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Living History, As Quoted By ...

By James B. Edwards   |   Tuesday, 15 Apr 2008 07:48 AM

Book Review by James B. Edwards, "Great Quotations that Shaped the Western World" By Carl H. Middleton" (Paragon House Publishers, 784 pages, paperback, $29.95)

Quotations fascinate us because they offer the most inspiring words, the sharpest wit, and the deepest insights into human nature. Winston Churchill studied quotation books in high school to improve his writing. Andrew Carnegie attributed his business success to palming off quotations as his own words. T. S. Eliot said, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” America’s most informative columnist, George Will, stuffs his columns with quotations and literary allusions because they can “make a large point with a small reference.” His writing style is “as spare and pointed as an ice pick.”

Quotation books are the ultimate cultural digests and we need digests now more than ever. Since the computer’s advent, accumulated knowledge has doubled every ten years. That means today’s students have 32 times more to learn than in the 1950s. The only way to cope with this information overload is to restrict much of our reading to digests, such as quotation books. Given the smorgasbord of quotation books available, why should attention be paid to "Great Quotations that Shaped the Western World?" [Editor's Note: Get your copy of "Great Quotations that Shaped the Western World" at over 30% off! Go Here Now]

It adds value because it is unique in two ways. First, it is the only quotation book people will love to read straight through. Few have Churchill’s discipline to plow through the huge quotation tomes because 95 percent of their offerings are fit only for specialists. They are wonderful references, but extremely time-wasting to read straight through.

People will enjoy reading "Great Quotations that Shaped the Western World" from page one to the end because it is a history of Western civilization told 60 percent through the words of writers and historical figures and 40 percent by biography and commentary. The compiler selected the prize nuggets of Western literature, art, history, philosophy, religion, politics, economics, science, military, and management. Suzanne Fields warned journalists to beware using it on deadline because, “You can get lost in it for hours.”

"Great Quotations that Shaped the Western World" is unique in second way — it was compiled by a conservative businessman. This complements the perspectives of almost all other compilers who have been liberal academics. For example, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 16th edition, features 37 quotations from Franklin Roosevelt, 28 from John Kennedy, and only three from Ronald Reagan. When the editor Justin Kaplan was told the three quotations he had selected for Reagan made Reagan look ridiculous, he replied, “I’m not going to disguise the fact that I despise Ronald Reagan.”

Bartlett’s flip dismissal of Reagan is typical of academic compilations. They omit most conservative precepts and also embarrassing quotations from liberals, like the 1970’s forecasts of an impending ice-age. Worse, liberals totally disregard the economic and management precepts that raised America’s standard of living by a factor of ten from 1900 to 2000! But, Great Quotations includes the insights of the captains of industry and shrewd investors, not just those of politicians, professors, poets, and playwrights.

"Great Quotations that Shaped the Western World" serves two purposes. Initially the compiler sought to help his readers improve their writing styles. A second purpose emerged, to wit, to resist the assault on Western culture by the secular multiculturalists. The book spotlights the Western heroes whose passion for liberty enabled them to forge a modern world of democracy and capitalism, the engines of phenomenal prosperity. The book “celebrates liberty, which is sustained by virtue, which is sustained by religion.”

The book’s weakness is the mirror image of its big-picture strength — a frequent lack of citations and a failure to check original sources. Being the work of one person, it misses the accuracy of the Chambers Dictionary of Quotations, a work of forty-seven experts. But, it is not bloated with arcane quotations beloved of narrow specialists — it is designed to digest the best of Western culture into one volume, la crème de la crème.

"Great Quotations that Shaped the Western World" has a conservative bias that may cause some liberals to wince. It prefers Burke to Rousseau and Hayek to Keynes. But, if liberals can hold their noses over the fifteen percent of the quotations that are political, they may be pleased and instructed by the wonderful non-political 85%. Students and professionals who read it will gain a competitive advantage by a vast expansion of their cultural literary and a heightened familiarity with the world’s most beautiful language.

James B. Edwards is a technology writer whose latest book is There is a Silver Bullet: Plug-ins & Biofuels (2007).

Editor's Note: Get your copy of "Great Quotations that Shaped the Western World" at over 30% off! Go Here Now.

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