Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Importance of Living” as Want to Read:
The Importance of Living
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Importance of Living

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,121 ratings  ·  140 reviews
The Importance of Living is a wry, witty antidote to the dizzying pace of the modern world. Lin Yutang's prescription is the classic Chinese philosophy of life: Revere inaction as much as action, invoke humor to maintain a healthy attitude, and never forget that there will always be plenty of fools around who are willing-indeed, eager-to be busy, to make themselves useful, ...more
Paperback, 462 pages
Published September 16th 1998 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1937)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Importance of Living, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Importance of Living

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,121 ratings  ·  140 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Importance of Living
Diane Barnes
I am going to bail on this book. I have been reading a few pages at a time for about 4 months now, and while it's a nice, calming book about different philosophies in China and other countries around the world, with the view that people should slow down and enjoy their world, apparently this advice is just for men. In his opinion, women MUST be mothers to be happy, because it's their reason for existence. Women MUST be married, to create a family and home to take pressure off the husband trying ...more
Vikram Karve
Feb 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, self-help
A book that enriched my life and taught me the art of living

There is one book you will never find in my bookcase – you will always find it by my bedside near my pillow. At night, just before I go to sleep, I open this book to any random page, and read on till I drift off to blissful idyllic sleep.

The name of this book, which has had a profound defining effect on me, maybe even subconsciously shaped my philosophy of life, is called: The Importance of Living wr
Dr X
Sep 16, 2008 rated it liked it
This book is like sitting around with your grandfather while he shares his thoughts about everything under the sun, so long as your father is a witty, erudite, philosophically inclined Chinese man. I received this book as a gift. It has an irresistible table of contents, with chapter headings like On Having a Stomach, On Being Wayward and Incalculable, The Problem of Happiness, The Cult of the Idle Life, Celibacy a Freak of Civilization, On Lying in Bed, On Sitting in Chairs, On Rocks and Trees, ...more
Jul 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Having just finished this book, I would say that this is probably one of the most beautiful books I've read. Lin Yutang has the soul of an artist and the taste of a connoisseur and through his strongly subjective, yet entirely 'reasonable' opinions and style of writing, I found myself very easily carried away into his points of view on life, the arts, philosophy and the love of pleasure. I cannot imagine everyone would feel the same way, but I feel that reading this book has greatly benefited an ...more
David Beckwith
Jul 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Lin Yutang, Rumi, Martin Buber, Lao T'se, Jesus, Buddha, Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi...these are the words that can heal our troubled world. In a sensationalized world, the reader of Lin Yutang's great classic will learn how to enjoy merely sitting, lying in bed, reading, writing, walking, and nearly everything one can do that harms no other or self.

For my money, the most important part of "The Importance of Living" is where he discusses, at some length, the non-soldier, and all the good and ne
Mary Karpel-Jergic
Apr 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, etiquette
An interesting and quirky read. I had seen a couple of quotes from this author and this had prompted me to read a book written by him. Written in 1936 it is historically embedded in its time so some of his views appear somewhat anachronistic, especially around women, but that aside the book offers a philosophy of life that is in contrast to the Western way of life which values efficiency, punctuality and a desire for achievement and success. It is a book that extols the Chinese way of life and I ...more
Nick Klagge
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Those who are wise won't be busy, and those who are too busy can't be wise." -Lin Yutang

This is a lovely old book that I discovered due to Robert Wringham quoting it, with high commendation, in his book _Escape Everything!_ Mr. Lin, who was born in China in 1895 and published _The Importance of Living_ in 1937 shortly after moving to America, has an outlook on life that will be familiar to anyone who has read Wringham's publication, The New Escapologist: deeply interested in exploring how we li
Patricia Welker
My first book read after retiring was The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang. I enjoyed the easy going stories in the old Chinese scholar perspective. How to relax, smoke and make a proper pot of tea. I recommend this book for the point in life when slowing down is permissible and possible.
May 31, 2014 rated it did not like it
Rather disappointingly,the majority of this book consisted of sweeping statements, sexist comments and outdated/inaccurate comparisons.
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, philosophy
If I had judged this book based on the first three chapters alone, I would have given it a poor rating. But in Chapter 4, the book finally seems to find its way. Chapter 4 is "On Being Human," and it's at this point that Yutang begins to write about the book's overall theme: the importance of living.

Throughout the book I found many sentences and passages worth highlighting and sharing. Some especially so given the book was published in 1937. For example, in Chapter 12-I, Yutang criticizes the st
Gnuehc Ecnerwal
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I got this book off of the shelf labeled 'Philosophy' at my local bookstore, (where it was correctly placed.)

It seems to me that quite a few people looked at the title on the cover and assumed that it is the kind of book that tells you how to live your life, like so many 'self-help' books and so many 'guru of meaningful living' books. To be honest, if you had to read a book, or have SOMEONE ELSE to tell you, how to live YOUR life, it is rather sad.

This is not that kind of book. It does not giv
Ben Hammond
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'd wholly recommend this to anyone who feels like they need direction and quelling of their anxiety about life. The only reason I'm giving this 4 stars is because it is outdated in societal terms, particular in the views of women. As a person of principle I can't 'forgive' these views even if they are of a man of a previous generation. But the prose concerning beauty, nature and religion it is quintessentially Chinese and has really opened my eyes into reading more Chinese/East Asian literature ...more
Sarah Shahid
I didn't like this book
the writer underestimates the human mind
and makes it nothing
he describes us badly and makes us like animals
Aidan Reid
May 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Initially enjoyed this but there was so much meandering about mundane subjects (flowers, rocks, tea...), that it became a slog half-way through. Didn't pick up nearer end.
Aug 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Somewhat unexpectedly hilarious and thought-provoking. The book begins with a disclaimer that it's not really a book on philosophy, just a collection of the author's thoughts, and it is very true to that disclaimer. Certain parts I completely disregarded because they were outdated or just not relevant to me, but there was a lot of content that I found fascinating and I loved the emphasis on simplicity and not overcomplicating things.

One of my favourite passages in the book:
"But the essential fa
Talbot Hook
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those rare books which, even though one disagrees with several (if not many) of its constituent parts, triumphs as a unified whole, insofar as one gains an appreciation of the author's peculiar temperament, thoughts, opinions, purposes, and shortcomings. Because it is so wide-ranging, covering everything from paganism to tea-drinking, and from proper chair-sitting to the psychological importance of humor, one is truly able to bask in another person's mind and life. Lin Yutang writ ...more
Erika RS
Dec 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
The Importance of Living is a number of essays about the importance of enjoying life and ways to do so. In some ways, the author's ideas are kind of silly, but they are presented in such a non-pushy way that they the unpleasant ideas are easy to forget. However, his attitudes towards women are infuriating. At one point the author talks about how it is best for people to be natural... and women require lipstick to be natural. At another point, he makes this statement
Is it merely because woman is
Steven Malone
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing

I regard the discovery of one’s favorite author as the most critical event in one’s intellectual development.
-Lin Yutang

My exposure to Chinese culture and philosophy comes, these days, through my experiences with Tai Chi Chuan and various other martial arts and Qigong. This study brings me close to many Chinese and Taiwanese people. None are more gracious, accepting, and friendly. I appreciate how their culture blends into ours so seamlessly.

Lin Yutang’s The Importance of Living is, to me, the
Feb 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book is pretty dated and sexist, but I did enjoy the following:

",,,we sweat and labor and go through life, living not for ourselves in accordance with our true instincts, but for the approval of society, like "old spinsters working with their needles to make wedding dresses for other women," as the Chinese saying goes (pg 105).

The great Taoist philosopher Liehtse gave the famous parable of the Old Man At the Fort:

"An old man was living with his son at an abandoned fort on the top of a hill,
Sep 07, 2009 added it
Lin Yutang's book is slightly hard to classify, if only because, as he admits, he's writing a book about Chinese culture and academic history which he doesn't intend to be taken as especially scholarly or serious in large part. That's not to say it isn't fun, though. The book is an awful lot of fun, even if by the end it starts to run out of interesting things to say. I particularly enjoyed the seventh chapter ("The Art of Loafing"), and highly recommend the entire book on that grounds alone - i ...more
Nov 18, 2009 rated it liked it
I'm putting this back on my "to read" list because there's just no way I want to read this book in any fly by night way. It's almost 500 pages and has the most wonderfully named chapters--"On Having a Mind" and "Cynicism, Folly and Camouflage" and a whole section on "The Importance of Loafing." This is a book made for long, lazy days, to be savored and read slowly with lots of time in between for contemplation. Maybe when I retire I will buy myself my own copy and settle into a chair on the deck ...more
Feb 08, 2015 rated it liked it
I'd love to give this a higher review, and objectively I have the date of original publication firmly in my thoughts but for every nuance and charmingly phrased thought and spark there were at least twice the number of sweeping generalisations to the point of xenophobia and misogyny upon occasions, many of which were backed up by repetitive caveats that overshadowed my general enjoyment of the book. That being said I would recommend it to anyone with an open literary mind and there were a number ...more
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I picked up an old edition of this book for £2 at a vintage bookshop in Johannesburg and couldn't put it down for the rest of the holiday.

Someone in the comments described this as listening to the rambling of a grandfather! I thought that was very accurate! Though much like any out of touch grandfather I didn't agreed with all Yutang's ramblings it was nevertheless fascinating. But the stronger appeal for me was with his way of looking at things.
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spiritual
This is one of my favorite books of all time. With chapters titled "on sitting in chairs" and "on having a stomach", there's just something so wonderfully pleasant about wandering through this book, as though you're traveling through a country... it gives you a whole new appreciation and awareness of the simple things in life.
Oct 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
As others have commented, it's impossible to read this book unless you set aside some of the misogynist and totalizing commentary on race and gender. That said, it's still a hilarious dose of common and not so common sense that hardly seems dated although it was written in 1937. In particular, the advice on reading, writing, and traveling is not to be missed. I found it incredibly fun, myself.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
I could not get into this book. I started reading straight through. Then I tried reading sections that seemed interesting. I suppose my western mind is missing a necessary component.
Jun 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Some parts I liked, others I didn't. Worth a glance but not much more.
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was first published in 1937 but, unlike fiction from that long ago -- which can often use language and set-ups that could seem stilted to the "modern mind" -- this is essentially a wisdom book and, hence, timeless, as his observations about the oddities (and lunacies) of human nature remain as thoughtful and relevant to us today as do the biblical books of Proverbs, Wisdom, and Ecclesiastes.

Lin Yutang was clearly a brilliant, multi-culture embracing, humorous man, one of those persons
Jun 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Quoting, Lin Yutang, "there are no books in this world that everybody must read, but only books that a person must read at a certain time in a given place under given circumstances and at a given period of his life."

As all these special circumstances have been coming together every now and then, in a span of near four years, this book became somehow suited for me.

I picked it up after reading "The Tao is Silent", and decided to read another one "Tao for Dummies" just to get a little more from Yut
Donner Tan
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a humorous and delightful read. Written from a Chinese and essentially Taoist perspective, Lin Yutang regaled us with a leisurely look at life, dubbed the philosophy of loafing. With musings on a wide range of topics such as religions, physicality, family life , social etiquette, dress, philosophy, food, nature, travel, literature and the simple pleasures of life, he never fails to entertain with his brilliant use of words and the candid expressions of his personal take on what makes lif ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Chinese traditional culture 2 25 Feb 21, 2012 04:52AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Books for Living
  • Beauty
  • At the Edge of History and Passages About Earth
  • How to Feed a Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of Their Cooks
  • Top of the World
  • Leer la mente
  • Morts sans sépulture
  • Civil Disobedience and Other Essays
  • Tenebra
  • Examen de mi padre
  • Decisiones difíciles
  • Childhood, Boyhood, Youth
  • Thoreau's Book of Quotations
  • Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession, and Recipes from Tokyo's Most Unlikely Noodle Joint
  • The Psychology of Money
  • The Twelve Dancing Princesses
  • Another World
See similar books…
Prolific writer of a wide variety of works in Chinese and English; in the 1930s he founded several Chinese magazines specializing in social satire and Western-style journalism.

Lin, the son of a Chinese Presbyterian minister, was educated for the ministry but renounced Christianity in his early 20s and became a professor of English. He traveled to the United States and Europe for advanced study; on

Related Articles

Danielle Evans was just 26 when she released her short story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self in 2010, a multi-award-winning...
15 likes · 2 comments
“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” 248 likes
“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.” 211 likes
More quotes…