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Quotes - December 2016

Writing

Quotes - December 2016

Alexei Muravsky

“Neplyuev, the young naval officer whom Peter had sent as ambassador to Constantinople, wrote, ‘This monarch has brought our country to a level with others. He taught us to recognize that we are a people. In brief, everything that we look upon in Russia has its origin in him, and everything which is done in the future well be derived from this source.’ As the century progressed, veneration of Peter became almost a cult. Mikhail Lomonosov, Russia’s first notable scientist, described Peter as ‘a God-like man’ and wrote. ‘I see him everywhere, now enveloped in a cloud of dust, of smoke, of flame, now bathed in sweat at the end of strenuous toil. I refuse to believe that there was one Peter and not several.’”

- Robert K. Massie, Peter the Great: His Life and World


“Elsewhere in Europe the speculative boom was still gathering pace. By the summer of 1720, in the fetid passages of London’s Exchange Alley, the skin on the South Sea bubble was perilously overstretched. Shares that in January had traded for £130 were changing hands for £1050 at the end of June. As in France, every echelon of society – country parsons, impoverished widows, kings, princes, courtesans, yeoman farmers, eminent scientists, philosophers, writers, artists – caught the contagion, and with loans easily available, they joined the multitude, though few fully comprehended its shady complexities. Even Isaac Newton blindly took part and when asked for advice on the subject is said to have responded that while he could calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, he could not do the same for the madness of the people.”

- Janet Gleeson, Millionaire: The Philanderer, Gambler, and Duelist Who Invented Modern Finance


“Gradually, he fell into that deep tranquil sleep which ease from recent suffering alone imparts; that calm and peaceful rest which it is pain to wake from. Who, if this were death, would be roused again to all the struggles and turmoils of life; to all its cares for the present; its anxieties for the future; more than all, its weary recollections of the past!”

- Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist


“Unfortunately, as [the French critic] Tzvetan Todorov reminds us, ‘The first spontaneous reaction with regard to the stranger is to imagine him as inferior, since he is different from us.’”

- Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures


“Six degrees of separation doesn’t mean that everyone is linked to everyone else in just six steps. It means that a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few.”

- Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point


“I badgered my parents constantly with questions. Where did color come from? Why did my mother use the platinum loop that hung above the stove to cause the gas burner to catch fire? What happened to the sugar when one stirred it into the tea? Where did it go? Why did water bubble when it boiled? (I liked to watch water set to boil on the stove, to see it quivering with heat before it burst into bubbles.)… My questions were endless, and touched on everything, though they tended to circle around, again and again, to my obsession, the metals. Why were they shiny? Why smooth? Why cool? Why hard? Why heavy? Why did they bend, not break? Why did they ring? Why could two soft metals like zinc and copper, or tin and copper, combine to produce a harder metal? What gave gold its goldness, and why did it never tarnish? My mother was patient, for the most part, and tried to explain, but eventually, when I exhausted her patience, she would say, “That’s all I can tell you – you’ll have to quiz Uncle Dave to learn more." We had called him Uncle Tungsten for as long as I could remember…”

- Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood


The Man and the Lion

"A Man and a Lion once argued together as to which belonged to the nobler race. The Man called the attention of the Lion to a monument on which was sculptured a Man striding over a fallen Lion. ‘That proves nothing at all,’ said the Lion: ‘if a Lion had been the carver, he would have made the Lion striding over the man.’"

Men are but sorry witnesses in their own cause.

- Aesop, Aesop’s Fables with Illustrations by Ernest Griset


“From an evolutionary point of view, the leading cause of violence is maleness.”

- Robert Wright (1995) via David M. Buss, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind 5th Edition

“Why would young men, at the peak of their physical prowess and at the age at which death from disease is the lowest, be the most prone to place their lives at risk by engaging in violence? … Over the course of human evolutionary history, a young man seeking a wife had to display formidable physical prowess in hunting, tribal raids, tribal defense, and the ability to defend his interests. These displays were designed to impress not only women but also other men, to deter rival men from hindering the man in his quests. The argument, by itself, can be applied to many mammals. What makes humans unique is the importance of cultivating a reputation, which can have a long-lasting effect. Competitive success or failure early in life might have been a strong determinant of reputation, which could affect a man’s lifetime survival and reproductive success. The finding that displays of violence by young men are almost invariably performed in the presence of an audience suggests that they are designed not merely to vanquish a rival, which, after all could be done in the dead of the night without witnesses. The presence of an audience suggests that risky displays are also designed to impress peers and cultivate a formidable social reputation… The reputation explanation also accounts for why we bestow prestige and status on those who take risks and succeed in spite of the risks.”

- David M. Buss, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind 5th Edition


“Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them. At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and never return.”

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


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