From Publishers Weekly
This canonical reference work, originally published in 1855, soldiers on, seeking out memorable quotations in the midst of these dark ages of rhetoric. Since the last edition in 1992, the pickings have been slim; recent selections are weighted toward bon mots from pop cultural phenomena (Jerry Seinfeld, Larry Clark, J. K. Rowling), irritating catchphrases ("Show me the money!") and laughable attempts to evade rather than achieve clear expression ("It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is"). Fortunately there is still Bartlett's great trove of five millennia of timeless poetry, prose, oratory and epigrams, arranged chronologically and indexed by author and thematic keywords. Kingsley Amis, Mother Teresa and Katharine Graham all make their first appearance in this edition, while the entries for Edith Wharton, Bob Dylan and Vladimir Nabokov have been expanded. This volume should serve as both admonishment and inspiration to writers and toastmasters alike.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
According to his entry in American National Biography, "ask John Bartlett" was once a common answer to questions in the environs of Harvard College. Bartlett went to work in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, bookstore when he was 16, and "his copious memory and love of books soon had university faculty and students using him as a ready reference tool." His notebook of common phrases and quotations eventually became A Collection of Familiar Quotations, which he had privately printed in 1855. By the time he died in 1905, the collection had gone through nine editions. Almost 100 years and eight editions later, people still ask John Bartlett when they are seeking the source of a common phrase or hoping to dress up a speech with a pithy saying.
The seventeenth edition of Bartlett's has 25,000 quotations from 2,500 authors. It follows in the path of its predecessors by adhering to certain traditions yet also strives to remain relevant and up-to-date. Bartlett's original collection relied heavily on literary sources, such as the Bible and Shakespeare, and these, as current editor Kaplan tells us in his preface, "are still major components." Structurally, arrangement is still chronological and access is abetted by an index of authors and a very detailed keyword index. But for this edition, hundreds of "purely mechanical, nonsubstantive cross-reference and footnotes" have been eliminated, and full citations are used in place of the often-confusing Ibid. And Bartlett's continues to widen its net beyond canonical sources, casting about for material from culture both high and low. New among the quoted are Maya Angelou, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Princess Diana, Rudy Giuliani, Frank McCourt, Robert McNamara, and Jerry Seinfeld. Selections from Charles Darwin, Bob Dylan, and Virginia Woolf, among others, have been expanded. Some authors, such as popular eighteenth-century English writer Anna Laetitia Barbauld, have been excised, although cutting has not been as deep for this edition as it was for the sixteenth, also edited by Kaplan.
There are hundreds of other quotation books from which to choose. Among those that are comparable in size to Bartlett's, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (5th ed., 1999) is arranged alphabetically by author, and Random House Webster's Quotationary (1999) is arranged by subject. In addition to these general anthologies, there are books of quotations by women and by African Americans; books of humorous or religions quotations; and books for quotations about movies or sports (for a rundown of some recent examples, see "Other People's Words: Recent Quotation Books," in our July 2002 issue). Strictly speaking, the new Bartlett's may not be a necessary purchase for libraries that have the sixteenth edition and a good array of other fairly current titles. But because it is one of the handful of reference staples that patrons are likely to ask for by name, no self-respecting library should be without it. RBB
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