This book contains the words of famous people on matters that are of interest to us all. When you read what Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, John Lennon and others have said about love and sex and the pursuit of happiness, you’ll find sometimes you agree with their views, and sometimes you don’t.
We use words to say memorable things every day. When we are praised or insulted, or when we praise or insult others, the words, like magic, can resonate with us for the rest of our lives. Once said, words cannot be unsaid.
We spend our lives talking, but it is usually only the famous whose words are immortalized by others, sometimes for hundred or even thousands of years. But often books of quotes are simply lists of who said what. Sometimes you want to know more.
For instance, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s remark, “I’m not sure why we’re here, but I’m pretty sure it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.” Who would say a thing like that? What’s his story? When you learn that Wittgenstein came from one of Europe’s wealthiest families and yet had three brothers who committed suicide, you begin to understand more about him and the way he thought about life.
The novelist Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” Many people know that Stevenson wrote Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but how many know he travelled extensively and spent his last days deathly ill on the island of Samoa, in the South Pacific Ocean? He died while opening a bottle of wine.
We use words to describe how we feel about ourselves, and what we believe about our relationships, our purpose in life and many other important topics. We know the words our friends and relatives use to give their opinions on such matters, even if we sometimes wish we didn’t.
We use political slogans like magic spells. Simple yet abstract words move people to march towards war or to promote peace, to fight in the streets or to maintain calm, to vote for or against candidates. Words are pixels on screens, blobs of ink on paper and cloth, blasts over the airwaves, and often are so abstract as to mean whatever we want them to mean. The meaning of such language is in our minds, not in the words themselves.
Advertisers likewise use abstract words to praise everything from soft drinks to SUVs, encouraging us to spend our money in search of happiness.
The quotes in this book represent the stories of the people who created them, many surviving terrible circumstances to emerge with a view of the world that inspires millions. Anne Frank and Victor Frankl were both victims who suffered Nazi oppression, yet their words live on to give hope to their readers.
I’ve included some humor, including examples from Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers, who both managed to entertain the world while managing difficult situations. For too long, humor has been ignored in discussions of human behavior. At its best, humor is positive and enjoyable. It enables us to view situations in new ways.
Many collections of quotes concentrate on the words of dead white men. This collection represents an attempt to include men and women of all backgrounds, colors and ages. Dead and alive.
Learning more about the creators of the some of the world’s most memorable collections of words can be both an illuminating and entertaining way of understanding ourselves and others. I hope you enjoy the book.