Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Felipe Fernández-Armesto

British Historian and Author

"Reason provides a means of escaping from the constraints of belief-systems backed by authority and from the resentment which clever people feel at the power of their own passions. Because reason--in admittedly varying degrees--is available to everybody, it has a potential advantage over the truth you feel and the truth you are told."

"Hard as it is for us to escape the effects of our own feelings, nobody seems to have difficulty in rejecting the feelings of others as merely subjective and vulnerable to interference from the demons of self-deception and self-delusion."

"When we distrust passion because it is too subjective, or reject authority because it has no input of our own, we flee to reason."

"Every hero is somebody else's villain. Heroism and villainy are just two sides of the same coin."

"There has never been nationhood without falsehood."

"Capitalism seems to have failed and is now stigmatized as greed. A reaction against individual excess is driving the world back to collective values. Fear of terror overrides rights; fear of slumps subverts free markets. Consumption levels and urbanization are simply unsustainable at recent rates in the face of environmental change. The throwaway society is headed for the trash heap. People who sense that modernity is ending proclaim a postmodern age."

"An age of expansion really did begin, but the phenomenon was of an expanding world, not, as some historians say, of European expansion. The world did not simply wait passively for European outreach to transform it as if touched by a magic wand. Other societies were already working magic of their own, turning states into empires and cultures into civilizations. Some of the most dynamic and rapidly expanding societies of the fifteenth century were in the Americas, southwest and northern Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa."

"Like poor immigrants throughout the ages, Jews there adjusted to the jobs no one else would do."

"Historians today are priests of a cult of truth, called to the service of a god whose existence they are doomed to doubt."

"Only three routes of upward mobility were available to socially ambitious upstarts such as Columbus: war, the Church, and the sea. Columbus probably contemplated all three: he wanted a clerical career for one of his brothers, and fancied himself as a captain of cavaliers and conquests. But seafaring was a natural choice, especially for a boy from a maritime community as single-minded as that of Genoa. Opportunities for employment and profit abounded."

"The paradox of the British: the weak who wangled the earth and were cursed for it and by it."

"Their ships were steeds, and they rode the waves like jennets."

"To become a great saint, it is no bad first step to be a big sinner."

"To understand what was in IvanÂ’s mind, one has to think back to what the world was like before Machiavelli. The modern calculus of profit and loss probably meant nothing to Ivan. He never thought about realpolitik. His concerns were with tradition and posterity, history and fame, apocalypse and eternity."