What I read in 2015

I bought my Kindle slightly over a year ago, and since it has accompanied me everywhere I’ve been. It has provided me with entertainment on long journeys and education in subjects where I had none. I would like to share some of my favourite quotes. I have sorted them based on when I started reading them, with some slight editing.

December (2014)

The Prince (Niccolò Machiavelli)

Besides, pretexts for taking away the property are never wanting; for he who has once begun to live by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to others; but reasons for taking life, on the contrary, are more difficult to find and sooner lapse.

Two men working differently bring about the same effect, and of two working similarly, one attains his object and the other does not.

I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious.

How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)

Most of our so- called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.

Martin Luther King was asked how, as a pacifist, he could be an admirer of Air Force General Daniel “Chappie” James, then the nation’s highest-ranking black officer. Dr. King replied, “I judge people by their own principles - not by my own.”

J. Pierpont Morgan observed, in one of his analytical interludes, that a person usually has two reasons for doing a thing: one that sounds good and a real one.

a hundred years before Christ was born a famous old Roman poet, Publilius Syrus, remarked; “We are interested in others when they are interested in us.”

“Talk to people about themselves,” said Disraeli, one of the shrewdest men who ever ruled the British Empire. “Talk to people about themselves and they will listen for hours .”

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Benjamin Franklin)

Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves.

This flattered my vanity; but my father discouraged me by ridiculing my performances, and telling me verse-makers were generally beggars. So I escaped being a poet, most probably a very bad one; but as prose writing had been of great use to me in the course of my life, and was a principal means of my advancement.

[On getting into arguments] Persons of good sense, I have since observed, seldom fall into it, except lawyers, university men, and men of all sorts that have been bred at Edinborough.

Men should be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown propos’d as things forgot.

A man being sometimes more generous when he has but a little money than when he has plenty, perhaps thro’ fear of being thought to have but little. “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

In order to secure my credit and character as a tradesman, I took care not only to be in reality industrious and frugal, but to avoid all appearances to the contrary.

Theodore Roosevelt; an Autobiography (Roosevelt, Theodore)

I thoroughly enjoyed Harvard, and I am sure it did me good, but only in the general effect, for there was very little in my actual studies which helped me in after life.

He says that at the outset almost every man is frightened when he goes into action, but that the course to follow is for the man to keep such a grip on himself that he can act just as if he was not frightened. After this is kept up long enough it changes from pretense to reality, and the man does in very fact become fearless by sheer dint of practicing fearlessness when he does not feel it.

I did not then believe, and I do not now believe, that any man should ever attempt to make politics his only career. It is a dreadful misfortune for a man to grow to feel that his whole livelihood and whole happiness depend upon his staying in office. Such a feeling prevents him from being of real service to the people while in office, and always puts him under the heaviest strain of pressure to barter his convictions for the sake of holding office.

I went around there often enough to have the men get accustomed to me and to have me get accustomed to them, so that we began to speak the same language, and so that each could begin to live down in the other’s mind what Bret Harte has called “the defective moral quality of being a stranger.”

It is not often that a man can make opportunities for himself. But he can put himself in such shape that when or if the opportunities come he is ready to take advantage of them.

No one of us cares permanently to have some one else conscientiously striving to do him good; what we want is to work with that some one else for the good of both of us

Any man who has met with success, if he will be frank with himself, must admit that there has been a big element of fortune in the success.

Let him remember, by the way, that the unforgivable crime is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.

We made no promise which we could not and did not keep. We made no threat which we did not carry out.

Nine-tenths of wisdom is to be wise in time, and at the right time;

January

Sam Walton Made in America (Sam Walton)

I learned a long time ago that exercising your ego in public is definitely not the way to build an effective organization.

It never occurred to me that I might lose; to me, it was almost as if I had a right to win. Thinking like that often seems to turn into sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now I realize the simple truth: I got into retailing because I was tired and I wanted a real job.

Another way we tried hard to make up for our lack of experience and sophistication was to spend as much time as we could checking out the competition.

Andrew Carnegie (David Nasaw)

With a talent for cloaking self-interest in larger humanitarian concerns, he made a premature case for free public libraries.

Carnegie had all his life found a way to attach himself to older people who could be of use to him—and he to them.

To raise money for roads not yet built and probably not really needed, Carnegie and Scott trafficked in what Richard White refers to as “the utilitarian fictions of capitalism.”

WHEN A.B. FARQUHAR, a Pennsylvania businessman, mentioned to Carnegie that he was always sure to be in his office by “seven in the morning,” Carnegie remarked laughingly: “‘You must be a lazy man if it takes you ten hours to do a day’s work.’

The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

“Always! That is a dreadful word. It makes me shudder when I hear it. Women are so fond of using it. They spoil every romance by trying to make it last for ever. It is a meaningless word, too. The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.”

“What a fuss people make about fidelity!” exclaimed Lord Henry. “Why, even in love it is purely a question for physiology. It has nothing to do with our own will. Young men want to be faithful, and are not; old men want to be faithless, and cannot: that is all one can say.”

“Humph! tell your Aunt Agatha, Harry, not to bother me any more with her charity appeals. I am sick of them. Why, the good woman thinks that I have nothing to do but to write cheques for her silly fads.” “All right, Uncle George, I’ll tell her, but it won’t have any effect. Philanthropic people lose all sense of humanity. It is their distinguishing characteristic.”

“Never marry a woman with straw-coloured hair, Dorian,” he said after a few puffs. “Why, Harry?” “Because they are so sentimental.” “But I like sentimental people.” “Never marry at all, Dorian. Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.”

When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others.

Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.”

one of those middle-aged mediocrities so common in London clubs who have no enemies, but are thoroughly disliked by their friends;

“What nonsense people talk about happy marriages!” exclaimed Lord Henry. “A man can be happy with any woman, as long as he does not love her.”

February

War and Peace (graf Leo Tolstoy)

He spoke with such self-confidence that his hearers could not be sure whether what he said was very witty or very stupid.

Even in the best, most friendly and simplest relations of life, praise and commendation are essential, just as grease is necessary to wheels that they may run smoothly.

‘We don’t love people so much for the good they have done us, as for the good we have done them.’

“Don’t be angry with me for exercising an old woman’s privilege.” She paused, as women always do, expecting something after they have mentioned their age.

She was so plain that neither of them could think of her as a rival, so they began dressing her with perfect sincerity, and with the naive and firm conviction women have that dress can make a face pretty.

Helene Bezukhova’s reputation as a lovely and clever woman became so firmly established that she could say the emptiest and stupidest things and everybody would go into raptures over every word of hers and look for a profound meaning in it of which she herself had no conception.

Anatole, with the partiality dull-witted people have for any conclusion they have reached by their own reasoning, repeated the argument he had already put to Dolokhov a hundred times.

The members of this party, chiefly civilians and to whom Arakcheev belonged, thought and said what men who have no convictions but wish to seem to have some generally say.

Pfuel was one of those hopelessly and immutably self-confident men, self-confident to the point of martyrdom as only Germans are, because only Germans are self-confident on the basis of an abstract notion—science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth. A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known. The German’s self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth—science—which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.

Not only does a good army commander not need any special qualities, on the contrary he needs the absence of the highest and best human attributes—love, poetry, tenderness, and philosophic inquiring doubt. He should be limited, firmly convinced that what he is doing is very important (otherwise he will not have sufficient patience), and only then will he be a brave leader. God forbid that he should be humane, should love, or pity, or think of what is just and unjust. It is understandable that a theory of their ‘genius’ was invented for them long ago because they have power!

The profoundest and most excellent dispositions and orders seem very bad, and every learned militarist criticizes them with looks of importance, when they relate to a battle that has been lost, and the very worst dispositions and orders seem very good, and serious people fill whole volumes to demonstrate their merits, when they relate to a battle that has been won.

And as it always happens in contests of cunning that a stupid person gets the better of cleverer ones,

Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way (Richard Branson)

Granny was 99 when she died. Shortly before that, she had written to me to say that the previous ten years had been the best of her life.

As he walked out of the meeting, he turned to one of his companions and made a comment which was picked up on the intercom and broadcast all over the office. He said, ‘I’ll be in my grave before that fucker gets his logo on my trains.’

The History of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides)

Men’s indignation, it seems, is more excited by legal wrong than by violent wrong; the first looks like being cheated by an equal, the second like being compelled by a superior.

I am more afraid of our own blunders than of the enemy’s devices.

Zeal is always at its height at the commencement of an undertaking

The truth is that great good fortune coming suddenly and unexpectedly tends to make a people insolent;

In this contest the blunter wits were most successful.

May

Collected Essays (Orwell, George, 1903-1950)

It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide.

Doubtless any horoscope seems ‘true’ if it tells you that you are highly attractive to the opposite sex and your worst fault is generosity.

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.

But traditions are not killed by facts, and the tradition of Northern’ grit’ lingers.

Gazelles are almost the only animals that look good to eat when they are still alive, in fact, one can hardly look at their hindquarters without thinking of mint sauce.

Personally I believe that most people are influenced far more than they would care to admit by novels, serial stories, films and so forth, and that from this point of view the worst books are often the most important, because they are usually the ones that are read earliest in life.

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

There are people who are convinced of the wickedness both of armies and of police forces, but who are nevertheless much more intolerant and inquisitorial in outlook than the normal person who believes that it is necessary to use violence in certain circumstances. They will not say to somebody else, “Do this, that and the other or you will go to prison”, but they will, if they can, get inside his brain and dictate his thoughts for him in the minutest particulars.

Journey to the West (Wu Cheng-en)

‘The magistrate may be wrong and the sergeant may be wrong, but the man who comes to get you is never wrong.’

A hundred years flow by like water; A lifetime’s career is no more than a bubble, The face that yesterday was the color of peach-blossom Today is edged with snow. When the white ants’ line of battle collapses, all is illusion; “Repent, repent,” is the cuckoo’s urgent call. He who does good in secret can always prolong his life; Heaven looks after the one who asks no pity.

How true it is that blessings never come in pairs and troubles never come singly.

Sex is a sword that wounds the body; Whoever lusts for it will suffer. A pretty girl of sixteen Is far more dangerous than a yaksha demon. There is only one Origin, And there are no extra profits to staff in the sack. Better store all your capital away, Guard it well, and don’t squander it.

Clear wine makes the cheeks go red; Gold turns everybody’s head.

How true it is that however good you are at something there’s always somebody better.

‘A man with no woman is risking his wealth; a woman with no husband is risking her health.’

A cat that’s won a fight is more pleased with himself than a tiger.

How true it is that the night is long in loneliness and short in pleasure.

“However high a mountain is it can’t possibly join up with the sky.”

‘Make a move and your fortune’s one third made.’

“There’s an old saying that there’s nothing like liquor for ending a life,” Monkey replied, “and another that there’s nothing like liquor for solving any problem. Liquor’s very useful stuff.

“You’ve no more chance of getting away from here than of covering up a fart with your hands. Where do you think you’re going?”

‘Trust not the straightest of the straight; beware of the inhuman human.’

“Soft words will get you anywhere on earth; act rough and you won’t move a single step,”

“This is in all of our interests. We may not be much use, but even a fart can strengthen a breeze.”

‘The mountain may be in view, but your horse will collapse before you get there.

June

Burmese Days (Orwell, George, 1903-1950)

If only he would always talk about shooting, instead of about books and Art and that mucky poetry!

This was her first introduction to the fact that some men are capable of making love to their nieces.

‘nasty, brutish, and in shorts’

An earthquake is such fun when it is over. It is so exhilarating to reflect that you are not, as you well might be, lying dead under a heap of ruins.

Once he had loved Elizabeth spiritually, sentimentally indeed, desiring her sympathy more than her caresses; now, when he had lost her, he was tormented by the basest physical longing.

July

The Gambler (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

“Invite a man to your table, and soon he will place his feet upon it.”

The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People (Oscar Wilde)

I have only been married once.  That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.

My duty as a gentleman has never interfered with my pleasures in the smallest degree.

August

The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naïve and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too.

He had a high opinion of his own insight, a weakness excusable in him as he was fifty, an age at which a clever man of the world of established position can hardly help taking himself rather seriously.

The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.

Schoolboys are a merciless race, individually they are angels, but together, especially in schools, they are often merciless. Their teasing has stirred up a gallant spirit

Don’t despise me for [pg 225] that, sir, in Russia men who drink are the best. The best men amongst us are the greatest drunkards.

September

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Steven Pinker)

As the novelist Robert Howard put it, “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split.”

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. —Voltaire

In Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, Vito Corleone is credited with the principle “Accidents don’t happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult.”

The American implementation had a flaw that is best captured in the actor Ice-T’s impression of Thomas Jefferson reviewing a draft of the Constitution: “Let’s see: freedom of speech; freedom of religion; freedom of the press; you can own niggers … Looks good to me!”

Genghis Khan, offered this reflection on the pleasures of life: “The greatest joy a man can know is to conquer his enemies and drive them before him. To ride their horses and take away their possessions. To see the faces of those who were dear to them bedewed with tears, and to clasp their wives and daughters in his arms.”

David Hume observed, “The humour of blaming the present, and admiring the past, is strongly rooted in human nature, and has an influence even on persons endowed with the profoundest judgment and most extensive learning.”

Mothers with postpartum depression often feel emotionally detached from their newborns and may harbor intrusive thoughts of harming them. Mild depression, psychologists have found, often gives people a more accurate appraisal of their life prospects than the rose-tinted view we normally enjoy. The typical rumination of a depressed new mother—how will I cope with this burden?—

George Orwell with an earlier formulation of the idea: “The secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one’s own infallibility with a power to learn from past mistakes.”

The world has far too much morality. If you added up all the homicides committed in pursuit of self-help justice, the casualties of religious and revolutionary wars, the people executed for victimless crimes and misdemeanors, and the targets of ideological genocides, they would surely outnumber the fatalities from amoral predation and conquest.

October, November, December

Love in the Time of the Cholera(Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

All my quotes are in Spanish, but here are a few great ones.

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