How And Why To Keep A “Commonplace Book”

This is how i planned on studying my law books. Maybe I could come back to it. We’ll see. So far I’m satisfied with marginalia and getting my notes digital rather than on paper. We’ll see. But I like this. Hey, I might even read Robert Greene. I usually don’t trust anything that attracts a crowd no matter the kind that it draws, but who knows. Someone told me once that taking chances is a good thing. Fine. I’ll buy one Robert Greene booke and see where that goes.

Thought Catalog

The other day I was reading a book and I came across a little anecdote. It was about the great Athenian general Themistocles. Before the battle of Salamis, he was locked in a vigorous debate with a Spartan general about potential strategies for defeating the Persians. Themistocles was clearly in the minority with his views (but which ultimately turned out to be right and saved Western Civilization). He continued to interrupt and contradict the other generals. Finally, the Spartan general threatened to strike Themistocles if he didn’t shut up and stop. “Strike!” Themistocles shouted back, “But listen!”

When I read this, I immediately began a ritual that I have practiced for many years–and that others have done for centuries before me–I marked down the passage and later transferred it to my commonplace book. Why? Because it’s a great line and it stood out to me. I wrote it…

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