"The wise make proverbs and fools repeat them," as Isaac D'Israeli once said and as you will not learn from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. He might have added that the provident store them up (as has the author of The Peter Principle ) for those occasions when an apt quote, preferably with a good name attached on its, can buttress one's own less prestigious opinion: "Stronger than an army is a quotation whose time has come" - W.I.E. Gates.
Hundreds - well, dozens - of new quotations are born every day, and he who would keep track of them all must have a computer and innumerable informants at his disposal. Dr. Peter's aims are more modest; he has compiled a highly readable volume that reflects his own personality and concerns, overlaps, slightly with Bartlett in the basic quotes impossible to omit, but for the most part supplements that solid, standard, massive and unassailable work.
One opens Bartlett, usually, to find the exact form of something imperfectly remembered. One will open Peter, something previously unknown - and one will not be disappointed.
"The purpose of this book is to present ideas," the compiler says in his introduction, and he does it quite effectively, arranging his quotes under more than 600 subject headings (Atom . . . Capitalism . . . Civil Rights . . . Extremism . . . Guns and Gun Controls) and disposing them artfully within these subdivisions so that each section becomes a sort of symposium on the subject. And occasionally, in parentheses, he adds his own comments to stir up the discussion.Many of the quotations conceal depth under an air of flippancy ("Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms" - Groucho Marx," "A neurotic is a man who builds a castle in the air. A psychotic is the man who lives in it. A psychiatrist is the man who collects the rent" - Jerome Lawrence; neither of these is in Bartlett).
Detractors will not that quotations on Canada (Dr. Peter is a Canadian) occupy as much space as those on God, surely a subject of greater moment and perhaps one more fully discussed through the ages of recorded thought. Or that quotations from Dr. Laurence Peter outnumber those from Bertrand Russell or Shakespeare - though not, be it said to Peter's credit, those from George Bernard Shaw or Mark Twain. No matter; such quirks contribute to the special flavor of a book that does not claim to be complete or definitive and that surely is what it aspires to be - stimulating. (Morrow, $10.95)