A Mathematician’s Apology

Judged by all practical standards, the value of my mathematical life is nil; and outside mathematics it is trivial anyhow. I have just one chance of escaping a verdict of triviality, that I may be judged to have created something worth creating. And that I have created something is undeniable: the question is about its value.

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Small Gods

It is a popular fact that nine-tenths of the brain is not used and, like most popular facts, it is wrong… It is used. And one of its functions is to make the miraculous seem ordinary and turn the unusual into the usual.


Fear is a strange soil. Mainly it grows obedience like corn, which grows in rows and makes weeding easy. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.


You will probably defeat us. But not all of us. And then what will you do? Leave a garrison? For ever? And eventually a new generation will retaliate. Why you did this won’t mean anything to them. You’ll be the oppressors. They’ll fight. They might even win. And there’ll be another war. And one day people will say: why didn’t they sort it all out, back then? On the beach. Before it all started. Before all those people died. Now we have that chance. Aren’t we lucky?

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Angela’s Ashes

I don’t know what it means and I don’t care because it’s Shakespeare and it’s like having jewels in my mouth when I say the words.

I say, Billy, what’s the use in playing croquet when you’re doomed?
He says, Frankie, what’s the use of not playing croquet when you’re doomed?

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All Quiet on the Western Front

“But what I like to know,” says Albert, “is whether there would not have been a war if the Kaiser had said No … Well, if not him alone, then perhaps if twenty or thirty people in the world had said No.”

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Interesting Times

‘Do teachers go anywhere special when they die?’ said Cohen.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Mr Savelop gloomily. He wondered for a moment whether there really was a great Free Period in the sky. It didn’t sound very likely. Probably there would be some marking to do.


‘Are we meddling with things we don’t understand, Ponder?’

… He thought: meddle first, understand later. You had to meddle a bit before you had anything to try to understand. And the thing was never, ever, to go back and hide in the Lavatory of Unreason. You have to try to get your mind around the Universe before you can give it a twist.

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The Count of Monte Cristo

“I too, as happens to every man once in his life, have been taken by Satan into the highest mountain in the earth, and when there he showed me all the kingdoms of the world, and as he said before, so said he to me, ‘Child of earth, what wouldst thou have to make thee adore me?’

I reflected long, for a gnawing ambition had long preyed upon me, and then I replied, ‘Listen, I have always heard of providence, and yet I have never seen him, or anything that resembles him, or which can make me believe that he exists. I wish to be providence myself,  for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.’

Satan bowed his head, and groaned. ‘You mistake,’ he said, ‘providence does exist, only you have never seen him, because the child of God is as invisible as the parent. You have seen nothing that resembles him, because he works by secret springs, and moves by hidden ways. All I can do for you is to make you one of the agents of that providence.’

The bargain was concluded. I may sacrifice my soul, but what matters it?” added Monte Cristo. “If the thing were to do again, I would again do it.”

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King Solomon’s Ring

The creative writer, in depicting an animal’s behaviour, is under no great obligation to keep within the bounds of exact truth than is the painter or the sculptor in shaping an animal’s likeness. But   all three artists must regard it as their most sacred duty to be properly instructed regarding those particulars in which they deviate from the actual facts. They must indeed be even better informed on these details than on others which they render in a manner true to nature. There is no greater sin against the spirit of true art, no more contemptible dilettantism than to use artistic license as a specious cover for ignorance of fact.

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