The subtitle is Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers, and the editor is Elizabeth D. Samet.  Here’s the shocking truth: these really are writings by our greatest thinkers!  Usually I am allergic to the topic of leadership and all the more allergic to edited volumes.  But this book has well chosen excerpts from Thucydides, Cervantes, Borges, Marcus Aurelius, Tolstoy, Milton, Plutarch, and Shakespeare, among many others, and a variety of moderns, including Mandela, Gandhi, Frederick Douglass, and Osip Mandelstam’s poem on Stalin.

This is actually a remarkable book.


Cervantes. Know nothing about him except that I once tried to read a book he wrote about two dumb guys on a road trip. It was bit funny until the vomit jokes made me put the book away. It is tempting to be impressed that he anticipated American Pie and Dumb and Dumber by almost four hundred years, but then I remember that every teenager since before the stone age has done the same.

In spite of all this, I have a nasty suspicion that Cervantes, like the writers of South Park are men of genius. It's just that I have no real evidence for the proposition.

Give the guy some credit! He wrote what is considered to be the first modern novel. If you have kept on reading, you would have found that he did no ony preceded american pie, but also wrote many scenes with great wisdom and insight (athough- since the book is 500 years old, their novely has worn off).

He started the trend towards more "real-world", realistic stories written in prose instread of stories with fantastic elements written in verse.

Being in the business world, I am always looking for books on management and leadership, and am frequently let down. I find more wisdom in Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, so I'm pretty excited about this book. Ordered.

No thanks. I read those authors so that I might see the world through their eyes. Editorial lenses defeat the purpose.

When did Borges write about Leadership?

Whoever made the Library of Babel clearly knew how to get shit done

And the organization behind the "Lottery in Babylon" is truly remarkable!

Adrian, You couldn't find evidence in an evidence locker. Why post such a cringingly asinine opinion on the internet where it can be referenced for as long as you live? My advice is that you change your name to Sancho.

@DP - you read Don Quixote? It's a classic nobody has read.

Ray Lopez - come on, do you really think nobody has read Don Quixote? Even if you think it is mediocre, you can't think that there are no people who have a good idea of what is worth reading who haven't read all of Don Quixote, having found therein the flow and the sprezzatura and the genial and hard-to-find lack (Cervante's best lack) of the normal human incentive to boringly assert and reassert the narcissistic interest of one's own thoughts again and again. No it is not my favorite novel - that would be the novel that closely approximates, somewhere between five and fifteen generations later, the "black book" corresponding to the novel that would have been written by Shakesepeare if Shakespeare had written the way he wanted to in one play that topped, the way certain holiday meals top the corresponding holiday meals of the past, his problematic self-imposed limits on each of his previous plays (including his self-imposed limits in academic favorites like the little family chamber dramas known as Hamlet and Lear). Since most people have no access to that novel, and can't even guess the name of such a novel, there is nothing wrong with reading and rereading all of Don Quixote, which, if nothing else, has several interesting people and several interesting animals. Sure, there are no Plateros or Kristens or Hodges therein, but it is a good novel - although, I guess, not a good novel if you generally find people and animals boring, I'll give you that.

There's a lot of classics that most people have not read. There's no such thing as a classic no one has read.

If no one has read a book, no one knows to praise it. The book gets forgotten. And everyone forgets that they're supposed to be impressed when someone name drops it.

Also, Don Quixote is a pre-modern Pink Panther or Mr. Bean moreso than a character in American Pie or Dumb and Dumber.

ET - I agree with you, but my earlier comment may have been unclear - while it is interesting to read Shakespeare, it is more interesting to imagine the classic novel Shakespeare would have written if he had not limited himself in so many ways (I am just using him as an example, almost every other writer anyone has ever heard of has limited him or herself in more ways than Shakespeare did). This is the sort of thing readers should frequently do, regardless if anyone can name the ideal novel that is not being written but that is being thought about. Also, I am not the biggest Cervantes fan out there, but it is just plain wrong, as you point out, to compare him to lesser artists, however well paid, who never demonstrated any human ambition to produce something that really speaks to the human heart. (I don't know much about Mr Bean but the Pink Panther, at least in the Sta Sera scene and other scenes in the early movies, was not completely derivative - cor ad for loquitur, as they say south of Paris).

@wwebd - lol, good rant by a liberal arts major or arts lover. I defer to your expertise, but you missed or ignored the reference to Mark Twain's quote about a classic. You are obvious a youngster of the type our host TC complains about in economics: you can tell anybody about the fancy statistical tests you know to prove something, but you don't know the basics known by your peers a generation older. Vamos! You're dismissed...

"Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind" - Cervantes, "Don Quixote"

I do not think Don Quixote is quite as surreal a Mr Bean, I don't think Cervantes was interested in weirdness. Inspector Clouseau is a better match.

I picked Dumb and Dumber because it is a road movie about two dumb guys. That seems like the most salient aspect of Don Quixote, Cervantes just doesn't seem to want to write down eternal wisdom or "speak to the human heart". He just wanted to write a funny book about what two dumb guys get up to on the road.

The novel is at its best when Cervantes, like some supremely talented host of a late night talk show, stops the silliness and the action or the silliness and the drudgery for a few moments, and with a few of the best words in the best order on the relevant subject, gorgeously riffs on what had seemed to be the mediocrity surrounding him. Lots of people who wrote better crafted novels were unable to do this, either because of their own standardized and unripened views of life, or because of a lack of the patience needed to await inspiration, or because they are not suited to write novels. For that reason, many novels with lots less silliness and drudgery than Don Quixote are exponentially less readable. Book 2, chapter 8, has a great example of the riffs I am talking about, where Don Quixote discusses the limits of mortal life and the attractions of immortality and explains why he battles giants, indolence, weakness, lust and selfishness. (The Shakespearean mastery of language in these short excerpts is unmistakably evident in the original Spanish, but does not translate well). Faulkner was not wrong to read Don Quixote once a year and Shakespeare was probably not wrong to base a (lost) play on part of the novel, and Harold Bloom was not wrong to write, as recently as this year, that as good as Twain's best book was, it really does not compete with Don Quixote.

I wrote my comment because Don Quixote is not very good. It is also not very either, but it is fundamentally just a road-trip gross-out story. I can appreciate that it would have been a breath of fresh air when it was published, but that makes it a historical landmark, not a classic.

"It is also not very bad" I mean. My grammar is much worse that Cervantes' humour.

Larry McMurtry partially based the structure of Lonesome Dove on Don Quixote. The characters have dramatic changes in point of view.

What does Economic Science say about leadership?

Or is it all Swarm Theory these days?

"Usually I am allergic to the topic of leadership"

Why? There's academic writing on the topic, and books aimed at lay people on the topic. The two are very different. I agree that the academic research on this topic isn't interesting, to me at least, but its relatively decent.

In order to have leaders, followers are needed. Who might they be?


Anyone who thinks Mandela is a great thinker does not think.

why not have the humility to consider the possibility that they think better than you

Mandela is by no criterion a great thinker.

The authoress just wanted a black thinker, not a great one.

Mandela was the best leader in Africa, a leader going for one term never heard in the continent, he was also humble.

Any positive mention of Mandela on this blog seems to draw certain elements out of the woodwork.

The defense of Mandela is fairly simple. In the run-up to the 1994 elections, a lot of informed observers both within South Africa and abroad considered it to be a serious possibility that the country would descend into full-scale civil war after the election. It never did and Mandela's leadership was almost certainly a key part of that. And, as Paul pointed out, he took the George Washington approach to nation-building and returned to private life once he felt his time was up.

Usually I am allergic to the topic of leadership

Me too. I cannot think of anything I have read by Tyler that I agree with more.

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