Paul Kocak (Syracuse)
I was so impressed with a newspaper feature on Ralph Keyes’s The Quote Verifier that I ordered the book right away. I was not disappointed. There are few books I have ever encountered that are more thoroughly researched — and so entertaining. The book is either a conversation starter (or spoiler, depending on your audience). Keyes delights in debunking commonly held assumptions about famous quotes, but there’s no malice. Just meticulous and entertaining research. He points out the evolution of quotations (often much like the children’s game of Telephone). I love how this wonderful reference is organized: alphabetically according to key words, interspersed with special sections on those who are frequently quoted, and a “verdict” at the end of each entry to help the reader reach a decision on a quote’s origin or evolution). Thus, a special section on Yogi Berra tracks down a bunch of alleged “Yogi-isms.” You might be surprised. I was. Gems abound a nearly every page. And the research is cited in a way that makes it fun to learn the origin of a phrase (or the lack of such knowledge). An example is the famous phrase “Iron Curtain.” It is commonly known that Winston Churchill used that phrase in a 1946 sppech about Soviet influence. But Keyes exhaustively points out a whole bunch of similar uses that occurred much earlier. Then he gives a verdict: “Many authors, one key publicist — Winston Churchill.” I loved reading the blurb on the phrase “fifteen minutes of fame” (is it Andy Warhol’s? Hey, I don’t want to give away the juicy tidbits) and on the phrase “May you live in interesting times” (is it really of Chineses origin?). And so many others. Keyes’s book has delighted me so much I recently found it a worthy companion on a long trip. I recommend this book to teachers and professors (even just to educate students in acquiring a healthy skepticism), news reporters and editors, talk show hosts, and anyone interested in history or good conversation. It should be on every library shelf, both public and private.