Two years ago, my co-workers made fun of me because I tried to use the word "eponymous" in a news release. They deleted it, saying that no one knows what that word means anymore. One of the many things I like about Ralph Keyes is that he uses words like "eponymous" -- and he expects that you'll know what it means, too. Keyes' writing will either teach you some really cool words to use at cocktail parties -- or make you wish that you had paid more attention during your 8th-grade vocabulary class.
With Quote Verifier (QV), Keyes has added more fodder to the quote mill, which he kicked off with his Nice Guys Finish Seventh. QV can be read from beginning to end, or it can be read non-linearly as a reference.
Who originally came up with "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."? Kennedy? Which one? Neither, actually. You'll find this under the alphabetical listings under ASK, where you'll find that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said something remarkably similar 80 years before JFK did. There's an entire section (under the "Ks") devoted to the Kennedys, especially John and Robert. Having grown up in Massachusetts, I was often treated to "Kennedyisms." John Kennedy usually cited his sources. Bobby often cited John and Ted credited Bobby.
Also, as a former and unreformed New Englander, I was ecstatic to see that theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was correctly credited for his "Serenity Prayer," as opposed to "anonymous," which I so often see. (Niebuhr's widow lived up the street from me and was the speaker at my high school graduation.) However, "Shays' Rebellion" was spelled "Shay's Rebellion," a mistake commonly made in the Midwest. Daniel Shays hasn't been quoted for saying anything remarkable, or I'm sure Keyes would have gotten his name right.
The book is organized in a very user-friendly manner. The key words in each quote are in all caps and the quotes are listed alphabetically according to the key words. An index in the back directs you to the people who said -- or didn't -- what you're trying to find. Also in the back is a key word index directing you to the quote.
If you sit down and read this book linearly as I did, a few things are bound to happen:
1) You'll hear people cited for things all over the place for things they didn't think up first. Coincidentally, I was reading the section about an army travelling on its stomach when someone made reference to it on television (attributing it incorrectly to Napoleon, as most people do according to Keyes).
2) You'll be afraid to quote anyone for fear of getting it wrong.
3) You'll wonder how long Keyes worked on digging up each quote's source. His sources range from Celestial Seasonings tea boxes and Reader's Digest (which I am going to take with a grain of salt now) to university libraries and tottering biographers of celebrities of centuries past. If someone ever found the ancient libraries of Alexandria, Keyes would be the first in line to check out who really said that an army travels on its stomach. It's kind of scary.
I wouldn't want this to be a library book that I had to return. I would want it on hand, where I could refer to it frequently and react with my notes in the margins. This book would be a good purchase for people who like to use quotes (in speeches, newsletters, classes) and want to be correct. It would make a great reference for any student or writer, as well as anyone who wants to know more about the history of our favorite expressions.