Sunday, July 7, 2024



Henry Kissinger:

Taken from Kissinger, the biography written by Walter Isaacson.
One oft-told tale about Kissinger […] involved a report that Winston Lord had worked on for days. After giving it to Kissinger, he got it back with the notation: “Is this the best you can do?” Lord rewrote and polished and finally submitted it; back it came with the same curt question.

After redrafting it one more time – and once again getting the same question from Kissinger – Lord snapped, “Damn it, yes, it’s the best I can do.”

“Fine, then I guess I’ll read it this time.”


The French writer Voltaire was known for his sharp wit. An anecdote about his short stint in England, taken from Clifton Fadiman’s book:
Voltaire was living in exile in London at a time when anti-French sentiment was at its highest. One day walking through the streets, he found himself surrounded by an angry crowd. “Hang him. Hang the Frenchman,” they yelled.

Voltaire calmly addressed the mob with the following words: “Men of England! You wish to kill me because I am a Frenchman. Am I not punished enough in not being born an Englishman?”

The crowd cheered his thoughtful words, and escorted him safely back to his lodgings.

The Cobra Effect:

Based on a story by German economist Horst Siebert, for which he coined the name coined the name Cobra Effect.
During the British rule of India, when the population of venomous cobras rose to worrying levels in Delhi, authorities offered a reward for dead cobras. People tracked the snakes down, killed them and turned them in. It worked — until it didn’t.

Some inventive locals began to breed cobras so they could make a profit by killing them and turning them in. Since that was not in the spirit of the incentive and didn’t solve the problem at hand, the British government ended the program. It worked — only it didn’t.

The cobras had suddenly become useless to the breeders. So they set them free, once again causing a cobra plague in Delhi. It’s even said that it was worse than before the government intervention.

The Tiger in the Dining Room:

The Tiger in the Dining Room is taken from Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day. It’s a story about an aging English butler looking back at his life of service. The anecdote is gleefully told by his father (a butler himself) to illustrate the value of dignity and professionalism.
There was this English butler out in India. One day, he goes in the dining room and what does he see under the table? A tiger. Not turning a hair, he goes straight to the drawing room. “Hum, hum. Excuse me, my lord,” and whispering, so as not to upset the ladies:

‘I’m very sorry, sir, but there appears to be a tiger in the dining room. Perhaps you will permit the twelve-bores to be used?’ And according to legend, a few minutes later, the employer and his guests heard three gunshots. When the butler reappeared in the drawing room some time afterwards to refresh the teapots, the employer had inquired if all was well.

‘Perfectly fine, thank you, sir,’ had come the reply. ‘Dinner will be served at the usual time and I am pleased to say there will be no discernible traces left of the recent occurrence by that time.’

Saying Less:

One of Robert Greene’s infamous 48 laws of power is the notion of always saying less than necessary. Following is an anecdote Robert Greene uses to illustrate his point.
Down on his luck [the screenwriter] Michael Arlen went to New York in 1944. To drown his sorrows he paid a visit to the famous restaurant “21”. In the lobby, he ran into Sam Goldwyn, who offered the somewhat impractical advice that he should buy racehorses.

At the bar, Arlen met Louis B. Mayer, an old acquaintance, who asked him what were his plans for the future. “I was just talking to Sam Goldwyn…” began Arlen. “How much did he offer you?” interrupted Mayer. “Not enough,” he replied evasively. “Would you take fifteen thousand for thirty weeks?” asked Mayer.

No hesitation this time. “Yes,” said Arlen.

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