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Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists [Kindle Edition]

James Geary
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Both an expert and a collector, James Geary has devoted his life to aphorisms-and the last few years to organizing, indexing, and even translating them. The result is Geary's Guide, featuring aphorists like Voltaire, Twain, Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Woody Allen, Muhammad Ali, Emily Dickinson, and Mae West, as well as international practitioners appearing in English for the first time. But it is more than just a conventional anthology. It is also an encyclopedia, containing brief biographies of each author in addition to a selection of his or her aphorisms. The book is a field guide, too, with aphorists organized into eight different "species," such as Comics, Critics & Satirists; Icons & Iconoclasts; and Painters & Poets. The book's two indexes-by author and by subject-make it easily searchable, while its unique organizational structure and Geary's lively biographical entries set it apart from all previous reference works.
A perfect follow-up to Geary's New York Times bestseller The World in a Phrase, Geary's Guide is eminently suitable for browsing or for sustained reading. A comprehensive guide to our most intimate, idiosyncratic literary form, the book is an indispensable tool for writers and public speakers as well as essential reading for all language lovers.

Editorial Reviews


“…a wonderful breviary of wisdom, insight and cynicism, and one that will immediately find a place at many bedsides…there are pleasures and surprises galore.”-Washington Post

“An agreeable thing to have in your lap.”—Dwight Garner

Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists is a rich, well-edited compendium, which is at once a feast, a frolic, a thought-kit and a treasure trove. A book to relish and to keep close.”—John Lahr, New Yorker
“A masterful compilation from a man adept at taking the pith.”—Ben Schott Praise for The World in a Phrase:
“[An] entertaining love letter to the compact form.”—New York Times
 “A reward. Geary presents several dozen coiners of pithy, memorable sayings.”Washington Post “The definitive work on aphorisms, a love letter–cum–memoir disguised as a reference book.”—Publishers Weekly

About the Author

James Geary is the author of The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism and The Body Electric: An Anatomy of the New Bionic Senses. He lives in London with his wife and three children. His Web site is

Product Details

  • File Size: 5732 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (December 8, 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000WJVM4C
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #629,830 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must - have book for aphorism- lovers October 20, 2007
Unlike most of the anthologies of aphorisms and wise- sayings that I know this one is not primarily classified by subject , but rather by author. Geary provides a very useful biographical sketch of each other and a few or as much as a couple of dozen of their aphorisms.
He classifies the authors by their professions or backgrounds: e.g. "Comics, Critics and Satirists," "Icons and Iconoclasts," "Philosophers and Theorists".
The author claims that this is the largest book of aphorisms there is in English. It certainly does contain many aphorists I had not known of. There is a biographical sketch for each aphorist and samples of their work.
Geary has his own list of qualities for determining whether a saying or sentence is an aphorism.
"It must be brief. It must be definitive. It must be personal -- that's the difference between an aphorism and a proverb. It must be philosophical -- that's the difference between an aphorism and a platitude, which is not philosophical," "And the fifth law is it must have a twist. And that can be either a linguistic twist or a psychological twist or even a twist in logic that somehow flips the reader into a totally unexpected place."
Like other considerable collections of aphorisms i.e. 'The Viking Book of Aphorisms ed. by W.H. Auden and L. Kronenberger or the 'Oxford Book of Aphorisms ed. John Gross- this book provides a vast amount of material for 'thought' i.e. Aphorisms cannot really be read consecutively and gobbled up quickly one after the other. They make their initial impressions but then we often want to ponder whether they are really 'true' or not for us.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
As a writer, I love and use aphorisms all the time. They add to your writing and help the reader understand and appreciate what you write. An aphorism is a short, witty, philosophical saying. Here are a couple of examples:

When I am shaving in the morning and I behold my rapidly receding hairline--a modest curl rushing towards the crown of my head like some follicular riptide--I think of Jean Cocteau and his quip: "Mirrors would do well to reflect a little more before sending back images."

"Sex without love is an empty gesture. But as empty gestures go, it is one of the best."

I find using aphorisms fun. I also find they give my writing wit and humor, which my readers enjoy.

This is a comprehensive guide to aphorisms and is a wonderful tool for writers and public speakers as well as must-have reading for all language lovers.

You'll find aphorisms from such notables as Sun Tzu and Desmond Tutu. I think there are around 400 or so aphorisms in the book.

When I started stocking my writing library many years ago, one of the main books recommended to me was a good book of aphorisms. So I will pass that recommendation on. And this would be a great book to fill that bill.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent resource of aphorisms November 7, 2007
"Another book of quotes?" I groaned as I perused James Geary's book. Frankly, while it may have a lot of quotes, it is a superb resource for aphorisms, lumped by author and cross referenced by related topics. While there are familiar ones, there are aphorists of less renown. Useful as a reference, it also makes for some fun reading.

While generally laid out well, the choice of chapters and groupings were somewhat novel (read: less than intuitive), it is a helpful addendum for authors or those in search of just the right aphorism to color their work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique guide to the best thoughts of all-time. December 7, 2009
By Jubu
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a gem. Every week this year I read one book, and other than a couple works of classic literature, this is the only book I loved without reservation. It should be in the home library of everyone who is interested in reading wise insights into the human condition or just wants to browse through a book of thoughtful reflections - and hopefully that covers everybody!

It is a high quality work of reference and even more delightful to read all the way through. I have two very minor reservations: first, that the brief biographical notes on each aphorist overlap Geary's earlier aphorism book to a great extent (that book is also excellent, but briefer, thus lacking in the depth of this title); my second concern is that this book appears to not have sold well enough to warrant an updated edition someday - alas. I have wondered whether it is even possible that there could be a better and more concise book of timeless wisdom ever compiled - I doubt it. That was meant as a compliment.

This is actually a "desert island" book, and given its modest size and price should be given to any thoughtful person in your life. Of course it is not the only handbook of aphorisms on the market, but it is the most personable and carefully selected, with a perfect balance of classic, modern, and contemporary writers (including many obscure and translated sources).

No matter your level of education or intellectual curiosity you will find something meaningful on each and every page. After you enjoy this book (which I know you will) please help spread the good word for this special title.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed this book. First heard about it on NPR.
Read this book and really loved it. Sitting on bookshelf with so many other books. Not willing to give it away yet.
Published 1 month ago by Don Baker
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
AWESOME book, I have sent this to 3 of my friends.
Published 3 months ago by c tyler
4.0 out of 5 stars A follow up to one of his previous books of Aphorisms.
I ordered both of his books on aphorisms at the same time and found quite a bit of information in his books. This book is the more serious of the two, but with many more pages.
Published 16 months ago by tom
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books of quotes and aphorisms that I have read
It has a unique organization but it contains more unique insight than any of book of quotations or aphorisms that I have read. Read more
Published on April 20, 2012 by skmurphy
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent collection, good for inspiration
I originally purchased this book for help in writing my wedding vow. I didn't use it for that but find myself cracking it open for inspiration quite frequently. Read more
Published on September 18, 2008 by Hurricane Mitch
4.0 out of 5 stars always leave them wanting more
I've been enjoying this book since I got it. It is especially good when you need something that you can pick up and read for a bit but then need to put it down. Read more
Published on February 10, 2008 by lss
4.0 out of 5 stars Book
The book was what my fiance wanted, but when t was mailed to me, it had a big scratch across the front!!
Published on December 25, 2007 by JaclynTurner
4.0 out of 5 stars book for the boss
I bought this book for my boss and he seems to be enjoying it quite a bit.
Published on December 17, 2007 by Linda Sue Torres
4.0 out of 5 stars Handy for your reference library
This book is handy for your reference library, especially if you write for a living, be you an author or lawyer. Read more
Published on November 27, 2007 by Senor Zorro
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More About the Author

James Geary is the author of 'I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World' as well as the New York Times best-selling 'The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism' and 'Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists'.

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