This is an ideal book for the coffee table, guest bedroom, or bathroom, but also one that will stand proudly on the bookshelf next to Bartlett's Famous Quotations and other prestigious literary reference books. The entries are witty, entertaining, often quite profound, and well organized throughout. The sources are varied but nearly all of the names are widely recognizable.
An aphorism is defined as "a short, pithy statement containing a truth of general import." In the introduction to this volume John Gross offers several distinguishing characteristics of the aphorism. Though the term 'maxim' is often used as its synonym, an aphorism is considered more speculative, and sometimes more subversive than a maxim. While aphorisms offer insights and wisdom, they differ from proverbs in that they are not apocryphal. And while they are universal, they also generally bear the personal mark of the author.
Goethe, Nietzsche, Chekhov, Voltaire, Spinoza, Wilde, Yeats, James...but a few of the authors included in this book.
To give a flavor of the kinds of entries, consider these from the chapter on religion.
"Probably no invention came more easily to man than Heaven."
"Heathen, n. A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something that he can see and feel."
"If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated."
And if you don't like those, there are fifty other chapters to choose from.