Critical take-downs

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Kevin Roose, "Microsoft Just Laid Off Thousands of Employees With a Hilariously Bad Memo", New York Magazine 7/16/2014:

Typically, when you're a top executive at a major corporation that is laying off more than 10 percent of your workforce, you say a few things to the newly jobless. Like "sorry." Or "thank you for your many years of service." Or even "we hate doing this, but it's necessary to help the company survive."

What you don't do is bury the news of the layoffs in the 11th paragraph of a long, rambling corporate strategy memo.

And yet, this was Microsoft honcho Stephen Elop's preferred method for announcing to his employees today that 12,500 of them were being laid off.

Roose goes through Elop's memo in order, starting with the salutation.

How bad was Elop's job-axing memo? Really, really bad. It's so bad that I can't even really convey its badness. I just have to show you.  

Here's how it starts:  

Hello there,  

Hello there? Hello there? Out of all the possible "you're losing your job" greetings, you chose the one that sounds like the start to a bad OKCupid message? "Hello there" isn't how you announce layoffs; it's what you say right before you ask, "What's a girl like you doing on a site like this? ;)" 

… and ending with the memo's closing:

Collectively, the clarity, focus and alignment across the company, and the opportunity to deliver the results of that work into the hands of people, will allow us to increase our success in the future.  


"Regards?" Really? We started at OKCupid stalker, and you're ending at "over-eager candidate for summer internship?" Well, okay. Sure. Whatever. Not like it matters.

This reminded me of Geoff Pullum's classic review of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code:

I am still trying to come up with a fully convincing account of just what it was about his very first sentence, indeed the very first word, that told me instantly that I was in for a very bad time stylistically.

The Da Vinci Code may well be the only novel ever written that begins with the word renowned. Here is the paragraph with which the book opens. The scene (says a dateline under the chapter heading, 'Prologue') is the Louvre, late at night:

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.

I think what enabled the first word to tip me off that I was about to spend a number of hours in the company of one of the worst prose stylists in the history of literature was this. Putting curriculum vitae details into complex modifiers on proper names or definite descriptions is what you do in journalistic stories about deaths; you just don't do it in describing an event in a narrative.

Then there's Mark Twain on "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses":

"The Pathfinder" and "The Deerslayer" stand at the head of Cooper's novels as artistic creations. There are others of his works which contain parts as perfect as are to be found in these, and scenes even more thrilling. Not one can be compared with either of them as a finished whole. The defects in both of these tales are comparatively slight. They were pure works of art.     –Professor Lounsbury

The five tales reveal an extraordinary fullness of invention. … One of the very greatest characters in fiction, Natty Bumppo… The craft of the woodsman, the tricks of the trapper, all the delicate art of the forest were familiar to Cooper from his youth up.     –Professor Matthews

Cooper is the greatest artist in the domain of romantic fiction in America.     –Wilkie Collins

It seems to me that it was far from right for the Professor of English Literature at Yale, the Professor of English Literature in Columbia, and Wilkie Collins to deliver opinions on Cooper's literature without having read some of it. It would have been much more decorous to keep silent and let persons talk who have read Cooper.

Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in "Deerslayer," and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

And John McIntyre's appreciation recently led me to read Nora Ephron's review of Brendan Gill's memoir Here at the New Yorker. John's  analysis is "Here's how it's done-3", The Baltimore Sun 7/2/2014–

Nearly forty years ago, Nora Ephron drew a bead on Brendan Gill, whose memoir, Here at The New Yorker, had just been published, to considerable praise.

Nora Ephron was a crack shot.

Ephron on Gill is by itself a good enough reason to buy the collection that essay is reprinted in. Here's how Ephron's review begins:

Brendan Gill’s Here at The New Yorker was issued to coincide exactly with the fiftieth anniversary of The New Yorker magazine, and, as such, it became The Event of the anniversary, an occasion for critics to pat the magazine on the back and, in addition, to undo some of the devastation that was heaped on it and its editor, William Shawn, some ten years ago, when Tom Wolfe took them all on in the Herald Tribune’s New York magazine. The New Yorker has come through this round with garlands, and so has Gill’s book. It is a charming book, the critics say.

The people who work at The New Yorker do not think Brendan Gill’s book is charming, but they try to be nice about it. The ethic of Nice is, in its way, as much an editorial principle at The New Yorker as the ethic of Mean is at New York magazine, and you can see, when you bring up the subject of Gill’s book, that the people who work with Gill really want to be polite about it. What they generally say is that they would not object so much if only Gill had presented it simply as a memoir, or if he had made it clear that he knew nothing whatever about The New Yorker after the death of Harold Ross, or if he had managed not to publish it at a time calculated to cash in on the anniversary. Any of these things would help, they say. Well, I don’t know that any of this would help. Here at The New Yorker seems to me one of the most offensive books I have read in a long time.

Brendan Gill is now sixty and went to work at the magazine in 1938, and someone I know there suggested to me that he arrived too late to understand its early years, and too soon to understand the late ones. That is unfair: the explanation for Gill’s insensitivity probably lies more in his character than in bad timing. Gill’s character is the shall-I-compare-me-to-a-summer’s-day variety: he is a joyous, happy man, he tells us, who has never suffered a day’s pain in his life. Compared to other New Yorker writers, whom he describes as unsociable moles, he is uncommonly gregarious and fun-loving. He attends five or six parties a week. “I am acquainted with far more people out in the world than anyone else on The New Yorker,” he writes. Life has been a lark. He was born into comparative wealth, went to Yale, made Skull and Bones (an achievement he mentions a half-dozen times), had a rich father to aid him in the purchases of his town houses and mansions and country homes, several of which are actually pictured in his book. The smug self-congratulation of all this extends to his professional achievements. “In sheer quantity of output— most trivial of measurements!— I am by now something of a nonpareil,” he writes.

I'm not a fan of snark for snark's sake, but I feel that Elop, Brown, Cooper, and Gill earned these reviews.

What are your favorite critical takedowns?


  1. Jonathan said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 8:22 am

    John Mason Brown's review of an actor playing King Lear: He played the King as if afraid someone else would play the Ace.

    But theater criticism has always been snarkier than literary criticism, I think.

  2. D-AW said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 8:25 am

    Eagleton on Dawkins in the LRB is (whatever you think of Eagleton or Dawkins) a virtuoso hatchet job.
    "He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms…"

  3. Doctor Science said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 9:17 am

    Thomas Friedman is a target-rich environment, but even in that company Matt Taibbi's "Flathead" is outstanding:

    Friedman spends the rest of his huge book piling one insane image on top of the other, so that by the end–and I'm not joking here–we are meant to understand that the flat world is a giant ice-cream sundae that is more beef than sizzle, in which everyone can fit his hose into his fire hydrant, and in which most but not all of us are covered with a mostly good special sauce. Moreover, Friedman's book is the first I have encountered, anywhere, in which the reader needs a calculator to figure the value of the author's metaphors.

  4. RL said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 10:08 am

    Matt Taibbi on Thomas Friedman:

  5. RL said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 10:17 am

    I see now Doctor Science made the same recommendation as I did, but did so first. All I can say is I made the recommendation independently. Read the Taibbi review and laugh. It's hilarious.

  6. jerryk said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 10:22 am

    A former coworker, saying he was paraphrasing something from Dr. Johnson, said of Microsoft's operating system, "What is good is not original, and what is original is not good."

  7. Craig said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 10:38 am

    Someone (I forget who — Dorothy Parker?) once reviewed a book with the words, "The covers of this book are too far apart."

    The English poet/mountaineer/occultist Aleister Crowley once reviewed a book entitled "Poems" as follows: "The title of this slender little volume is misleading." (The author of the book, by the way, was Victor Ratcliffe, a young Englishman whose contributions to literature were curtailed — perhaps fortunately — by his death in the first World War. If you Google his poem "Optimism", you'll see why Crowley loathed his verse.)

  8. Sili said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 11:25 am

    Wasn't it Dorothy Parker as well who said of Atlas Shrugged: "This is not a book to be put down lightly; it should be thrown with great force across the room."?

  9. Rodger C said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 11:34 am

    Off-thread, but that doesn't sound like Michael Gill's description of his father in How Starbuck's Saved My Life.

  10. D.O. said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

    Technically Microsoft haven't laid off all those people yet. It just plans to do so. And what Elop should have written instead? "We bought Nokia not because we want to make phones, but for their cachet of patents, which we plan to wield against Apple and Samsung. And as a patent troll, we don't need anyone to work on this except maybe some lawyers"?

  11. prh said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

    Samuel Johnson, asked his opinion of "Paradise Lost," said: "None ever wished it longer."

  12. leoboiko said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

    My favourite unsung hero (villain) of academic dissin' is Roy Andrew Miller. Consider his highly entertaining review of Bentley's A Descriptive Grammar of Early Old Japanese Prose:

    The problems with Bentley’s book begin with his title. The texts with which he is concerned are in the main not prose, at least not in the usual understanding of the term; nor can the bulk of them be described as “Old Japanese”, let alone “Early”; nor is what he has published a “descriptive grammar”.

    […] In Buddhist contexts too he is ill prepared. Of OJap. tumi ‘sin’ he writes, “I know of no external etymologies” (p. 253). One hardly doubts him. But in view of K.H. Menges, ltajische Studien II: Japanisch und Altajisch AfKM, XLI/3, Wiesbaden 1975, p. 34), with is copious citations of earlier studies, Bentley’s confession is sadly misleading concerning the actual state of Japanese-Xenic comparisons with respect to this etymon.

    On Vovin's A Reference Grammar of Classical Japanese Prose:

    Vovin wrote elsewhere of his disappointment with the “many errors” and “low level of reliability” of the information about earlier forms of Japanese now available to those wishing to study the genetic relationship of the language, as well as of his hope to one day remedy this unfortunate situation. As he works toward that end, one can only urge upon him more study of, and if possible eventual mastery over, the hiragana syllabary.

    On Earl Miner's Japanese Poetic Diaries:

    This is a difficult and perplexing book for the reviewer. Halfway through it, he begins to realize the tangle that even attempting a review will surely land him in, and begins to wish it were possible to return the book to the editors, begging off from his promise with a short, suitably vague note about changes in personal plains, failing eyesight, anything at all, in order to get out from under the promise earlier and so lightly undertaken. But by that time he has scribbled, with growing impatience and concern, on almost all the margins and up, down, and across half the pages. The book is no longer in mint condition; it cannot go back; the review must be written. Next time, be more careful.

    […] Miner is representative of a currently popular school of translation that appears actually to pride itself on reverting to paraphrase, the easy way out, whenever the text offers any particular philological or linguistic difficulties, and on replacing as many as possible of the distinctively Japanese elements in any given text with something typically Western. For people who like the kind of thing Miner is trying to do to his Heian texts, this is the kind of thing they like. I don't.

    And so on and so forth, oh, a lot forth. On a lazy afternoon, I recommend browsing JSTOR for Miller reviews; it's like watching rap battles.

  13. Pflaumbaum said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 4:27 pm

    This NYT restaurant review made it all over the world a couple of years ago:

  14. Peter Taylor said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 5:52 pm

    When it comes to critiquing Dan Brown's style, there's room for more than one critic. I'm quite partial to Michael Deacon's Don't make fun of renowned Dan Brown.

  15. David Hilbert said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 6:10 pm

    Nina Strohminger's review of Colin McGinn's book on disgust is a classic. It begins: "In disgust research, there is shit, and then there is bullshit. Colin McGinn’s book belongs to the latter category." That may be the nicest thing she has to say about the book.

    You can find a copy here:

  16. Michael Cargal said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 9:09 pm

    HL Mencken once reviewed a book (whose name (can't remember) by quoting the first paragraph and saying, "Thus the story begins. God knows how it ends."

  17. Michael Cargal said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 9:11 pm

    And then there's Dorothy Parker's review of The House on Pooh Street in her column Constant Reader that ended, "And that, dear readers, is where Tonstant Weader fwowed up."

  18. Mark Stephenson said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 9:16 pm

    "I have read your book and much like it."
    "This book fills a much-needed gap."
    "Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I’ll waste no time reading it."
    — Moses Hadas

  19. Jonathan Dushoff said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 9:59 pm

    "And it is that word 'hummy,' my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up."

  20. John Roth said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 10:12 pm

    Mr. Elop is doing a necessary, thankless and long-overdue job. One only hopes he has the courage to go down with the ship.

  21. Olof said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 10:18 pm

    G.K. Chesterton on Oscar Wilde:

    "Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde."

  22. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 11:33 pm

    The Quote Investigator found no evidence that Dr. Johnson said "what is good is not original," Moses Hadas said "fills a much-needed gap," or Dorothy Parker said "not to be tossed aside lightly." She did apparently say, "I wish you could have heard that pretty crash Beauty and the Beast made when, with one sweeping, liquid gesture, I tossed it out of my twelfth-story window.”

    The exact wording of another real Parker quotation is "And it is that word 'hummy,' my darlings, that marked the first place in 'The House at Pooh Corner' at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up."

  23. Jonathan Dushoff said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 11:34 pm

    You see, often the perfection of these capsule criticisms are achieved by mere bluntness … I was struck with that on the melancholy occasion when John and Ethel Barrymore lent a momentary and delusive glamour to a piece called "Clair de Lune" by Michael Strange, the exquisitely beautiful poetess whom Mr. Barrymore had just married. By the time its third act had unfolded before the pained eyes of its first audience, there was probably not a single person in that audience who was not thinking that, with all the good plays lying voiceless on the shelf, Michael Strange's shambling and laboriously macabre piece would scarcely have been produced had it not been for the somewhat irrelevant circumstance of her having married Mr. Barrymore, the surest means, apparently, of engaging his priceless services for one's drama. Now, some such opinion, I say, was buzzing in every first-night head. All the critics thought just that. Yet they all described nervous circles around this central idea, dancing skittishly about it as though it had been a May-pole. Full of what Gladys Unger was once inspired to call "a dirty delicacy, reluctant, perhaps, to acknowledge the personal equation in criticism, and weighed down, probably, by an ancient respect for the marriage tie, they avoided all audible speculation as to why Mr. Barrymore had put the piece on at all. All, that is, except one. Mr. Whittaker of "The Chicago Tribune" … cheerfully put the prevailing thought into three devastating words. He entitled his review: "For the Love of Mike."

    — From Alexander Woolcott

  24. Lugubert said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 11:46 pm

    Free from memory: Ms. Smith sang a couple of Schubert's Lieder. She shouldn't have done it.

  25. R Fandango said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 1:06 am

    I confess, one of my very favourite critical smackdowns is a bona fide professional review. Anthony P. Grant's 1995 review of Merritt Ruhlen's On the Origin of Languages: studies in linguistic taxonomy (Anthropological Linguistics 37(1): 93-96), is the most vitriolic piece of critique I've ever read in a peer-reviewed professional journal. The stand-out quote for me is that "Ruhlen's version of historical linguistics, and that of all the devotees of inspectional resemblances, really has all the scientific rigor of palmistry" (Grant 1995:96).

  26. Vilinthril said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 4:56 am

    For giggles, let me point out that Elop manages to spell the name of a town they have a bloody plant in incorrectly. It's “Komárom”, not “Komaron”. -_-

  27. Peter Erwin said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 5:01 am

    The problem I have with the Tabibi review of Thomas Friedman's book — granted that Friedman's writing is indeed generally quite awful — is that Tabibi is so zealous about it that he attacks some things that aren't actually that wrong, and makes an awkward slip or two himself.

    For example, the bit of Friedman that Tabibi singles out right at the start

    "… waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins."

    is a fair description of what it's sometimes like to board an airplane, and is in fact mildly clever as a bit of writing. Tabibi's objection — "name me a herd animal that hunts" — suggests a tedious literal-mindedness and a weird unfamiliarity (or discomfort) with metaphors.

    Later, Tabibi objects to Friedman taking one of his interlocutor's descriptions and using a synonym: "Nilekani said level, not flat. The two concepts are completely different." Well, no, they're not completely different. (They're not identical, but still: does Tabibi not have a dictionary?)

    Plus there's this gem of overnegation on Tabibi's part:

    "he [Friedman] is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius."

    (So… Friedman always renders even the smallest detail with genius?)

    As for me, I'll put in a vote for Cosma Shalizi's review of Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science, a masterful takedown which suffers only from the very minor flaw of using what is perhaps its best line right at the start, in the subtitle ("A Rare Blend of Monster Raving Egomania and Utter Batshit Insanity"). Although the very last line of the review is really quite good, too.

    (As David Hilbert pointed out, the review by Nina Strohminger's of Colin McGinn's book is pretty awesome, too.)

  28. Alan Gunn said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 7:58 am

    Hard to beat Wolfgang Pauli's description of a bad physics paper as "not even wrong."

  29. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 8:06 am

    I've long enjoyed James Russell Lowell's "Fable for Critics," particularly his appraisals of Cooper and Poe. Here's an excerpt for comparison with what Twain says about Cooper:
    His Indians, with proper respect be it said,
    Are just Natty Bumppo, daubed over with red,
    And his very Long Toms are the same useful Nat,
    Rigged up in duck pants and a sou'wester hat
    (Though once in a Coffin, a good chance was found
    To have slipped the old fellow away underground).
    All his other men-figures are clothes upon sticks,
    The _derniere chemise_ of a man in a fix
    (As a captain besieged, when his garrison's small,
    Sets up caps upon poles to be seen o'er the wall):
    And the women he draws from one model don't vary.
    All sappy as maples and flat as a prairie.
    When a character's wanted, he goes to the task
    As a cooper would do in composing a cask;
    He picks out the staves, of their qualities heedful,
    Just hoops them together as tight as is needful,
    And, if the best fortune should crown the attempt, he
    Has made at the most something wooden and empty.

    I think "sappy as maples and flat as a prairie" is a master stroke.

  30. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 8:08 am

    It occurs to me that I might as well as add Lowell's six lines about Poe:

    There comes Poe, with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge,
    Three fifths of him genius and two fifths sheer fudge,
    Who talks like a book of iambs and pentameters,
    In a way to make people of common sense damn metres,
    Who has written some things quite the best of their kind,
    But the heart somehow seems all squeezed out by the mind,

  31. pj said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 10:28 am

    AE Housman (with his academic classicist's hat on) had an very nice line in elegantly scathing reviews.


    Dr Postgate's willingness to teach is great and obvious, yet I do not find him very instructive. An air of ripe and penetrating judgment is never absent from anything that he writes, but I sometimes miss the substance, and I cannot reconcile the strength of his anxiety to seem superior with the faintness of his endeavour to be so.


    Many of the conjectures which he has to report are the conjectures of thoughtful persons: Mr Ehwald is not thoughtful, and must expect to be puzzled by the proceedings of those who are.

  32. Piyush said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 6:45 pm

    @Peter Erwin

    Another one of Tabibi's slip-ups is the attribution of the "discovery" that the Earth is round to Columbus. That the Earth is round was well established in almost every culture in Asia, Africa and Europe at last a thousand years before Columbus.

  33. Mark F. said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 8:18 pm

    Isn't Roose's commentary a little dishonest? That memo went to everybody, right, not just the newly jobless? I admit it's not dishonest in a substantive way; it was still a terrible way to announce that layoffs are on the way. But it feels esthetically dishonest — it's funnier to read the memo as if it were an actual pink slip rather than an announcement that some will be getting them.

  34. Piyush said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 9:52 pm

    The AMS Mathematical Reviews website is a treasure trove of such take-downs. One of the most well known of these is due to Clifford Truesdell (MR0039515), and begins:

    This paper, whose intent is stated in its title, gives wrong solutions to trivial problems. The basic error, however, is not new…

  35. MattF said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 7:57 am

    A long-form takedown, which, I'm pleased to say, has recently been republished, is Ernest Gellner's book 'Words and Things' on Wittgenstein and his followers.

  36. Jason Merchant said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 9:43 am

    And kudos to The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism for publishing Strohminger's take-down of McGinn's book: I'm sorry to say our own Language had less stomach for directness, and changed my 2012 review of a quite terrible grammar of Vlach from my original to a milder version—so instead of reading that "Scholars and libraries need not waste their time or money; Lincom seems to have become a peer-review-free vanity publisher in this case" as I wrote, Language readers are admonished only that "Scholars and libraries would likely be better served by [Golab's] grammar in contrast with the present one under review". (And these changes were made without my knowledge or approval.)

  37. Elise said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 9:59 am

    Two of my favorite lines from the New Yorker's late film critic, Pauline Kael:

    – about Rutger Hauer: "He's a shoe-in for this year's Klaus Kinski scenery-chewing award."

    – about Mariel Hemingway: "This girl has a serious case of preposterousness, plus she is a huge pain."

  38. David J. Littleboy said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 10:44 am

    I must agree with the recommendation of Roy Andrew Miller, who singlehandedly made studying Japanese linguistics a joy.

    But I must disagree with the various potshots at Friedman, Brooks, and Dowd, which are a rather popular game in the lefty blogosphere. While fun, the bottom line is that those three are so bad; e.g. inane, stupid, and vituperous (Dowd, of course) that it's like shooting a fish in barrel. It's just not sport.

  39. Rodger C said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 11:50 am

    @Piyush: I don't think it was that widespread, but it was certainly known to all the literate in the Christian/ Jewish/ Muslim world (i.e. readers of Aristotle). I thought all the literate knew nowadays that "Columbus proved the world is round" was made up by Washington Irving as part of a narrative that America from day one has always been about Progress.

  40. Piyush said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

    @Rodger C

    It was certainly well known to (and much used by) Indian astronomers, well before the beginnings of Islam. Between all of these, it does seem it was quite well known in Northern Africa, Asia, and Southern Europe.

  41. Bloix said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

    Based on the evidence of your quotation, Nora Ephron did not know what "as such" means.

    Here's a famous takedown:

    "for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey".

  42. Xmun said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 3:31 am

    I've always liked C. K. Stead's description of some author or other as "perhaps the best Yorkshire Surrealist writing in New Zealand".

  43. Mark Stephenson said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 7:37 pm

    I'm not sure of the attribution, but let P be a famous playwright and S be a famous statesman:

    P: I enclose tickets to the opening night of my play, and bring a friend — if you have one.

    S: I regret being unable to attend the opening night, but I will be happy to attend on the second night — if there is one.

  44. Mark Stephenson said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 8:45 pm

    "Criticism lacks terms adequate to describe the narrative feebleness of these novels."

    Joan Sutherland on Armageddon: The Cosmic Battle of the Ages, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. See for the whole review

  45. Mark Stephenson said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 8:49 pm

    "[T]he greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself. The Phenomenon of Man cannot be read without a feeling of suffocation, a gasping and flailing around for sense."

    Peter Medawar reviewing The Phnomenon of Man, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. See for the whole review.

  46. Mark Stephenson said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 9:27 pm

    "In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite."

    Also, on being told that a student had given up mathematics to become a poet:
    "Good, he did not have enough imagination to be a mathematician."

    Paul Dirac

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