The Analects of Confucius, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, 162 pp., $19.95 (cloth)

Confucius (551-479 B.C.) came from low-ranking nobility and grew up in considerable poverty. Perhaps that is why he seemed so sensitive to matters of class and wealth and so devoted to education as one of the means of rising in these realms.

Education is a major theme in all of his writings and this is particularly true of the "Analects." In English, this term designates a selection from the writings of a particular person, but in Chinese the book is known as "Lunyu," which means merely "Conversations." And this is what the collection resembles. It contains a large number of short passages arranged in 20 sections or "books."

These consist of various observations and reflect the Chinese fondness for pithy sayings and the belief that truth can best be expressed in aphorisms or even in slogans.