52 Quotes

I read 52 books in 52 weeks. Here are my favourite 52 quotes curated and distilled down from over ~1200 Kindle highlights.


  • “The thing about keeping notebooks is that you have to revisit them in order to make the most out of them.” — Austin Kleon in Show Your Work!

On Business

  • “Frogs get better and better at catching flies, while flies get better and better at escaping frogs. Each has to run as hard as it can to stay in the same place.” — John Gribbin in Deep Simplicity
  • “If you want to advance a private interest, turn it into a public cause.” — Rich Cohen in The Fish That Ate the Whale
  • “There’s no such thing as a regional hit. Only a global hit, waiting to be marketed.” — Stephen Witt in How Music Got Free
  • “The Peter Principle: people keep getting promoted until they reach their level of incompetence.” — Richard Thaler in Misbehaving
  • “If the rise and fall of BlackBerry teaches us anything it is that the race for innovation has no finish line, and that winners and losers can change places in an instant.” — Jacquie McNish in Losing the Signal
  • “The need for progress explains why so many companies have invented titles and intermediate positions for management types. In a gamification-like approach companies want their employees to feel that they are making progress and moving ahead even when these steps are not very meaningful.” — Dan Ariely in Irrationally Yours
  • “Imagine two financial analysts, Tom and Jerry, are playing a round of golf. Tom mentions that he is thinking of buying 100 shares of Apple. Jerry says, that’s convenient, I was thinking of selling 100 shares. I could sell my shares to you and avoid the commission to my broker. Before they can agree on a deal, both think better of it. Tom realizes that Jerry is a smart guy, so asks himself, why is he selling? Jerry is thinking the same about Tom, so they call off the trade.” — Richard Thaler in Misbehaving
  • “One of the things MBAs learn in business school is to think like an Econ, but they also forget what it is like to think like a Human.” — Richard Thaler in Misbehaving

On Love

  • “I started to despise the bar scene. I had experienced every single version of those nights. I knew all the possible outcomes, and I knew the probabilities of those outcomes. Statistically, the smartest thing for you to do when you walk into a bar is go to the bathroom, jerk off, and leave.” — Aziz Ansari in Modern Romance
  • “Participating in novel and exciting activities increases our attraction to people.” — Aziz Ansari in Modern Romance
  • “Mate value matters less than unique value.” — Aziz Ansari in Modern Romance
  • “When I’ve really been in love with someone, it’s not because they looked a certain way or liked a certain TV show or a certain cuisine. It’s more because when I watched a certain TV show or ate a certain cuisine with them, it was the most fun thing ever.” — Aziz Ansari in Modern Romance
  • “Whoever you’re with is a reflection of you.” — Kanye West in TWAK
  • “We often fail to appreciate what we have until we have lost it. We crave experiences, objects, relationships, only to grow bored with them. And yet the craving persists.” — Sam Harris in Waking Up

On Economics(ish)

  • “Economists pretend they’re studying a social science, and while the economy is a machine of hugely complex systems, it’s also organic, the whole a reflection of the cells that make it up, a god made in our image, prone to flights of euphoric greed and pride, choking envy, irrational fear, pettiness, stinginess, manic euphoria and senseless depression. And…guilt. Embarrassment.” — Jess Walter in The Financial Lives of the Poets
  • “I actually allowed myself to believe that a person could own a piece of the world when the truth is that anything you try to own ends up owning you. We’re all just renting.” — Jess Walter in The Financial Lives of the Poets
  • “A lot of times, I feel like a lot of people are just rapping because it’s free.” — Kanye West in TWAK
  • “If music piracy was the ’90s equivalent of experimentation with illegal drugs, then Apple had invented the vaporizer.” — Stephen Witt in How Music Got Free
  • “Vladimir Lenin said that “the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize.” This is more insightful than it might seem: terrorists are not purely seeking to maximize their body count; instead, they want to maximize the amount of fear they inflict on a population so as to alter its behaviour in some way. Death and destruction are just a means toward that end.” — Nate Silver in The Signal and the Noise
  • “The world is available to us, but that may be the problem.” — Aziz Ansari in Modern Romance

On Politics

  • “The man of system thinks he can move human beings with the same ease as the human hand can move the pieces on a chessboard. The problem is that the man of system ignores the rules of chess. He places the pieces here and there around the board as he sees fit, ignoring their natural motions given by the rules of the game.” — Russ Roberts in How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life
  • “The boundaries between true intellectual disciplines are currently enforced by little more than university budgets and architecture.” — Sam Harris in Waking Up
  • “The great liberal betrayal of this generation is that in the name of liberalism, communal rights have been prioritized over individual autonomy within minority groups.” — Sam Harris in Islam and the Future of Tolerance
  • “Politics is not where life happens. Legislation and government actions affect our lives in all kinds of ways, good and bad, but we have much to do outside that world.” — Russ Roberts in How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life
  • “Politicians are merely vessels for the ideas you fill them with.” — Daniel Schulman in Sons of Wichita
  • “Power is all about what you don’t have to worry about, don’t have to know about, and don’t have to do.” — David Graeber in The Utopia of Rules
  • “Sometimes the best way for policy makers to make the world a better place is to leave it alone.” — Russ Roberts in How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life

On Religion

  • “Desire is suffering. A simple equation, and a nice catchphrase. But flipped around, it is more troubling: suffering is desire. Not a unidirectional arrow, not causal, as in, desire leads to suffering. Desire is suffering, and therefore, by axiom, suffering is desire.” — Charles Yu in How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
  • “My view is that no idea is above scrutiny, and no people are beneath dignity. As Ali A. Rizvi points out, if I say “smoking is bad,” this does not mean that I believe all smokers to be bad people.” — Sam Harris in Islam and the Future of Tolerance
  • “One of the problems with religion is that it creates in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one’s own group are behaving like psychopaths.” — Sam Harris in Islam and the Future of Tolerance
  • “There is indeed something preposterous about well-educated Westerners racing East in search of spiritual enlightenment while Easterners make the opposite pilgrimage seeking education and economic opportunities.” — Sam Harris in Waking Up

On Consciousness

  • “Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness. We form friendships so that we can feel love and avoid loneliness. We eat specific foods to enjoy their fleeting presence on our tongues. We read for the pleasure of thinking another person’s thoughts. Every waking moment — and even in our dreams — we struggle to direct the flow of sensation, emotion, and cognition toward states of consciousness that we value.” — Sam Harris in Waking Up
  • “During the normal course of events, your mind will determine the quality of your life.” — Sam Harris in Waking Up
  • “We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.” — Rich Cohen in The Fish That Ate the Whale
  • “What we need to become happier and to make the world a better place is not more pious illusions but a clearer understanding of the way things are.” — Sam Harris in Waking Up
  • “When we have adapted to our environment, we tend to ignore it.” — Richard Thaler in Misbehaving
  • “Everything that one can experience on a drug is, at some level, an expression of the brain’s potential. Hence, whatever one has seen or felt after ingesting LSD is likely to have been seen or felt by someone, somewhere, without it.” — Sam Harris in Waking Up

On Advice

  • “Buy a diversified portfolio heavily tilted toward stocks, especially if you are young, and then scrupulously avoid reading anything in the newspaper aside from the sports section.” — Richard Thaler in Misbehaving
  • “Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.” — Alain de Botton in Show Your Work!
  • “Just as self-help books spouting idealism are best avoided, people so doing should be given wide berths too.” — Mohsin Hamid in How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
  • “If we judge ourselves by what is hardest for us, we may take for granted those things that we do easily and routinely.” — Nate Silver in The Signal and the Noise
  • “If you want to make the world a better place, work on being trustworthy, and honour those who are trustworthy. Be a good friend and surround yourself with worthy friends. Don’t gossip. Resist the joke that might hurt someone’s feelings even when it’s clever. And try not to laugh when your friend tells you that clever joke at someone’s expense.” — Russ Roberts in How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life
  • “Instead of pursuing attention via wealth or fame or power, pursue wisdom and goodness.” — Russ Roberts in How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life

On Being Human

  • “Consider the biography of any ‘self-made’ man, and you will find that his success was entirely dependent on background conditions that he did not make and of which he was merely the beneficiary.” — Sam Harris in Free Will
  • “Nobody looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.” — Neil Gaiman in The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  • “Our flawed neighbours are the mirror that allows us to see our own imperfections and ideally to remedy them.” — Russ Roberts in How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life
  • “People love books, more perhaps than they love the written word. They use them as a way to define who they are and to provide physical evidence of their values. Books on shelves and on tables are a kind of internal marketing exercise, reminding us who we are and who we want to be.” — Mark Miodownik in Stuff Matters
  • “The great thing about homo sapiens is that we’ve got a brain that can override our instincts. If we want it to.” — Graeme Simsion in The Rosie Effect
  • “We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories.” — Mohsin Hamid in How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Other

  • “Concrete is literally the foundation of our whole society: it is the basis of our cities, our roads, our bridges, our power stations — it is 50 percent of everything we make. But like bone we prefer it on the inside; when it sticks out we are repulsed.” — Mark Miodownik in Stuff Matters
  • “Worry is a box to live inside of, a mechanism for evading the present, for re-creating the past, for dealing with the future.” — Charles Yu in How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe