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The Best Quotations Reference
on November 3, 2006
A good quotations collection will give the definitive wording of quotations, provide information as to the quotations' sources and eliminate spurious sources, and be interesting enough to read or browse in its own right, even when no particular quotation is sought. The Yale Book of Quotations does all of these things, and it does them better than its nearest competitors (Bartlett's Familiar Quotations and The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations). The Yale Book of Quotations is the first new comprehensive collection in many years, and it has benefited from a rethinking of the quotations selected, the use of modern databases to track quotations back to their origins, and comparison with those original sources to assure accuracy.
The immediately noticeable difference is a selection that is more likely to appeal to a modern American audience. Bartlett's has pages of quotations from Dryden, most of which inspire neither recollection nor pleasant surprise. Yale has 12 quotations from Dryden, which is enough to include all the genuinely familiar Dryden quotations. On the other hand, Yale has 23 quotations from George W. Bush, many uttered after Bartlett's was last updated. Yale includes extensive selections of proverbs and sayings, political slogans, television catchphrases, and other familiar lines. In general, although Yale's use of literary quotations is comprehensive (there are, for example, 455 quotations from Shakespeare), the quotation selection tends to be relatively less literary and more inclined toward quotations of contemporary interest, particularly to Americans. It may be for this reason that, frankly, Yale is just a lot more fun to browse.
Less dramatic, but perhaps ultimately a better indicator of usefulness, is the impressive level of research that went into compiling the Yale Book. Have you ever wondered who said "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch"? Yale cites to several authors who used versions of this line, the earliest of which ("such a thing as a 'free' lunch never existed") was in the Reno Evening Gazette on January 22, 1942. It is unlikely that such an obscure source could have been located without modern databases. It was indeed Horace Greeley who said "Go West, young man"; Yale spends a quarter of a page discussing this quotation, which it notes is one of the great examples of the prevalence of misinformation about famous quotations (both Bartlett's and Oxford get it wrong). The Yale Book of Quotations offers a level of scholarship and reliability that is simply not otherwise available.