Commonplace 2015


“Revealing décolletage is only the latest target to come into the cross hairs of China’s entertainment censors. In the past, the regulator cracked down on television shows that depicted time travel (thought to ‘lack positive thoughts and meaning’), adultery and one-night stands, and, most recently, wordplay and puns , which are thought to be ‘contradictory in spirit to the continuation and enhancement of outstanding traditional Chinese culture,’ according to regulators.”                                                                                                     (from NYT, January 3)

“’Nechayev – the nihilist? But he was a raving lunatic!’

‘Was he?’ Christophorou almost smiled. ‘Lenin did not think so. Or else he would not have based his teachings partly on Marx, partly on Nechayev. One needs both of them, perhaps, if one wants complete power: the theorists and the terrorists – yes, they each serve their turn, depending on whether one wants skilful dialectic or violence. The only danger is that sometimes the terrorists cannot be kept under control. They swing loose and away – as they did in the bloody twenties in Russia.’

‘I think most nihilists would be content if they could recapture the Neolithic age. Or at least a simplicity of life where corruption and decadence and oppression are ended. True, they would have to destroy much to get what they wanted. In the civilized world, evil and good are so often intertwined round each other that the quickest way to end evil is to cut back both. Ruthless? Yes. So was the man who cut out his offending eye and cast it away.’ Christophorou gave a short laugh. ‘Don’t Americans glorify the noble Indian? What could be more Neolithic?? Even Mesolithic?’”                                       (from Helen MacInnes’s Decision at Delphi, p 104)

“Yes, the Americans and the British were alike in some things. They were surface people, skimming over past history, picking out the interpretations that pleased them, never digging deep for the truths that could warn them. When they found something unpleasant, they would forget it within six months.. They even prided themselves on not remembering; forget and forgive were so much easier. They evaded serious ideas, unless they approved of them. The British put their faith in compromise, the Americans in doling out largesse; by wheedling and bribing. They thought they could avoid ever having to answer the only real question in life: Who whom? But they had never been conquered , never been occupied, never had their men carried away as slave labourers, never witnessed mass rape, never watched their children being turned into their enemies. That was their greatest weakness: they had merely existed while others had survived. How fortunate for the cause of world revolution, with all its varied forces remembering the bitter taste of their survivals, that the two most powerful nations in the Western clique should have no experience in Realpolitik. It would not be difficult to bury them, not when they helped so obligingly to dig their own graves.”                                                                                                                                                   (Christophorou, in Helen MacInnes’s Decision at Delphi, p 318)


“The crowd included Pascale Trager-Lewis, 45, a lawyer, and her husband, Christian Chevalier, 45, who brought their two daughters because they wanted them to witness a historic event. ‘We came because my husband is an authentic French person; I am Jewish,’ Ms. Trager-Lewis said. ‘My elder daughter’s godmother is a Muslim, and my closest friend almost became a nun.’” (from report on solidarity march in Paris after Charlie Hebdo massacre, in NYT, January 12)

“Oh, and don’t tell me that the cases are completely different. You can’t consistently claim that pipeline spending creates jobs while government spending doesn’t.”         (Paul Krugman, in NYT, January 12)

“Rama Burshtein, an ultra-Orthodox filmmaker whose 2012 movie ‘Fill the Void’ won international acclaim, said in an interview that the alteration of the photo would make perfect sense to the newspaper’s readers. ‘It’s very, very, very, very, very hard for a nonreligious person to understand the purity of eyes,’ Ms. Burshtein said. ‘By us, men don’t look at women’s photos, period. As long as you don’t know that, then it sounds ridiculous, or changing history or events. But we’re not here to get the events the way they are. We are here to keep the eyes.’”       (from article on airbrushing out women from photo of Paris unity rally, in NYT, January 14)

 Views of Home

“Home is not where my grandparents are buried, but where my grandchildren will be raised.”                                                           (Dr. Maher Mathout, quoted in his NYT obituary, January 15)                                                                                      “Finding a homeland is not the same as dwelling in the place where our ancestors once used to live.”                                (Krzysztof Czyzewski, quoted by Tony Judt in Ill Fares the Land, p 137)

“Now there are intellectuals and professors who know less and less about more and more. Some of them specialize in ‘multiculturalism’.”     (John Lukacs, in The Future of History, p 19)

“It is a remembered past – the reconstruction of which is necessarily incomplete and difficult, because a remembered past is both less and more than the reconstruction of a past from its remnants in records.”                                         (John Lukacs, in The Future of History, p 34)

“There are reasons for this [that some of the best biographies are not written by professional historians]. One is that ‘amateur’ historians are often more literary than are their academic competitors. (In so many instances their love for literature led them to history, whereas for many academics their interest in history may lead them to consider, here and there, literature – but not necessarily so: their main interest may still be the reading of the works of other professionals. Another reason (or, rather, condition) is that some amateurs may know more of the world – including human types – than do professionals, ever so often confining their lives within their academic circles.”                                         (John Lukacs, in The Future of History, p 92)

“The historical sensation is not the sensation of living the past again but of understanding the world as one does when listening to music.”                                            (Huizinga, The Task of Cultural History, VII, p 71, quoted by John Lukacs in The Future of History, p 99)

“Memory brings something from a past to a present; it is a function not unique to human beings. But while we are not only responsible for what we think, we are responsible, too, for what we remember – or, more precisely, what we choose to remember.”       (John Lukacs, in The Future of History, p 100)

“What marks the movements in the history of societies and peoples is not the accumulation of capital. It is the accumulation of opinions.” (John Lukacs, in The Future of History, p 103)

“People live and are capable of living with injustices; but a worse shortcoming is their self-willed choice to live with untruths.”                    (John Lukacs, in The Future of History, p 150)

“The right to mock and to blaspheme and to make religions and politicians and bien-pensants all look ridiculous was what the magazine held dear, and it is what its cartoonists were killed for – and we diminish their sacrifice if we give their actions shelter in another kind of piety or make them seem too noble, when what they pursued was the joy of ignobility.”                                                   (Adam Gopnik, in the New Yorker, January 19)

“The Italians think not. They say the road between England and Hell is worn bare from treading feet, and runs downhill all the way.”                                     (Cromwell, responding to the cardinal’s claim that ‘most Englishmen fear God’, from Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, p 34)

“He [Cromwell] sees that there is an camaraderie among men such as these, men who have lost out to the Boleyns: a defiant camaraderie, such a sexists among those sectaries of Europe who are always expecting the end of the world, but hope that, after the earth has been consumed by fire, they will be seated in glory: grilled a little, crisp at the edges and blackened in parts, but still, thanks be to God, alive for eternity, and seated at his right hand.”                                                                                     (from Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, p 104)

“’But you are man of the world, Master Secretary, and you know that if you yourself wrote a woman a poem you would enclose a bill.’                                                                                                                                                                             He laughs. ‘True, I know the value of my time. But I did not think your admirers were so miserly.’” (Anne Boleyn and Cromwell, from Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, p 244)

“They tell us that the rules of power and the rules of war are the same, the art is to deceive; and you will deceive, and be deceived in your turn, whether you are an ambassador or a suitor. Now, if a man’s subject is deception, you are deceived if you think you grasp his meaning.”                                                                                         (from Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, p 346)

“Look, he says: once you have exhausted the process of negotiation and compromise, once you have fixed on the destruction of an enemy, that destruction must be swift and it must be perfect. Before you even glance in his direction, you should have his name on a warrant, the ports blocked, his wife and friends bought, his heir under your protection, his money in your strong room and his dog running to your whistle. Before he wakes in the morning, you should have the axe in your hand.”        (from Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, p 349)

“The U.S. is like four of five different countries when it comes to attitudes about guns.”                                                                                                                                        (Robert Masters, executive assistant district attorney of Queen’s County, N.Y., quoted in NYT, January 18)

“Artful falsehood is more dangerous than artless falsehood, because fewer people see through it.”                                                                                    (Maureen Dowd, in NYT, January 18)

“For the law and for the courts, link rot and content drift, which are collectively known as ‘reference rot’, have been disastrous. In providing evidence, legal scholars, lawyers, and judges often cite Web pages in their footnotes; they expect that evidence to remain where they found it as their proof, the way that evidence on paper – in court records and law journals – remains where they found it, in libraries and courthouses. But a 2013 survey of law- and policy-related publications found that, at the end of six years, nearly fifty per cent of the URLs cited in those publications no longer worked.”                             (Jill Lepore in New Yorker, January 26)

“If you target everything, there’s no target.”                                                 (Thomas Drake, former N.S.A. executive and whistle-blower, to Mattathias Schwartz, in New Yorker, January 26)

“Why, he wondered, do real intellectuals always prefer the company of rakes to that of their fellows?”                            (Ambrose Silk, in Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags, p 50)

“” I know some very dangerous communists,’ said Basil.                                                                                                                 ‘I wonder whether they’re on our files. We’ll look in a minute. We aren’t doing much about communists at the moment. The politicians are shy of them for some reason. But we keep an eye on them, on the side, of course. I can’t pay you much for communists.’”                                                                                                                                              (Basil Seal and Colonel Plum, in Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags, p 128)

“He told, as vividly as if he had been there and seen it himself, of Dutch skies black with descending nuns, of market women who picked off British officers, sniping over their stalls with sub-machine guns, of waiters who were caught on hotel roofs marking the rooms of generals with crosses as if on a holiday post card.”                                                                                         (Sir Joseph Mainwaring, in the Epilogue to Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags, p 182)

“What is most frustrating to citizens is they see wealth being created in Europe, but that wealth is being distributed to just a few, instead of equally.”                                                                               (Panagiotis Kouroumplis, Greece’s new health minister, quoted in NYT, January 28)


“’We were part of greater Armenia even before Christ,’ she said in an interview at the State Historical Museum, where she works as a guide. ‘Shushi is not their homeland, so they don’t have any right to come back.’”                                                                          (Gayane Gevorgyan, in Nagorno-Karabakh, about the Azerbaijanis, from NYT report, February 1)

“’We’re better off economically than our Greek friends,’ he added, ‘but we share their determination to put the interests of people back ahead of economic goals like debt repayment.’” (Ruben Aguilar, a Spanish telecom technician, from NYT, February 1) [This paragraph was deleted from the on-line version of the article.]

“Fisher: I have come to give you some advice about my successor. Whomever you choose, under no account must it be Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of York. Dr Ramsey is a theologian, a scholar and a man of prayer. Therefore, he is entirely unsuitable as archbishop of Canterbury. I have known him all my life. I was his headmaster at Repton.                                                                                                                                                                         Macmillan: Thank you, Your Grace, for your kind advice. You may have been Dr Ramsey’s headmaster, but you were not mine.”              (conversation reported by Mary Bennett, in London Review of Books, February 5)

“Throughout Mr. Gilbert’s career, reviewers took issue with his penchant for laying out reams of data with little editorial comment, which left the task of historical interpretation to the reader. He countered that by virtue of selecting, arranging and emphasizing historical facts as he did he was expressing a tacit opinion, an argument that did not persuade every critic. I’m not a theoretical historian, seeking to guide the reader to a general conclusion,’ Mr. Gilbert told The Jerusalem Report in 1996. ‘I’m quite content to be a narrative chronicler, a slave of the facts.’”                                          (from NYT obituary of Martin Gilbert, February 6)

“In my own published works I have avoided the word ‘perhaps’. It is for the historian either to say what happened, or to say that he cannot discover it. To say ‘perhaps it was like this’ is to mask a failure to get to the bottom of a problem.” In his dictionary, he added, “the word ‘pedant’ is a paean of praise, and nit-picking is a worthy art”.                                                               (Martin Gilbert, quoted in his Times obituary, February 4)

“A synonym for frugal, uncorrupt government supported by willing taxpayers of the sort that has been largely absent in southern Europe.”       (Martin Vander Weyer’s definition of ‘austerity’, in the Spectator, January 31)

“Well, I must say I think it needs stopping. But I don’t think there’s a democracy left with the guts to do it. We are all tied to our mothers’ apronstrings – and big business keeps bleating about peace and prosperity. Between the apronstrings and the bleating, we’ll all hesitate until it’s too late.”                (van Cortlandt on Fascism, from Helen MacInnes’s Above Suspicion, Chapter 21)

“An indebted family owes money to other people; the world economy as a whole owes money to itself.”                         (Paul Krugman, in column ‘Nobody Understands Debt’, in NYT, February 9)

“I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve, but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end any time soon.”                                                                     (from David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, quoted in his NYT obituary, February 14)

“But in one way the woman was right: it was incredible to what lengths of ingenuity the Germans would go. Like that batch of specially circumcised, long-nosed Nazis which had been dumped across the Dutch borders as pitiful refugees, in the days before their comrades came over with flame-throwers and parachuting nuns. The gift to see ourselves as others see us was definitely one which God had not included in the make-up of Nordic Aryans.”                                                                                         (from Helen MacInnes’s Assignment in Brittany, p 202)

“I suppose satisfied men can afford to be critical: it adds to their feeling of superiority to know what they criticize doesn’t really apply to them.”   (Kerénor, in Helen MacInnes’s Assignment in Brittany, p 335)

“To take a tiny example, he reports how his aunt, temporarily attached to an American military base in Germany after the war, ‘at least made an effort to relate to members of the German community’. When I played soldiers as a boy I don’t think that, in my film-fuelled imagination, I was killing large numbers of military representatives of ‘the German community’.”                                                     (Stefan Collini on David Lodge, in London Review of Books, February 19)

“Accomplished artists cannot be equated to people simply because they happen to be people.”                    (Pola Negri, according to Michael Newton in review of Mariusz Kotowski’s biography of her, Pola Negri: Hollywood‘s First Femme Fatale, in London Review of Books, February 19)

“Although all of the economic statistics churned out by the Commerce Department can trace their lineage back to Kuznets, the department did refuse to accept one of his key recommendations, that the value of unpaid housework be included in the nation’s productive output.”                                                                                                                                     (from report on sale of economist Simon Kuznets’s Nobel Prize medal, in NYT, February 25)


“The Communist Party of China today is about doing whatever it takes to strengthen its capacity to stay in power. The lack of institutional checks and balances allows politics and money to come together on a scale that is not imaginable in a capitalist country like the U.S.A. or a social-democratic country like the U.K.”                                 (Steve Tsang, a professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham in England., quoted in NYT, March 2)

“We don’t want the British secret services anywhere near this; they’re unreliable, full of wild adventurers.”                                                         (Gessler, in C. J. Sansom’s Dominion, p 303)

“Whenever a party tells you national identity matters more than anything else in politics, that nationalism can sort out all the other problems, then watch out, because you’re on a road that can end with fascism. Even if it doesn’t, the idea that nationality’s some sort of magic that can make other problems disappear, it’s like believin’ in fairies.” (Ben, in C. J. Sansom’s Dominion, p 463)

“On 19 December 1967 the same newspaper [Izvestiya] published an article ‘Hello, Comrade Philby’, quoting the veteran master-spy in praise of Dzerzhinsky as a ‘great humanist’ – the formula commonly applied in Soviet parlance to successful sponsors of mass killings.”      (from Ronald Hingley’s The Russian Secret Police, p 249)

“Indeed, the entire spectacle of the show trials may best be understood as a theatrical performance of an unusual type, for which the NKVD supplied script-writers, producers, scene-shifters, stage-managers and prompters.”                                                                          (from Ronald Hingley’s The Russian Secret Police, p 163)

“To have assumed that this proceeding was invented and staged as a project of dramatic political fiction would be to presuppose the creative genius of a Shakespeare and the genius of a Belasco in stage production.”                                                                        (from Joseph E. Davies’s February 17, 1937 description of the Radek, Pyatakov et al. show trial, in Mission to Moscow, p 43)

“After the 2008 fiscal crisis and the subsequent recession in Dublin, some polls found that most Catholics in the north prefer to remain part of the United Kingdom. ‘Outbreeding Unionists may be an enjoyable pastime for those who have the energy,’ Adams has said. ‘But it hardly amounts to a political strategy.’”                                                                                                          (from Patrick Radden Keefe’s Where The Bodies Are Buried, in the New Yorker, March 16)

“Through the whole Troubles, there was never any hassle between Protestants and Catholics raising pigeons.” (Michael McConville [son of Jean, murdered by the IRA as an informer], quoted by Patrick Radden Keefe in Where The Bodies Are Buried, in the New Yorker, March 16)

“What artist who survived the Thatcher years – the vast divide between the haves and the have-nots, the racism, the willful ignorance about AIDS – can take royalty, let alone politics, to heart?”                (Hilton Als, in review of The Audience, in the New Yorker, March 16)

“I like the British correspondent Cholerton: he has brittle wit. His phrase, ‘Habeas corpus has been replaced here by habeas cadaver,’ is a classic.”         (from Joseph E. Davies’s Mission to Moscow,  p 352, June 8, 1938)

“The price which they exact from society and the deprivations of freedom of thought and freedom of speech and in security for life and freedom of the individual is too high to justify what is being done; but as to their motives I give them credit for sincerity and honesty. I am sorry that this great experiment could not have been based on the Christian religion.”          (from Joseph E. Davies’s Mission to Moscow,  p 356, June 9, 1938)

“It’s dizzying to switch to the British conversational mode, in which everyone’s trying to show they don’t take themselves seriously. The result is lots of self-deprecation and ironic banter. I’ve sat through two-hour lunches in London waiting for everyone to stop exchanging quips so the real conversation could begin. But ‘real things aren’t supposed to come up,’ my husband said. ‘Banter can be the only mode of conversation you ever have with someone.’”              (from Pamela Druckermann’s Decoding the Rules of Conversation, in NYT, March 17)

“Each generation suffers so that its children will be strong, for children whose fathers have escaped hardship come to think life is easy. There is no greater danger to a country than when its citizens assume that danger no longer exists.”                                                 (Olszak, in Helen MacInnes’s While Still We Live, Chapter VIII)

“What would he have looked like if she had told him that the French Huguenots had appealed to their king for freedom from persecution in the sixteenth century and had cited Poland as an example of religious tolerance? Or if she had told him that the Poles had saved Vienna from the Mohammedan invasion; if they hadn’t, there would be mosques and veiled women in Austria, perhaps even in Germany, just as these reminders of Islam remained in Serbia to this day?” (Sheila, in considering Treltsch, in Helen MacInnes’s While Still We Live, Chapter XXIV)

“When one country, or the States, arranges what the individual citizen can’t or won’t do for himself, then it’s a confession of moral bankruptcy. Totalitarianism is an admission that the individual must be regulated and conditioned to be a good citizen. And that’s a confession of failure on the part of the citizens. They should be able to do it for themselves, without the State stepping in.” (‘A man beside Reska’, in Helen MacInnes’s While Still We Live, Chapter XXXIII)

“That was the extraordinary thing about cruelty; first, you might practice it for the ends it achieved; then you practiced it because you had developed a taste for it; then you began to believe everyone practiced it, that it was the normal way to deal with people; then eventually when your power started slipping, you would begin to be afraid that people might do as you had done unto them, because you believed that was the way all people behaved.”                                                                           (from Helen MacInnes’s While Still We Live, Chapter XXXVI)

“Years later, according to a former colleague, David Kenney, Mr. Hartman remembered telling the investigators that while it would have been disturbing if Soviet agents had indeed penetrated the old embassy and intercepted messages between Washington and Moscow, there might have been a bright side. ‘At least,’ he was said to have remarked, ‘they would have learned that we were telling them the truth.’”                                                                                                  (from obituary of former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Arthur A. Hartman, in NYT, March 23)

“To understand Singapore and why it is what it is, you’ve got to start off with the fact that it’s not supposed to exist and cannot exist. To begin with, we don’t have the ingredients of a nation, the elementary factors: a homogeneous population, common language, common culture and common destiny. So, history is a long time. I’ve done my bit.”                          (Lee Kuan Yew in 2007, according to his NYT obituary, March 23)

Two Views of Personal Salvation                                                                                                           “She liked to recount the story of the skeptics who demanded: ‘The Salvation Army? What are you saving us from?’ To which she would reply, ‘The Salvation Army seeks by God’s grace to save people from the mess they make of their lives.’”       (from the NYT obituary of sometime Salvation Army leader Eva Burrows, March 25) “His realism, his sense of history, his attacks on abstract principles, his demand that every solution must be tested by its applicability to, and emergence out of, the actual situation, his contempt for compromise or gradualism as modes of escape from the necessity of drastic action, his belief that the masses are gullible and must at all costs be rescued, if necessary by force, from the knaves and fools who impose upon them, make him the precursor of the severer generation of practical revolutionaries of the next century; but his rigid belief in the necessity of a complete break with the past, in the need for a wholly new social system as alone capable of saving the individual, who, unfettered by social constraint, will co-operate harmoniously with others, but in the meantime needs firm social direction, place shim among the great authoritarian founders of new faiths, ruthless subverters and innovators who interpret the world in terms of single, clear, passionately held principle, denouncing and destroying all that conflicts with it.”         (from Isaiah Berlin’s Introduction to Karl Marx)

“No one who has not been responsible personally for carrying out a large-scale purge can possibly imagine the detailed and meticulous preliminary staff work which such an operation requires if it is not to degenerate into chaos and untidiness.”        (from Ronald Hingley’s Up Jenkins!, p 204)

“He described Margaret Thatcher, memorably, as ‘the worst head of Government since Richard III’”       (Nicola Lacey on Herbert Hart, from her biography, The Life of H. L. A. Hart, p 357)


“If there is anything good about the United States, he never mentions it. If there are two interpretations to be put on any American problem, only the worse interpretation is made. He says he’s fighting for the oppressed and the exploited, but he never mentions slave labour in Russia. He talks of witch-hunting, but he never mentions purges in Eastern Europe. He talks of intolerance, but he never mentions the Believe-and-Obey rules of Communism. He speaks of peace most glowingly: but he never mentions that Russia has more soldiers and more equipment than any of the western countries.”                                                                                             (Roger Brownlee on Comrade Orpen, in Helen MacInnes’s Neither Five Nor Three, p 103)

“And as she listened, she was studying the clothes and faces around her. Communists? Fellow-travelers? Yet if anyone ever owed anything to capitalism, they certainly did. They were apparently educated, obviously well-clothed and well-nourished.”                          (Rona Metford, in Helen MacInnes’s Neither Five Nor Three, p 123)

“It would be easier for you to break with the Party, now. Later, if you have doubts – later, if you find your conscience refuses to let you go on – later, it will be hell. An endless and torturing hell. The more deeply you are involved and the more you know – the more dangerous it is to leave. You see that, don’t you?”                                                                                                  (Orpen to Scott Ettley, in Helen MacInnes’s Neither Five Nor Three, p 233)

“We must not ask the poets to separate their works from their passions. The latter are the substance of the former, and the only question to ask is whether they write poetry to express their passions or whether they hunt for passions in order to write poems.”            (from Julien Benda’s The Treason of the Intellectuals, p 67)

“The stupid person and the wit are equally blind to truth; with this difference, that the stupid person respects truth while the wit despises it.” [Malebranche]  (quoted by Julien Benda in The Treason of the Intellectuals, p 170)

“Vico says that history is a series of alternations between periods of progress and periods of retrogression; and he gives two examples. Saint-Simon says history is a series of oscillations between organic epochs and critical epochs; and he gives two examples. Marx says history is a series of economic systems, each of which casts out its predecessor by means of violence; and he gives one example. I shall be told that these examples could not be more numerous, owing to the fact that history, or at least known history, is so short. The truth, implied by this very reply, is that history has lasted too short a time for us to be able to deduce laws from it to enable us to infer the future from the past.” (from Julien Benda’s The Treason of the Intellectuals, p 196)

“One head of a FTSE 100 company recently granted a rare audience with the putative First Lord of the Treasury sat dumbstruck as Miliband asked him, ‘Why exactly do you need to pay your shareholders dividends?’”                                          (Dan Hodges in the Spectator, April 11)

“Some of the academics who were to accompany the expedition began to boast, a notorious failing of clever men leading unimportant lives.” (from John Keegan’s Intelligence in War, p 45)

“There was no nonsense about loving thine enemy in the [Malta] Knights’ version of the Christian creed.”                                   (from John Keegan’s Intelligence in War, p 48)

“’The Italian Jewry was devastated and severely traumatized in the wake of the war,’ David I. Kertzer, a professor of Italian studies at Brown whose book “The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe” was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on Monday, said in an interview. ‘Not just by the Holocaust. Preceding that, the Italian Fascist regime enacted racial laws, aimed principally at Jews, and unlike the Jews of Germany, the Italian Jews thought of themselves as quintessentially Italian. They had been there for 2,000 years. All this came as a shock, so it was a double blow.’”        (from the obituary of Rabbi Elio Toaff, in NYT, April 21)

“Where once the news cycle made stories out of gotcha moments, now it makes gotcha moments out of tweets: the blog-trolls have come into their kingdom, and the ABC’s army of presenters find themselves conducting solemn discussions of a ten-word opinion from some dolt whose sole achievement in life has been to wear a pair of flip-flops without their falling off.”                                          (Clive James in TLS, April 17, 2015)

“The Princeton economist Alan Blinder once proposed Murphy’s Law of economic policy: ‘Economists have the least influence on policy where they know the most and are most agreed; they have the most influence on policy where they know the least and disagree most vehemently.’”             (N. Gregory Mankiw, in NYT, April 26)

“It’s worth it to be honest, though it doesn’t always pay off. It pays to be dishonest, but it’s never worth it.”                                  (Wladyslaw Bartoszewki, victim of Nazism and Communism, from his NYT obituary, April 28)

“Steiner reiterates that we should elevate ‘the pursuit of disinterested knowledge’ over ‘making money and flooding our lives with increasingly trivialized material goods’. . . .    He adds . . . that we should pay academics more, so as to staunch the flow of talent across the Atlantic.”       (Daniel Hannan in review of George Steiner’s The Idea of Europe, in the Spectator, April 18)


“In 2015, it is hardly news that few American Jews adhere to even the major tenets of religious life. A survey of Jewish Americans two years ago by the Pew Research Center found that only about a third belong to a synagogue, a quarter call Judaism very important to them, 23 percent regularly light Sabbath candles and 22 percent keep a kosher home. Among the respondents, having a sense of humor vastly outpolled following religious law as a core component of Jewish identity.”        (from NYT, May 2)

“’ . . . So my first answer has to be: don’t go poking your nose into Soviet secrets, because it will produce the NKVD on your doorstep. No, I tell a lie  . . .’ he laughed – ‘it will produce the GRU, the military service, which is just as mean but twice as smart.’”         (Kolb to de Lyon, in Alan Furst’s Midnight in Europe, p 169)

“Liberals think it to be for the welfare of the people and the good of the country that distances should be reduced and gradually annihilated. The Conservative thinks it to be for the good that he should maintain the great ‘distance’ or degree of difference which divides the Duke from the laborer.”              (Anthony Trollope, according to Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker, May 4)

“We do not believe that society should have allowed us to do what we did to our child.”                      (Christian Scientist Ph.D. Rita Swann, whose son died from bacterial meningitis after Christian Scientist practitioners had failed to help him, reported by Abigail Zuger in review of Dr. Paul A. Offit’s Bad Faith, in NYT, May 5)

“History is too complicated. The past is too big, there is too much of it. Mythology is what is created because people prefer a simple, straightforward explanation of what happened to this awful, complicated mess.”                  (British historian Norman Davies, at a ceremony to commemorate the end of WWII in Gdansk, Poland, quoted in NYT, May 8)

“History is not an eternal soap-opera; it is a thrilling detective story.” (Stephen Badsey, in History Today, May)

“Most desirable, in my view, is a country in which offensive things are not forbidden by law, but a large degree of customary self-restraint is generally exercised in society.”                                                                                   (Timothy Garton-Ash, in Oxford Today, Trinity Term, 2015)

“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems also pointless.”                (Steven Weinberg, in The First Three Minutes, according to John Leslie in TLS, May 8)

“No man shall dictate to me what books I shall read, what music I shall hear, or what friends I shall choose.”                  (Jan Masaryk, quoted by Madeleine Albright, in Prague Winter, p 307)

“You’re no more full-blooded what you think you are than I am. I must be Jewish somewhere, though the presentable story doesn’t say so. And you? How the hell do you know who you are?

I don’t.

And neither does anyone else who comes as far back as he can tell, from the parts of Europe that were the battlegrounds of the Napoleonic ears. You think you have no Czech ancestry. You’re wrong. Some forefather of yours came through there as a conscript in the Russian armies, and if he didn’t leave a souvenir on some local slečna, then it was the other way round and some Czech in the Austrian army had a bit of fun with some pretty girl in Galicia whom they married off to your great-grandfather. You’re like everybody else whose people fled to America in the eighties and nineties – all the villages and synagogues with the family records were burnt up in the pogroms. Nobody knows anything . . . As for the nobility with  . . .  their thousand-year genealogies, there you get into the fun-and-games department  . .  My father was the son of a Slovak coachman and a Moravian housemaid, who were serfs. I can’t prove what the blood of their parents was and neither can anyone else.”         (Jan Masaryk, in 1947 expressing his contempt for the nationalist cant of the Paris Peace Conference, reported in Marcia Davenport’s Too Strong for Fantasy, p 325, and quoted by Madeleine Albright in Prague Winter, p 361)

“It is also unclear how much Mr. Rubio would appeal to Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and other voters with Latin American ancestry who may not feel much cultural affinity with a Cuban-American.”    (from NYT, May 23)

“Mr. Netanyahu’s pick for deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, told members of the diplomatic corps last week that they should use the Bible as a tool for telling the world that the entire land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River belongs to the Jews.”    (from NYT, May 26)

“Esmond [Romilly] made one of his definitive pronouncements: ‘The only thing to do with the English upper class is to marry into it.’”            (Philip Toynbee, in Friends Apart: A Memoir of the ‘Thirties, p 107)

“I was misguided into proposing myself for a commission in the Brigade of Guards, and after my unsuitability had been demonstrated to them, I was transferred to the Intelligence Corps . .  .”                                              (Philip Toynbee, in Friends Apart: A Memoir of the ‘Thirties, p 107)

“Instead, he [Jasper Ridley] half-loved and half-despised the class he came from, and became the victim of a society which refused to find any proper use for him.”        (Philip Toynbee, in Friends Apart: A Memoir of the ‘Thirties, p 188)


“I doubt that Cameron or Osborne care two hoots about the deficit; nor do the editors of the financial press.”                             (Ross McKibbin in London Review of Books, June 4)

Must be the Diet

“However, there was a large German minority of 1.4 million who were Soviet citizens and had lived in Russia for decades, even centuries.”                    (Robert Gellately, in Stalin’s Curse, p 193)

“The Church of England announced last month that it would drop companies involved with coal or oil sands from its $14 billion investment fund, . . .” (from NYT report, June 6)

“The battle lines were decisively drawn for us at Christ’s: the encyclopaedic and the omnivorous (us) versus the arid and the parochial (them); history seen as an enquiry into the human condition (us) versus history assumed to be the unfolding epic of English (not even British) governing institutions (them); history which embraced the literary and the imaginative without ever forsaking the hard tests of documentary evidence (us) versus history which treated strong writing as a fig-leaf  for analytical mushiness (them). And while Plumb was adamant about the indispensability of the archive, neither did he fetishise it.”                                                                                              (from J. H. Plumb, in Simon Schama’s scribble, scribble, scribble)

“Story-telling (aside from its exacting formal demands) lies at the heart of historical teaching and ought to be as much part of the training of young historians as the acquisition of analytical skills.”

“All history is a negotiation between familiarity and strangeness. No one put it better than Thomas Babington Macaulay when, in 1828, at the ripe old age of twenty-seven, in a famous book review  . . . , he presumed to define history as divided between reason and imagination: ‘a  compound of poetry and philosophy’. What Macaulay yearned for was perfect marriage between those two contrasting modes of apprehending the past.”                                                    (from Clio at the Multiplex, in Simon Schama’s scribble, scribble, scribble)

“The indiscriminate celebration of the humdrum threatens to dissolve history into a random aggregate of disconnected episodes, anecdotally related.”     (from The Monte Lupo Story, in Simon Schama’s scribble, scribble, scribble)

“Barbara Ehrenreich’s chilling review of Martin Ford’s ‘Rise of the Robots’ and Craig Lambert’s ‘Shadow Work’ (May 17) is the best evidence-based response I’ve seen to all the headlines announcing that a recovery is ‘just around the corner.’ But if it isn’t, and unemployment and part-time employment can only get worse, what can be done? Ehrenreich concludes that ‘the best that the feeble human mind can come up with at the moment’ is a guaranteed annual wage.

Actually, one human mind came up with another solution over 150 years ago, and that was to share the work among all able-bodied people, with society making sure that all the skills required to serve everyone’s needs are widely distributed. In this way, everyone would have a job as well as more free time to do the things that most people cannot do until they retire. With the rich sharing their excessive wealth with others and taking on productive jobs, this could be done — especially today — without lowering anyone else’s living standards.

That person’s name was Karl Marx.”

Bertell Ollman, Manhattan (The writer is a professor of politics at New York University.)                                                                                      (letter to NYT Book review, June 7)

 “Everybody knows there is only one person in the world who can really tell the truth about a man, and that’s his mother-in-law.”          (Mrs. Dorothy Rodham, at 1996 Democratic convention, quoted in NYT, June 13)

 “Magna Carta has everything going for it to be venerated in the United States. It is old, it is English, and, because no one has actually read the text, it is easy to invoke for current needs.”                                                  (Tom Ginsburg, in NYT, June 15)

 If I take my own skull and print it out with a 3-D printer, many people would see a Neanderthaler.” (Dr. Christopher Zollikofer, of University of Zurich, from NYT, June 19)

“The parties gain ground who want to unravel the system, and the moderate parties never understand that you can be critical of the E.U, and still pro-European  – they’ve missed the window. Now a huge gap has been left open, without  a positive narrative about the future and without the necessary review and criticism of the functioning of the system.”                            (Dawla Schwarzer. Director of German Marshall Fund’s Berlin Office, in NYT, June 20)

“I believe in very few historical laws. Except the law of unintended consequences. Oh, yes, and that other iron law of history – one thing leads to another.” (Allen Weinstein, author of ‘Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case’, speaking to the LA Times in 1992, from his NYT obituary, June 21)

“If a state does not feed and does not create its own culture, it will be fed by someone else. And then, at the end of the day, one will end up feeding a foreign army.”                                                                                               (Vladimir Medinsky, Russian culture minister, in Izvestia, quoted in NYT, June 22)

“People are missing a sense of community, a sense of sharing. There is something wonderful about being part of an oppressed community.”   (Eric Marcus, the author of Making Gay History, quoted in NYT, June 27)

“Now I come to think of it, if I were asked if I had ever known a good man, I should reply: ‘Yes, Tom Driberg was a good man.’”                                     (A. J. P. Taylor in the New Statesman, 20 August, 1976, quoted by Francis Wheen in Tom Driberg: His Life and Indiscretions, p 419)

“I have come to a stronger and more resolute faith in and belief in the principles of Socialism and Communism. I believe that every time the Soviet Government used force they did so with pain in their hearts and the belief that what they were doing was to produce good for the greatest number. . .  More power to the Soviet Union and a fruitful and abundant life for their peoples.”                                                  (David Greenglass in letter to his wife Ruth, June 1944, quoted by John Earl Haynes & Harvey Klehr in Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, p 308)

“Mr. Butler is the Betjeman of politics. Neither he nor anybody else can ever be quite certain when he is being funny and when he is being serious.”                        (Christopher Hollis, in Parliament and the Establishment, from The Establishment, edited by Hugh Thomas, p 177)


“He [Namier] was very fond of saying ‘we’. And you had to be very alert in following the course of the conversation to know whether at the given point this meant the University of Manchester, All Souls College, Oxford, the Jews, the Foreign Office, or Poland.”      (from Rudolf Peierls’ Bird of Passage, p 107)

“Israeli Minister Says Reform Jews Are Not Really Jewish” (headline in NYT, July 8)

“There is a grainy old black-and-white film of a party political broadcast made by Attlee in (I think) 1951. He is asked why members of the middle class should vote Labour. He simply answers ‘because it is the right thing to do’. I am not a socialist, but that nobility of spirit brought tears to my eyes.”                  (Peter Oborne quoting a letter sent to him, in the Spectator, July 4)

“Devaluation is a little like doping in sports. It gives you perhaps a short-term boost, but in the long run, it’s not beneficial.                                                   (Alexander Stubb, finance minister of Finland, quoted in NYT, July 21)

“Intellect distinguishes between the possible and the impossible; reason distinguishes between the sensible and the senseless. Even the possible can be senseless.”                                               (Max Born, in Blessings and Evils of Space Travel, from My Life and My Views, p 154)

“Firstly, writing a thesis should be fun. Second, writing a thesis is like cooking a pig: nothing goes to waste.”                                      (Umberto Eco, in How to Write a Thesis, quoted in Gigliola Sulis’s review in TLS, July 10)

“The emphasis of this theory is always upon Man. And here is the distinguishing mark between totalitarianism of the Left, with which this study is concerned, and totalitarianism of the Right. While the starting-point of totalitarianism of the Left has been and ultimately still is Man, his reason and his salvation, that of the Right totalitarian schools has been the collective entity, the State, the nation, or the race. The former trend remains essentially individualistic, atomistic and rationalist even when it raises the class or party to the level of absolute ends. These are, after all, only mechanically formed groups. Totalitarians of the Right operate solely with historic, racial and organic entities, concepts altogether alien to individualism and rationalism. That is why totalitarian ideologies of the Left are always inclined to assume the character of a universal creed, a tendency which totalitarianism of the Right altogether lacks.”                                                                                                            from J. L. Talmon’s The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, p 6)

“The second vital difference between the two types of totalitarianism is to be found in their divergent conceptions of human nature. The Left proclaims the essential goodness and perfectability of human nature. The Right declares man to be weak and corrupt. Both may preach the necessity of coercion. The Right teaches the necessity of force as a permanent way of maintaining order among poor and unruly creatures, and training them to act in a manner alien to their mediocre nature. Totalitarianism of the Left, when resorting to force, does so in the conviction that force is used only in order to quicken the pace of man’s progress to perfection and social harmony. It is thus legitimate to use the term democracy in reference to totalitarianism of the Left. The term could not be applied to totalitarianism of the Right.”                                                                                                (from J. L. Talmon’s The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, p 6)

“The most important lesson to be drawn from this enquiry us the incompatibility of the idea of an all-embracing and all-solving creed with liberty. The two ideals correspond to the two instincts most deeply embedded in human nature, the yearning for salvation and the love of freedom. To attempt to satisfy both at the same time is bound to result, if not in unmitigated tyranny and serfdom, at least to monumental hypocrisy and self-deception which are the concomitants of totalitarian democracy. This is the curse of all salvationist creeds: to be born out of the noblest impulses of man, and to degenerate into weapons of tyranny. An exclusive creed cannot admit opposition. It is bound to feel itself surrounded by innumerable enemies. Its believers can never settle down to a normal existence. From this sense of peril arise their continual demands for the protection of orthodoxy by recourse to terror. Those who are not enemies must be made to appear as fervent believers with the help of emotional manifestations and engineered unanimity at public meetings or the polls. Political Messianism is bound to replace empirical thinking and free criticism with reasoning by definition, based on a priori collective concepts which must be accepted whatever the evidence of the senses: however selfish or evil the men who happen to come to the top, they must be good and infallible, since they embody the pure doctrine and are the people’s government: in a people’s democracy the ordinary competitive, self-assertive and anti-social instincts cease as it were to exist: a Workers’ State cannot be imperialist by definition.

The promise of a state of perfect harmonious freedom to come after the total victory of the transitional Revolutionary dictatorship represents a contradiction in terms.”                                                                               (from J. L. Talmon’s The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, p 253)

“If you were to appoint a committee of the twenty cleverest people in the world, I say the acknowledged supreme brains of every nation, and give them the task of finding the most stupid thing possible – they would fail to discover astrology.”         (Mathematician David Hilbert, quoted by Max Born in My Life, p 206)

“I believe that ideas such as absolute certitude, absolute exactness, final truth, etc. are figments of the imagination which should not be admissible in any field of science. On the other hand, any assertion of probability is either right or wrong from the standpoint of the theory in which it is based. This loosening of thinking seems to me to be the greatest blessing which modern science has given to us. For the belief in a single truth and in being the possessor thereof is the root cause of all evil un the world.” (from Max Born’s Nobel Lecture, quoted in My Life, pp 298-299)

“Black is a state of mind, and we Greeks are the blacks of Europe, together with the Irish.”     (Syriza finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, in 1978 when a member of the Communist Party in Essex, quoted in New Yorker, August 3)


“Then there are the cultural differences. Ms. Ni, one of 15 Chinese trainers at Keer’s Indian Land plant, complained softly of American workers’ occasional tardiness. In China, she said, managers can dock the pay of workers who show up late. But here, she said, she felt frustrated that she could not discipline tardy staff.”                                      (from article about Chinese investment in manufacturing in South Carolina, in NYT, August 3)

“I think that sometimes people say that democrats are shortsighted and muddle-headed. But I think you want to be a bit shortsighted. It’s better than having a long sight into a nonexistent future.”    (Robert Conquest, on National Public Radio, from his NYT obituary, August 5)

“Thomas, who at 84 sits in the British House of Lords as Baron Thomas of Swynnerton, writes old-fashioned history that does not shy away from unfashionable views. He puzzles that no one nowadays makes use of the elaborate terminology for degrees of nonwhiteness: quadroons and octoroons, mestizos and zambos and the rest.”                                    (Nigel Cliff, in review of Hugh Thomas’s World Without End, NYT, August 9)

“As the pen rises from the page between words, so the walker’s feet rise and fall between paces, and as the deer continues to run as it bounds from the earth, and the dolphin continues to swim even as it leaps again and again from the sea, so writing and wayfaring are continuous activities, a running stitch, a persistence of the same seam or stream.”                                                                 (from Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways, p 105)

“Just because a source may be erroneous or unreliable on certain points does not invalidate all its evidence.”                      (Robert Conquest on Alexander Orlov, according to Anne Applebaum, in Sunday Times, August 9)

Homo economicus, who seeks to replace all other human values and interests with cost-benefit calculations, rampages across the globe: in personal relations as well as the workplace, higher education and political institutions. Pulverising the welfare state, and even a sense of community, and contemptuous of history and tradition, he sentences hundreds of millions to economic and psychological insecurity and isolation in an opaque and hostile world.”                                      (Pankaj Mishra, in London Review of Books, August 27)

“All I knew then was that this was my country, my home, without a beginning and without an end, and that to be Jewish was fundamentally no more significant than to be born with dark hair and not with red. Foremost we were Swabians, then Germans and then Jews. How else could I feel?”   (Hans Schwarz in Fred Uhlman’s Reunion, quoted by Roger Cohen in NYT, August 11)

“Absorption in the question of what people will say at your funeral is not a virtue: it is an affliction.”                                                      (Paul Seabright, in review of David Brooks’s The Road to Character, in TLS, August 7)

“I am not fighting for the Poles or Czechs,

And only indirectly for the Rex.

I do not greatly love the Slav or Greek,

I cannot bear the way colonials speak.

I loath efficiency and Nissen huts,

And as for ‘bonhomie’ I hate its guts.

I am not fighting Germans just to get

My democratic share of ‘blood and sweat’.

Dear Sir,

I fell that you may get the gist

Of all MY War Aims from the following list . . .

. . . Georgian houses, red repliquas of heaven,

Split pediments, breakfast at eleven,

Large white peonies in bug glass bowls,

Asparagus au beurre, whitebait in shoals,

Close cropped grass, huge trees and cawing rooks,

A sunny breakfast room, a library with books,

Clean white housemaids in new print frocks,

Coachmen turned chauffeur, footmen on the box.

Dinner parties, all in evening dress,

Glamorous women drenched in Mary Chess

Charades and paper games, hot-houses with the heat on,

Superficiality and Cecil Beaton.

Shrimps from Morecambe Bay, port that is tawny,

Claret and beaujolais, soles that are Mornay,

Hot scones for tea, thick cream, the smell of logs,

Long country walks, thick shoes and spaniel dogs,

Ducks in the evening, swishing swans in flight,

Fires in bedrooms, flickering at night  ̶

And of those autre fois, all those moeurs

Which are epitomized in ‘Valse des fleurs’

Fresh shiny chintzes, and herbaceous border  ̶

Death and destruction to this damned new order.”

(from The Romantic Charter by Gerald Berners, quoted in Sofka Zinovieff’s in The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me, pp 211-212)

“Visiting Simferopol in December 1941, two Wehrmacht officers, Oberkriegsverwaltungsrat Fritz Donner and Major Ernst Seifert, reported that it was interesting to note that: ‘A large part of these Jews on the Crimea is of Mohammedan faith, while there were also Near Eastern racial groups of a non-Semitic character, who, strangely, have adopted the Jewish faith’. The confusion among the Germans about the classification of Karaites and Krymchaks, which were, in fact, both Jewish communities, was striking. In the end, the Karaites were classified as ethnically Turkic and spared, while the Krymchaks were considered ethnically Jewish and killed. According to Walter Gross, head of the NSDAP Race Office, the Karaites were excluded from persecution because of their close relations with allied Muslim Tatars.”                                  (David Motadel, in Muslims in Hitler’s War, in History Today, September 2015)

“While interest in Marxism could still be found in American universities, it became difficult to find any of this in the Soviet Union [in the 1980s].”                        (Walter Laqueur, in Putinism, p 19)

“What had Spain, England, or France given the world, he once asked at table, apart from the swagger stick, five o’clock tea, Inca gold, and a few fine phrases?”  (Fest’s father, a Prussian Catholic, in Joachim Fest’s Not I, p 20)

“Already in the 1930s Communism – and then in its train Nazism  ̶  should have caused every unprejudiced observer to take up a position of fundamental opposition toward them. The inhumanity of both ideologies, arising from their formulaic explanations of the world, was all too clear. There were many, however, who could not resist the temptation of making their dreams a reality. Even today, plenty of people remained sentimentally attached to some ‘ism’ or other which has long since failed dismally. Against such nonsense, the much more intelligent words of Henry David Thoreau have always impressed me. ‘If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good’, he said, ‘I should run for my life.’”                                                                                              (from Joachim Fest’s Not I, p 409)

“Because what the memory has preserved is never, strictly speaking, what actually happened. The past is always an imaginary museum. One does not, in retrospect, record what one has experienced, but what time – with increasing shifts in perspective, with one’s own will to shape the chaos of half-buried experiences  ̶  has made of it. By and large, one records less how it actually was than how one became who one is. And that is not only the weakness, but the justification of memoirs.”                                                             (from Joachim Fest’s Not I, p 414)

“In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”                          (Rudi Dornbusch, economist, quoted by Kenneth Rogoff in NYT, August 25)


“An honorary fellow at St. Antony’s, Isaiah [Berlin] was truly a Don for All Seasons; he could, and would, talk at any level whatsoever to make his interlocutor feel prized beyond belief. At a first meeting my wife expressed alarm at finding herself seated next to such an august academician at a St Antony’s dinner. I reassured her, ’Don’t worry, he’ll take charge!’ Looking up from my end of the table, I was relieved to see them in lively conversation with each other. When afterwards I asked what they’d talked about so busily and what Isaiah’s opening gambit had been, she said, ‘As we sat down, he said, “Tell me, my dear, did you have many lovers when you were young?”’ – then proceeded to talk about his own, in extenso.”                                                                                                                        (Alistair Horne, in Introduction to Talking Lives)

“Other interesting psychological similarities include a common propensity to be ‘economical with the truth’. We should perhaps make a careful distinction here. Burton’s tall stories arose largely out of boredom with the Gradgrindery of facts, a love of paradox and the desire to épater le bourgeois. Stanley’s mendacity had a deeper basis in the pathological and seemed to arise from a desire to deny aspects of reality (such as his parentage and background) that he found inconvenient or unpalatable. If we posit that Burton’s white lies were contrary to the truth, while Speke’s claim to have taught Burton everything he knew about exploration was a blatant contradiction of it, in Stanley’s case we have to reach out to a further category – what we might call the negation of the negation – where lies become self-deception.”                (Frank McLynn on Burton and Stanley, from Talking Lives)

“The mood of dazed anxiety in those weeks reminded some of the period leading up to Munich, though Home’s regular contacts with Sir Frank Roberts, the British Ambassador in Moscow, gave him insights into what the ordinary Russian people were thinking, which proved so different from those in Havana and London. When Kennedy’s ultimatum about the missiles were made public Frank Roberts told Alec Home that there was no sign of panic buying in Moscow and that people there were going about their business in an orderly manner. Roberts interpreted this correctly, as a sign that in the end Khrushchev would back off from full-scale nuclear confrontation.”                                    (D. R. Thorpe on Alec Douglas-Home, from Talking Lives)

“We declare war on socialism not because it is socialist but because it has opposed nationalism.”                                                               (Mussolini, according to John Whittam in Talking Lives)

 “He loathed historians who spent their time debating theories or imposing structures or trying to find a Grand Design for events that were spontaneous and chaotic and usually unintended, ’He once told a Yugoslav historian who had asked him advice about ‘methodology’, that ‘one just went to the records, read them, thought about them, read some more, and the records would do the rest’: all the historian had to ‘was to be able to read and ,above all, write clearly and agreeably.’” (David Gilmour on Richard Cobb, in Talking Lives)

“When his characters make love – or perform Mr. Lawrence’s equivalent of love-making – and they do nothing else – they not only lose all the amenities, refinements, and graces which many centuries have built up in order to make love-making more tolerable; they seem to reascend the metamorphoses of evolution, passing backwards beyond ape and fish to some hideous collection of protoplasm.”                                                     (T.S. Eliot on D. H. Lawrence, from The Contemporary Novel, first published in English in 2015, from TLS, August 14)

“Now a gift for chic, combined with a craving for seriousness, is always likely to produce that dreadful monster, a chic religiosity.”                                                          (T.S. Eliot on Aldous Huxley, from The Contemporary Novel, first published in English in 2015, from TLS, August 14)

“It is not hard for a totalitarian regime to keep people ignorant. Once you relinquish your freedom for the sake of ‘understood necessity’, for Party discipline, for conformity with the regime, for the greatness and glory of the Fatherland, or for any of the substitutes that are so convincingly offered, you cede your claim to the truth. Slowly, drop by drop, your life begins to ooze away just as surely as if you had slashed your wrists; you have voluntarily condemned yourself to helplessness.”       (from Heda Margolius Kovály’s Under A Cruel Star, p 11)

“This was where the misconception lay: in the idea that communism was the one system under which it could never happen again. Of course we knew about the communism of the thirties in the Soviet Union, but that was an era of cruelty that had ended long ago, the kind of crisis out of which all great change is born. Who, today, would condemn democracy for the Terror of the Jacobins after the French Revolution?

The most eagerly embraced belief of the time was that no national or racial oppression could exist under communism. Factual evidence to the contrary was hard to come by, and more persuasive than any piece of propaganda were the fairy tales of life in the Soviet Union spread by Czech Communists such as our middle-aged friends who had spent their war years there.

Many of those people lied with an eye to being rewarded for their loyalty once the Party took over, but some lied because they believed, despite their own experience, that the victory of the working class was the supreme good, a goal wh(from Heda Margolius Kovály’s Under A Cruel Star, p 61)

“The tendency toward self-sacrifice seemed to me extremely dangerous, even then. A good society is one in which everyone can live well, myself included, people who are ready to sacrifice their own well-being for some lofty goal are likely to exact a similar sacrifice from others who are not so willing. A political system which cannot function without martyrs is a bad, destructive system.”                                   (from Heda Margolius Kovály’s Under A Cruel Star, p 62)

“Party discipline demanded that we constantly analyze ourselves, our thoughts, our wishes, our inclinations – and whenever we discovered some discrepancy between the commandments of the Party and our own opinions, blame it on our bourgeois background, our antiquated reasoning, our intellectual decadence, or misguided education.”                                          (from Heda Margolius Kovály’s Under A Cruel Star, p 63)

“But when people come to reject everything and to doubt everything, it only means they doubt themselves and their ability to cope with the problems which face them – and the Party was prepared to provide the confidence that our war experiences had destroyed.” (from Heda Margolius Kovály’s Under A Cruel Star, pp 63-64)

“There were endless lines in front of stores. There were shortages of practically every household staple. Every few months, there were new rumors about an upcoming currency devaluation. People would panic, buying up everything they could find. The chaotic economy and the constant barrage of ideology drained all pleasure from honest work.”                                          (from Heda Margolius Kovály’s Under A Cruel Star, p 96)

“It is astounding how terrified such men of action are of words. No act is too sordid for them to carry out, no act disturbs their sleep, so long as it us not called by its proper name, so long as it is not put into words. In this lies the great power of words, which are the only weapon of the defenseless.”                                      (from Heda Margolius Kovály’s Under A Cruel Star, p 169)

“There is, perhaps, no more dangerous man in the world than the man with the sensibilities of an artist but without creative talent. With luck such men make wonderful theatrical impresarios and interior decorators, or else they become mass murders or critics.”     (Barry Humphries, in More Please, p 252)

“Mr. Rue, wearing a helmet and carrying an ax and sword during a visit to a 13th-century wooden church in Heddal, said he was delighted when a Somali-born youth joined a local Viking-inspired scouts group. The Vikings, he added, were ‘big slave traders’ but ‘were not racists.’ Their slaves were fellow whites seized during raids in places like England.”                                                       (from report in NYT, September 18)

“There were about a hundred and thirty thousand Italian Jews, and most of them were supporters of the Fascist government (at least until the race legislation of 1938, which announced  a newly aggressive anti-Semitism): a cousin of Levi’s, Eucardio Momigliano, had been one of the founders of the Fascist Party, in 1919.”   (from James Wood’s The Art of Witness, reviewing the collected works of Primo Levi, in the New Yorker, September 28)

“He is very much in the social swim these days and I am sometimes anxious about him and young Tony . . .  We, as middle-class Socialists, have got to have a profound humility. Though it’s a funny way of purring it, we’ve got to know that we lead them because they can’t do it without us, with our abilities, and yet we must feel humble to working people. Now that’s all right for us in the upper middle class, but Tony and Roy are not upper, and I sometimes feel they don’t have a proper humility to ordinary working people.”                                                                (Hugh Gaitskell to Richard Crossman, in 1959 on Roy Jenkins and Tony Crosland, quoted by David Kynaston in Modernity Britain, pp 327-328)

“There are so many great Yogi Berra stories, most of them apocryphal, that added to his legend. My favorite concerns the afternoon Yogi came home from the ballpark, looking forward to dinner, but found no one there. Finally, Carmen and the children returned. ‘Where you been?’ he asked. ‘I took the kids to see “Dr. Zhivago,’” she replied. ‘Oh, what’s wrong with them now?’ Yogi complain (Letter in NYT, September 27)


“Anyone can do what they want. There is no rabbi in all of America to excommunicate anyone.”  (Rebecca Samuel, writing from Petersburg, Virginia, to her parents in Hamburg in 1790, from Leaving the Jewish Fold by Todd M. Endelman, reviewed by Ritchie Robertson in TLS, September 18)

“The Fed has publicly committed itself to a strategy of so-called macroprudential regulation, meaning it is now focused on maintaining the stability of the financial system as well as the health of individual firms. But senior Fed officials at the Boston conference described that as more of a goal than an achievement.” (from report by Binyamin Appelbaum in NYT, October 5)

“Diplomats and Intelligence agents, in my experience, are even bigger liars than journalists, and historians who try to reconstruct the past out of their records are, for the most part, dealing in fantasy.”             (Malcolm Muggeridge in Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Infernal Grove, p 149)

“Saintliness can be an extremely irritating quality, especially when it seems too easily compatible with getting one’s own way.”                                (Stefan Collini, concerning Richard Titmuss, from his review of Ann Oakley’s Father and Daughter: Patriarch, Gender and Social Science, in London Review of Books, October 8)

“A good theoretical account must explain all of the evidence that we see. If it doesn’t work everywhere, we have no idea what we are talking about, and all is chaos.” (Professor Angus Deaton, Nobel Prize winner for economics, from 2011 article, quoted in NYT, October 13)

“Islam is political because it describes the way in which society should be o (Michael Houllebecq, from interview in NYT, October 13)

“Not even the fine translations of William Tyndale, largely adopted by King James’s committee without sufficient acknowledgment, can conceal the grim tedium of this messy compilation of second-rate tribal legends and outrageous bigotry.”  (Matt Ridley on the Bible, in NYT, October 18)

“It is the nature of bureaucratic agencies such as the intelligence service that, after a time, operations tend to run the officers rather than the other way round.”                                                                                                                                         (Stephen Dorril in MI6, p 498)

“I, however, was of the school of thought of the great philosopher Sir Alfred Ayer who, when Sib-Warden of New College, cheerfully said grace on the grounds that ‘I will not utter falsehoods, but I have no objection to making meaningless statements.’”    (Richard Dawkins, in Brief Candle in the Dark, p 30)

“He [John Cleese] overheard a woman saying, on the top deck of a bus (and he has no idea of the context):

‘I washed it for her when she was born. I washed it for her when she got married. I washed it for her for Winston Churchill’s funeral. And I’m not going to wash it for her again.’”                                                              (Richard Dawkins, in Brief Candle in the Dark, p 161)

“And while washing the dishes, we were fascinated to hear of the ingenuity by which Sir Rudolf [Peierls] had earlier guessed that the Germans were not putting any serious effort into an atom bomb project.”                                     (Richard Dawkins, in Brief Candle in the Dark, p 283)

“Computer languages either allow recursion or they don’t. There’s no such thing as half-recursion. It’s an all or nothing software trick. And once that trick gas been implemented, hierarchically embedded syntax immediately becomes possible and capable of generating indefinitely extended sentences.”        (Richard Dawkins, in Brief Candle in the Dark, p 282)

“You think Lenin’s statue is the biggest problem we have? Try living on a pension of $40 a month. How much do you live on? At least Lenin organized the electrification of this country. Pretty soon we will be back to the conditions that existed before Lenin.”                                                              (a protester against ‘de-communization’ in Semyonovka, Ukraine, from NYT, October 28)

“ . . .all democratic governments should have [the awareness] that the nation, the state, the government, and the governing party are not all the same thing.”                                                                                                               (letter from Melvyn Roffe, in the Spectator, October 24)

“Their origins are disputed. Some say they were people displaced centuries ago by invasion and famine, but there is DNA evidence that their origins in Ireland go back at least 1,000 years. Many speak a distinct language and intermarriage is a norm. Many retain a nomadic lifestyle, but others are known as ‘settled Travelers’ because they have chosen to stay put. The Rev. Derek Farrell, of the Parish of the Traveling People, said the entire community had to ensure that these deaths mattered. He also denounced the lack of tolerance for diversity. ‘There are important lessons to be learned. We must learn, above all, to walk in the shoes of the other if we are to develop genuinely inclusive and pluralistic societies,’ he said. ‘Many of us in the settled community have failed to walk with empathy in the shoes of our brothers and sisters in the Traveler community.’”                                                      (from report in NYT, October 30)

“Before beginning his university education, he spent a year in Israel, where he worked on a kibbutz. There, he said, he received an early lesson in the art of historical revisionism. ‘We were always told that the pile of rubble at the top of the hill was a Crusader castle,’ Professor Cesarani said. ‘It was only much later that I discovered it was an Arab village that had been ruined in the Six Day War.’ He added: ‘The study of history is shrouded in half-truths.’”                                                                                        (from the NYT obituary of David Cesarani, October 31)


“Politicians, as all diplomats know, do not take kindly to long abstract theses calling for sustained intellectual effort; or to gloomy forecasts of an indefinitely extended struggle. They prefer short statements of problems and positive ideas for a quick solution.”                                                                           (Percy Cradock, in Know Your Enemy, p 41)

“A pact between Washington and Hanoi to strengthen labor unions in Vietnam could give workers more bargaining power, but the impact will depend on how Vietnam carries out the agreement, longtime Vietnamese government advisers and other specialists said on Thursday. The side-agreement to the Trans-Pacific Partnership calls for Vietnam to pass legislation that would legalize independent unions, allow them to strike and let them seek help from foreign labor organizations like the A.F.L.-C.I.O.”                            (from report in NYT, November 6)

Let us pray.

Oh Lord, grant that this day we come to no decisions,

Neither run into any kind of responsibility,

But that all our doings may be ordered to establish

New departments,

For ever and ever, Amen.

The prayer to be followed by the hymn:

O Thou who seest all things below,

Grant that Thy servants may go slow,

That they may stuffy to comply

With regulations till they die


Teach us, O Lord, to reverence

Committees more than common sense,

Impress our minds to make no plan,

But pass the baby when we can.


And when the tempter seeks to give

Us feelings of initiative,

Or when alone we go too far,

Chastise us with a circular.


Mid war and tumult, fire and storms,

Confirm us, Lord, we pray, with forms,

Thus will Thy servants ever be,

A flock of perfect sheep for Thee.

(from MI5 officer Guy Liddell’s Diary, December 30, 1944)

“If one had to hear Verdi incessantly in Paradise, I’d ask for leave and the occasional visit to Hell.”        (Alfred Brendel, from Music, Sense and Nonsense, reviewed in Prospect, November 2015)

“It is far more pleasant’, Churchill remarked venomously, ‘to read books or write articles than to try to convince ministerial nonentities that twice two is four.’”                    (from Ivan Maisky’s Diaries, p 108)

“What rare happiness has come the way of the Soviet people: to have had two such leaders as Lenin and Stalin over the course of the last 25 years, the most decisive period in our development and that of humanity in general!”               (Ivan Maisky, on 30 April, 1943, in his Diaries, p 495)

“Mr. Schmidt was named finance minister in 1972 and promptly sought to make left-wing Social Democrats understand that West Germany’s open-armed social benefits could be financed only by a thriving capitalist economy.”       (from NYT obituary of Helmut Schmidt, November 11)

Marital Habits of the Diplomats (nos. 57 & 58 in a series)

“Orr then went on to talk about certain information which had come to his notice about Duff Cooper. He said that Duff’s ATS chauffeuse was extremely incensed at being asked to drive Lady Diana and her boy about London and then to take Mr. Duff Cooper and his mistress to shop in Bond Street. Orr was asked to let us know is there was any chance of the chauffeuse blowing up and lodging an official complaint, as this would clearly be undesirable and we should want to do something about it, by way of dropping a  hint in the right quarter. There was of course no evidence that what the chauffeuse said was true.”              (from the Guy Liddell Diaries, October 16, 1943)

“His [Litvinov’s] decision to have Zina, a 17-year-old girl – described (by Litvinov’s wife) as ‘nubile  . .  decidedly vulgar, very sexy, very sexy indeed’ – accompany him ‘as his daughter’ to the sanatorium at Kislovodsk led Ivy to pack and leave for remote Sverdlovsk. There, heedless of his distraught entreaties, she remained teaching schoolchildren English for three years, until his demotion. A large part of Litvinov’s melancholy and resignation – often ascribed to the failure of collective security and the mortifying purges in his ministry – should clearly be attributed to personal aspects of his life.”  Note: “Litvinov was crushed by Ivy’s decision to leave. ‘Like most men,’ Ivy wrote, ‘he desired a wife and a mistress.’ ‘I used to go about the town,’ she recalled, ‘walking about the streets, and suddenly our enormous Cadillac would dash by with Zina sitting beside the chauffeur, she’d gone out shopping . . .”                    (Gabriel Gorodetsky, editor of Ivan Maisky’s Diaries, p 71)

“Every writer is a kind of spy, ghosting through life in the service of an alien power. He lurks, he snoops, he eavesdrops, he jots his jottings, he thinks his treacherous thoughts. But not every spy is a writer.”  (James Parker, reviewing Adam Sisman’s John Le Carré: the Biography, in Atlantic Monthly, December 2015)

“He knew of course. He had always known it was Bill. . . . All of them had tacitly shared that unexpressed half-knowledge that was like an illness they hoped would go away if it was never owned to, never diagnosed.”         (Smiley, on Bill Haydon, in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, by John le Carré, Chapter 36)

“Inefficiency is a much more potent factor in war than logic.’”                 (from Geoffrey Household’s The Hut, in Tales of Adventurers, p 34, quoted in M.R.D. Foot’s SOE, p 60)

“How, after the fall of Warsaw, any responsible statesman could trust any Russian Communist further than he could kick him, passes the comprehension of ordinary men.’”                                 (Sir John Slessor, from In These Remain, p 151, quoted by M. R. D. Foot in SOE, p 275)

“In Paris, as elsewhere, the communists had hoped to present him [de Gaulle] with the accomplished fact of a communist regime in power; there, as elsewhere, they were outwitted by the Gaullists. The latter had bothered to read Trotsky, whom they regarded as the leading expert on how to seize power in an industrial society; the communists, brought up to abhor Trotsky, had not.”                         (M. R. D. Foot, in SOE: The Special Operations Executive 1940-46, p 328)

“I’m a liar. Born to lying, bred to it, trained to it, by an industry that lies for a living, practiced in it as a novelist.” (John Le Carré, quoted by Alan Sisman in John Le Carré: the Biography, p xiv)

“All memory is fallible, and should be treated with caut (Alan Sisman, in John Le Carré: The Biography, p xvi)

“If poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, then science is tranquility recollected in emotion.”                                                                                                                   (George Musser, in Spooky Action at a Distance, quoted by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker, November 30)


“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” (Kenneth Boulding, according to Eduardo Porter, via Paul Ehrlich, in NYT, December 2)

“Climate change is about ecosystems. Climate change negotiations are about ego-systems.(Laurence Tubiana, France’s climate change envoy to the United Nations, quoted in NYT, December 7)

“Saints don’t fit in awfully well with a democracy any more than sinners.” (Clement Attlee, from A Prime Minister Remembers, by Francis Williams, p 207)

“The only thing that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.” (Moshe Ya’alon, Israeli defense minister, quoted in New Yorker, December 21 & 28)

“The eyes of the world are turning to Great Britain. We now have the moral leadership of the world and before many years we shall have people coming here as to a modern Mecca, learning from us in the twentieth century as they learned from us in the seventeenth century.”                                         (Aneurin Bevan, on July 4, 1948, quoted by Kenneth Harris in Attlee, p 424)

On Diaries:

“If a diary is to enable tense minds to let off steam in private, it cannot be regarded as a safe historical source; and if it is written for use as a future historical document, it is suspect for the opposite reason. One cannot have it both ways.”                         (Clement Attlee, in November 1959 Observer review of the Alanbrooke Diaries, quoted by Kenneth Harris in Attlee, p 554)

“That is the danger of publishing a diary: leave it unedited and you risk being boring; edit it and you may leave a misleading impression.”                                                                                              (David Lodge, in Alan Bennett’s Serial Autobiography, from Lives in Writing, p 93)

“The hallmarks of successful spying are pedantic planning, plentiful patience, prudent precautions, and most of all invisibility.”                                                                                 (from Edward Lucas’s Deception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage Today, p 131)

“Traitors typically salve their consciences with the idea that they are playing a great role in geopolitics.”                                                                                                                               (from Edward Lucas’s Deception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage Today, p 282)

“The experience of modern warfare is so absurd, so chaotic and random, that there is really nothing to be learned from it except that it is better to be lucky than to be unlucky – and even that is not an unmixed blessing.”                                                            (David Lodge paraphrasing Frank Kermode, in Frank Remembered – By a Kermodian, from Lives in Writing, p 162)

“He [Bradbury] cherished the values of secular liberal humanism, and his novels are often about liberal humanists who lack the strength to resist forces in society that are inimical to those values.” (David Lodge in Malcolm Bradbury: Writer and Friend from Lives in Writing, p 168)

“The real marriage of true minds is for any two people to possess a sense of humour or irony pitched in exactly the same key, so that their joint glances at any subject cross like inter-arching search-lights.”                            (Edith Wharton on her friendship with Henry James, quoted by David Lodge in Malcolm Bradbury: Writer and Friend from Lives in Writing, p 168)

“In H. G. Wells: Aspects of a Life Anthony West asserts, naming Gip as his source, that Wells and his don deduced between them that Moura [Budberg] must be a spy working for Russian intelligence, that she had been planted on him at the very beginning of their relationship in 1920 and gad been reporting on him ever since. According to this account, when Wells accused Moura of this in Tallinn she admitted it, but told him it was the only way she survived the revolution and that ‘as a biologist he had to know that survival was the first law of life’. In Anthony West’s opinion, although Wells patched up their relationship he never recovered from the disillusionment, and it was the underlying reason for the misanthropy of his last years.”                                                       (David Lodge in Writing H.G. Wells, from Lives in Writing, pp 254-255)

“’Are you a spy, Moura?’ After  a long pause, she replies: ‘Aigee  . . . That is a silly question. Shall I tell you why? Because if you ask that question of someone and she us not a spy she will say “No.” But if she is a spy she will also say ‘No”. So there is no point in asking that question.’”                           (imagined dialogue by David Lodge from his A Man of Parts, quoted in Writing H.G. Wells, from Lives in Writing, pp 254-255)

“We want our parents to love each other, but not too much (not if it keeps is out) and we want them to be successful, but not too successful, not if it ever ends, or makes our own successes look paltry, or kills our native hope of one day triumphing over them.”    (Andrew O’Hagan, in review of Matthew Spender’s A House in St John’s Wood: In Search of My Parents, in London Review of Books, December 17)

“I am told that the great hostess Sybil Colefax, finding Albert Einstein among her guests at one such soiree, was instructed to put him at his ease and began by asking, ‘Did you hear that mad old Woofles has left Pug-Wug completely flat – and run off with Binky-Poo?’”                                           (Christopher Hitchens, in A. N. Wilson: Downhill All The Way, from and yet . . ., p 95)

“The real upper and the real lower classes abominate restrictions, the middle class adores them and loves to pounce on any outburst of originality, its cherished idea being to reduce everyone to a dull level of respectable uniformity.”   (Ralph Nevill, quoted by Tom Girtin in The Abominable Clubman, p 86)

“Members are requested not to bring their mistresses into the Club unless they happen to be the wives of other members.”                                                                                                                   (notice at a London club, cited by Tom Girtin in The Abominable Clubman, p 100)

“The English are the only clubable people on the face of the earth . . . the proper club for the Frenchman is his café, for without a woman to admire him, or to admire, your Monsieur cannot exist  . . . the Russian has far more of the clubable element in him but the clubs will never flourish in Muscovy till a man can be morally certain that the anecdote he is telling his neighbour will not be carried with notes and emendations in half an hour to the Grand Master of Police  .  .”                                              (G. A. Sala, quoted by Tom Girtin in The Abominable Clubman, p 122)

“One of the more dangerous pleasures of great wealth is that you never have to hear anyone tell you that you are completely wrong.”                             (David Frum, in the Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2016)



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