Famous Last Words: Apt Observations, Pleas, Curses...

Editor's Choice

February 17, 2002|By Michael Pakenham

Famous Last Words: Apt Observations, Pleas, Curses, Benedictions, Sour Notes, Bons Mots, and Insights from People on the Brink of Departure, by Alan Bisbort (Pomegranate, 154 pages, $17.95).

Not all the declarations here were made on the deathbed. In fact, most were not. But they are artfully, delightfully chosen for their finality -- or, at least, decisiveness. And much of that is particularly engaging for its ultimate foolishness: "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this my last press conference" -- Richard N's words in 1962 on losing the race for governor of California. Or Napoleon Bonaparte's declaration to his generals at breakfast the morning of the Battle of Waterloo: "I tell you Wellington is a bad general, the English are bad soldiers; we will settle the matter by lunchtime." Bisbort, a distinguished scholar and writer, gives crisp, sound mini-essays for each of the quotes. A delightful, eminently quotable volume.

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