A.G. Sertillanges - On Intellectual Work

We want to develop breadth of mind, to practice comparative study, to keep the horizon before us ; these things cannot be done without much reading. But much and little are opposites only in the same domain. . .[M]uch is necessary in the absolute sense, because the work to be done is vast; but little, relatively to the deluge of writing that…floods our libraries and our minds nowadays.
What we are proscribing is the passion for reading, the uncontrolled habit, the poisoning of the mind by excess of mental food, the laziness in disguise which prefers easy familiarity with others’ thought to personal effort.
The passion for reading which many pride themselves on as a precious intellectual quality is in reality a defect; it differs in no wise from other passions that monopolize the soul , keep it in a state of disturbance, set it in uncertain currents and cross-currents, and exhaust its powers.
The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production; it grows inwardly extroverted, if one can so express oneself, becomes the slave of its mental images, of the ebb and flow of ideas on which it has eagerly fastened its attention. This uncontrolled delight is an escape from self; it ousts the intelligence from its function and allows it merely to follow point for point the thoughts of others, to be carried along in the stream of words, developments, chapters, volumes.
[N]ever read when you can reflect; read only, except in moments of recreation, what concerns the purpose you are pursuing; and read little, so as not to eat up your interior silence.
--From "The Intellectual Life"


  1. Sertillanges also proscribed the reading of novels; he did allow, I recall, reading the Iliad and the Odyssey (in the original of course).

  2. Ms. Mann:

    I did not know that. It would seem to fit in with his general approach to the intellectual life (perhaps under the category of inordinate reading). Thank you for your comment!