The Waste Books
by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, translated and with an introduction by R.J. Hollingdale
German scientist and man of letters Georg Christoph Lichtenberg was an 18th-century polymath: an experimental physicist, an astronomer, a mathematician, a practicing critic both of art and literature. He is most celebrated, however, for the casual notes and aphorisms that he collected in what he called his Waste Books. With unflagging intelligence and encyclopedic curiosity, Lichtenberg wittily deflates the pretensions of learning and society, examines a range of philosophical questions, and tracks his own thoughts down hidden pathways to disconcerting and sometimes hilarious conclusions.
Lichtenberg’s Waste Books have been greatly admired by writers as very different as Tolstoy, Einstein, and André Breton, while Nietzsche and Wittgenstein acknowledged them as a significant inspiration for their own radical work in philosophy. The record of a brilliant and subtle mind in action, The Waste Books are above all a powerful testament to the necessity, and pleasure, of unfettered thought.
Among the great achievements of the German spirit.
— Gordon Craig
This collection of jottings isn't the sort of book you "read" but, rather, one in which you browse, grazing on the thoughts of a wonderfully fertile mind.
— The Vancouver Sun
If one reads them the way one eats chocolates, two or three at a time, The Waste Books gives a rare pleasure, stating things we might have thought of ourselves, expressed in ways that never would have occurred to us.
—Arthur Danto, Bookforum
Nietzsche credited Lichtenberg as the greatest German aphorist. The Waste Books, a collection of 1,085 aphorisms written over the course of Lichtenberg's adult life, amply attests to that. The pieces cover every conceivable topic—from science, religion and philosophy to daily observations (An amen face) and meditations about girls: Even the gentlest, most modest and best of girls are always better, gentler and more modest if their mirrors have told them they are looking more beautiful than ever.
— Tirdad Derakhshani, The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 13, 2001
Open The Waste Books at random, and you meet a thinker of urbanity, charm and incisiveness...This is the joy of The Waste Books: not being intended for publication, they are more playful, more private and times more catty than aphorisms produced by a self-consciously important writer.
— Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian