanderer and his Shadow a year later. In 1886 Nietzsche republished them together in a two-volume edition, with new prefaces to each volume. Both volumes are presented here in R. J. Hollingdale's distinguished translation (originally published in the series Cambridge Texts in German Philosophy) with a new introduction by Richard Schacht. In this wide-ranging work…


Book cover of Chronicles of the Vikings

Else Roesdahl Author Of The Vikings

From my list on the day-to-day life of Vikings.

Why am I passionate about this?

Else Roesdahl has a life-long passion for Vikings. She is emerita professor of Medieval Archaeology at Aarhus University, Denmark, and has travelled all over the Viking world and taken part in many excavations. She has also organized major international Viking Exhibitions and published academic as well as popular books, for which she has been awarded several prizes.

Else's book list on the day-to-day life of Vikings

Else Roesdahl Why did Else love this book?

There is no better way to get to know the Vikings than by their own sayings and other contemporary descriptions and stories. This book is a carefully chosen and lively selection of extracts of such sources, from their own rune-stone inscriptions, intriguing poetry and historic writings to English, German and Russian accounts – all set in their context and divided into topics such as ‘All sorts of conditions for men’, ‘Myth, Religion and Superstition’, ‘The Heroic life’ – and ‘The unheroic life’.

By R.I. Page,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chronicles of the Vikings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Vikings are not known for their literate legacy. Little of what they once inscribed in runes on wood, bone, and stone has survived. However these runic inscriptions are a valuable primary source of information on the Viking Age. They alow us to see the Vikings from their own point of view, unlike the records of prejudiced observers who saw the Vikings only as savage invaders. Chronicles of the Vikings attempts to show the Vikings through their own writings: runic inscriptions left behind, poems of their official skalds, literary works that entertained them, the few prose historical accounts that derive…


Book cover of The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus

Henry Virgin Author Of Exit Rostov

From my list on psychological enquiry in alternative formats.

Why am I passionate about this?

Certain books have the ability to inspire you or help you go beyond the boundaries of your understanding, to teach you something new or to show you how to look at things differently, to alter and enhance your perception. Each of these texts have encouraged and enchanted me, with hard-won truths. I appreciate the style of writing which draws you further and further into the author's psyche, and thus into your own, like deep diving into uncharted depths. Also, as someone who tries to write poetry and prose, I find each of these writers have a refreshing and interesting technique and method of communicating their thoughts and ideas.

Henry's book list on psychological enquiry in alternative formats

Henry Virgin Why did Henry love this book?

As Cyril Connolly himself writes, "What follows are the doubts and reflections of a year, a word-cycle in three or four rhythms; art, love, nature and religion: an experiment in self dismantling..." This fragmentary method of writing, with quotes, aphorisms, epigrams, allusions, from a litany of great writers, thinkers, and diarists, with sudden reflections on love, the loss of love, spirituality, desire, literature, art, and psychology are the collected musings of Cyril Connolly, first published in 1944 in Horizon, the magazine he was founder and editor for.  My favourite parts of his writing are the plentiful poetic depictions of the scene, usually with the aid of perspicacious and evocative lists, revealing the interior life of the poetic author: "Dead leaves, coffee grounds, grenadine, tabac Maryland, mental expectation - perfumes of the Nord-Sud; autumn arrival at Pigalle..." 

This book is a literary sketch or prayer book, overflowing with ideas and…

By Cyril Connolly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Unquiet Grave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This enduring classic is "a book which, no matter how many readers it will ever have, will never have enough" (Ernest Hemingway).

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) was one of the most influential book reviewers and critics in England, contributing regularly to The New Statesmen, The Observer, and The Sunday Times. His essays have been collected in book form and published to wide acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. The Unquiet Grave is considered by many to be his most enduring work. It is a highly personal journal written during the devastation of World War II, filled with reflective passages that…


Book cover of How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

Guy McPherson Author Of Killing the Natives: A Retrospective Analysis

From Guy's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Professor Teacher Adventurer Traveler Researcher

Guy's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Guy McPherson Why did Guy love this book?

In this book, Bakewell describes the philosophy of Michel de Montaigne in, as she writes, one question and twenty attempts at an answer.

Although I spent much of my time during the early 1990s reading philosophy, I read little of Montaigne’s work. I had focused on the writing of the ancient Greeks and, as a result, I had failed to notice the important work of Montaigne. Bakewell’s clever, question-based approach is engaging.

I strongly recommend it, even if you are familiar with philosophy and Montaigne’s abundance of writing.

By Sarah Bakewell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How to Live as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How to get on well with people, how to deal with violence, how to adjust to losing someone you love? How to live?

This question obsessed Renaissance nobleman Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-92), who wrote free-roaming explorations of his thought and experience, unlike anything written before. Into these essays he put whatever was in his head: his tastes in wine and food, his childhood memories, the way his dog's ears twitched when it was dreaming, events in the appalling civil wars raging around him. The Essays was an instant bestseller, and over four hundred years later, readers still come to…


Book cover of Welcome to the Grief Club: Because You Don't Have to Go Through It Alone

Colin Campbell Author Of Finding the Words: Working Through Profound Loss with Hope and Purpose

From my list on helping cope with grief and loss.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve sat in many grief circles and listened to fellow grievers share their pain at being abandoned or misunderstood by their friends and families as they grieve. Often we suffer the secondary loss of community because our culture has not taught us how to grieve or how to be a friend to those in grief. My wife and I found some invaluable tools that helped us communicate our needs to our community, and keep them close on our grief journey. One of those tools is grief books. I’ve read dozens of them, and while everyone responds to grief books differently, I think these five books are the very best.

Colin's book list on helping cope with grief and loss

Colin Campbell Why did Colin love this book?

This book is a wonderful practical guide to grieving that is accompanied by charming illustrations from the author. This might make it sound child-like or cutsie, but it’s not at all.

It’s an honest and fierce guide that doesn’t use any cheesy aphorisms or simplistic clichés about grief. It tells it like it is, but with kindness and hope. It helped me feel not so alone.

By Janine Kwoh,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Welcome to the Grief Club as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Welcome to the Grief Club--a place where one human who experienced a terrible loss, Janine Kwoh, is at the door to welcome other humans who are grieving. It is not an instruction manual, or a step-by-step playbook, or a memoir. It is, rather, a fresh, empathetic approach to all of the surprising, confusing, brutal, funny, and downright bizarre parts of grief. Combining her own experiences with grief--the author's partner died when both were in their late 20s--with what she learned from others in her "grief club," Kwoh uses brief writings and observations, hand-drawn illustrations, and diagrams to explore all the…


Book cover of The Beckoning World: A Novel

Kathleen Stone Author Of They Called Us Girls: Stories of Female Ambition from Suffrage to Mad Men

From Kathleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Lawyer Mother

Kathleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Kathleen Stone Why did Kathleen love this book?

This is a novel about a young man who must decide between pursuing a career in baseball or marrying a woman he loves, the daughter of a midwestern farming family.

The author knows what it’s really like to live on a farm in Iowa, and it shows. His characters fully inhabit that world. Although the story is about one man’s ambition, love, and uncertainties, it’s capacious enough that we all can see ourselves in it.

The story encompasses heartbreak and hope and is written subtly and with insight. It’s the kind of book that keeps you thinking long after you finish it.

By Douglas Bauer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Beckoning World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Beckoning World is set in the first quarter of the twentieth century and follows Earl Dunham. His weeks are comprised of six days mining coal, followed by Sundays playing baseball. Then one day a major-league scout happens on a game, signs Earl, and he begins a life he had no idea he could even dream.

But dreams sometimes suffer from a lovely abundance, and in Earl's case her name is Emily Marchand. They fall quickly and deeply in love, but with that love comes heartbreaking complications.

The Beckoning World gathers a cast of characters that include Babe Ruth and…


Book cover of The Secret Heart of the Clock

Brian Castro Author Of The Garden Book

From my list on writing that falls between the cracks of genre.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an aficionado of lost objects, lost time, afterlives; of writing which never “fitted” its era. Examples would be that of John Aubrey, Herman Melville, Fernando Pessoa, Djuna Barnes, Elizabeth Hardwick, Ralph Ellison… the list goes on. I look for writing that has stood the test of time, not celebrated for the fame and bling of the moment. I look for the futile products of those who possessed genius, but who never earned enough readers until decades or centuries later, once they were released from the prison-house of genre. I look for the posthumous brilliance of language; the phosphoric glow of its offerings and of the buried treasures found therein.

Brian's book list on writing that falls between the cracks of genre

Brian Castro Why did Brian love this book?

Someone once said that novels were for light summer reading by bourgeois ladies. W.G. Sebald may have shared this opinion. The latter preferred letters, notes, fragments and diaries. Similarly, Elias Canetti, Bulgarian-born, of Sephardi ancestry, German-speaking and winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for literature, only ever wrote one novel. But his aphorisms, both long and short, are remarkable. He unearths forgotten writers, important ones that he had met, and he meditates on literary gossip and the remaining time in his life. Here’s an example: Klaus Mann’s last proposal: a mass suicide of writers (of the great names).

By Elias Canetti, Joel Agee (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret Heart of the Clock as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of the preeminent intellectual figures of the twentieth century, a highly personal testimonial of what Canetti himself chooses to term "notations," bits and pieces: notes, aphorisms, fragments. Taken together, they present an awesomely tender, guiltily gloomy meditation on death and aging.

" A mosaical portrait of an old body's mind determined to do its exercises and not lose a step--and fascinating for that." - Kirkus Reviews