My Books - Words of Wisdom: Philosophy’s Most Important Quotations and their Meanings

Words of Wisdom brings together 360 of Philosophy’s most famous quotations, explaining their meaning and telling the stories behind them. Western philosophy may be said to have begun in ancient Greece, where, inscribed in his temple at Delphi, the words of the god Apollo commanded those who sought wisdom to first ’know thyself’. From here, we trace this quest through the first ’lovers of wisdom’ - Thales, Pythagoras, Zeno - through some of its early greats - Socrates, Plato, Aristotle - and into modern times. Along the way, we discover the riddles of Heraclitus (’You cannot step into the same river twice’), the military strategy of Sun Tzu (’To win without fighting is best’), the stoicism of Seneca (’Life is long if you know how to live it’), and the faith of St Augustine (’do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand’). We find out why Thomas Hobbes thought that life is ’nasty, brutish and short’, why Leibniz considered this to be ’the best of all possible worlds’, but how Schopenhauer disagreed, thinking the world more resembled ’a penal colony’! From the famous paradoxes of Zeno, to the no-less-puzzling pronouncements of postmodernism, through almost every philosophical movement and school of thought that has shaped human history, the author provides a whistle-stop tour of the wise words of the great and the good - and, as well, the not so great and the downright naughty. We find out whether Machiavelli’s reputation for wickedness was fully deserved, how the Marquis de Sade gave his name to some very dubious practices, why Nietzsche thought a whip an essential aid to marital relations, and precisely why LSD guru Timothy Leary wanted us to ’Turn on, tune in and drop out’.

Words of Wisdom covers all this and more. With the author’s usual humour and clarity of style, the whole 2,500 year history of philosophy is laid bare. Each quote is set in the context of its cultural background, author biography and general outlook; trends are highlighted, links established, and influences traced, all in a way that is entertaining, thought-provoking, and even fun! Words of Wisdom is the perfect book for those who always wanted to ask what philosophy was about, but were afraid they might not understand the answer.


Southwell has taken the trouble to collect an enormous number of famous and not-so-famous quotations and examine them in minute detail to give us their meanings and the context in which they were said, together with fascinating information on the people who said them. This has to be a labour of love, but it emerges as a highly readable series of essays on a subject that, for the most part, leaves anyone who has no knowledge of philosophy bemused. No mean undertaking, this, but it works. There will be philosophers who still leave us cold, others we warm to instantly. Nietschze may have written the tract that inspired Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra - I tried to read it myself once, as the music is so important to me, but it was terribly hard going - but as a philosopher, he's as impenetrable as ever; until you read what Southwell has to say. It isn't going to be high on everyone's list of books to buy with their Christmas money, but it's a wonderful book, the sort of book to have by the bedside and to delve into from time to time, perhaps when you reach the end of a particularly satisfying novel and want to wind down. Or when you have a quiet, reflective moment. Philosophers are a peculiar species - I studied philosophy as part of my OU Arts Foundation course, and didn't really understand a word of it. Happily I was able to blag my way through the exam! Maybe, if I'd had this book to hand...”

"one of those books you'll go back to again and again"
- The Western Mail


The book is now available - from all the usual places (e.g. Amazon. You may also order it directly through this website - please contact the author using the contact form for more information.

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