Russell Baker Quotes

Who the Heck is Russell Baker?

Russell Wayne Baker was an American journalist, narrator and writer. Baker wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning satirical commentary and self-critical prose, and is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography Growing Up.

Born August 14, 1925
Died January 21, 2019

Books by Russell Baker


Best 97 Quotes by Russell Baker

“A $10 million windfall? At today's prices, I'd feel almost as rich as I did one day in 1936 when I found a dime on the sidewalk and blew the whole wad on 20 Mary Jane candy bars, a box of jujubes, and a double feature.”

Russell Baker

“A day spent praising the earth and lamenting man's pollutionist history makes you feel like a superior, sensitive soul.”

Russell Baker

“A group of politicians deciding to dump a President because his morals are bad is like the Mafia getting together to bump off the Godfather for not going to church on Sunday.”

Russell Baker

“A man doesn't amount to something because he has been successful at a third-rate career like journalism. It is evidence, that's all: evidence that if he buckled down and worked hard, he might some day do something really worth doing.”

Russell Baker

“A railroad station? That was sort of a primitive airport, only you didn’t have to take a cab 20 miles out of town to reach it.”

Russell Baker

“A solved problem creates two new problems, and the best prescription for happy living is not to solve any more problems.”

Russell Baker

“After two years studying what rewrite men did with the facts I phoned them, I knew that journalism was essentially a task of stringing together seamlessly an endless series of cliches.”

Russell Baker

“Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.”

Russell Baker

“Americans like fat books and thin women.”

Russell Baker

“An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious – just dead wrong.”

Russell Baker

“Anticipating that most poetry will be worse than carrying heavy luggage through O'Hare Airport, the public, to its loss, reads very little of it.”

Russell Baker

“Caution: These verses may be hazardous to your solemnity.”

Russell Baker

“Don't try to make children grow up to be like you, or they may do it.”

Russell Baker

“Feel good about linking hands in human chain for good causes.”

Russell Baker

“Gerald Boyd was a classic specimen of the self-made man. Born poor, he worked and studied his way up out of poverty under the guidance of his widowed grandmother.”

Russell Baker

“Goat cheese... produced a bizarre eating era when sensible people insisted that this miserable cheese produced by these miserable creatures reared on miserable hardscrabble earth was actually superior to the magnificent creamy cheeses of the noblest dairy animals bred in the richest green valleys of the earth.”

Russell Baker

“Grass is the least rewarding of all status symbols... The grass does nothing but drink money, exhaust energies, crush spirits, destroy sleep, create tensions and interfere with the watching of baseball games, and sprout insolent signs ordering humans to keep off it.”

Russell Baker

“How many more years will our educators continue to lecture us on the evils of whipping children until they bring home high grades? Year after year we listen to these fellows tell us that it is not the grade that counts but the development of the child's personality. After the lecture they go back to all the best schools and reject our children because they have C averages.”

Russell Baker

“I am sitting here 93 million miles from the sun on a rounded rock which is spinning at the rate of 1000 miles an hour... and my head pointing down into space with nothing between me and infinity but something called gravity which I can't even understand, and which you can't even buy any place so as to have some stored away for a gravityless day...”

Russell Baker

“I gave up on new poetry myself thirty years ago, when most of it began to read like coded messages passing between lonely aliens on a hostile world.”

Russell Baker

“I worry about people who get born nowadays, because they get born into such tiny families--sometimes into no family at all. When you're the only pea in the pod, your parents are likely to get you confused with the Hope Diamond. And that encourages you to talk too much.”

Russell Baker

Products by Russell Baker

“In America nothing dies easier than tradition.”

Russell Baker

“In America, it is sport that is the opiate of the masses.”

Russell Baker

“In an age when the fashion is to be in love with yourself, confessing to be in love with somebody else is an admission of unfaithfulness to one's beloved.”

Russell Baker

“Inanimate objects can be classified scientifically into three major categories: those that don't work, those that break down and those that get lost. The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately to defeat him, and the three major classifications are based on the method each object uses to achieve its purpose. As a general rule, any object capable of breaking down at the moment when it is most needed will do so.”

Russell Baker

“Industrial-strength foolishness sets in-in males, at least-at about the age of 18. This is why the military prefers males in the 18-to-25-year-old range when there's combat to be done.”

Russell Baker

“Ireland really is my problem; the breaking point of the huge suppuration which all British and all European society now is.”

Russell Baker

“Is fuel efficiency really what we need most desperately? I say that what we really need is a car that can be shot when it breaks down.”

Russell Baker

“It is fitting that yesteryear's swashbuckling newspaper reporter has turned into today's solemn young sobersides nursing a glass of watered white wine after a day of toiling over computer databases in a smoke-free, noise-free newsroom.”

Russell Baker

“It seems to be a law in American life that whatever enriches us anywhere except in the wallet inevitably becomes uneconomic.”

Russell Baker

“It was dramatic to watch my grandmother decapitate a turkey with an ax the day before Thanksgiving. Nowadays the expense of hiring grandmothers for the ax work would probably qualify all turkeys so honored with gourmet status.”

Russell Baker

“It's good for the soul to hear yourself as others hear you, and next time maybe, just maybe, you will not talk so much, so loudly, so brilliantly, so charmingly, so utterly shamelessly foolishly.”

Russell Baker

“Journalism talk is part of the nonstop background noise of American life.”

Russell Baker

“Life is always walking up to us and saying, “Come on in, the living’s fine,” and what do we do? Back off and take its picture.”

Russell Baker

“Listen once in a while. It's amazing what you can hear.”

Russell Baker

“Live by publicity, you'll probably die by publicity.”

Russell Baker

“Long words, fat talk they may tell us something about ourselves. Has the passion for fat in the language increased as self-confidence has waned?”

Russell Baker

“Misery no longer loves company. Nowadays it insists on it.”

Russell Baker

“Most English speakers do not have the writer's short fuse about seeing or hearing their language brutalized. This is the main reason, I suspect, that English is becoming the world's universal tongue: English-speaking natives don't care how badly others speak English as long as they speak it. French, once considered likely to become the world's lingua franca, has lost popularity because those who are born speaking it reject this liberal attitude and become depressed, insulted or insufferable when their language is ill used.”

Russell Baker

“New York is the only city in the world where you can get run down on the sidewalk by a pedestrian.”

Russell Baker

“Notice, for example, that people who talk about "the joys of childhood" are always adults. Only an adult, utterly remote from the reality of childhood, could suppose it is time of joys.”

Russell Baker

“Now scarcely a week goes by without a news story about the cops swooping down on some adolescent prowler who is as skilled at breaking into computer systems as defense contractors are at breaking into the Federal budget.”

Russell Baker

Products by Russell Baker

“People seem to enjoy things more when they know a lot of other people have been left out of the pleasure.”

Russell Baker

“People who say you're just as old as you feel are all wrong, fortunately.”

Russell Baker

“Perhaps humans have always had this ridiculous belief in the absolute excellence of the present, this conviction that the world into which they have had the marvelous good luck to be born is the best world that ever was, the best that ever will be.”

Russell Baker

“Poetry is so vital to us until school spoils it.”

Russell Baker

“Research is a scientific activity dedicated to discovering what makes grass green.”

Russell Baker

“Schoolteachers seemed determined to persuade me that 'classic' is a synonym for 'narcotic'.”

Russell Baker

“Sending grown-ups up the wall is one of the things adolescence is all about. A few years ago it was done with rock 'n' roll music. Now at least they can do it quietly with a home computer.”

Russell Baker

“Situation comedy on television has thrived for years on 'canned' laughter, grafted by gaglines by technicians using records of guffawing audiences that have been dead for years.”

Russell Baker

“Skinny women don't enjoy being told they're skinny nowadays. They enjoy telling you how they got that way, as though starvation were an achievement.”

Russell Baker

“Skins tanned to the consistency of well-traveled alligator suitcases.”

Russell Baker

“So there he is at last. Man on the moon. The poor magnificent bungler! He can’t even get to the office without undergoing the agonies of the damned, but give him a little metal, a few chemicals, some wire and twenty or thirty billion dollars and, vroom! there he is, up on a rock a quarter of a million miles up in the sky.”

Russell Baker

“Television was the most revolutionary event of the century. Its importance was in a class with the discovery of gunpowder and the invention of the printing press, which changed the human condition for centuries afterward.”

Russell Baker

“The best discussion of trouble in boardroom and business office is found in newspapers' own financial pages and speeches by journalists in management jobs.”

Russell Baker

“The charm of television entertainment is its ability to bridge the chasm between dinner and bedtime without mental distraction.”

Russell Baker

“The dirty work at political conventions is almost always done in the grim hours between midnight and dawn. Hangmen and politicians work best when the human spirit is at its lowest ebb.”

Russell Baker

“The old notion that brevity is the essence of wit has succumbed to the modern idea that tedium is the essence of quality.”

Russell Baker

“The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any.”

Russell Baker

“The sinister nature of the American soil is apparent in places like Gettysburg. Fertilize it with the blood of heros, and it brings forth a frozen-custard stand.”

Russell Baker

“The twentieth century seems afflicted by a gigantic... power failure. Powerlessness and the sense of powerlessness may be the environmental disease of the age.”

Russell Baker

“The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recognize you as a tourist.”

Russell Baker

“The worst thing about the miracle of modern communications is the Pavlovian pressure it places upon everyone to communicate whenever a bell rings.”

Russell Baker

Products by Russell Baker

“There are no liberals behind steering wheels.”

Russell Baker

“There's so much spectating going on that a lot of us never get around to living.”

Russell Baker

“Unpleasant questions are being raised about Mother's Day. Is this day necessary? Isn't it bad public policy? No politician with half his senses, which a majority of politicians have, is likely to vote for its abolition, however.
As a class, mothers are tender and loving, but as a voting bloc they would not hesitate for an instant to pull the seat out from under any Congressman who suggests that Mother is not entitled to a box of chocolates each year in the middle of May.”

Russell Baker

“Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things.”

Russell Baker

“Voters inclined to loathe and fear elite Ivy League schools rarely make fine distinctions between Yale and Harvard. All they know is that both are full of rich, fancy, stuck-up and possibly dangerous intellectuals who never sit down to supper in their undershirt no matter how hot the weather gets.”

Russell Baker

“What sweeter words can fall on the human ear? It's going to be May all week long.”

Russell Baker

“What the New Yorker calls home would seem like a couple of closets to most Americans, yet he manages not only to live there but also to grow trees and cockroaches right on the premises.”

Russell Baker

“When it comes to cars, only two varieties of people are possible - cowards and fools.”

Russell Baker

“When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly — with body language.

Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow.

In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear the way you want to be heard.”

Russell Baker

“While it is very sturdy of comfortable men to point out that life is unfair, the people it is unfair to are not apt to be morally or philosophically elevated by the announcement. If you are going to preach that unfairness is inescapable for some, good sense suggests that you also accept the inevitability of beastly behavior by people who have to carry the burden.”

Russell Baker

“You can always tell folks from nonfolks. Folks like to feel good, like to smile for the camera when there's a big photo opportunity for a really good cause.”

Russell Baker

“You can't enjoy light verse with a heavy heart.”

Russell Baker

“You find it so easy to be smart that you don’t bother to work very hard.”

Russell Baker

"Growing Up" Quotes

“After my father's death I never cried with any real conviction, nor expected much of anyone's God except indifference, nor loved deeply without fear that it would cost me dearly in pain. At the age of five I had become a skeptic and began to sense that any happiness that came my way might be the prelude to some grim cosmic joke.”

Russell Baker
Growing Up

“Children rarely want to know who their parents were before they were parents, and when age finally stirs their curiosity there is no parent left to tell them.”

Russell Baker
Growing Up

“Life seemed to be an educator's practical joke in which you spent the first half learning and the second half learning that everything you learned in the first half was wrong.”

Russell Baker
Growing Up

“We all come from the past, and children ought to know what it was that went into their making, to know that life is a braided cord of humanity stretching up from time long gone, and that it cannot be defined by the span of a single journey from diaper to shroud.”

Russell Baker
Growing Up

"Inventing the Truth" Quotes

“The biographer's problem is that he never knows enough. The autobiographer's problem is that he knows too much.”

Russell Baker
Inventing the Truth

"So This Is Depravity and Other Observations" Quotes

“Americans don't like plain talk anymore. Nowadays they like fat talk. Show them a lean, plain word that cuts to the bone and watch them lard it with thick greasy syllables front and back until it wheezes and gasps for breath as it comes lumbering down upon some poor threadbare sentence like a sack of iron on a swayback horse.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“Americans treat history like a cookbook. Whenever they are uncertain what to do next, they turn to history and look up the proper recipe, invariably designated "the lesson of history.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“Being solemn has almost nothing to do with being serious, but on the other hand, you can't go on being adolescent forever, unless you are in the performing arts, and anyhow most people can't tell the difference. In fact, though Americans talk a great deal about the virtue of being serious, they generally prefer people who are solemn over people who are serious.
In politics, the rare candidate who is serious, like Adlai Stevenson, is easily overwhelmed by one who is solemn, like General Eisenhower. This is probably because it is hard for most people to recognize seriousness, which is rare, especially in politics, but comfortable to endorse solemnity, which is as commonplace as jogging.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

Products by Russell Baker

“Early in life, most of us probably observe an unhappy relationship between labor and wealth — to wit, the heavier the labor, the less the wealth.
The man doing heavy manual work makes less than the man who makes a machine work for him, and this man makes less than the man sitting at a desk. The really rich people, the kind who go around on yachts and collect old books and new wives, do no labor at all.
The economic reasons for dividing the money this way are clear enough. One, it has always been done that way; and two, it's too hard to change at this late date. But the puzzling question is why, since the money is parceled out on this principle, young people are constantly being pummeled to take up a life of labor.
In any sensible world, the young would be told they could labor if they wanted to, but warned that if they did so it would cost them.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“I frankly admit to not knowing who I am. This is why I refuse to buy clothes that will tell people who I want them to think I am.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“Old people at the supermarket make you wonder about all those middle-aged people you see jogging the streets to preserve their vascular systems for another fifty years.

And about all the people of all ages all over the country who are eating less, drinking less, smoking less, driving safer and in general looking for a death-proof safety suit to get them over the peak years and down into the valley of old age fit to enjoy the fruits of their abstention and labor.

Will anybody care when they get there?
Will they be able to afford an orange?”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“Some years back, all the best people came to bipartisan agreement that the most shameful thing a person could do with power was not to use it.
Since then everybody who wants to get ahead in Washington has made a great show of being a fierce fellow when left alone in the room with a little power. There seems to be a fear that if there is somebody around so low that it is all right to dump the garbage on him, and you hesitate, everybody will call you a sissy, and you will never be invited to lunch with Professor Kissinger.
Strange values result. Great killers are esteemed for good citizenship. "Not afraid to use power," people say of them.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“The best thing about being President is that it gets you out of American life. I don’t know what the theory is behind this, but it is a fact. The first thing we do with a President is shunt him off to a siding where nothing American can ever happen to him.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“The Government cannot afford to have a country made up entirely of rich people, because rich people pay so little tax that the Government would quickly go bankrupt. This is why Government men always tell us that labor is man’s noblest calling. Government needs labor to pay its upkeep.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“The odd thing is not that we are in the business of overthrowing other people's governments, but that we can still be surprised when somebody reminds us of it. In Asia, in Latin America, Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East we have been propping up and knocking down governments more or less openly for the past twenty-five years.
It is an established policy. Everybody knows it. It is supposed to be done covertly, which is only sensible if you hope to succeed since publicity in matters of this sort can only make the natives restless and defeat the project. Imagine the chauvinistic rallying around President Nixon that would have occurred if Canada, say, had announced that her agents were going to destabilize United States society so that discontented Americans could heave the Nixon Administration out of office”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“The young cult of sociology, needing a language, invented one. There are many dead languages, but the sociologists' is the only language that was dead at birth.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“There is no business like show business, Irving Berlin once proclaimed, and thirty years ago he may have been right, but not anymore. Nowadays almost every business is like show business, including politics, which has become more like show business than show business is.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“Urban people, of course, are terribly scared nowadays. They may yearn for society, but it is risky to go around talking to strangers, for a lot of reasons, one being that people are so accustomed not to have many human contacts that they are afraid they may find out they really prefer life that way.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“Watergate left Washington a city ravaged by honesty.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“We watched some of the movie. It was shocking. Sex is apparently hard labor. Various persons supported crushing weights in agonizing positions for what seemed like endless blocks of time. Exhausted men grunted and toiled like movers trying to get a refrigerator into a fifth floor walk-up.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations

“While it is very sturdy of comfortable men to point out that life is unfair, the people it is unfair to are not apt to be morally or philosophically elevated by the announcement. If you are going to preach that unfairness is inescapable for some, good sense suggests that you also accept the inevitability of beastly behavior by people who have to carry the burden.”

Russell Baker
So This Is Depravity and Other Observations