Forbes Book of Quotations

10,000 Thoughts on the Business of Life


Edited by Ted Goodman

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Revised and updated, this bestselling collection of business wit and wisdom is the ultimate desk reference for the cube and corner office, by one of the world’s most popular business publications.

Forbes is one of the world’s most trusted, recognizable, and growing brands in business news and information both in print and online. This comprehensive collection of business quotations gathers more than 10,000 apt, astute, and motivational remarks on scores of topics, organized alphabetically, from “Ability” to “Excellence” to “Salesmanship.” First published in 1997, this all new edition is updated with hundreds of new quotations, from the likes of Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, and Oprah Winfrey that pertain to modern business culture. Forbes Book of Quotations is the perfect gift or reference tool for students, budding entrepreneurs, and seasoned professionals alike, or anyone looking for a sharp-witted way to make a lasting impression.


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Copyright Page

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The moving motive in establishing Forbes Magazine, in 1917, was ardent desire to promulgate humaneness in business, then woefully lacking.

Too many individual and corporate employers were merely mercenarily-minded, obsessed only with determination to roll up profits regardless of the suicidal consequences of their shortsighted conduct.

They were without consciousness of their civic, social, patriotic responsibilities.

This writer warned, a third-of-a-century ago, that unless employers altered their tactics, unless they exhibited more consideration for their workers, time would come when "Politicians will step in and do the job in a way that employers will not like."

That had happened with a vengeance!

Every issue of Forbes, since its inception, has appeared under the masthead: "With all thy getting, get understanding."

Not only so, but we have devoted, all through the years, a full page to "Thoughts on the Business of Life," reflections by ancient and modern sages calculated to inspire a philosophic mode of life, broad sympathies, charity towards all.

Having assiduously sought all these years to pursue this objective, I would—having already passed the Biblical span of three-score-years-and-ten—pass on contented if I could conscientiously feel that we have rendered at least a little service to our day and generation, that we have done something towards bequeathing a better world for my four sons and an increasing number of grandchildren.

This volume is a humble contribution to furthering human, humane Understanding.

I'm convinced, despite all the woes, wars, strife, bloodshed afflicting mankind at this moment, that Robert Burns was truly prophetic when he wrote:

It's comin' yet for a' that,

That Man to Man, the world o'er.

Shall be brothers for a' that.

I have faith that time will eventually come when employees and employers, as well as humankind, will realize that they serve themselves best when they serve others most.

B.C. Forbes



Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Ability has nothing to do with opportunity.

Napoleon Bonaparte

It is in destroying and pulling down that skill is displayed? The shallowest understanding, the rudest hand, is more than equal to the task.

Edmund Burke

Men who undertake considerable things, even in a regular way, ought to give us ground to presume ability.

Edmund Burke

Behind an able man there are always other able men.

Chinese proverb

Natural ability without education has more often raised a man to glory and virtue than education without natural ability.


Capacity never lacks opportunity. It cannot remain undiscovered because it is sought by too many anxious to use it.

Bourke Cockran

I will not be concerned at other men's not knowing me; I will be concerned at my own want of ability.


The superior man is distressed by the limitations of his ability; he is not distressed by the fact that men do not recognize the ability that he has.


People are always ready to admit a man's ability after he gets there.

Bob Edwards

What I need is someone who will make me do what I can.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.

English proverb

Almost any idea is good if a man has ability and is willing to work hard. The best idea is worthless if the creator is a loafer and ineffective.

William Feather

The ultimate high: A man's abilities equaling his opinion of 'em.

Malcolm Forbes

The tools to him who has the ability to handle them.

French proverb

There are few, if any, jobs in which ability alone is sufficient. Needed, also, are loyalty, sincerity, enthusiasm and team play.

William B. Given, Jr.

The man who occupies the first place seldom plays the principal part.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Ability is useless unless it's used.

Robert Half

When ability exceeds ambition, or ambition exceeds ability, the likelihood of success is limited.

Ralph Half

Skill and confidence are an unconquered army.

George Herbert

It is a fine thing to have ability, but the ability to discover ability in others is the true test.

Elbert Hubbard

There is something that is much more scarce, something finer far, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability.

Elbert Hubbard

A human being feels able and competent only so long as he is permitted to contribute as much as, or more, than he has contributed to him.

L. Ron Hubbard

There is nothing of permanent value (putting aside a few human affections), nothing that satisfies quiet reflection, except the sense of having worked according to one's capacity and light to make things clear and get rid of cant and shams of all sorts.

Thomas H. Huxley

A man with ability and the desire to accomplish something can do anything.

Donald Kircher

Ability wins us the esteem of the true men; luck that of the people.

François de La Rochefoucauld

The art of using moderate abilities to advantage often brings greater results than actual brilliance.

François de La Rochefoucauld

Abilities wither under faultfinding, blossom under encouragement.

Donald A. Laird

Latent abilities are like clay. It can be mud on shoes, brick in a building or a statue that will inspire all who see it. The clay is the same. The result is dependent on how it is used.

James F. Lincoln

We should be on our guard against the temptation to argue directly from skill to capacity, and to assume when a man displays skill in some feat, his capacity is therefore considerable.

Tom H. Pear

In private matters everyone is equal before the law. In public matters, when it is a question of putting power and responsibility into the hands of one man rather than another, what counts is not rank or money, but the ability to do the job well.


Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work.

John G. Pollard

Ability and necessity dwell near each other.


It is always pleasant to be urged to do something on the ground that one can do it well.

George Santayana

A man's ability cannot possibly be of one sort and his soul of another. If his soul be well-ordered, serious and restrained, his ability also is sound and sober. Conversely, when the one degenerates, the other is contaminated.


The young man of native ability, the will to work and good personality will, in the long run, get the equivalent of a college education in the tasks he will set for himself. If he has ability and determination, he will find ways to learn and to get ahead.

Edward G. Seubert

To think we are able is almost to be so; to determine upon attainment is frequently attainment itself; earnest resolution has often seemed to have about it almost a savor of omnipotence.

Samuel Smiles

To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.

Baruch Spinoza

The fine points that are uncovered in our work as a result of close study, diligent care, constant application and always trying to improve our methods represent the best and most valuable knowledge we get in business—and the sum total of that attentive attitude is what we call skill.

Roderick Stevens

Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.

Publilius Syrus

Not because of an extraordinary talent did he succeed, but because he had a capacity of a level for business and not above it.


The abilities of man must fall short on one side or the other, like too scanty a blanket when you are abed.

William J. Temple

Forget yourself in your work. If your employer sees that you are more concerned about your own interests than about his, that you are fussy about getting credit of every little or big thing you do, then you are apt to be passed by when a responsible job has to be filled.… Don't worry about how big an increase in your salary you can contrive to get. Don't let your mind dwell on money at all, if you can help it. Throw yourself, body, soul, and spirit, into whatever you are doing.… The truth is that in every organization, no matter how large or how small, someone is taking notice of any employee who shows special ability.

Harry B. Thayer

They are able because they think they are able.


Men are often capable of greater things than they perform. They are sent into the world with bills of credit, and seldom draw to their full extent.

Horace Walpole

Ability is a poor man's wealth.

Matthew Wren


What happens to the hole when the cheese is gone?

Bertolt Brecht

To tax and to please, no more than to love and be wise, is not given to men.

Edmund Burke

My turn of mind is so given to taking things in the absurd point of view that it breaks out in spite of me every now and then.

Lord Byron

At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.

Albert Camus

The absurd is sin without God.

Albert Camus

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, "Where's the self-help section?" She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.

George Carlin

If it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.

Lewis Carroll

In a world where everything is ridiculous, nothing can be ridiculed. You cannot unmask a mask.

G. K. Chesterton

No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism.

Winston Churchill

There is no opinion so absurd but that some philosopher will express it.


He who hath not a dram of folly in his mixture hath pounds of much worse matter.

Charles Caleb Colton

There is no fact that cannot be vulgarized and presented in a ludicrous light.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Ridicule may be the evidence of with or bitterness and may gratify a little mind, or an ungenerous temper, but it is no test of reason or truth.

Tryon Edwards

No man is quite sane. Each has a vein of folly in his composition—a slight determination of blood to the head, to make sure of holding him hard to some one point which he has taken to heart.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The magnificent and the ridiculous are so close that they touch.

Bertrand de Fontenelle

Life is a jest, and

All things show it;

I thought so once,

But now I know it.

John Gay

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?

Allen Ginsberg

Only exceptionally rational men can afford to be absurd.

Allan Goldfein

Modern man must descend the spiral of his own absurdity to the lowest point; only then can he look beyond it. It is obviously impossible to get around it, jump over it, or simply avoid it.

Vaclav Havel

The deeper the experience of an absence of meaning—in other words, of absurdity—the more energetically meaning is sought.

Vaclav Havel

The privilege of absurdity, to which no other living creature is subject, but man only.

Thomas Hobbes

American freedom consists largely in talking nonsense.

Edgar Watson Howe

It is not in the world of ideas that life is lived. Life is lived for better or worse in life, and to a man in life, his life can be no more absurd than it can be the opposite of absurd, whatever that opposite may be.

Archibald MacLeish

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know.

Groucho Marx (Animal Crackers)

What is certain is that I am no Marxist.

Karl Marx

Silly is you in a natural state, and serious is something you have to do until you can get silly again.

Mike Myers

One step above the sublime makes the ridiculous, and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again.

Thomas Paine

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,

A medley of extemporanea;

And love is a thing than can never go wrong;

And I am Marie of Roumania.

Dorothy Parker

Life is full of infinite absurdities, which, strangely enough, do not even need to appear plausible, because they are true.

Luigi Pirandello

Look for the ridiculous in everything, and you will find it.

Jules Renard

People who cannot recognize a palpable absurdity are very much in the way of civilization.

Agnes Repplier

Much of the wisdom of one age is the folly of the next.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Ridicule: The weapon of all others most feared by enthusiasts of every description, and which from its predominance over such minds, often checks what is absurd, and fully as often smothers that which is noble.

Sir Walter Scott

In the sphere of thought, absurdity and perversity remain the masters of the world, and their dominion is suspended only for brief periods.

Charles Simmons

I'll sail to Ka-Troo And bring back an it-kutch, A preep, and a proo, A nerkle, a NERD, And a seersucker, too!

Dr. Seuss

The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.

Herbert Spencer

The reductio ad absurdum is God's favorite argument.

George Tyrrell

If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

I used to work in a fire hydrant factory. You couldn't park anywhere near the place.

Steven Wright


We can accomplish almost anything within our ability if we but think that we can! Every great achievement in this world was first carefully thought out.… Think—but to a purpose. Think constructively. Think as you read. Think as you listen. Think as you travel and your eyes reveal new situations. Think as you work daily at your desk, or in the field, or while strolling. Think to rise and improve your place in life. There can be no advancement or success without serious thought.

George Matthew Adams

Financial rewards follow accomplishment, they don't precede it.

Harry F. Banks

Sweat is the cologne of accomplishment.

Heywood Hale Broun

There is nothing that God has judged good for us that He has not given us the means to accomplish, both in the natural and moral world. If we cry, like children, for the moon, like children we must cry on.

Edmund Burke

"I can't do it" never yet accomplished anything; "I will try" has performed wonders.

George P. Burnham

Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.

Samuel Butler

Knowledge may give weight, but accomplishments give lustre, and many more people see than weigh.

Lord Chesterfield

Always there will be, along the sidelines of life, inferior souls who throw mud at those whose attainments they do not quite understand. The man who really accomplishes doesn't pay attention to such detractors. If he did, he'd be on their level. He keeps an eye singled on the higher goal—and the mud never touches him.

Jerome P. Fleishman

Too few accomplish twice as much as too many.

Malcolm Forbes

It's more fun to arrive at a conclusion than to justify it.

Malcolm Forbes

In the long run, a short cut seldom is.

Malcolm Forbes

Too many of us, when we accomplish what we set out to do, exclaim, "See what I have done!" instead of saying, "See where I have been led."

Henry Ford

In the United States, to an unprecedented degree, the individual's social role has come to be determined not by who he is but by what he can accomplish.

John W. Gardner

Everyone has his superstitions. One of mine has always been when I started to go anywhere, or to do anything, never to turn back or to stop until the thing intended was accomplished.

Ulysses S. Grant

If well thou hast begun, go on; it is the end that crowns us, not the fight.

Robert Herrick

You can do what you want to do, accomplish what you want to accomplish, attain any reasonable objective you may have in mind.… Not all of a sudden, perhaps, not in one swift and sweeping act of achievement.… But you can do it gradually—day by day and play by play—if you want to do it, if you will to do it, if you work to do it, over a sufficiently long period of time.

William E. Holler

The most agreeable thing in life is worthy accomplishment. It is not possible that the idle tramp is as contented as the farmers along the road who own their own farms, and whose credit is good at the bank in town. When the tramps get together at night, they abuse the farmers, but do not get as much satisfaction out of it as do the farmers who abuse the tramps. The sounder your argument, the more satisfaction you get out of it.

Edgar Watson Howe

It's amazing what ordinary people can do if they set out without preconceived notions.

Charles F. Kettering

For truth and duty it is ever the fitting time; who waits until circumstances completely favor his undertaking, will never accomplish anything.

Martin Luther

In our own days we have seen no princes accomplish great results save those who have been accounted miserly.

Niccolò Machiavelli

We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.

C. Malesherbes

No institution which does not continually test its ideals, techniques and measure of accomplishment can claim real vitality.

John Milton

If you have known how to compose your life, you have accomplished a great deal more than the man who knows how to compose a book. Have you been able to make your stride? You have done more than man who has taken cities and empires.

Michel de Montaigne

I wonder if there is anyone in the world who can really direct the affairs of the world, or of his country, with any assurance of the result his actions would have.

Montagu C. Norman

The man who has accomplished all that he thinks worth while, has begun to die.

E.T. Trigg

The great accomplishments of man have resulted from the transmission of ideas and enthusiasm.

Thomas J. Watson

It is by what we ourselves have done, and not by what others have done for us, that we shall be remembered in after ages.

Francis Wayland

The secret of the true love of work is the hope of success in that work; not for the money reward, for the time spent, or for the skill exercised, but for the successful result in the accomplishment of the work itself.

Sidney A. Weltmer

I am an acme of things accomplished, and I am an encloser of things to be.

Walt Whitman


It is a favorite belief of mine that no student ever attains very eminent success by simply doing what is required of him; it is the amount and excellence of what is over and above the required, that determines the greatness of ultimate distinction.

Charles Kendall Adams

The only worthwhile achievements of man are those which are socially useful.

Dr. Alfred Adler


On Sale
Apr 5, 2016
Page Count
704 pages