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Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature (17th Edition) Hardcover – November, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


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Product Details

  • Series: Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
  • Hardcover: 1472 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 17 edition (November 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316084603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316084604
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 2 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Comparing this, the 17th edition of the best known and arguably the most authoritative collection of quotations ("familiar," memorable, or just plain quotable--you choose the terminology), to its predecessor the 16th edition, the question arises, should you upgrade? I own both books and have examined them in some detail. I have used the 16th for many years.

The 17th is set in a new typeface which is both slightly narrower and less bold than that of the 16th. The result is a cleaner look to the pages and more white space. The difference in the number of pages--1431 for the new, 1405 for the old--is slight, and a little misleading. In fact the new edition has more entries--"around one hundred" authors are quoted for the first time, and some authors have additional entries. But the text in the 17th actually takes up less room. Its Index, for example, although it has more entries, has only 564 pages to 608 for the 16th. This is accomplished mainly because the narrower type is also shorter, allowing more entries per column.

The question then is, is the smaller type harder to read? Surprisingly, I would say no. The new type is sharper, crisper and, because the pages have a cleaner appearance, is easier on the eyes. I have a strong suspicion that the publishers--whose investment in this most famous and most important reference work is considerable--tested the readability of their new type before adopting it!

Some additional space, according to editor Justin Kaplan, has been gained by the elimination of "several hundred purely mechanical and nonsubstantive cross-references." For example in the 16th on page 247 is given this quotation from Fredrich von Logau: "Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Mike on December 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
It should be noted that some reviews here refer to editions PRIOR to the new 17th edition of Bartlett's. For example, Ronald Reagan's Berlin speech "...tear down this wall..." is included in this latest edition along with other updates and revisions.
I would agree with others that it is probably worthwhile to hold onto earlier editions of timepieces/repositories of additional quotes that, with the march of time, get squeezed out of current and future edtions. Every home should have at least one of these in it though.
Nice to see the positive influence of the weekly television treasure, SUNDAY MORNING with Charles Osgood. This book was entertainingly featured yesterday (12/8/02) and visiting Amazon[.com] today, I see the book's sales have jumped 28,150%!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By spiketheartist on March 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Bartlett's is still the best resource for researching quotations, better than anything I found on the net, including a site that was called Bartlett's. The print Bartlett's does an excellent job of cross-referencing, so when I wanted to track the original source of a quotation, only the print Bartlett's solved the problem. That's why I bought this copy for my local library. Computers haven't solved every research problem yet.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Joseph L. Taylor on August 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
At age 82, with a lifetime of writing, speaking, and using appropriate quotes, I have purchased and implemented timely quotations from each new Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. The new 17th Edition has kept pace with the passing years and persons without sacrificing the wisdom of the ages.

Joseph Taylor

Grafton, WI 53024
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25 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before buying this book, I was influenced by the name recognition of Bartletts and bought the book mainly for its
known reputation in the past. I was very disappointed! Half the book is an index and, even then, to see the complete quotation, you have to look up each partial quote for the complete quote. Too much work for me! I returned the book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Meredith Broderick on May 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If you are looking for a book of quotations to browse and gain inspiration, this is not the book you are looking for. It is a reference and is as boring to read as any other reference you might come across. One-fourth of the book is an index of authors. Some of the choices about who is included and not seems arbitrary and disappointing. For example, you can find Ann Landers but not Robert F Kennedy quoted within.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brian Kerecz on November 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bartlett's is where I go if I want to see exactly who said what, when, and in precisely what context. John Bartlett started his work about 150 years ago with approximately 250 people, and now in its current version, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations has more than 25,000 quotes from 2,500 people. The chronological layout also makes this very appealing and accessible, and moreso a book one can easily sit down with on a rainy day to peruse.

One thing I take issue with is the fact that several quotes from notable people I have picked up from reading elsewhere (perhaps even earlier versions of Bartlett's!) are not listed in the current book, among them:

"We were given two ears and one mouth that we may hear the more and speak the less." -Zeno

"We are what we repeatedly do; excellence then, is not an act, but a habit." -Aristotle

"I have nothing, yet have everything; and although I possess nothing, still of nothing am I in want." - Menander

The quotes above are not listed, while others are, such as "show me the money" from the movie Jerry Maguire in 1996! Somehow I think the former quotes will hold the test of time while that inane quote from the Hollywood movie will probably not even make it into the Bartlett's version two iterations down the line.

In my opinion, the only thing lacking is a proper gravitas; not enough emphasis is given to timeless figures such as Aristotle or Zeno in favor of contemporary quotes which in truth, possess very little meaning or truth, or in some cases, none at all.

That being given as a proviso, this is still the de facto source for quotations.

**** 1/2 Stars.
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