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The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  3,217 ratings  ·  271 reviews
A unique collection of advice for life, Baltasar Gracián'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
Paperback, 122 pages
Published January 27th 2011 by Penguin Classics (first published 1647)
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Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book wasn't quite what I expected, yet it was still a good experience. If you have - or will - read Machiavelli's "The Prince", Sun Tzu's "The Art Of War" and/or Castiglione's "The Book Of The Courtier", this is another good book to add to these type of books. There's is also some certainty that the author read "The Prince" (since it came out earlier than this book, which came out in 1647); the fact that the author of this present book was a Jesuit no doubt helped, since I do know Jesuits h ...more
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
Shocking! Ok, I dunno why this one is so shocking but it is. It gave me a pause and a lot of starts: most of this stuff is what we see across lots of self-help lit of the modern kind. All these ideas have been packaged and repackaged and resold as some sort of new wisdom even though people could have been benefitting from it since circa 1647.

I definitely could visualize it being written in 21st century. And, nope, it seems to be first issued in the 17th one. Huh.

In fact, I can't see how it cou
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Astonishing how true Gracian's aphorisms remain hundreds of years later and how much the culture of Spain at the time seems so modern....A work to study and be studied again and again. This is timeless in its wisdom--I would add I don't agree with everything he says and that although he can be spiritual at times, this is a guide of "Worldly Wisdom" and something that as a Jesuit priest he was sometimes condemned for this worldlyness... ...more
Elisa Kemp
Sep 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
"Use human means as if there were no divine ones and use divine means as if there were no human ones." ...more
Aug 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favs
The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián is unlike any book you are likely to find on bookshelves today. Self-help books can be helpful, but they are usually focused on what to do after you have encountered certain problems. Business books are often a collection of case studies or “war stories.” The Art of Worldly Wisdom teaches the same sort of lessons (and more) in a much broader context. It is a manual on how to be successful at anything in life. Considering that it is still amazing rele ...more
Roy Lotz
Cada uno habla del objeto según su afecto.

This little book is one of the most read and translated works of the Spanish Golden Age. It has been surprisingly influential. Schopenhauer was a famous devotee, and even learned Spanish so that he could produce a translation (which went on to commercial success). Two English translations have been best-sellers, the first in 1892 and the second in 1992. Advice typically does not age well, but Gracián’s has stood the temporal test.

Yet for the reader o
Pearce Hansen
Feb 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have friends who read The Prince like a bible, and its true that Machiavelli is worthy of repeated study, both as a period piece and window into the Renaissance Italian soul, and as possibly the most notorious treatise on Realpolitik ever written. Machiavelli, like Nietzsche, has been misused by the unscrupulous and decried by the ignorant; also, IMHO, both writers were actually better historians and analysts than they were philosophers per se.

Baltasar Gracian, in the Pocket Oracle, has accomp
Sarah Lada
I'm a little surprised by some ratings of this book. I understand that this isn't a book that you exactly "critique" because it's a renown oracle from the 17th century. However, I took the wisdom in this book less as HOW to be and more as HOW to watch out for people like this. I'll agree that it's all wisdom, but it's more something to UNDERSTAND rather than something to BE. A lot of the advice gears toward deception, vanity, and greed:

"Let someone else take the hit. You will shield yourself fro
Philippe Malzieu
"The contempt is the most subtle form of revenge"

Gracian was Jesuit. It did not respect many thing. He had the arrogance of those which know their talent. He published his books without authorizations. His visions sour and cynical terrified his superiors.
I was very mechant with Macchiavel by advising you to substitute Gracian to him. The form will undoubtedly appear less formal to you, more futile. But at the bottom it is a fine analysis of the social reports and way to evolve in society.
It is t
Aug 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the great books of wisdom, dispensed in brief paragraphs with headings like "better to be intensive than extensive," and "reserve is the seal of talent." Gracian might best be described as an honorable politician; he advocates dealing with the world with rectitude, but keeping a close eye on how the world responds. You need to be ready for it to throw something unfair, unexpected, or unpleasant back at you. It's perhaps comforting to know that the book was written 300 years ago, a ...more
300 rules on how to handle other people. Surprisingly modern, because a-moral, unchristian, and cynical. Ment for an audience of courtiers, senior officers and politicians. Gracian is also called the Machiavelli of human relations. In general he preaches a strong defensive attitude: caution takes precedence over everything. (2.5 stars)
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, essays
"Know a little more and live a little less. Others argue the opposite. Well-spent leisure is worth more than work. We have nothing of our own but time . . . "(245)

One of the first books I remember adding to my "to-read" list many years ago, this was one of the few works that thoroughly exceeded any expectations I may have had.

Gracian's Art of Worldly Wisdom is a collection of 300 maxims containing excellent, practical advice; very Senecan, and, at times, Machiavellian in sentiment (but much more
J.W.D. Nicolello
300 aphorisms over 300 years old by Spanish writer Gracian, born four years after the release of Quixote, vol 1. The slim Penguin volume is beautifully put together and if I can get even ten of these guidelines to being a better person straight this year it will be success. As it stands, the end of 2013 ended on a pretty turbulent note for me and only in the past day or two have I been piecing myself together to saner grounds. This is a great meditation on how to live simply, wisely. Something i ...more
This book can not be over-estimated. I use this book the way others refer to the bible. (I DO also read the Bible, The Qu'ran and other religous books as well) However, the advice in this little book is invaluable. There are days when I am troubled and I will meditate on the problem, run my thumb over the pages and pick a random spot and it never fails to deliver some sage and relevant advice. EVERYONE should have a copy. ...more
Henrik Haapala
“Weigh matters carefully, and think hardest about those that matter most.” /Baltasar Gracian

256: “Be prepared. For the rude, the stubborn, the vain, and for all sorts of fools.” (Prepare for tomorrow today)

125: “Don’t be a blacklist of others faults.” (Don’t be a hater)

282: Use absence to win respect or esteem. Prescence diminishes fame, absence enlarges it. The absent person who was thought a lion turns into a mouse - ridiculous offspring of the mountain - when present. Gifts lose their sheen
Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‎"Life for Dummies"
The missing manual on how to lead a happy, successful life.
I wish I would have had this book in high school! I think it should be on everyone's essential reading list.

Although these condensed insights and suggestions come down to us from almost 400 years ago, their relevance to our experience today is striking and proves the depth of these maxims. The famous philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer translated this about 200 years ago and called it "a book made for constant use" and re
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Many would be something great if they could fix something little" Gracian

"The Truth is seldom heard and most often seen " Gracian

Sage advice--Kind of like an art of war for the workplace, and inter-personal relationships
Fee Scott-Bolden
I found this book by way of [the author of 48 Laws of Power] Robert Greene's Twitter account. I always believe if you want to truly know, find the inspirations and mentors of the wise. I truly love this book, could be s challengings if you're not into classic literature, but for me, one of the best books I've ever read. Very applicable and timeless wisdom. ...more
Jul 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
Shelves: booksisuggest
Excellent series of lessons that people from all walk's of life can enjoy and learn from.

Very insightful and thought provoking. Very easy read.
Erdogan Cicek
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is like a social version of "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu and it advises to approach to all events and preventing from human-relational problems by wisdom and intelligence.. ...more
Quang Nguyen
Something is probably wrong with the translation (current Kindle edition on but the book does offer some great pearls of wisdom on how to live lovable and die memorable.
Edit: Turned out I bought the one with the worst translation. Geez...
May 29, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted very much to read Gracián’s El Criticón, but the only English translation is a dreadfully archaic one from the 17th century. So I decided on this small handbook of 300 paragraph-long aphorisms. Very soon, my disappointment turned to distaste as I found myself assaulted by an alternation between vapid one-liners -- in some cases, old clichés -- and cynical musings couched in the cheerful and self-indulgent language of virtue.

Each paragraph contained a string of one-sentence aphorisms th
The aphorisms aren't all that interesting-- pretty standard stuff, really, never play all your cards up front, keep your allies close, the sort of thing that the Don Drapers of the world hold onto. I have no doubt that in the religiously and politically tumultuous world of Golden Age Spain, it was shockingly original and uniquely pragmatic. I know both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer expressed great admiration for Gracían y Morales, but at the end of the day, I find their aphoristic writings far more ...more
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, favorites
One of the best books about, for lack of a better expression, how life and the world work, the importance of image and perception and being smart in general.
Centuries later we see people, society and their perception and judgment didn't really change that much at all.
Better yet it's written, how can I say, positively, without the cynicism of say, The Prince or other books who try to do the same.
Andrew Walton
Sep 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a very good book. It helped me learn a lot about my self this summer. I recommend this book highly. I changed into a wiser person through this book. A quote that I remember that stuck out to me was that if you hurt your finger it will hit things more than the others. Protect the ones that need care.
Scriptor Ignotus
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Baltasar Gracián’s Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, a collection of three hundred coolly genteel and intricately written aphorisms on the navigation of personal and professional life, is a product of the literarily brilliant but socially precarious world of the late Spanish baroque. Gracián’s secular writings, despite being widely popular, were denounced by the leadership of his own Jesuit order, and much of Gracián’s life was spent straddling the line between personal authenticity and social ...more
Ira Therebel
This is basically one of the first self help books that teaches you to be successful. While it would apply to today, people don't change much, they weren't anything extraordinary. Maybe back then it was some new found wisdom, but now it is obvious.

It is extremely repetitive and sometimes contradictory. But being repetitive is what made it more tedious. I guess in such a book one would like it because of clever maxisms. But this wasn't the case here. Maybe it is because of translation but while I
Jan 04, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I rarely leave a bad review for a book because I normally assume the book was just not for me but others might still like it. This book, however, was full of bad and harmful advice. “Find a scapegoat to blame your failures on.” “Don’t hang out with successful or smart people because they make you look bad.” “Don’t open up to other people because they’ll make fun of you.” “Find work that gets you praise.” “Please others and make sure they like you.” “Use your friends to your advantage.” There was ...more
Alexandru Somesan
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
This book is a collection of 300 aphorisms, some of which will make you question your priorities, beliefs and actions. Written in 1647, and later praised by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, most of the author's ideas remain accessible, interesting and relevant today.
Walter Sylesh
Apr 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Words of wisdom with moral undertones written by a cunning Jesuit. The sooner one reads, the better placed he is to take on the world.
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Baltasar Gracián y Morales, SJ (8 January 1601 – 6 December 1658), formerly Anglicized as Baltazar Gracian,[1] was a Spanish Jesuit and baroque prose writer and philosopher. He was born in Belmonte, near Calatayud (Aragón). His proto-existentialist writings were lauded by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

The son of a doctor, in his childhood Gracián lived with his uncle, who was a priest. He studied at

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