Top ten favorite quotations from books is a…daunting challenge, to say the least. I’ve been reading purposefully since 2006, and have encountering a great many challenging or insightful words since then. I am sorry that these all run together, but WordPress has proven….obstinate.
- “I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to is lowest terms.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
- “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.” – Spinoza, as quoted in Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer
- “One of the things [Uncle Alex] found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’
“So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’” – Kurt Vonnegut
- “It’s always so easy to avoid other people’s vices, isn’t it?” – Star Wars: Yoda, Dark Rendezvous. Laugh at the source, but the insight is undeniable. The same thought appears in the New Testament.
- “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
- “No longer talk about the kind of man a good man ought to be, but be one.” – Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations.
- “And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in all the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for it is the one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.” – John Steinbeck, East of Eden
- “The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There’s not one of them which won’t make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it isn’t. If you leave out justice you’ll find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials ‘for the sake of humanity’ and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
- Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer,
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself, abus’d, or disabus’d;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of Truth, in endless Error hurl’d:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
– Alexander Pope, “Essay on Man”. Quoted in The Ascent of Science, Brian Silver. One of the first bits of verse I ever memorized.
- “He tried to explain and to convince. He knew, while he spoke, that it was useless, because his words sounded if they were hitting a vacuum. There was no such person as Mrs. Wayne Wilmot; there was only a shell containing the opinions of her friends. the picture post cards she had seen, the novels of country squires she had read; it was this that he had to address, this immateriality which could not hear him or answer, deaf and impersonal like a wad of cotton.” – The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand