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Some of Armando’s favorite quotes

Disclaimer: In some cases I found the quote not in the book in which it originally appears, but in another book that quotes the original source. I’ve noted where that occurs, so you don’t think I claim to read more than I do.


The future is dark, the present burdensome. Only the past, dead and finished, bears contemplation. Those who look upon it have survived it; they are its product and its victors. No wonder therefore that men concern themselves with history. —G.R. Elton, The Practice of History

In England and the United States, in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, in Switzerland and Canada, democracy is today sounder than ever before. It has defended itself with courage and energy against the assaults of foreign dictatorship, and has not yielded to dictatorship at home. But if war continues to absorb and dominate it, or if the itch to rule the world requires a large military establishment and appropriate, the freedoms of democracy may one by one succumb to the discipline of arms and strife. If race or class war divides us into hostile camps, changing political argument into blind hate, one side or the other may overturn the hustings with the rule of the sword. If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can persuasively promise security for all; and a martial government, under whatever charming phrases, will engulf the democratic world. —Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History, chapter X "History and Government" (emphasis added by me)

When one hears about acts of extraordinary bravery in combat, it is usually a sign that the battle has not been going terribly well. For when wars unfold according to plan and one's own side is winning, acts of exceptional individual heroism are rarely called for. Bravery is required mostly by the desperate side. —Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass

Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks of the river. —Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization

Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill-policed and wretchedly governed. — Gentlemen of education, he observed, were pretty much the same in all countries; the condition of the lower orders, the poor especially, was the true mark of national discrimination. —Boswell, Life of Johnson, quoted in Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express

We were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles and irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties, whatever they may be worth; our symphonies, however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams, however rarely they may be accomplished? The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. —Robert Ardrey, African Genesis, after the work of Raymond Dart, quoted in Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece. [The evolutionary basis for Dart’s arguments has been discredited, but the quote still rings true to me.]

If civilization is to mean anything, people have to acknowledge the humanity of their enemies.  —John Hersey, author of Hiroshima

Character, Education, & Self-formation

Education is what’s left over after everything that has been learnt is forgotten.  —James Bryan Conant, President of Harvard University from 1833–1853

A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.  —Mark Twain

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Nothing is so necessary for a man as the company of intelligent women.  —Leo Tolstoy

You may be better than [your undergrad students] at what you do, but you have something to learn from every one of them. —UC Berkeley CS prof Manuel Blum, to Dick Karp (both winners of the Turing Award)

Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself. —Richard M. Nixon (farewell speech)

Great people are those who make others feel that they, too, can become great.  —Mark Twain

If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.  —Shirley Chisholm, first Black Congresswoman


When it feels like life is fucking you, keep changing positions until it feels good. —John Leguizamo, Latin History for Morons

Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts. —Winston Churchill

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm. —Winston Churchill

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. —Mike Tyson

I have problems today that I did not have yesterday. I had problems yesterday that I do not have today…admission to the burning ruins, ten cents.  —George C. Tilyou, after Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park burned to the ground

Religion & Philosophy

Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.  —“The Revelation of Sonmi-451” from David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. For when you look deep into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.    —Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. —George Bernard Shaw

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. —John Muir

Only a Christian would think of our Buddha as ‘just a man’. Our Buddha is a being which all men can become—something greater than himself—if he can overcome all his illusions. You cling to your illusions—and call them faith. —from Martin Scorsese’s Silence, based on the novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. —Seneca the Younger

Well observed…

A man of education cannot live among farmers in the country. The moment you leave the neighborhood of a city you are in the midst of barbarism. —Sidney George Fisher (Philadelphia diarist), 1847

You seldom get what you pay for, but you never get what you don’t pay for. —Stanley Kubrick, quoted in Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece

Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.    —Bertrand Russell

Pray: To ask that the laws of the universe be temporarily annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy. —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary