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Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: Seventeenth Edition    by John Bartlett & Justin Kaplan order for
Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
by John Bartlett
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2002 (2002)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I love to read books of quotations and often browse through them in bookstores. I own quite a few, but the one that I have picked up most over the years is a Thirteenth Edition of Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett, that I received as a high school graduation prize. So I was very curious to see how this latest Seventeenth Edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations varies from my older version (by the way, the first edition was published in 1855!) In his original preface, Bartlett stated 'The object of this work is to show, to some extent, the obligations our language owes to various authors for numerous phrases and familiar quotations which have become household words.'

This 17th edition is certainly heftier, about double the size and weight of the 13th, and I find the broader format a definite improvement. About a third of the content is indexes - authors at the front and phrases at the back - which I have often found useful to track down a quote apt for inclusion in material ranging from speeches for special birthdays and annual holiday letters to school newsletters or this website. Much of the previous content of Bartlett's is expanded, for example additions to quotes from Ancient Egypt; as well as more from authors like Jane Austen, Charles Darwin and Bob Dylan; and new authors have also been included.

Here's an addition quoted from Maya Angelou: 'History, despite its wrenching pain, / Cannot be unlived, but if faced / With courage, need not be lived again.' There's John Guare's 'Six degrees of separation', Carl Sagan's 'Understanding is joyous' or Milan Kundera's 'The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.' You can dip into Bartlett's for new ideas, for philosophy and history, for comfort or for amusement. Which brings me to one of my favorites, Ogden Nash: 'I think that I shall never see / A billboard lovely as a tree. / Indeed, unless the billboards fall / I'll never see a tree at all.'

If you don't have a copy, consider acquiring one. Bartlett's Familiar Quotations makes an excellent lifetime gift for a young person who enjoys language; I plan to pass on my own older edition to my son as I continue to enjoy this Seventeenth Edition myself.

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