PREFACE: The Humanistic Meanings of Life vi


1. The Tragic Sense of Life and the Dawn of Humanism — 3


Homer: The Iliad

2. Control Yourself — 23

Hinduism: Bhagavad-Gita
Buddhism: Dhammapada

3. What Do You Know? How Do You Know It? Why Should You Care? — 41

Plato: Euthyphro; Apology; Crito; Phaedo

4. Living the Good Life — 61

Aristotle: Ethics

5. The Moral Landscape of Hell — 78

Dante Alighieri: The Divine Comedy: The Inferno

6. Growing Up Naturally — 100

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Emile

7. Enough? Never! — 121

Johann von Goethe: Faust

8. From the Maggot Man to the Superman — 136

Friedrich Nietzsche: On the Genealogy of Morals

9. Condemned to Be Free

Fyodor Dostoevsky: “The Grand Inquisitor”
Jean-Paul Sartre: Existentialism


10. Find the Right Way, Do the Right Thing — 173


Confucianism: The Analects; The Great Learning;
The Doctrine of the Mean
Taoism: Tao te Ching; Chuang Tzu

11. How to Succeed in the Business of Life — 191

Niccoló Machiavelli: The Prince

12. So It Seems — 205

William Shakespeare: Hamlet; Othello; King Lear
Moliére: The Misanthrope

13. The Price of Mis-Education — 226

Voltaire: Candide
Charles Dickens: Hard Times

14. Democracy as a Way of Life — 249

James Madison: Federalist Paper #10
Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America
John Stuart Mill: On Liberty

15. Through a Class Darkly — 280

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: The Communist Manifesto

16. We Shall Overcome — 293

Frederick Douglass: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”
Elie Wiesel: Night

17. The Psychology of Everyday Life — 313

Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents

18. It’s Party Time: The Ethics of Civility — 328

Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway


19. The Morality and Immorality of Art — 345


Plato: Republic
Aristotle: Politics; Poetics
Leo Tolstoy: What Is Art?

20. All Stories Are True — 371

Islamic Storytelling: The Arabian Nights
Ghanaian Folklore: “Why We Tell Stories About Spider”

21. How Beautiful, How Sad — 385

Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji

22. The Uses of Idealism — 405

Miguel de Cervantes: The Adventures of Don Quixote

23. The Gifts of Imagination — 426

William Wordsworth: Preface to Lyrical Ballads; The Prelude
Percy Bysshe Shelley: “A Defense of Poetry”

24. Fantasies of Seduction and the Seductions of Fantasy — 446

Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary

25. Art for Life’s Sake — 459

Théophile Gautier: Preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin
Walter Pater: Conclusion to The Renaissance
Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Thomas Mann: “Death in Venice”

26. Of Love and Marriage, Passion and Aging — 480

Gabriel García Márquez: Love in the Time of the Cholera

NOTES — 501



INDEX — 529

Worldly Wisdom

Frederic C. Beil, Publisher

Worldly Wisdom leads readers through some fifty classic works of literature, philosophy, and political thought from Homer and Confucius to Jean-Paul Sartre and Gabriel García Márquez to draw out ideas valuable for understanding human life in this world and for living that life well. Engagingly written for anyone who thinks about such ideas, as well as for anyone curious to know what great authors have thought about them, Worldly Wisdom offers both an inviting liberal education and a usefully humanistic self-help book.

Worldly wisdom book reviews:

This is a very interesting book. It is a large and beautiful cloth hard cover book. In it, the author summarizes wisdom from famous authors throughout the centuries. He uses quotes from the actual text, but very little of the actual original stories are included (mostly, it is the author's interpretation of how to apply the author's words to you own life). Very useful is the "summary" at the end of each chapter in the main thoughts on each topic. Please mark if you find my review helpful. Thank you so much!


Five stars is simply not enough for this beautifully written, celebratory book by James Sloan Allen. Worldly Wisdom provided me with a perspective on things loved and pursued over a lifetime, but not always fully articulated or put into such sweeping context. I admit to approaching it in a personal rather than chronological fashion, reading the last chapters first (Love in the Time of Cholera being my favorite work of fiction, and Don Quixote: The Uses of Idealism, being too irresistable of a draw). Only then could I move to the poignant beginning with Homer's Iliad and progress through to the party with Mrs Dalloway. The book took my breath away. Many times I had to stop reading just to digest, wrap my head around things a bit or just savor awhile. As one who wanted to be a literature major some 30 years ago, but for practical reasons opting otherwise, I find this book an astonishing resource, not only for what/who I want to read next, but as I reflect on experiences lived and ideas (and ideals) held dear. Years after completing this book, I still find myself rereading favorite chapters, and more significantly, still experiencing it's life-changing, life-enhancing repercussions. A refreshing meditation on some of the greatest literary expressions of the boundless human spirit.


A review of: Worldly Wisdom: Great Books and the Meanings of Life, by James Sloan Allen Amongst the many books about great books that I have read, this one stands out for its relevance to the inevitable questions, problems and issues of ordinary life, such as love, death, vitality and marriage. Combining the wisdom and insights of forty great classic works with the authors own profound observations, one gets a great self-help book. I was constantly stopping to think and meditate and comment on various passages. It also motivated me to purchase a number of great books that I hadn't previously read. It has my highest recommendation.

Dr. David A. Edwards
Department of Mathematics, University of Georgia

Hey, I was...scared. But then I opened Worldly Wisdom and couldn't put it down. What a surpisingly readable, page-turning thrill. Blind Homer a thrill? How about Nietsche? Actually yes; count them as thrills -- because WW shows how these classics can change your life -- make it more meaninful in spite of terrible odds. Memo to author James Allen: Where the heck were you when I was in college?

Louis Postel

I read this book before I purchased I borrowed it from the library twice and I read it like a bible. If you have never read most of the classics elaborated in this book you would want to after reading this. I love this book.

Amazon Customer

I absolutely love this book! I have read MANY books about "Great Books," and this stands out, by far, as one of the most profound and insightful. A rare and sober depth of insight permeates this whole book, qualities which are often lacking in so many others. The author discusses about 30 or so works, and he attempts to distilled the essential humanistic life wisdom that lies embedded in each work. His goal is to make clear what each work says about what it means to be human, and how to live a meaningful life. He gives a 10 - 15 pages discussion of each book, illuminating the wisdom about life that each author conveys in his or her work. At the end of each section he lists the essential life teaching of each work. His ability to discern, pull out, and explicate the central wisdom of each book is simply amazing. For example, the first chapter is on Homer's Iliad, in which the author shows that the Iliad is not really about war, it's about how humans cope with and respond to tragedies that beset all human existence. Later he discusses "Don Quixote," and shows how Cervantes' major work is not just a fanciful collection of tales about a fictional character; rather, the book is about ideals, the power and positive use they have in human life. The ultimate test for me when reading an author discuss a classic book is whether they state the obvious, or go beyond the obvious, go beyond the surface, and bring to light the underlying or hidden teaching. James Sloan Allen does this on every page of this masterful tome. If you like books like Harold Bloom's "The Western Canon," or Dirda's "Classics for Pleasure," you will absolutely love this book also. I have a Master's in Philosophy, and so I have read many books; I can unequivocally say that aside from the "Great Books" themselves, this is one of the best books I have ever read. It is filled with wisdom about books and about life itself - it is rare and wonderful.

Douglas Broehl

A few years back I read David Denby's book called Great Books, which outwardly resembles the aim of James Sloan Allen's in Worldly Wisdom. I really liked Denby's book, and I was curious to see how Denby's and Allen's views compared. First, I should make clear that I have only read the first few chapters: the chapters on Homer and Socrates. I recently read Fitzgerald’s translation of the Illiad and I must say that I felt more affinity with Denby’s critique of the Illiad than Allen’s. Allen tries to make the case that the epic is the first major work of humanism in Western Civilization, which contradicts Denby’s view. Denby thinks the humanist interpretation is off the mark. Both of these authors are far more knowledgeable than me, but I finished the Homer chapter not convinced of Allen’s thesis. Here is one example: As an instance of humanism in the epic poem, Allen recounts a passage in which Hector says goodbye to his family before heading back in to battle. Hector tosses his son into the air and exchanges affections with both his wife and son. Is this exchange really an example of humanism? It is certainly human to love one’s family, but is that the same as humanism? I found little to none of what I think of humanism (maybe I should define terms here?) in the Illiad, but instead find its interest and value as describing a culture almost wholly other to ours. What about at the end of the Odyssey where all of the women were hanged for cavorting with the suitors? It made poetry and beauty out of the most horrific, anti-human and brutal act imaginable. There are certain qualities in the works of Homer that are not brutal and violent, but I think it is stretching it to characterize them as humanist works. This book so far is, however, a highly interesting and useful way to reintroduce yourself with these classic works that should still be read and discussed in high/middle school classrooms (and rarely are).

SKooLBoY jiM

Worldy Wisdom by James Sloan Allen offers a wealth of knowledge and insight about the art of living found in classic literature from Homer to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This book will make you feel smart, almost as if you've read all the works mentioned. Eager to learn from them anew. It lifts one to appreciate, as Allen does so well, wisdom from around the world.

Mary Redd

For an insight into how one should live this life, it is hard to beat this selection of the profound ideas of many of the greatest minds who have pondered the question reaching back over 3000 years.

John L. Mudgett





i. Aloha in Old Hawai’i?

ii. The West “Discovers” Hawai’i

iii. The Missionaries Descend and Meet Aloha

iv. Remaking Hawai’i


v. A Soft Invasion Begins: Tourists Appear and Reimagine Aloha

vi. Reaction and Revival, Decline and Fall

vii. Annexation vs Aloha ‘Aina

II. THE TERRITORY: 1898-1959


viii. Territorial Politics and Aloha ‘oe to the Queen

ix. Tourism Rises

x. The Sport of Kings

xi. Hapa-Haole Culture Spreads Aloha

xii. Aloha Land


xiii. The Twenties: Tourist Culture Arrives With Aloha

xiv. Hawai’i Calls

xv. Pilikia: The Dark Side


xvi. Aloha in Wartime Hawai’i

xvii. Tourists Return With Aloha

xviii. Road to the Aloha State



xix. Growth Unboun

xx. Reaction, Aspiration, Renaissance

xxi. Culture Renaissance

xxii. Hawaiianness and Aloha


xxiii. From the Hawaiian Renaissance to the Culture of Aloha

xxiv. Inventing the Culture of Aloha

xxv. Exalting the Culture of Aloha

xxvi. Rewriting Hawaiian History and Criticizing the Culture of Aloha




My Latest Publication


Much of the world knows the word aloha as a Hawaiian greeting, and many people know it as a term for love. But you cannot be in Hawai’i long before you discover that these meanings are the least of it. Aloha is a way of life. And “live aloha” is a common creed. In many ways, Hawai’i is a culture of aloha. How aloha,/i> became an all-embracing culture in Hawai’i is an engaging and often surprising story. This book tells that story.

The Romance of Commerce and Culture:

Capitalism, Modernism, and the Chicago-Aspen Crusade for Cultural Reform

(University of Chicago Press,1983; paperback edition, 1986; second edition, University Press of Colorado, 2002)

This book tells the lively story of how consumer commerce, modernist aesthetics, the Great Books movement, and humanistic cultural criticism converged in a mid-twentieth century campaign to heal the wounds of World War II and shape American culture for the future. This campaign—involving such figures as Robert M. Hutchins, Mortimer J. Adler, Lazló Moholy-Nagy, and Ortega y Gasset, and bringing Albert Schweitzer to America for the only time—yielded many lasting consequences. Among these consequences are the eminent Aspen Institute and the making of Aspen, Colorado, as a social and cultural Mecca.


One of the most significant pieces of cultural history to be published in the last decade.

O. B. Hardison, Jr.
The Sewanee Review

Rarely does a historian evoke the mood of an era as convincingly as James Sloan Allen in this portrayal of the relationship between business and ‘high culture’ in the years immediately after World War II. … A model of interdisciplinary scholarship.

effrey L. Merkle
Journal of American History

This is an important book, the kind that brings familiar subjects together in new ways. Its theme is the changing connection between proponents of humanistic culture and leaders in the world of business. … This sense of time and change is a major contribution to cultural history. In this book, James Sloan Allen has proved himself a master of the craft.

Gerald A. Danzer
Illinois Historical Journal

In this tour de force, Allen manages to touch on such seemingly disparate topics as Bauhaus design, educational reform at the University of Chicago, Aristotelian philosophy, and the growth of skiing in the United States. He aims to show how American capitalism nurtured and shaped modern culture, and his objectives are quite largely fulfilled.

Daniel Pope
Business History Review

In Allen’s quite detailed, although always urbane, intelligent, and well-written book, we have an unusual and exceptionally suggestive perspective on the American upper class and its culture.

Thomas Bender
American Historical Review

The Romance of Commerce and Culture offers the readerone of the best descriptions of American thought about architecture, product design, and graphic design through most of [the twentieth] century.

Bill Bonnell
Journal of Graphic Design

Selected by Choice as one of the Ten Best Books on Business of 1983.


Preface to the second edition — ix

Acknowledgements — Xi

Introduction — xiii


1. Mordenist Marketing: The Consumer Revolution and the Container Corporation of America — 3

2. Marketing Modernism: Moholy-Nagy and the Bauhaus in America — 39

3. Great Books and Cultural Reform: The Chicago Bildungsideal — 83


4. The Magic Mountain: Discovering Aspen — 119

5. Selling the Postwar Goethe — 153

6. Celebrating the Postwar Goethe — 180

7. The Birth of the Aspen Idea — 208


8. Consensus, Criticism and the New American Elite — 237

9. The Aspen Muses an the Twilight of Modernism — 268

10. Epilogue: The Romance of Commerce and Culture, 2002 — 291

NOTES — 314

INDEX — 347


Introduction: William James: A Philosopher for Our Times

1. The Power of Habit
“Habit” (from Psychology: The Briefer Course)
“The Laws of Habit” (from Talks to Teachers on Psychology)
“Genius and Old-Fogeyism” (from Psychology: The Briefer
2. Consciousness and the Habits of Will
“The Stream of Consciousness” (selections from Psychology: The Briefer
“Attention and Free-Will” (from Psychology: The Briefer Course)
“Will” (selections from Psychology: The Briefer Course)
“The Will” (from Talks to Teachers on Psychology)
3. Truths of Belief and Clues to Morality
“The Sentiment of Rationality” (selections)
“The Will To Believe” (selections)
“The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life” (selections)
“On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings,” (selections)
The Varieties of Religious Experience , (selections)
4. Truths of Experience
“What Pragmatism Means” (selections)
“Pragmatism’s Conception of Truth” (selections)
A Pluralistic Universe, (selection)
The Meaning of Truth, (selection)
5. The Strenuous Life and Its Rewards
“On Some Mental Effects of the Earthquake”
“The Energies of Men” (selections)
“The Moral Equivalent of War”
“What Makes a Life Significant”
“Is Life Worth Living?” (selection)

William James on Habit, Will, Truth, and the Meaning of Life

Edited with an Introduction by James Sloan Allen

Frederic C. Beil Publisher, 2014

297 pages

William James, the radical modern philosopher and father of American psychology (and brother of the novelist Henry James), found habit and will to be the secret of a good life. He elaborated this discovery into a philosophy of life that runs through his many scintillating writings, ranging from the classic Principles of Psychology and The Varieties of Religious Experience to the revolutionary Pragmatism and popular essays like “The Moral Equivalent of War.” Always he urged people to cultivate habits of mind—especially the habits of will, including the will to break bad habits—that give us self-mastery, alert us to truth, equip us to act, and lend zest and meaning to life.

The extensive Introduction shows how William James came to his philosophy and how he acted on it throughout his life in ideas and memorably readable works that have direct pertinence today. The selections then display James weaving this philosophy through enduring writings on habit and its uses, the stream of consciousness and the discipline of will, the efficacy of belief and clues to morality, the truths of experience, and the strenuous life and its rewards.


Excellent and informative book! Full of wisdom from beginning to end!! Excellent information on how to teach younger people the power of habits and how to change their habits. The type is somewhat small, however. I highly recommend this book! Please mark if you find my review helpful. Thank you so much!


An inspiring introduction by Allen followed by inspiring essays by James! Just what one would expect from the author of Worldly Wisdom!!

David A. Edwards

Life Line

A Novel of Romance and Rebirth

Accomplished New York book editor Rebecca Winters, on the threshold of forty and recently yet amiably divorced, looks into herself one day as never before and finds – nothing. Her contented life has gone empty. 

Bewildered and fraught, she vacantly buries herself in work, trying to hide her distress from others. A few weeks later, as a favor to a colleague, she grudgingly meets an author with a book to propose.  Although author Alex Rodgers unsettles Rebecca with his debonair, whimsical manner and rather aesthetic view of life, his intelligence, wit, and imagination induce her to see him again. And again. And her life begins to take some surprising turns. 

Despite her ambivalence toward him, a romance grows as they share the pleasure of New York—in the shadow of 9/11—and talk of man things, revealing ever more of themselves to each other, and to themselves. 

This romance also takes them to India, where they find their lives happily altered anew and then caught up in a tragedy that ultimately leads Rebecca to an understanding and affirmation of life she had never known. 

Delving into art and religion, palm reading and gambling, perceptions and sentimentality, illusion and reality, and what makes life most worth living, Life Line is at once a novel of ideas and a love story, brining smiles, tears, and hope. 


1. Onto a Bridge of Dreams

2. A Perfect Life

3. Dilemma

4. A Way Out?

5. Flaneur

On a Bridge of Dreams (continued)

1. Shiva’s Dance

2. The City and the Night

3. Against the Grain

4. The Moon Illusion

On a Bridge of Dreams (continued)

1. Gotta Horse Right Here

2. Two Weeks

3. Eezzee to Luvv

4. Sentimental Intimacy

On a Bridge of Dreams (continued)

1. Against the odds

2. Palms and Coincidence

3. In Passing

On a Bridge of Dreams (continued)

1. Sweet Irony

2. City of Rebirth

3. Serene Elation

4. Romance and Reality

On a Bridge of Dreams (continued)

1. Give me paradise

2. A Deeper Well

3. Death Mark

4. Still Life

5. Into the Fantasy of the Night


Prefatory Note ix

Essays 1

i. Reflections at the Edge of the World 3

ii. Signs of Shanghai, c. 1996 23

iii. The Mystery of the Smiling Elephant 33

iv. The Storytellers of Marrakech 59

Tales 85

i. Raffles 87

ii. Tango 107

iii. A Bon Vivant’s Dream 119

iv. The Dancer with the Fish-Shaped Eyes 141

v. London Millennimum 149

vi. Ciela 175

vii. Hadrian’s Moon 199

viii. And She Went to the Elephant Races 209

ix. Safari 229

x. On Parole in Aspen 253

xi. Saigon Night and the Gentle Man from Laos 261

xii. Livin the Dream 275

xiii. Hemingway’s Ghost 285

Dreamers, Runaways, and Mysteries:
A Traveler’s Tales and Essays

The tales tell of characters drawn to these places, sometimes for escape from the lives they had led, and of incidents that memorably mark their travels. In India, an intrepid lady adventurer charms an unhappy American; in Buenos Aires, a lonely tourist gets enraptured by a torrid story of tango dancers; in Botswana, a safari takes a surprising twist under an astonishing guide; in Singapore, fantasies of Somerset Maugham bewitch a yearning visitor; in Rio de Janiero, a buoyant lady of the night beguiles a disaffected businessman; in Saigon, a nostalgic journalist hears surprising secrets from a gentle Laotian. And many more.

Cabbages & Kings

Cabbages and Kings is a rather whimsical title (borrowed from Lewis Carroll) for a collection of what are, for the most part, learned essays on serious subjects. But the collection has a somewhat whimsical spirit as it brings together writings on many things, such as style in life and art, in restaurant design, and in the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Oscar Wilde; relations between liberalism and conservatism, Islam and the West, church and state, Modernism and Postmodernism; ideas of Sigmund Freud, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Alexis de Tocqueville, and a daughter of Karl Marx; as well as the story of a Japanese detention camp, the necessity of laughter, and how to think about the meaning of life.

And yet for all of its variety of subjects, Cabbages and Kings has an underlying theme. That is a humanistic way of life. Whether exploring the nature of style or the aspirations of Modernism, the character of popular culture or the ethics of civility, the tangles of self-consciousness or the sense of cultural decline at the end of the twentieth century, the perspective of humanism prevails. That perspective embraces ideas of many kinds along with the desire to shape a world that gives humanistic meaning to life.

Overall, Cabbages and Kings is a spirited adventure in ideas, culture, and humanism engaging both mind and imagination as it takes readers through a variegated intellectual landscape.


Prefatory Note

I. On Style & the Good Life

1. Style in Art, Character, and Culture

2. The Arts of the Dining Room

3. Remembrance of Restaurants Past

Styles of Hospitality

4. Isn’t It Romantic?

5. Theater of Tranquility

6. Starck’s Swan Song: With a Note on Feng Shui at Felix

7. Elegant Utility

8. Mrs. Dalloway and the Ethics of Civility

9. Nietzsche and Wilde: Cultural Rebellion and an Ethics of Style

II. On The Political Life

10. Notes on Liberalism and Conservatism with a Comment on Political Correctness and the Rights of Civility

11. Orwell, Mind Control, and Our Times

12. A Wartime Tragedy and a Teacher Who Would Not Let It Be Lost

13. Notes on Islam, America, and Human Rights with a Few Words on Good Soldiers in the War of Ideas

14. A Stranger to Power: On the Separation of Church and State

III. On Modernity & Modernism

15. What Was Modernism?

16. Modernity, Modernism, and the Evil of Banality

17. Self-Consciousness and the Modernist Temper

18. More Emma than Nora: A Victorian/Marxist/Modernist Melodrama

19. Sigmund Freud: Bourgeois Modernist

20. Tolstoy’s fin de siècle and Ours: From Decadence to Postmodernism

21. Fin-de-siècle America and the Twilight of Culture

IV. On Humanism, Classics, Laughter, Proust, & the Meaning of Life

22. How Humanists Have Betrayed Humanism

23. The Humanities and Their Discontents

24. Reading, Rumination, and the Classics

25. Casebooks of Humanistic Education

26. Let ’em Laugh: Tristram Shandy and the Humanity of Laughter

27. As Time Goes By: On Reading Proust and Finding the Magic Sand

28. Thinking about the Meaning of Life: A Dialogue