Zena Hitz tells the story of her struggle to engage in an intellectual life. Hitz leaves her teaching job to join a primitive religious community in Canada in order to search for meaning in her life. Along the way, Hitz meditates on the philosophies of Aristotle, St. Augustine, Einstein, Dorothy Day, and many others.

My career path parallels Zena Hitz’s except for the episode in the Canadian religious commune. I too studied philosophy (among other things) and gravitated toward teaching. Where Hitz found teaching not enriching enough, I loved my job and looked forward to a classroom full of students. However, I’m very very happy I am not facing going back to teaching this September with the coronavirus pandemic. I would opt out–take a leave or an early retirement–rather than try to contend with students in a college classroom with covid-19 lurking. Do you pursue an Intellectual Life? GRADE: B+


Prologue: How Washing Dishes Restored My Intellectual Life 1

Introduction: Learning, Leisure, and Happiness 25

Chapter 1 A Refuge from the World 50

Chapter 2 Learning Lost and Found 113

Chapter 3 The Uses of Uselessness 162

Epilogue: The Everyday Intellectual 202

Acknowledgments 207

Notes 211

Index 221


  1. Deb

    I try to stay aware & informed—and I read all the time, but I’m not sure I qualify as “intellectual.” Probably, “a broad but rather shallow pop-culture knowledge” would be the best descriptor of my type of intelligence.

  2. Patti Abbott

    Less and less over time. When I compare the books I read my first twenty-five years to the last, I am challenging myself less. Deb sums things up well as usual.

    1. george Post author

      Patti, I try to challenge myself by reading “difficult” books at least once a month. But, you’re right: I’m not reading as many demanding books as I did 25 years ago.

  3. Michael Padgett

    Maybe once, long ago, but not so much now. Like Dylan’s Mr. Jones I’ve been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books, but now I mostly read crime novels. If I want to feel good about my intelligence I can spend five minutes with a Trumper.

    1. george Post author

      Michael, some of our friends are “Trumpers” and you’re right about the reaction they produce after a political discussion.

  4. wolf

    Putting St Augustine and Einstein in one sentence seems a bit strange and un-intellectual to me.
    And btw Einstein was never a believer – some crazies just wanted him to be one.
    Yes, I feel that I’m an intellectual too though I don’t read many books today – luckily there are other even more compact information sources.

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, the Einstein quote “God does not play dice with the universe” triggered a lot religious speculation in the United States.

  5. Jeff Meyerson

    Somewhat, as others have already said. I find that I’ll be reading something and something I don’t know catches my eye – for instance, in Pepys’ daily diary entry today he wrote about Zealand (actually Zeeland, but Pepys’s spelling is iffy), so looked it up on Wikipedia, which led me to something I’ve been interested in, the last North Sea flood on 1953. I love Wikipedia, without accepting everything someone has written there.

    Still, it is hard to picture you in a Canadian religious commune, George.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, on one of the College’s conferences on Distance Learning, some of my colleagues dragged me to a religious commune in Myrtle Beach for a visit. Mind-numbing experience…

  6. Steve Oerkfitz

    What the others have said pretty much sums it up. I had philosophy courses in college and found them among the most boring courses I took. Thinking about Kant can still give me headaches. I just never thought philosophy for the most part had much to do with the real world. I spent most of my working live doing blue collar work and was fairly happy with that. This book doesn’t sound very interesting to me. Someone who goes to a primitive religious commune to find herself doesn’t really interest me.

    1. george Post author

      Steve, Zena Hitz struggled to find herself. Like you, I would NEVER opt for life in a primitive religious commune, but some people are attracted to that kind of existence.

  7. Jerry House

    Sadly, my only intellectual experience has been a failed attempt to coin a word that rhymes with orange.

    BTW: I could picture you at a religious commune in Canada, George, but only if they serve good pizza.

    1. george Post author

      Jerry, I might visit a religious community in Canada for some world-class pizza, but then I’d make a quick exit back across the Border!

    2. wolf

      I would have thunk that there are more primitive religious communes in the USA …
      Sorry, that just had to be.
      PS and a bit OT:
      Ten years ago my wife and I traveled from NYC to Canada, Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake and back – wonderful.
      WE drove from our hotel in Secaucus NJ not on the interstate but smaller roads to the Finger Lakes and onwards and passed through many small cities (here one might call them villages). And then my wife asked me:
      Are there really that many churches everywhere in the USA, are they all in use? 🙂

      And on the way back I saw a sign “Bethel Woods 5 miles” and of course we had to get there. My wife then asked, what’s this place and I showed her around and of course she realized …
      Had seen the movie on a DVD before …

      1. Jeff Meyerson

        Wolf, Brooklyn used to be known as The Borough of Churches. In fact, by 1841 (it was a separate city until 1898), it was called a “City of Churches.” We have many in our neighborhood, and Ridge Boulevard seems to have them every couple of blocks. But things change, and many of the churches have started sharing with a second congregation to keep going.

      2. wolf

        Re atheism:
        It’s also the fastest growing belief in Germany – the churches together are losing almost half a million people every year.
        And that really hurts them because they get most of their money as church tax – which is a certain percentage of income tax. But of course only from state registered members.

  8. Rick Robinson

    Nope, me not smart. Me don’t no bout no smarty-pants stuff, no, just read me sum old mistry books and the funnies and sumting with those dragons an a poem sumtimes. Might hav been dropped on me head as a young un.


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