Great Book Dedications

The dedication of Orfeo by Monteverdi, 1609

Today I was thinking about book dedications. I have always tried to write meaningful ones and I enjoy reading the other book dedications. The first dedication I wrote was for my master’s thesis in graduate school.

“To my father, who approved of my being inquisitive.”

This honored the memory of a dinner table conversation when I was young (at least as best as I can remember it.) My father told me I was inquisitive, and I asked what the word meant. After he told me, I asked if it was good to be inquisitive. He said yes.

My next one was for my doctoral dissertation.

To my mother and father
whose love nurtured me,
And to Jane,
whose love sustains me …

I suppose this represented the transition from a focus on parental love to the love of my spouse. The next was for a college ethics textbook:

 For Jane
“a lily among the thistles …” (Song of Solomon 2:2)

Anyone who knows me will find it ironic that I quote the Bible, which is, for the most part, a terrible and silly book. But I had recently run across the quote and was trying to capture the sense in which Jane is incorruptible. I dedicated my next book, Piaget’s Conception of Evolution to my graduate school mentor whom I mentioned in a previous post.

To Richard J. Blackwell
an exemplar of moral and intellectual virtue

Professor Blackwell was the inspiration for that book so it seemed appropriate. Talking with him years later he told me that I was the only one to have ever dedicated a book to him. He was honored. My book The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Transhumanist, and Scientific Perspectives bore this inscription:

For my children—Jennifer Emily, Katie Jane, Anne Marie, and Joshua Harrison—that you may live forever in a good, beautiful, and meaningful world;

And for Jane … that together we may somehow join them.

I dedicated my book, Who Are We?: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific and Transhumanist Theories Of Human Nature, as follows:

To Jane, who has a beautiful nature.

And I dedicated my latest book to my grandchildren,

For Avery, Ellery, and Finn

Eat well, stay active, and seek serenity;
Laugh and love, play and ponder, and always have hope,
I love you all so much.

Finally here are my favorite dedications, both from two of my intellectual heroes. The first is Will Durant’s dedication to his wife Ariel in his 1926 book, The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers one of the best-selling philosophy books ever published. At the time of its publication, Durant was in his early forties and his wife was in her late twenties, so he wrote the dedication expecting that she would outlive him. As it turned out, they died a few days apart after almost seventy years of marriage. It conveys the notion that others will pick up the flame of life where we left off. 

Grow strong, my comrade … that you may stand
Unshaken when I fall; that I may know
The shattered fragments of my song will come
At last to finer melody in you;
That I may tell my heart that you begin
Where passing I leave off, and fathom more.
― Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy

And here is the dedication by Bertrand Russell to his wife Edith in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (18671969). It was written when Russell was almost 80 years old. It is a nostalgic reminder that through struggle and toil … love and peace can be found.

To Edith

Through the long years
I sought peace,
I found ecstasy, I found anguish,
I found madness,
I found loneliness,
I found the solitary pain
that gnaws the heart,
But peace I did not find.
Now, old & near my end,
I have known you,
And, knowing you,
I have found both ecstasy & peace,
I know rest,
After so many lonely years.
I know what life & love may be.
Now, if I sleep,
I shall sleep fulfilled.

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4 thoughts on “Great Book Dedications

  1. Thank you for these.
    They all, except for Prof. Blackwell, turn on loving and being loved.
    (Arguably Prof. Blackwell’s was as well, only in the professional manner rather than the familial).
    They all exude that which sustains us.

  2. I remember both the one by Durant and the one by Russell. I must say that as much as I generally am very skeptical about marriage, when it DOES work, well, it is certainly great. The story about the Durants is pretty striking.

    Better than to live and die alone….though many of us won’t be able to avoid this fate.

    Thank you!

  3. the story of Will and Ariel Durant is of a truly remarkable 68 year partnership.

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