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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A manual for life in a world of dangerous make-believe... Excellent!, 6 Jan 2014
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Book Maven (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This slim volume must be mass-printed and given to any teenager about to embark on adult life. I am only sorry that I had to wait for longer to be introduced to it. Had I been given it as a teen my life would have taken a different, and better, course.

Gracian's world is one that is eerily similar to ours despite the 400 years that separate them: a world were deceit and treason are the order of the day, where competition is fierce even over trifles, where today's friend is tomorrow's bitter enemy. The world of Baroque Spain is one in which everyone is observed all the time by others and is pathologically self-conscious because of that. Gracian offers a guide to survival and prosperity in this world but his lessons are hard. Those of us who prefer to see the world through rose-tinted glasses will chuck this book away; the rest will adopt it as a trusty mentor and friend.

Gracian wants us to win. He teaches us unstinting realism, the ability to see the world around us just as it is. He is the enemy of positive thinking, narcissism, idealism and self-deception. The difference between a thinker and a fool is that of realism and self-control. The fool is doomed to failure, exploited and led to ruin by those who cotton on to his obvious passions or hopes while the thinker retains perfect self-mastery through all of life's ups and downs. No one knows his wants or needs and no one holds him in thrall.

Gracian is a subtle and whimsical thinker, a writer of vertiginous style. The hard lessons he offers us are sweetened by his reasoning and comment. One can hear the confessor, the Jesuit, the practical psychologist as well as the courtier and the ethicist in his words.

He is both erudite and irreverent, gentle even when he is being harsh. This book is really a survival manual for the intelligent, the self-critical and the ambitious; Gracian teaches us what we need to know to survive and flourish. He tells us when to speak and when to be silent; when to act and when to wait it out. He tells us how to make friends, with whom to make them and how to nurture and protect our friendships. He tells us how to identify our needs and get them met. How to lay our plans and how to act on them. How to ask and how to be asked. How to handle a 'no' and how to deliver a 'no'. How to avoid ridicule and upstaging. How to neutralize those who would harm us from envy or plain malice. How to keep that which is most sacred to us hidden in plain sight.

Gracian is, in fact, profoundly compassionate. He full of compassion towards the thinking, feeling, aspirational people who are determined to survive and do well in a world of dangerous make-believe and this book is the practical outcome of his compassion. So don't believe those who describe him or his book as cynical or cold.

Buy it, read it, carry it with you in your bag and give it to any teenagers and young people you know.
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The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence (Penguin Classics)
The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence (Penguin Classics) by Baltasar Gracián (Paperback - 27 Jan 2011)
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