Wednesday, 27 August 2008


In for a penny, in for a pound! Penguin Books had an idea to "get the nation talking" (presumably about their books). Actually what they wanted was to get people blogging, i.e. talking about their books on their (Penquin's) blog.

What they were offering was to send you a free book - which they did - once your title was drawn out of the hat. Talk about getting the short straw! I ended up with The Analects which I had never heard of!

OK. I guess that is the whole idea. I nobly read all 'proper' stuff in the middle, i.e. the actual Analects which, as everyone knows, is a collection of Confucius' sayings, and all of the beefy introduction.

Today I submitted by review which is to be posted, randomly, on their website which is here.

In case you can't wait, or are not interested in reading the reviews done by the hundreds (!!!) of other folk pulled into this project, here is my submission:

The Analects is basically a book of the teachings of Confucius. It is a collection of conversations with his disciples and is laid out in a series of twenty Books. Like Socrates setting down the teachings and conversations with Plato, it is the closest we will ever get to first-hand teachings. (These two collections of sayings have formed the basis of Eastern thinking and Western thinking, respectively. Both give points of view on how to lead a good life and how get along with each other in life.)

To read The Analects, therefore, is to get an insight into the similarities and differences between the two. Easteners are influenced by Confucian thinking; Westerners by the thinking of the Ancient Greeks. The Eastern way or 'Way' is that there is no absolute truth; one is always trying to find a path to the truth. The Western way is about black and white; logical thinking will out. It is about straight lines, sequential thinking, not circular thinking with the emphasis on achieving harmony.

This book is like a sandwich, i.e. The Analects themselves form the meaty bit in the middle. It is the 1979 version of 256 pages and is an English translation from Chinese. The book starts with an excellent Introduction by the translator, D.C. Lau. It forms the first 55 pages. The last third is made up of the Appendices - The Life of Confucius, The Disciples, and The Lun Yu which relate to the composition of The Analects - and a Glossary.

The translator's Introduction is sensitive and scholarly therefore greatly helping the reader in what is to follow. For example, a very important teaching of Confucius relates to practicing benevolence. (People brought up in a Christian culture would recognise a similar teaching: "Do Unto Others...." )

Lau, near the beginning, states: "As benevolence is so central a concept, we naturally expect Confucius to have a great deal to say about it. In this we are not disappointed. There are no less than six occasions on which Confucius answered direct questions about benevolence, and as Confucius had the habit of framing his answers with the specific needs of the inquirer in mind, these answers, taken together, give us a reasonably complete picture." He then goes on to point out that there are two components to benevolence. With the benefit of his language skills as well as his writing skills, we, in our Western culture, are given a lot of necessary help to enable us to get a better feel for, and understanding of, Eastern thinking.

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