The Yale Book of Quotations: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: November 16th, 2012 by bobmorris

The Yale Book of Quotations
Fred R. Shapiro, Editor
Yale University Press (2006)

A treasury of “highly quotatious” insights

During the past 25-30 years, I have purchased and then made frequent use of dozens of anthologies of quotations (including revised and updated editions of Bartlett and Oxford) and consider The Yale Book of Quotations the most entertaining and enlightening of them all. As editor Fred R. Shapiro duly acknowledges, he had the substantial benefit of state-of-the-art research methods and resources that were not available to his earlier counterparts and thus was able to trace more thoroughly the origins of quotations he selected. Correct attribution is especially important to those who are, as Joseph Epstein characterizes them in the Foreword, “highly quotatious.”

Here several such corrections. “We are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants” (Bernard of Chartres, not Isaac Newton); “War is hell!” (Napoleon, not William Tecumseh Sherman), and “Murphy’s Law” (George Orwell, not Edward A. Murphy, Jr.) Shapiro also includes a number quotations not found in previous anthologies. For example, “Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger”(Friedrich Nietzsche) and “Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse” (William Motley). The 12,000 quotations are arranged in alphabetical order by author, with source and date of origin cited.

I especially appreciate Shapiro’s provision of 200 memorable “Film Lines” (Pages 258-269) that include some of my personal favorites. For example:

Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) in An American in Paris (1951): ”[My face is not] a pretty face, I grant you, but underneath its flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character.”

General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) in Dr. Strangelove (1964): “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million people killed, tops, depending on the breaks.”

Captain (Strother Martin) in Cool Hand Luke (1967): “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) in Island of Lost Souls (1933): “[The natives] are restless tonight.”

Howard Beale (Peter Finch) in Network (1976): “I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell `I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in The Third Man (1949): “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed – they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy, and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

This is an anthology to be kept near at hand, perhaps on a coffee table, and will encourage and generously reward occasional browsing.

Here are a few that recently caught my eye:

“There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not.” Robert Benchley (1921)

A U.S. sailor saluting a new flag hoisted on his ship: “I name thee Old Glory.” William Driver (1821)

“The most important aspect of our [Israel’s] policy must be our ever-present, manifest desire to institute complete equality for the Arab citizens living in our midst…. The attitude we adopt toward the Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standards as a people.” Albert Einstein (1955)

“You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America’s Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, and Germany doesn’t want to go to war.” Chris Rock (quoted in Calgary Sun in 2003)

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

Using meticulous research to trace quotations to their original sources, Fred R. Shapiro was able to determine the validity of a claim such as Yogi Berra’s, “I really didn’t say everything I said.” He probably didn’t make all the statements attributed to him but he did make that claim, Shapiro confirms, during an interview by Sports Illustrated in 1986. Shapiro will gratefully welcome corrections of information provided in this volume as well as suggestions of new quotations for future editions. Submit them to or

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