Great Book Quotes

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
By Robert M. Pirsig
A Bantam New Age Book, 1981

You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow.  They know its going to rise tomorrow.  When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, its always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt. Page 134.

Any effort that has self-glorification as its final end-point is bound to end in disaster. Now we’re paying the price.  When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it.  And even if you do it’s a hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out.  That’s never the way.  Page 189.

At present we’re snowed under with an irrational expansion of blind data-gathering in the sciences because there’s no rational format for any understanding of scientific creativity. At present we are also snowed under with a lot of stylishness in the arts—thin art—because there’s very little assimilation or extension into underlying form.  We have artists with no scientific knowledge and scientists with no artistic knowledge and both with no spiritual sense of gravity at all, and the result is not just bad, it is ghastly.  The time for real reunification of art and technology is really long overdue.  Page 264.

This inner peace of mind occurs on three levels of understanding. Physical quietness seems the easiest to achieve, although there are levels and levels of this too, as attested by the ability of Hindu mystics to live buried alive for many days.  Mental quietness, in which one has no wandering thoughts at all, seems more difficult, but can be achieved.  But value quietness, in which one has no wandering desires at all but simply performs the acts of his life without desire, that seems the hardest.  Page 265.

I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts at the end and presumes the end is the beginning.  Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right.  The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.  Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind.  I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle.  I think that what I have to say has more lasting value.  Page 267.

Lonely people back in town. I saw it in the supermarket and at the Laundromat and when we checked out from the motel.  These pickup campers through redwoods, full of lonely retired people looking at trees on their way to look at the ocean.  You catch it in the first fraction of a glance from a new face—that searching look—then it’s gone. 

          We see much more of this loneliness now. It’s paradoxical that where people are the most closely crowded, in the big coastal cities in the East and West, the loneliness is the greatest.  Back where people were so spread out in western Oregon and Idaho and Montana and the Dakotas you’d think the loneliness would have been greater, but we didn’t see it so much.

          The explanation, I suppose, is that the physical distance between people has nothing to do with loneliness. It’s psychic distance, and in Montana and Idaho the physical distances are big but the psychic distances between people are small, and here’s its reversed.  Pages 321-322.

The Heart and the Fist
By Eric Greitens
Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Boston, New York 2011

Back at college I’d been reading about courage in my philosophy classes. There were a number of definitions of courage, but now I was seeing it in its simplest form: you do what has to be done day after day, and you never quit.  Page 71.

I thought of the many well-intentioned discussions I’d had in university classrooms about cultural sensitivity and cultural awareness, and I could imagine some of my classmates rolling their eyes if they heard aid workers pray, “Lord, please help these Africans.”  But the fact was that none of those classroom conversations ever saved a life, while some of these committed volunteers were weighing infants in slings every day and providing food to lactating mothers.  A lot of international aid that I saw was not always as helpful as it could be, and some of it was even harmful.  The world, however, would be a darker and colder pace without it.  Whatever her flaws, Karen was feeding hungry families every day.  Page 82.

I was fortunate also that I had professors who, while appreciating the value of contemplation, understood the importance of doing, of translating thoughts into deeds. In this regard they followed the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who believed that action was essential: “Without it,” Emerson wrote, “thought can never ripen into truth.”  Page 89.

For all the violence and tragedy and pain that armed conflict brings, I thought that it might be easier for a child to lose a parent or a limb and to live through war than to grow up abused and abandoned.  Most of the children on the streets of Bolivia had never known the comforts of family life, were never going to go to college.  Few of them, I guessed, would ever know one whole carefree and happy day in their lives.  Page 106.

The Philosopher John Stuart Mill once wrote, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things.  The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.  The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”  Page 127  (John Stuart Mill, The Contest in America.).

They both learned—and we all were reminded—that to be a warrior is as much a question of moral character as it is a question of physical courage.  Page 246.

There is no school of thought that can save us from the simple fact that hard decisions are best made by good people, and that the best people can only be shaped by hard experience.  Page 284.

I write these lines sitting at peace in a cabin in mid-Missouri, where a single quotation hangs on the wall: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now.  Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”  Page 297.

by Cervantes
A Signet Classic, 1964

Of the plebeian stock all I can say is that it serves only to swell the number of living men whose great deeds merit no other fame or eulogy. I want to impress upon you, my dear simpletons, that there is great confusion among lineages and that only those appear great and illustrious that show themselves so by the virtue, wealth, and generosity of their owners.  I spoke of virtue, wealth, and generosity, because a great man who is vicious will only be a great doer of evil, and a rich man who is not liberal will only be a miserly beggar, for the possessor of wealth is not made happy by possessing it, but by spending it, and not by spending it as he pleases, but by knowing how to spend it well.  To the poor gentleman there is no other way of showing that he is a gentleman than by virtue, by being affable, well bred, courteous, and helpful, not haughty, arrogant, or censorious, but above all by being charitable, for by two maravedis given with a cheerful heart to the poor, he will show himself as liberal as he who distributes alms to the sound of a bell.  And no one who sees him adorned with the virtues I have mentioned will fail to recognize and judge him, though he know him not, to be of good stock.  Indeed, it will be a marvel if this was not so, for praise has always been virtue’s guerdon, and those who are virtuous cannot fail to be praised.  Page 568 (Remarks of Don Quixote).

“The future will tell, Sancho,” answered Don Quixote. “Time, the discoverer of all things, leaves nothing that it does not drag into the light of the sun, even though it be buried in the bosom of the earth.  But enough of that, let us go as see Master Pedro’s show, for I am sure it must contain some novelty.”  Page 711.

When a criminal is brought before you, treat him as a man subject to the frailties and depravities of human nature, and as far as you can, without injuring the opposite party, show pity and clemency, for though one attribute of God is as glorious as another, His mercy shines more brightly in our eyes than His justice.  Page 826 (advice of Don Quixote to Sancho Panza).

Be a father to virtues and a stepfather to vices. Do not always be harsh or always mild; chose the mean between two extremes, for here lies the point of wisdom.  Page 894 (advice of Don Quixote to Sancho Panza).

“To think that the affairs of this life will always remain in the same state is a vain presumption; indeed they all seem to be perpetually changing and moving in a circular course. Spring is followed by summer, summer by autumn, and autumn by winter, which is again followed by spring, and so time continues its everlasting round. But the life of man is ever racing to its end, swifter than time itself, without hope or renewal, unless in the next, which is limitless, and infinite.”  So says Cide Hamete, the Mohammedan philosopher, for many by natural instinct, without the light of faith, have understood the swiftness and instability of this present life, and the duration of the eternity to come.  Page 906.

Scipio lands in Africa and stumbles as he leaps ashore. His soldiers take it for a bad omen, but he embraces the ground and cries: “You cannot escape, Africa, for I have you clasped in my arms.”  Page 938.

by Victor Hugo
Abridged by James K Robinson, University of Cincinnati
Translated by Charles E Wilbour
Fawcett Premier, New York, 1961

Undoubtedly they seemed very depraved, very corrupt, very vile, very hateful, even, but those are rare who fall without becoming degraded; there is a point, moreover, at which the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confounded in a single word, a fatal word, Les Miserables; whose fault is it? And then, is it not when the fall is lowest that charity ought to be greatest.  Page 175.

During all these torments, and now for a long time, he had discontinued his work, and nothing is more dangerous than discontinued labor; it is a habit lost.  A habit easy to abandon, difficult to resume.  Page 202.

Cambridge University Press
Canto Edition 1992

For any serious purpose, intelligence is a very minor gift.   Page 47.

Sometimes one has to say difficult things, but one ought to say them as simply as one knows how.   Page 47.

“No one should ever be bored,” had been one of his axioms. “One can be horrified, or disgusted, but one can’t be bored.”  Pages 51-52.

It will probably be plain by now to what conclusions I am coming; so I will state them at once dogmatically and then elaborate them a little. It is undeniable that a good deal of elementary mathematice—and I use the word “elementary” in the sense in which professional mathematicians use it, in which in includes, for example, a fair working knowledge of the differential and integral calculus—has considerable practical utility.  These parts of mathematics are, on the whole, rather dull; they are just the parts which have least aesthetic value.  The “real” mathematics of the “real” mathematicians, the mathematics of Fermat and Euler and Gauss and Abel and Riemann, is almost wholly “useless” (and this is as true of “applied” as of “pure” mathematics).  It is not possible to justify the life of any genuine professional mathematician on the ground of the “utility” of his work.  Pages 119-120.

Many people, of course, use “sentimentalism” as a term of abuse for other people’s decent feelings, and “realism” as a disguise for their own brutality.”  Page 142.

I have never done anything “useful.” No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world.  I have helped to train other mathematicians, but mathematicians of the same kind as myself, and their work has been, so far at any rate as I have helped them to it, as useless as my own.  Judged by all practical standards, the value of my mathematical life is nil; and outside mathematics it is trivial anyhow. I have just one chance of escaping a verdict of complete triviality, that I may be judged to have created something worth creating.  And that I have created something is undeniable: the question is about its value.

The case for my life, then, of for that of any one else who has been a mathematician in the same sense in which I have been one, is this: that I have added something to knowledge, and helped others to add more; and that these somethings have a value which differs in degree only, and not in kind, from that of the creations of the great mathematicians, or of any of the other artists, great or small, who have left some kind of memorial behind them.  Pages 150-151.

The Ballad of Bob Dylan – A Portrait
by Daniel Mark Epstein

“[T]he real value of things cannot be measured by what you pay for them, but by what it costs you to gain them.  And ‘if anything costs you your faith or your family then the price is too high.’”  Kindle Version, Page 200 of 446.

“Things will have to change.  And one of those things that will have to change: People will have to change their internal world.”  Kindle Version, Page 387 of 446.

When the Legends Die
by Hal Borland
(Bantam Books, 1963)

“You going away?”
“I’m going to Odessa in a few more weeks.”
“Odessa? “  The name seemed to mean nothing to Meo.
“Odessa, Texas. That’s where the big rodeos start the year.”
“So.  You make the big rumble.”
“I’m going to make the big rumble, yes.  Do you want to come along?”
Meo shook his head. “I rode my horses.  I am an old man.”
It didn’t matter to Tom whether Meo went along or not.  Nobody else can live your life for you.  You have to ride your own furies.    Page 134.

He sighed, knowing why he had come back.  And he remembered a chipmunk he had as a small boy, a pet that came when he called and sat in his hand.  He had asked his mother the meaning of the stripes on the chipmunk’s back. Those stripes, she said, were the paths from its eyes, with which it sees now and tomorrow, to its tail, which is always behind it and a part of yesterday.  He had laughed at that and said he wished he, too, had a tail. His mother had said, “When you are a man you will have a tail, though you will never see it.  You will have something always behind you.”

Now he understood.  Now he knew that time lays scars on a man like the chipmunk’s stripes, paths that lead from where he is now back to where he came from, from the eyes of his knowing to the tail of his remembering.  They are the ties that bind a man to his own being, his small part of the roundness.  Page 215.

The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
(Harper & Row, Publishers, 1987)

One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts—just mere thoughts—are as powerful as electric batteries—as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for once as poison.  To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body.  If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.    Pages 293-94.

Anne of Avonlea
by L.M. Montgomery
(Bantam Books, 1988).

I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily.  “I don’t exactly want to make people know more. . . though  I know that is the noblest ambition . . . but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me . . . to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.  Page 54.

“. . . I think the little things in life often make more trouble than the big things,” said Anne, with one of those flashes of insight which experience could not have bettered.  Page 196.

Those who knew Anne best felt, without realizing that they felt it, that her greatest attraction was the aura of possibility surrounding her  . . . the power of future development that was in her.  She seemed to walk in an atmosphere of things about to happen.    Page 248.

A Moveable Feast
by Ernest Hemingway
(Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1964)

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits.   People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.  Page 49.

I was getting tired of the literary life, if this was the literary life that I was leading, and already I missed not working and I felt the death of loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life.  Pages 165-66.