What Book has the Most Page-for-Page Wisdom?

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Shane Parrish (@farnamstreet) asked his Twitter followers, “What is page for page the book with the most wisdom you’ve ever read?”.

Tyler Cowen was not impressed with the resulting list, so he rattled off his own:

Cowen’s commenters love Pinker and both love and hate N.N. Taleb.


  1. Barnabas says:

    J.I. Packer’s Knowing God.

  2. Alrenous says:

    Moby Dick? Seriously?

    ProTip: how to flense a whale does not count as wisdom. Even assuming it has enough detail to succeed and not just enough to get you into trouble.

  3. Senexada says:

    Ecclesiastes, by far. Then Proverbs and probably Genesis.

    Aside from those, maxims tend toward high density. Penséees is good, as is Goethe’s Maxims & Reflections. Don Calocho’s aphorisms and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations are nearly as good. The best of Dr. Johnson’s Ramblers are good, but the Rambler series as a whole is too broad and quotidian.

    Modern books that contain wisdom are rare. Many of Tyler’s commenters conflate “wise” with interesting or clever or useful.

  4. Grasspunk says:

    Most wisdom per page? Seems like an odd choice of metric. I’m so busy I need condensed wisdom.

    Still, I’d go for Man’s Search for Meaning, maybe Storm of Steel, but that would depend a lot on the reader.

  5. Buckethead says:

    Definitely agree with Senexada. I’d add Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy on the Stoicism side, and the Gospels of Luke and John on the Christian side. Jesus was, among a great many other things, pithy.

    Gulliver’s Travels has lots in it, to be sure, but fiction is necessarily going to be less dense. I’m not sure what he’s getting at with Moby Dick, but then again I haven’t read it in three decades. Fiction that I have found particularly dense in wisdom would include Herbert’s Dune and The Dosadi Experiment, Cordwainer Smith’s Norstrilia, and perhaps oddly enough given the author’s tendency to ramble, Stephenson’s The Diamond Age.

    Didn’t see mentioned Sun Tzu’s Art of War, or Machiavelli’s The Prince. (Or, for that matter, Machiavelli’s Art of War.) There’s a lot of books along those lines that are fairly wisdom-dense.

  6. Faze says:

    Agree with Senexada on Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs, and add E.W. Howe’s Country Town Sayings and E.W. Howe’s Ventures in Common Sense.

    Howe is a caution. Also, Elbert Hubbard’s Scrapbook.

  7. Dave says:

    These may not be long enough to count as “books”, but I nominate “The Fate of Empire” by Sir John Glubb and Sexual Utopia in Power by F. Roger Devlin.

  8. Tim says:

    I agree with Senexada and would add Bastiat’s “What is Seen” collection.

  9. Willie Maize 24 says:

    I’d go with:

    Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms
    Epictetus, Discourses
    Macaulay, Selected Speeches
    Mandeville, Fable of the Bees
    Fielding, Tom Jones
    Shakespeare, MacBeth

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