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The Intellectual Life
A.G. Sertillanges (1920)

“In a limitless field of discovery, we never have reason to say: Let us stop here”, wrote Sertillanges.

For Sertillanges, each person’s world is a limitless field of discovery and we are all unfinished. And his book, The Intellectual Life, is nothing less than a guidebook for the unfinished. First published in 1920, Sertillanges’ book is a 260-page tour-de-force, a call for the awakening of the thinker in each of us. The book’s subtitle — Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods — captures the broad scope of Sertillanges’ teachings about the joy and responsibility of pursuing your highest potential. His bold prescription: Despite the business of each day, we must attempt to live at least two hours each day “meta” to that day’s mechanical particulars — protecting time for reflection and renewal amidst the bustle. A Dominican priest, Sertillanges astutely mixes this kind of stern advising with playful axioms, such as “One does not imagine a man of genius dining out”. Instead, one should throw all of one’s resources into the fire of inspiration, into activities such as collecting a library, or booking inspiring travel opportunities. The richness of Sertillanges’ language and thought provoked me sufficiently to construct my own “A Vocabulary of the Intellectual Life”, which I frequently re-visit when I feel myself low on illumination or intensity.

In summary, I’m a big fan of this book. It has brought to me so many fresh insights on the attitudes of thinkers and their methods, including seeing the thinker as a filter — savoring the uptake, leaving the best behind. No mystery why one of my upcoming talks is titled “On Becoming a Delicate Sieve”. Jumping into this book might just be your ticket to discovering in your next encounter a limitless interior urge, a self-surrender to the process of creative work.

- David Waters

From the Book’s Inside Jacket

Sertillanges asks in the preface of the 1934 edition: “Do you want to do intellectual work?” He follows with the prescription: “Begin by creating within you a zone of silence, a habit of recollection, a will to renunciation and detachment which puts you entirely at the disposal of work; acquire that state of soul unburdened by desire and self-will which is the state of grace of the intellectual worker. Without that you will do nothing, at least nothing worthwhile.”

First published in 1920, The Intellectual Life has been repeatedly reprinted and continues to inspire and instruct young scholars.

“I would put The Intellectual Life on the desk of every serious student, and most of the unserious ones … We should read through this classic book, make its teachings ours after our own manner.

Adapting what Sertillanges suggests to our own computer, to our own books, to our own hours of the day or night should be no problem. The book will have an abiding, concrete effect on our lives. If we follow its outlines, it will make us alive in that inner, curious, delightful way that is connoted by the words in the book’s magnificent title — The Intellectual Life. I see no reason for settling for anything less. The great French Dominican still teaches us how to learn, but only if we are free enough to let him teach us.” — from the Foreword by James V. Schall, S.J.

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