Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes / Edition 7

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Overview

The ultimate anthology of anecdotes, now revised with over 700 new entries - a must-have reference for every personal library. From Hank Aaron to King Zog, Mao Tse-Tung to Madonna, Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes features more than 2,000 people from around the world, past and present, in all fields. These short anecdotes provide remarkable insight into the human character. Ranging from the humorous to the tearful, they span classical history, recent politics, modern science and the arts. Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes is a gold mine for anyone who gives speeches, is doing research, or simply likes to browse. As an informal tour of history and human nature at its most entertaining & instructive, this is sure to be a perennial favorite for years to come.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This ultimate anthology of anecdotes, revised to include more than 700 new entries, is a must-have reference for every personal library. From Hank Aaron to King Zog, Mao Tse-tung to Madonna, Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes is the best source of anecdotes on the market. Featuring more than 2,000 people from around the world, past and present, in all fields, these short anecdotes provide remarkable insight into the human character. Ranging from the humorous to the tearful, they span classical history, recent politics, modern science, and the arts. Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes is a gold mine for anyone who gives speeches, is doing research, or simply likes to browse.
Sunday-Patriot News
A perfect addition to anyone's reference shelf...
—(10/1/00)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316082679
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Edition description: REVISED
  • Edition number: 7
  • Pages: 800
  • Sales rank: 718,090
  • Product dimensions: 7.62 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 2.50 (d)

Read an Excerpt


Excerpt


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Aaron, Henry Louis ["Hank"] (1934—), US baseball player. He broke Babe Ruth's home-run record, hitting 755 in all.

1 During the 1957 World Series, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra noticed that Aaron grasped the bat the wrong way. "Turn it around," he said, "so you can see the trademark." But Hank kept his eye on the pitcher's mound: "Didn't come up here to read. Came up here to hit."

2 Aaron, who surpassed Babe Ruth's "unsurpassable" home-run record of 714 home runs in 1974, never saw any of his famous hits flying through the air. While running to first base he always looked down until he touched the bag, feeling that "looking at the ball going over the fence isn't going to help."

3 Asked how he felt about breaking Ruth's record — an achievement that was both admired and somewhat controversial given the great reverence and affection Ruth inspired even years after his death — Aaron said, "I don't want them to forget Ruth. I just want them to remember me!"

4 Aaron was known as a hitter who rarely failed, the bane of pitchers. As a pitcher on a rival team once said of him, "Trying to sneak a pitch past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster."

Abernethy, John (1764—1831), British physician.

1 A titled gentleman who consulted Abernethy was received by the great doctor with the rudeness for which he was notorious. The patient lost his temper and told Abernethy that he would make him "eat his words." "It will be of no use," responded Abernethy, "for they will be sure to come up again."

2 When Abernethy was canvassing for the post of surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, he called upon one of the governors, a wealthy grocer, in the man's shop. The grocer loftily remarked that he presumed Abernethy was wanting his vote at this important point in his life. Nettled by the man's tone and attitude, Abernethy retorted, "No, I don't; I want a pennyworth of figs. Look sharp and wrap them up. I want to be off."

3 "Mrs. J—— consulted him respecting a nervous disorder, the minutiae of which appeared to be so fantastic that Mr. A. interrupted their frivolous detail by holding out his hand for the fee. A 1 note and a shilling were placed into it; upon which he returned the latter to his fair patient, with the angry exclamation, 'There, Ma'am! go and buy a skipping rope; that is all you want.'"

4 Despite his brusqueness with his private patients, Abernethy was conscientious and kindly toward the poor under his care in the charity hospital. Once as he was about to leave for the hospital, a private patient tried to detain him. Abernethy observed, "Private patients, if they do not like me, can go elsewhere; but the poor devils in the hospital I am bound to take care of."

5 A patient complaining of melancholy consulted Dr. Abernethy. After an examination the doctor pronounced, "You need amusement. Go and hear the comedian Grimaldi; he will make you laugh and that will be better for you than any drugs." Said the patient, "I am Grimaldi."

6 Abernethy was renowned for his dislike of idle chatter. With this in mind, a young lady once entered his surgery and, without a word, held out an injured finger for examination. The doctor dressed the wound in silence. The woman returned a few days later. "Better?" asked Abernethy. "Better," replied the patient. Subsequent calls passed in much the same manner. On her final visit, the woman held out her finger, now free of bandages. "Well?" inquired the doctor. "Well," she replied. "Upon my word, madam," exclaimed Abernethy, "you are the most rational woman I have ever met."

Acheson, Dean [Gooderham] (1893—1971), US statesman and lawyer; secretary of state (1949—53).

1 On leaving his post as secretary of state, Acheson was asked about his plans for the future. He replied, "I will undoubtedly have to seek what is happily known as gainful employment, which I am glad to say does not describe holding public office."

2 In April 1963 Winston Churchill was made an honorary citizen of the United States. At the ceremony in the White House, his letter of acceptance was read by his son Randolph, as he himself was too frail to attend. It contained a passage rejecting the idea that Britain had only a "tame and minor" role to play on the international scene. Dean Acheson recognized this as an oblique allusion to his own famous and greatly resented remark that Britain had lost an empire and failed to find a new role. "Well, it hasn't taken Winston long to get used to American ways," commented Acheson. "He hadn't been an American citizen for

3 A rather flustered elderly lady once accosted Acheson in a Washington hotel. "Pardon me," she said, "I am somewhat embarrassed. My zipper has stuck and I am due at a meeting. Could you please help me out?" As the zipper was firmly stuck halfway down her back, Acheson was obliged to undo it completely, averting his eyes as best he could, before pulling it back up to the top. The lady thanked him profusely. "I think that I should tell you," she added, "that I am vice president of the Daughters of the American Revolution."

"My dear lady," replied Acheson, "what a moment ago was a rare privilege now appears to have been a really great honor."

Acton, Harold (1904—97), British author whose works include poetry, histories, memoirs, and novels.

1 "One summer afternoon Acton, then a celebrated undergraduate poet at Oxford, was asked to perform at a Conservative Garden Fete. He decided he could do no better than recite [T. S. Eliot's] The Waste Land from beginning to end. His audience's good manners were severely tested, as this dirge for a godless civilization, delivered in Harold Acton's rich, resounding voice, swept irresistibly above their heads; and one or two old ladies, who were alarmed and horrified but thought that the reciter had such a 'nice, kind face,' rather than hurt the young man's feelings by getting up and leaving openly, were obliged to sink to their knees and creep away on all fours."


Adams, Alexander Annan (1908—), British air commander.

1 At the end of the Battle of Britain, Adams was driving to a meeting at Fighter Command Headquarters when he came upon a sign: ROAD CLOSED — UNEXPLODED BOMB. Adams called over the policeman on duty, hoping he might be able to suggest an alternative route. "Sorry, you can't go through," said the policeman as he approached the car. "The bomb is likely to go off at any minute now." Then he caught sight of Adams's uniform. "I'm very sorry, sir," he said, "I didn't know you were a wing commander. It is quite all right for you to go through."

Adams, Ansel (1902—84), US landscape photographer (particularly of the mountainous West) and conservationist.

1 During his early years Adams studied the piano and showed marked talent. At one party (he recalls it as "very liquid") he played Chopin's F Major Nocturne. "In some strange way my right hand started off in F-sharp major while my left hand behaved well in F major. I could not bring them together. I went through the entire nocturne with the hands separated by a half-step." The next day a fellow guest complimented him on his performance. "You never missed a wrong note!"

Adams, Franklin Pierce (1881—1960), US journalist, writer of light verse, and wit.

1 Adams belonged to a poker club that included among its members an actor called Herbert Ransom. Whenever Ransom held a good hand, his facial expression was so transparent that Adams proposed a new rule for the club: "Anyone who looks at Ransom's face is cheating."

2 Adams accompanied Beatrice Kaufman (wife of the playwright George S. Kaufman) to a cocktail party where, feeling a little out of things, she sat down on a cane-seated chair. The seat suddenly broke, leaving Beatrice immobilized inside the frame, legs in the air. As a shocked silence gripped the party, Adams said severely, "I've told you a hundred times, Beatrice, that's not funny."

3 "Whose birthday is it today?" Adams once asked Beatrice Kaufman. "Yours?" she guessed. "No, but you're getting warm," replied Adams. "It's Shakespeare's."

4 Alexander Woollcott had been asked to sign a first-edition copy of his book Shouts and Murmurs. "Ah, what is so rare as a Woollcott first edition?" he sighed as he wrote. "A Woollcott second edition," replied Adams.

5 A friend was recounting to Adams an apparently interminable tale. He finally said: "Well, to cut a long story short —"

"Too late," interrupted Adams.

Adams, Henry (1838-1918), US diplomat and writer known particularly for his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams.

1 Adams was very fond of his teenage niece Gabrielle. During one visit, they sat together in the library after dinner as Uncle Henry began to speak. His monologue was extraordinary, and ranged over the cosmos, the nature of God and man, and his own hopes and disappointments. For a long time he talked, then broke off and sat quietly for a moment. "Do you know why I have told you all this?" he asked her. "It is because you would not understand a word of it and you will never quote me."

Adams, John (1735—1826), US statesman, 2d President of the United States (1797—1801).

1 Adams loathed being vice president; even in those early days of the Republic, the job was ill defined and not much respected. Of his role as Washington's secondary partner, he wrote, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."

2 During his presidency Adams's grand style, which contrasted unfavorably with the simpler dignity of the Washington regime, made him many enemies. A scandalous story circulated that he had sent General Charles C. Pinckney to Britain to select four pretty girls as mistresses, two for the general and two for himself. When this slander came to Adams's ears, he wrote complainingly to a friend, "I do declare, if this be true, General Pinckney has kept them all for himself and cheated me out of my two."

3 Adams received a letter from his wife, Abigail, that was highly critical of the impending marriage of a young lady she knew to a much older man. She called it the union of "the Torrid and the Frigid Zones." Adams immediately wrote back, saying, "How dare you hint or list a word about Fifty Years of Age? If I were near, I would soon convince you that I am not above Forty."

4 Although failing fast, Adams was determined to survive until the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence — July 4, 1826. At dawn on that day he was awakened by his servant, who asked if he knew what day it was. He replied, "Oh, yes, it is the glorious fourth of July. God bless it. God bless you all." He then slipped into a coma. In the afternoon he recovered consciousness briefly to murmur, "Thomas Jefferson lives." These were his last words. Unknown to him, Thomas Jefferson had died that same day.

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Adams, John Quincy (1767—1848), US statesman, 6th President of the United States (1825—29). From 1831 to his death he served in the House of Representatives.

1 John Quincy Adams, an enthusiastic swimmer, used to bathe naked in the Potomac before starting the day's work. The newspaperwoman Anne Royall had been trying for weeks to get an interview with the President and had always been turned away. One morning she tracked him to the riverbank and after he had got into the water stationed herself on his clothes. When Adams returned from his swim, he found a very determined lady awaiting him. She introduced herself and stated her errand. "Let me get out and dress," pleaded the President, "and I swear you shall have your interview." Anne Royall was adamant; she wasn't moving until she had the President's comment on the questions she wished to put to him. If he attempted to get out, she would scream loud enough to reach the ears of some fishermen on the next bend. She got her interview while Adams remained decently submerged in the water.

2 In 1846 John Quincy Adams suffered a stroke and, although he returned to Congress the following year, his health was clearly failing. Daniel Webster described his last meeting with Adams: "Someone, a friend of his, came in and made particular inquiry of his health. Adams answered, 'I inhabit a weak, frail, decayed tenement; battered by the winds and broken in upon by the storms, and, from all I can learn, the landlord does not intend to repair.'"

3 One wintry day in 1848 Adams was busy writing at his desk when the Speaker of the House rose to ask a question. Adams rose to answer, then fell into the arms of his neighboring member. He was carried into the Speaker's chamber, where he spent the next two days in a semiconscious state. His final words were, "This is the last of Earth. I am content."

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Addams, Jane (1860—1935), US social reformer. A supporter of racial equality, female suffrage, and pacifism, she shared the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize with the educator Nicholas Murray Butler.

1 In 1900 the Daughters of the American Revolution elected Jane Addams to honorary membership. However, her antiwar stance during World War I and her insistence that even subversives had a right to trial by due process of law caused them to expel her. She commented that she had thought her election was for life, but now knew it was for good behavior.

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Addison, Joseph (1672—1719), British writer and politician.


1 Addison's natural diffidence made him an ineffective parliamentary debater. On one occasion he began, "Mr. Speaker, I conceive — I conceive, sir — sir, I conceive —" At this point he was interrupted by a voice saying, "The right honorable secretary of state has conceived thrice and brought forth nothing."

2 The Duke of Wharton, hoping to animate Addison into wit, plied him so generously with wine that the writer was taken ill. The duke observed with disgust that he could "get wine but not wit out of him."

3 A friend of Addison's with whom he was accustomed to have long discussions on topics of mutual interest borrowed some money from the author. Soon afterward Addison noticed a change in his behavior; before the loan the two friends had disagreed on a number of subjects, but now the borrower fell in with every line that Addison himself adopted. One day when they were talking on a point on which Addison knew his friend had previously held an opposite view to his own, he exclaimed, "Either contradict me, sir, or pay me my money!"

Ade, George (1866—1944), US humorist and playwright.

1 Following a well-received after-dinner speech by George Ade, a noted lawyer rose to speak. His hands buried deep in the pockets of his trousers, he began: "Doesn't it strike the company as a little unusual that a professional humorist should be funny?" Ade waited for the laughter to die down before replying: "Doesn't it strike the company as a little unusual that a lawyer should have his hands in his own pockets?"

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Adee, Alvey Augustus (1842—1924), US diplomat.

1 When Adee was asked by President McKinley the best way to say no to six European ambassadors who were coming to see him to try to prevent war against Spain, he wrote on the back of an envelope: "The Government of the United States appreciates the humanitarian and disinterested character of the communication now made on behalf of the powers named, and for its part is confident that equal appreciation will be shown for its own earnest and unselfish endeavors to fulfill a duty to humanity by ending a situation the indefinite prolongation of which has become insufferable."


The President read this message verbatim to the ambassadors.

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Adenauer, Konrad (1876—1967), German statesman and first chancellor of the Federal Republic (1949—63).

1 Essentially a Rhinelander, Adenauer never liked or trusted the Prussians and his compatriots in eastern Germany. In the interwar period he used frequently to have to go by train to Berlin. It is said that every time he crossed the River Elbe on this journey he would frown and mutter to himself, "Now we enter Asia."


2 Adenauer received many marriage proposals in his mail when he was chancellor, even after he became an octogenarian. When they were brought to his notice he used to tell his secretary patiently: "Put them in the nonaggression pact file."

3 When Adenauer, still chancellor, was approaching the age of ninety, he succumbed to a heavy cold. His personal physician, unable to be of very much help, had to put up with Adenauer's impatience. "I'm not a magician," protested the harassed doctor. "I can't make you young again."

"I haven't asked you to," retorted the chancellor. "All I want is to go on getting older."

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Adler, Hermann (1839—1911), British rabbi (chief rabbi of London).


1 Adler found himself sitting beside Herbert Cardinal Vaughan at an official luncheon. "Now, Dr. Adler," said the cardinal mischievously, "when may I have the pleasure of helping you to some ham?"


"At Your Eminence's wedding," came the prompt reply.

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Aeschylus (525—456 bc), Greek poet. Some of his tragedies are the earliest complete plays surviving from ancient Greece.

1 Aeschylus died and was buried at Gela in Sicily. Ancient biographies record the tradition that his death came about when an eagle, which had seized a tortoise and was looking to smash the reptile's shell, mistook the poet's bald head for a stone and dropped the tortoise upon him.

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Agassiz, Jean Louis Rodolphe (1807—73), Swiss naturalist and paleontologist.


1 An emissary from a learned society came to invite Agassiz to address its members. Agassiz refused on the grounds that lectures of this sort took up too much time that should be devoted to research and writing. The man persisted, saying that they were prepared to pay handsomely for the talk. "That's no inducement to me," Agassiz replied. "I can't afford to waste my time making money."

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Agrippina (ad 15—59), mother of Emperor Nero by her first husband. Her third marriage was to her uncle, Emperor Claudius, whom she later poisoned.


1 Agrippina was consumed by her ambition to place her son Nero on the imperial throne. She consulted the soothsayers, who told her, "Nero will reign, but he will kill his mother."

    "Let him kill me, then," said Agrippina.

2 Agrippina proved less easy to eliminate than Nero expected. According to Suetonius, he tried poison three times (she had taken the antidote beforehand), a collapsible ceiling in her bedchamber (someone warned her), and an unseaworthy boat (she swam to safety). Finally he sent a centurion with orders to kill her. The centurion struck her first on the head, as he had been ordered, but she bared her breasts, crying out, "Strike rather these, which have nurtured so great a monster as Nero."

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Aidan, Saint (d. 651), Irish monk who became bishop of Northumbria (635) and founded the monastery at Lindisfarne.

1 King Oswin, ruler of the former British province of Deira and a friend of Aidan's, gave the bishop a fine horse. Soon afterward Bishop Aidan met a beggar who asked him for alms; he at once dismounted and gave the horse, with all its costly trappings, to the poor man. When this charitable deed came to the king's ears, he taxed Aidan: "Why did you give away the horse that we specially chose for your personal use when we knew that you had need of one for your journeys? We have many less valuable horses that would have been suitable for beggars." Replied Aidan, "Is this foal of a mare more valuable to you than a child of God?" The king pondered, then, suddenly casting his sword aside, knelt at Aidan's feet and begged his forgiveness. Aidan, greatly moved, begged the king to go to his dinner and be merry.

  As Aidan watched the king go, he became very melancholy. When the bishop's chaplain asked why, Aidan replied, "I know that the king will not live long, for I have never seen a king so humble as he is. He will be taken from us as the country is not worthy to have such a king."
  The foreboding was proved correct: King Oswin was treacherously killed by his northern neighbor, King Oswy.


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Albemarle, William Anne Keppel, 2d Earl of (1702—54), British soldier and ambassador.


1 Sent as plenipotentiary to Paris in 1748, Albemarle took with him his mistress Lolotte Gaucher, an actress described by contemporaries as cunning and rapacious. One evening, seeing her gazing pensively at a star, the earl remarked, "It's no good, my dear, I can't buy it for you."

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Albert, Prince (1819—61), prince consort of Great Britain; husband of Queen Victoria.

1 Prince Albert had a chronic inability to stay awake late at night. At a concert given at Buckingham Palace and attended by various distinguished guests, Queen Victoria noticed that her husband was asleep. Half-smiling, half-vexed, she prodded him with her elbow. He woke up, nodded approval of the piece being performed, and fell asleep again, still nodding. The queen had to wake him up all over again. A guest at the concert reported, "The queen was charmed, and cousin Albert looked beautiful, and slept quietly as usual."

2 A picture at Balmoral portrayed all the royal children and various birds and animals. Someone asked which was Princess Helena. "There, with the kingfisher," said Albert, adding, "a very proper bird for a princess."

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Albert, Eugène d' (1864—1932), German pianist and composer.


1 D'Albert was married six times. At an evening reception which he attended with his fifth wife shortly after their wedding, he presented the lady to a friend who said politely, "Congratulations, Herr d'Albert; you have rarely introduced me to so charming a wife."

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Alcibiades (c. 450—404 bc), Greek general and politician.

1 Alcibiades was telling Pericles, forty years his senior, how best to govern Athens. This did not amuse Pericles. "Alcibiades," he said, "when I was your age, I talked just as you do now."


"How I should like to have known you, Pericles," replied Alcibiades, "when you were at your best."

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Alcott, [Amos] Bronson (1799—1888), US educator and writer, father of the writer Louisa May Alcott.

1 The Alcott family finances were very low, but they placed great hopes on Bronson Alcott's latest lecture tour. When he arrived home one night in February, the family gathered around to welcome him, offer him food and drink, and rejoice in his homecoming. Then a little silence fell, and it was daughter May who asked the question in all their minds: "Did they pay you?" Slowly Bronson Alcott drew out his pocketbook and displayed its contents — a single dollar. "Another year I shall do better," he said. There was a stunned hush in the group around him. Then Mrs. Alcott flung her arms around his neck and said stoutly, "I call that doing very well."

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Alcott, Louisa May (1832—88), US novelist, author of Little Women (1869).

1 When Louisa Alcott became a celebrity, she often found her fame tiresome. A supporter of the fight for women's suffrage, she attended the Women's Congress in Syracuse, where she was accosted by an effusive admirer. "If you ever come to Oshkosh," said the lady, "your feet will not be allowed to touch the ground: you will be borne in the arms of the people. Will you come?"

"Never," replied Miss Alcott.


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Alembert, Jean le Rond d' (1717—83), French mathematician.

1 The illegitimate son of an aristocrat, d'Alembert was abandoned by his mother soon after his birth and was brought up by a glazier named Rousseau and his wife. When d'Alembert's extraordinary talents became known, his mother attempted to claim him. D'Alembert rejected her, saying, "My mother is the wife of the glazier."

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Alençon, Sophie-Charlotte, Duchesse d' (d. 1897), Bavarian-born duchess who married the Duc d'Alençon in 1868.

1 On May 4, 1897, the duchess was presiding over a charity bazaar in Paris when the hall accidentally caught fire. Flames spread to the paper decorations and flimsy walls of the booths and in seconds the place was an inferno. In the hideous panic that followed, many women and children were trampled as they rushed for the exits, while workmen from a nearby site performed incredible acts of heroism, rushing into the blaze to carry out the trapped women. Some rescuers reached the duchess, who had remained calmly seated behind her booth. "Because of my title, I was the first to enter here. I shall be the last to go out," she said, rejecting their offer of help. She stayed and was burned to death, along with more than 120 others, mainly women and children.

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Alexander, Sir George (1858—1919), British actor.

1 "On the first night of that unfortunate play [Henry James's] Guy Domville, produced by George Alexander, it was soon evident from the attitude of the gallery that the play was not going to be a success, but the seal of failure was set on it when Sir George uttered the line, 'I am the last of the Domvilles.' Scarcely were the words out of his mouth than a voice came from the gallery, 'Well at any rate, that's a comfort to know.'"

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Alexander, Grover Cleveland (1887—1950), US baseball pitcher.

1 Although he became an alcoholic during his twenty-year career, Alexander remained one of the best pitchers until the end. At thirty-five he pitched superbly in the World Series of 1926 between his St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees. After winning the full sixth game of the best-of-seven set and tying the series at three games each, Alexander spent that night celebrating. Since pitchers usually rested three days between starts, he went out to the bull pen next day, with the relief pitchers, and snoozed away the final game until he was, surprisingly, summoned to pitch the seventh of the nine innings. There were three men on base, one out needed to end the inning, and a one-run lead. Alexander faced the feared Tony Lazzeri and struck him out, ending the inning to the cheers of the crowd. He then stopped the Yankees in their last two innings to win the game and give his team the title.


Afterward Alexander was asked how he felt. "I feel fine," he said. "It's Lazzeri you should ask how he feels," and added, "I owe it all to clean living." And he went out and got drunk.

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Alexander, Harold, 1st Earl [Alexander of Tunis] (1891—1969), British field marshal.

1 Alexander's assistant once commented on his habit of tipping into his Out tray any letters remaining in his In tray at the end of the working day. "Excuse me, sir," he asked. "Why do you do that?"

"It saves time," explained Alexander. "You'd be surprised how little of it comes back."

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Alexander, Samuel (1859—1938), Australian-born philosopher and university professor who lived most of his life in England.


1 The professor of philosophy on his beloved bicycle was a familiar sight around Manchester. On one occasion he rode over to Liverpool to dine and spend the night at the house of a wealthy shipowner. The host's valet noticed that the professor had arrived without luggage and reported the fact to his employer, who courteously said that he would not dress for dinner that evening. He also instructed the valet to put out a spare pair of pajamas in the professor's room. A short time later, however, the valet rushed into his master's dressing room with the message: "I have just seen Professor Alexander going downstairs and he's wearing a dinner jacket." The host made a rapid change. The following morning the valet returned the spare pajamas, unused, to his master, remarking: "The professor had his own, after all." Curiosity finally overcame the shipowner. As he was seeing his guest off on his bicycle, he asked, "Do you not have any luggage?"


"I'm wearing it," replied the professor.

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Alexander I (1777—1825), czar of Russia (1801—25).

1 The way for Alexander's accession to the throne was cleared through the murder of his savage, megalomaniac father, Czar Paul I, by a group of aristocratic conspirators. Thus in two generations history repeated itself, for Alexander's grandmother, Catherine the Great, had connived at the murder of her husband, Peter III, in order to seize power herself less than forty years before. The youthful archduke had had prior warning of the plot against Czar Paul, but had preferred to think that the conspirators' intention was merely to depose and imprison his father. When news of the murder was brought to him, he almost collapsed with horror. This incident haunted him for the remainder of his life, but the strongest proof of his complicity was in his treatment of the conspirators; they all continued in his favor and some became his closest counselors. A French spy, the Countess de Bonneuil, reported to her master Fouché on the situation in St. Petersburg: "The young emperor goes about preceded by the murderers of his grandfather, followed by the murderers of his father, quite surrounded by his friends."

2 When Alexander was in Paris, following the defeat of Napoleon, he attended anniversary celebrations at one of the hospitals. The ladies who had organized the affair passed plates around for contributions. An extremely pretty girl was delegated to take a plate to the czar. Alexander dropped in a handful of gold and whispered, "That's for your beautiful bright eyes." The young lady curtsied and immediately presented the plate again. "What? More?" said the czar. "Yes, sire," she replied, "now I want something for the poor."

3 The czar heard of a new invention, a calculating machine, that could apparently work faster than any person. He summoned the inventor, Abraham Stern, to his court to demonstrate the device. After inspecting it, Alexander challenged Stern to an arithmetic contest. A prearranged list of calculations was read out, and both Stern and the czar, who worked the numbers with a quill pen, set to. As Alexander was completing the first calculation, Stern announced that his machine had finished. The czar read over the results, looked at Stern and his machine, then said to his attendant, "The machine is good, but the Jew is bad."

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Alexander III [Alexander the Great] (356—323 bc), king of Macedon (336—323).

1 Gossip surrounded the birth of Alexander. Doubt as to whether Philip was really his father later allowed Alexander to declare that he was a god and the son of Jupiter. Alexander's mother, Olympias, preferred to leave the matter obscure. When news was brought to her of Alexander's claim to divine paternity, she said, "Please — I don't want to get into any trouble with Juno."

2 A Thessalian brought an exceptionally beautiful horse, named Bucephalus, to the Macedonian court, offering to sell it to King Philip. However, when the royal grooms tried to test its paces, it proved wild and unmanageable. The young Alexander asked his father for permission to try his skill. Philip reluctantly agreed, saying that if the prince failed to ride Bucephalus he was to pay his father a forfeit equal to its price. Alexander walked quickly to the horse's head and turned it to face into the sun, for he had noticed that the horse's own shadow was upsetting it. He calmed it, then mounted it, and Bucephalus obediently showed off his paces.

The court, which had feared for the prince's safety, broke into loud applause. Philip was overjoyed. He kissed his son, saying, "Seek another kingdom that may be worthy of your abilities, for Macedonia is too small for you."

3 Alexander, setting out on his conquest of Asia, inquired into the finances of his followers. To ensure that they should not be troubled over the welfare of their dependents during their absence, he distributed crown estates and revenues among them. When he had thus disposed of nearly all the royal resources, his friend General Perdiccas asked Alexander what he had reserved for himself. "Hope," answered the king. "In that case," said Perdiccas, "we who share in your labors will also take part in your hopes." Thereupon he refused the estate allocated to him, and several other of the king's friends did the same.

4 At Gordium in Phrygia (Asia Minor) a chariot was fastened with cords made from the bark of a cornel tree. The knot was so cunningly tied that no ends were visible, and the tradition was that the empire of the world should fall to the man who could untie it. When Alexander conquered Gordium, he confronted the famous puzzle. Unable to untie the knot, he drew his sword and with one slash severed it.


{Hence the phrase "cut the Gordian knot" for finding a quick and drastic solution to an intricate problem.}

5 On his march through Asia Minor, Alexander fell dangerously ill. His physicians were afraid to treat him because if they did not succeed, the Macedonian army would suspect them of malpractice. Only one, Philip the Acarnanian, was willing to take the risk, as he had confidence in both the king's friendship and his own drugs.

While the medicine was being prepared, Alexander received a letter from an enemy of Philip's that accused the physician of having been bribed by the Persian king to poison his master. Alexander read the letter and slipped it under his pillow without showing it to anyone. When Philip entered the tent with the medicine, Alexander took the cup from him, at the same time handing Philip the letter. While the physician was reading it, Alexander calmly drank the contents of the cup. Horrified and indignant at the calumny, Philip threw himself down at the king's bedside, but Alexander assured him that he had complete confidence in his honor. After three days the king was well enough to appear again before his army.


6 After Alexander had conquered Egypt, the Persian king, Darius, sent a letter offering generous terms for peace and future friendship with the Macedonian king: 10,000 talents to be paid in ransom for Persian prisoners, all the countries west of the Euphrates to be ceded to Alexander, and Darius's daughter to be given to him in marriage. Alexander consulted his friends about how he should respond. His general Parmenion said, "If I were Alexander, I would accept these offers."

"So would I," retorted Alexander, "if I were Parmenion."

7 The captured Indian king Porus was brought before Alexander, who asked how he wished to be treated. "Like a king," was the reply. Alexander asked if he had anything else to request. "Nothing," said Porus, "for everything is comprehended in the word 'king.'" Alexander restored Porus's lands to him.


8 Alexander's final command before a certain battle was that the beards of his soldiers should be shaved off. "There is nothing like a beard to get hold of in a fight," he explained.

9 Alexander the Great was marching across the desert with a thirsty army. A soldier came up to him, knelt down, and offered him a helmet full of water. "Is there enough for ten thousand men?" asked Alexander. When the soldier shook his head, Alexander poured the water out on the ground.

XWX

Alexander VI (c. 1431—1503), pope (1492—1503) who used his office to advance the prospects of his illegitimate children, especially his son Cesare Borgia.

1 Alexander VI's illegitimate daughter Lucrezia was married in 1502 to her third husband, Alfonso d'Este, son and heir of the Duke of Ferrara. Not long after the marriage the Ferrarese envoy to the papal court reassured Pope Alexander that all was well with the newlyweds; Alfonso, he reported, made love to Lucrezia nightly. Alfonso, the envoy added, also made love with equal regularity to other women during the day, but that was unimportant. "Well, he is young," said the pope, "and that is how it should be."

XWX

Alexandra (1844—1925), Danish princess who in 1863 married the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII of Great Britain).

1 On May 10, 1910, King Edward VII died. At first, as he lay on his deathbed, his long-suffering queen, who had turned a blind eye to his infidelities and his pursuit of his pleasures in every fashionable resort on the Continent, was stricken with grief. But it was not long before her sense of humor reasserted itself. She remarked to Lord Esher, "Now at least I know where he is."

XWX


Alfonso X (c. 1221—84), king of Castile and León (1252—84), known as Alfonso the Wise.

1 The most celebrated of the works undertaken under Alfonso's sponsorship was the compilation of the "Alfonsine Tables," which were published on the day of his accession to the throne and remained the most authoritative planetary tables in existence for the following three centuries. The preparation of the tables was very laborious and was based, of course, upon the Ptolemaic scheme of the universe. Alfonso remarked that if God had consulted him during the six days of creation, he would have recommended a less complicated design.

XWX

Alfonso XIII (1886—1941), king of Spain (1886—1931).

1 One would-be assassin leaped suddenly in front of the king's horse as he was riding back from a parade and pointed a revolver at him from barely a yard away. "Polo comes in very handy on these occasions," said Alfonso afterward. "I set my horse's head straight at him and rode into him as he fired."

XWX

Alfred [Alfred the Great] (849—899), king of Wessex.

1 At one time during his wars with the Danes, Alfred was forced to seek refuge incognito in a hut belonging to a poor Anglo-Saxon family. The woman of the house, who had to leave for a short time, asked the fugitive to keep an eye on some cakes she was baking. Alfred, deep in thought, did not notice that the cakes were burning. When his hostess returned, she gave the unrecognized king a hearty scolding for being an idle good-for-nothing.


2 As a young boy Alfred received little formal schooling. He did possess a highly retentive memory and particularly enjoyed listening to the court bards reciting poetry. One day his mother, holding a fine manuscript book in her hand, said to Alfred and his elder brothers, "I will give this book to whichever one of you can learn it most quickly." Although he could not read, Alfred was greatly attracted to the book and was determined to own it. Forestalling his brothers, he took it to someone who read it through to him. Then he went back to his mother and repeated the whole thing to her. This talent was the foundation of Alfred's later reputation as scholar, translator, and patron of learning.

XWX

Algren, Nelson (1909-81), US writer known especially for his National Book Award—winning novel, The Man with the Golden Arm.

1 Algren's career in Hollywood was short-lived. As he described it, "I went out there for a thousand a week, and I worked Monday and I got fired Wednesday. The man who hired me was out of town Tuesday."


XWX

Ali, Muhammad (1942—), US boxer, Olympic gold medalist, and world heavyweight champion (1964—71, 1974—78, 1978—80). Born Cassius Clay, he converted to Islam.


1 In the fight film Rocky II, a character apparently based on Muhammad Ali taunts the hero with the words "I'll destroy you. I am the master of disaster." After seeing a private screening of the film, Ali wistfully remarked, "'Master of disaster': I wish I'd thought of that!"

2 Just before takeoff on an airplane flight, the stewardess reminded Ali to fasten his seat belt. "Superman don't need no seat belt," replied Ali. "Superman don't need no airplane, either," retorted the stewardess. Ali fastened his belt.

3 Irritated by Ali's perpetual boasts of "I am the greatest," a colleague asked the boxer what he was like at golf. "I'm the best," replied Ali. "I just haven't played yet."

4 At a New York party, violinist Isaac Stern was introduced to Ali. "You might say we're in the same business," remarked Stern. "We both earn a living with our hands."

"You must be pretty good," said Ali. "There isn't a mark on you."

5 Ali went into his now-legendary fight with Sonny Liston in 1964, the fight that secured his title as heavyweight champion, as a seven-to-one underdog. He was seen as more of a clown in the ring than a true fighter. Sportswriters all agreed that he couldn't fight as well as he could talk. But fight he did, and he repeated his victory in 1965 in their second title bout. As Liston lay on the mat, Ali stood over him with his fist clenched, yelling, "Get up and fight, sucker!"

6 A young person once asked Ali what he should do with his life. He could not decide whether to continue his education or go out into the world to seek his fortune. "Stay in college, get the knowledge," advised Ali. "If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can make something out of you!"

XWX

Allais, Alphonse (1854—1905), French humorist, writer, and dramatist.

1 In Alphonse Allais's library was a volume of Voltaire in which he had inscribed: "To Alphonse Allais, with regrets for not having known him. Voltaire."

2 Asked to deliver a lecture on the subject of the theater, Allais began: "I have been asked to talk to you on the subject of the theater, but I fear that it will make you melancholy. Shakespeare is dead, Molière is dead, Racine is dead, Marivaux is dead — and I am not feeling too well myself."

XWX

Allen, Dick (1942—), US baseball player.


1 Allen, who played for numerous teams, including the Cardinals, the Dodgers, the Cubs, and the A's, liked to write words in the dirt around first base. This distracted the other players, and finally baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn told the Philadelphia Phillies to put a stop to this practice. Allen's immediate response was to write three words in the dirt: No, why, and Mom. Why Mom? "To say she tells me what to do," Allen said, "not the man up there."

XWX

Allen, Ethan (1738—89), US patriot, leader of the "Green Mountain Boys" during the Revolutionary War.

1 Ethan Allen with a group of associates attended a Sunday service led by a stern Calvinist preacher. He took as his text "Many shall strive to enter in, but shall not be able." God's grace was sufficient, observed the preacher, to include one person in ten, but not one in twenty would endeavor to avail himself of the offered salvation. Furthermore, not one man in fifty was really the object of God's solicitude, and not one in eighty — here Allen seized his hat and left the pew, saying, "I'm off, boys. Any one of you can take my chance."


2 In the early morning of May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen led a small force in a surprise attack on the British garrison at Ticonderoga. Having overpowered the sentries, Allen demanded to be taken to the commanding officer's quarters. He shouted at him to come out immediately or he would kill the entire garrison. The commander appeared, his breeches still in his hand. Allen ordered the instant surrender of the fortress. "By what authority?" asked the British officer. "In the name of the great Jehovah, and the Continental Congress," said Ethan Allen. The garrison surrendered.


3 When Allen's first wife, notorious for her sourness and bad temper, died, a local man offered to help transport the coffin to the church. "You could call on any of the neighbors," he said to the widower. "There's not a man in town wouldn't be glad to help out."


4 Allen lay ill. The doctor examined him and said, "General, I fear the angels are waiting for you."

"Waiting, are they?" said the bluff frontiersman. "Waiting, are they? Well — let 'em wait."

XWX

Allen, Fred (1894—1956), US comedian, writer, and radio star.

1 "If somebody caught him in an act of kindness, he ducked behind a screen of cynicism. A friend was walking with him when a truck bore down on a newsboy in front of them. Allen dashed out and snatched the boy to safety, then snarled at him, 'What's the matter, kid? Don't you want to grow up and have troubles?'"

2 Spying a haggard, long-haired cellist in the orchestra pit of a vaudeville house in Toledo, Ohio, Allen called out to him, "How much would you charge to haunt a house?"

3 The radio and TV comic Jack Parr, of the Tonight show fame, idolized Allen. On their first meeting he stammered, "You are my God!" Allen replied: "There are five thousand churches in New York and you have to be an atheist."


4 The script for one of Allen's radio shows was returned to him with extensive alterations scrawled across the pages in blue pencil. Allen flipped through it impatiently. "Where were you fellows when the paper was blank?" he asked.

XWX

Allen, Woody (1935—), US film actor, director, and writer.

1 A fan rushed up to Allen on the street calling, "You're a star!" Allen replied, "This year I'm a star, but what will I be next year — a black hole?"

2 Allen was revered by the French, who saw in him a true genius of the medium. And American critics were adulatory as well, dubbing him one of the great directors of modern times. Allen himself was more sanguine: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying!"

XWX

Allingham, Margery (1904—), British mystery writer.


1 Allingham was born into a family of bookworms, and from her earliest days was surrounded by editors and journalists. One day, as the seven-year-old Margery was sitting on the floor writing a story in her notebook, the housemaid saw her and said, "Master, missus, and three strangers all sitting in different rooms writing down lies and now YOU starting!"


XWX

Alma-TADEMA, Sir Lawrence (1836—1912), Dutch painter who adopted British nationality in 1873.

1 A friend of Alma-Tadema had just become the proud father of twins. The painter made his congratulatory visit immediately after concluding a rather excessive drinking bout. Though still a bit muzzy, he was prudent enough to exclaim, "What an enchanting baby!"

XWX

Altenberg, Peter (?1862—1919), Austrian poet.

1 Though in fact he maintained a very solid bank balance, Altenberg had a mania for begging. The poet and critic Karl Kraus tells how Altenberg besought him again and again to give him a hundred kronen, and on every occasion Kraus refused him. Finally, his patience at an end, Kraus burst out, "Look, Peter, I'd gladly give it to you, but I really, really, don't have the money."

"Very well, I'll lend it to you," said Altenberg.

XWX

Altman, Robert (1925—), US film director.

1 Hollywood had always found Robert Altman difficult to work with; and Altman returned the feeling, loathing the pretentiousness and excess of the big studios. A maverick filmmaker, he had made his way with his own rules. His movie The Player was an irreverent, sometimes savage look at modern moviemaking, an in-joke on the whole industry. At a special screening Altman was delighted to observe that, during a scene showing a snake, studio mogul Barry Diller "jumped a foot out of his chair." Chuckled Altman, "I guess he didn't expect to see a relative."

XWX

Alvanley, William Arden, 2d Baron (1789—1849), British aristocrat and society leader.

1 After emerging unscathed from a duel fought in a discreetly secluded corner of London, Lord Alvanley handed a guinea to the hackney coachman who had conveyed him to the spot and home again. Surprised at the size of the largesse, the man protested, "But, my lord, I only took you a mile." Alvanley waved aside the objection: "The guinea's not for taking me, my man, it's for bringing me back."

2 Owing to the careless driving of their coachmen, Lord Alvanley and another nobleman were involved in a collision. The other peer jumped out of his coach, rolling up his sleeves and making ready to thrash his negligent servant, but on seeing that he was elderly and abjectly apologetic, contented himself with saying significantly, "Your age protects you." Alvanley likewise hopped out of his coach, ready to thrash his postilion, but, finding himself confronting a very large, tough-looking lad, he thought better of it. "Your youth protects you," he said, and climbed back into his coach.

XWX


Ambrose, Saint (?340—397), Italian cleric, born at Trier in Germany.

1 The emperor appointed Ambrose provincial governor of northern Italy, residing at Milan. In this capacity he was called out in 374 to the cathedral, where a riot was threatening between two rival factions of Christians, each intent on winning its own candidate's nomination to the bishopric. Ambrose quelled the riot but was unable to persuade the warring parties to agree on a bishop. Finally someone suggested Ambrose himself, and the nomination was enthusiastically greeted on all sides. In vain Ambrose protested that he was not even christened. He was hurriedly baptized, then ordained, and finally consecrated bishop — all within the space of a single week.

XWX

Ammonius, early Christian monk.

1 In the year ad 420 the monk Ammonius, who wished to be left alone in contemplation and prayer, was approached by a group of villagers who wanted him to become their bishop. In front of them he cut off his own left ear, saying "From now on be assured that it is impossible for me, as the law forbids a man with his ear cut off to be an ordained priest. And if you compel me, I will cut out my tongue as well."

XWX

Anaxagoras (500—428 bc), Greek philosopher.

1 Anaxagoras took refuge at Lampsacus on the Hellespont, and the Athenians condemned him to death in absentia. When he heard the news of the sentence he observed, "Nature has long since condemned both them and me."

XWX

Anaximenes (4th century bc), Greek philosopher born at Lampsacus in Asia Minor.

1 Anaximenes accompanied Alexander the Great on his expedition against the Persians, in the course of which the Macedonian forces captured Lampsacus. Anxious to save his native city from destruction, Anaximenes sought an audience with the king. Alexander anticipated his plea: "I swear by the Styx I will not grant your request," he said. "My lord," calmly replied Anaximenes, "I merely wanted to ask you to destroy Lampsacus." And so he saved his native city.

XWX

Anders, William A[lison] (1933—), US astronaut. A member of the crew of Apollo 8, he circumnavigated the moon in December 1968.

1 Anders received his fair share of publicity after the Apollo 8 moon trip. Tired of being accosted by pressmen, photographers, and the admiring public, he "escaped" with his wife for a brief vacation in Acapulco. A few days after their arrival, however, as they relaxed on the patio of their holiday villa, a young man called and asked if he could take some photographs. Groaning, Anders replied, "Okay, come on in."

"Thanks," said the young man enthusiastically as he marched across the patio. "You've got the best view of the bay in the whole place."

2 Anders's son asked his father who would actually be driving the Apollo 8 craft as it hurtled into space. Anders told him, "I think Isaac Newton is doing most of the driving now."

XWX

Andersen, Hans Christian (1805—75), Danish writer famed for his fairy tales.

1 As a young man Hans Christian Andersen read one of his plays to the wife of another Danish writer. She soon stopped him: "But you have copied whole paragraphs word for word from Oehlenschläger and Ingemann!" Andersen was unabashed: "Yes, I know, but aren't they splendid!"

2 Visiting with Charles Dickens's family in England, Andersen rather overstayed his welcome. One of Dickens's daughters summed up the guest as "a bony bore, and [he] stayed on and on." Dickens himself wrote on a card that he stuck up over the mirror in the guest room: "Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks — which seemed to the family AGES."

3 Hans Christian Andersen was discussing the march for his funeral with the musician who was to compose it: "Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps."

4 Despite his evident love of children, Andersen never married. Late in life his health declined rapidly; first he developed chronic bronchitis, then the more serious, and ultimately fatal, liver cancer. Unable to care for himself, he moved into the house of some friends near Copenhagen, where he could see the ocean from his room. One morning he quietly finished his tea, and was found a few minutes later in his bed, dead. In his hands was a farewell letter written forty-five years earlier by the only woman he had ever loved.

XWX

Anderson, Sherwood (1876—1941), US author best known for his collection Winesburg, Ohio.

1 (Anderson describes a chance meeting in New Orleans with Horace Liveright, the publisher, who was a well-known womanizer.)

"He was with a beautiful woman and I had seen him with many beautiful women. 'Meet my wife,' he said and 'Oh yeah?' I answered. There was an uncomfortable moment. It was Mrs. Liveright. I was sunk and so was Horace."

2 Anderson's first publishers, recognizing his potential, arranged to send him a weekly check in the hope that, relieved of financial pressure, he would write more freely. After a few weeks, however, Anderson took his latest check back to the office. "It's no use," he explained. "I find it impossible to work with security staring me in the face."


Excerpted from Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes by Clifton Fadiman and André Bernard. Copyright © 1985, 2000 by Little, Brown and Company. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2011

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A must have reference

    BARTLETT'S BOOK OF ANECDOTES is not this reviewer's normal work having mostly stayed with fiction. In fact, I had no plans to write a review, but my spouse was leafing through the book and started laughing. Motivated to take a look and not let it be a coffee table piece, I started to read some of the quotes from famous, not so famous (at least in my circle) and infamous people throughout history. I found myself intrigued, enjoying the comments that are often serious and obtaining additional pleasure from a brief biography of the contributor. In fairness, I have not finished the anecdotes, but read a few each night to simply relax as the book reminds me of A&E's 'Biography for the Millennium' even though there are contributors from before 1000 AD. However, though entertaining and a remarkable research book, readers need to consider the price vs. the value before purchasing this tome. <P>Harriet Klausner

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