The Practical Cogitator – a Book Review

This anthology of wisdom belongs on every thinker’s bookshelf.

Copyright © ; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission; Author’s Google profile; Posted June 02, 2011

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, United States Supreme Court justice; photo courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division


Not a new release by any means, The Practical Cogitator, sub-titled The Thinker’s Anthology (ISBN 0395346355 / 0-395-34635-5), was first released in 1945 by The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This book was co-authored, actually compiled, by Charles P. Curtis and Ferris Greenslet. The pieces are short for the most part, so there is rarely a time when a reader can’t digest a solid chunk. The inspiration for the book is best explained as the authors themselves put it in the preface.

“Ferris, this fumbling through other minds
Has made me thirsty. Tell me where one finds
A place where you and I can sit,
And slake the dust of other peoples’ wit.”

“Charlie, I know a tavern not too distant
Where we can sit and talk o’er wine consistent
With our own thoughts; and while we’re drinking
We will atone for all vicarious thinking.”

The Best of History’s Contemplative Wisdom

The book is arranged by topic, beginning with “Man in Search of Himself” and meanders through various topics dealing with the human condition. The tone is very American in the sense that it embraces our values such as peace, security, liberty, and justice.

Who are the authors included? Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Goethe, Emerson, Mark Twain, Montaigne, Picasso; the list goes on and on. Anyone seeking a solid education in philosophy couldn’t do better than to look here. All parents should make this book available to their children.

The frugal reader can easily add this book to their library without breaking the bank. I own one of the original hardbacks, but it has been through a number or reprints and is easily found in second hand bookstores.

Selections from Great Authors

The more things change, the more they stay the same; as the saying goes. This is one aspect of wisdom; the basic truths are both simple and eternal. This book reflects this over and over. In one example, Charles A. Beard summarizes the lessons of history quite succinctly:

  1. Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad with power.
  2. The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.
  3. The bee fertilizes the flower it robs.
  4. When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.

The book is filled with great thoughts, but it’s not enough to just bite them off and chew them up. For best results, you must digest them slowly and let them rumble around in your belly.

Go here to get your own copy of The Practical Cogitator or The Thinker’s Anthology.

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