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Who does not know the truth is simply a fool; yet who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a criminal.

Berthold Brecht

A successful book is not made of what is in it, but of what is left out of it.

Mark Twain

I really like lean prose, stuff that just does what it’s supposed to and gets out of there.

George Saunders

Somebody has to do something, and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.

Jerry Garcia

The computer is both a blessing and a curse, for it makes possible calculations once beyond the reach of human endurance while at the same time also making them virtually beyond the hope of human verification.

Henry Petroski, To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design (1982)

If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.

Rudyard Kipling

Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.

Isaac Newton

The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of the divinity itself and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

Alexander Hamilton

It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward.

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

The sole virtue of losing your short-term memory is that it does free you to be your own editor.

Norman Mailer

I like to believe that the moon is still there even if we don’t look at it.

Albert Einstein

Descriptions of poetry written by men who are not poets are usually ridiculous, for they describe rational thought processes.

Louis Simpson (poet, 1923-2012)

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.

G. K. Chesterton (1924)

God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.

Carl Jung

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Exaggeration is the definition of art.

G. K. Chesterton, Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens (1911)

The soul of savagery is slavery.

G. K. Chesterton, A Short History of England (1917)

Education is a great shield against experience. It offers so much, and ready-made and from all the best shops, that there’s a temptation to miss your own life in pursuing the lives of your betters.

Robertson Davies, World of Wonders (1975)

If I were going to hell, I don’t think I’d start from Canada.


The truth? Don’t com to me for the truth, only explanations.

Psychiatrist, in the 1972 film The Ruling Class

Nothing can permanently please which does not contain in itself the reason why it is so and not otherwise.

Coleridge (quoted in Bernard Malamud, The Tenants (1971)

I think that the constant study of maps is apt to disturb men’s reasoning powers.

Lord Salisbury, in the House of Lords (1890), on the Cape to Cairo railway project

The chains that bind mankind are made of office paperwork.

Franz Kafka

Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.

From the film Birdman (2014)

In science, the journey is not the destination; the destination is the destination.

James D. Watson, Avoid Boring People and Other Lesson from a Life in Science (2007)

The only thing that can defeat absurdity is lucidity.

Albert Camus

Regrets are the natural property of grey hairs.

Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)

It is true, that in trying to prove that a system of proportion has been deliberately applied by a painter, a sculptor, or an architect, one is easily misled into finding those ratios which one sets out to find. In the scholar’s hand dividers don’t revolt.

Rudolf Wittkauer, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (1965)

You write to find out what you’re writing.

E. L. Doctorow, to Charlie Rose

Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free the camel from the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)

I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches on it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.


I don’t understand German myself. I learned it at school, but forgot every word of it two years after I had left, and have felt much better ever since.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (1889)

People who have tried it tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily maintained.


The only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.

Harry S Truman

I don’t think they knew how to be parents. I probably didn’t know how to be a son either.

Edward Albee, on his relationship with his parents

The law sharpens the mind by narrowing it.

Max Byrd, Jefferson (1993)

A diplomat is a man who always has another subject ready.


Reason never does anything, it’s too reasonable.

John Galsworthy, The Freelands (1915)

A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.

Mary Karr