The Quotable Gore Vidal: 20 of His Best Zingers


Gore Vidal was one of the 20th century’s most prolific writers. He was also a household name, thanks to very public feuds with the likes of Norman Mailer (who he compared to Charles Manson), Truman Capote (who he famously said “made lying an artform — a minor artform”), and William Buckley (who he referred to as a “crypto-Nazi”), as well as priceless appearances on TV shows like Da Ali G Show, The Simpsons and Family Guy. Vidal was a passionate man of letters armed with strong opinions (opinions, to be clear, that we didn’t always agree with), as well as the ability to clearly put forth his ideas in countless essays that were both funny and illuminating. After the jump, we’ve rounded up some of the literary lion’s wittiest quotes on topics ranging from sex and wealth to Andy Warhol’s IQ and the Founding Fathers. Feel free to keep our list going in the comments!

1. “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

2. “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.”

3. “First coffee, then a bowel movement. Then the Muse joins me.” – from The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, interview by Gerald Clarke, 1974

4. “Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all.” – from The Second American Revolution, 1983

5. “…American society, literary or lay, tends to be humorless. What other culture could have produced someone like [Ernest] Hemingway and not seen the joke?” – from United States – Essays 1952-1992

6. “To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker or speedboat designer. Adjective is inappropriate to noun.” – from Screening History

7. “The more money an American accumulates the less interesting he himself becomes.” – from Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays

8. “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” – from The Sunday Times Magazine, 1973

9. “Andy Warhol is the only genius I’ve ever known with an I.Q. of 60”

10. “I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” – from Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays, 1972

11. “The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so.”

12. “Sex is. There is nothing more to be done about it. Sex builds no roads, writes no novels, and sex certainly gives no meaning to anything in life but itself.”

13. “You hear all this whining going on, ‘Where are our great writers?’ The thing I might feel doleful about is: Where are the readers?” – from Esquire, 2008

14. “Never pass up a chance to have sex or appear on television.”

15. “A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.” – from The New York Times, 1981

16. “History is nothing but gossip about the past, with the hope that it might be true.” – from Butt, 2007

17. “The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven’t seen them since.” – from Matters of Fact and Fiction: Essays 1973 – 1976

18. “Celebrities are invariably celebrity-mad, just as liars always believe liars.” – from Palimpsest: A Memoir

19. “I do many different things rather better than most people do one thing.” – from The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, interview by Gerald Clarke, 1974

20. “The usual question everybody asks now is: What are you proudest of, Mr. Vidal, of all your great achievements? To which I answer: ‘Despite intense provocations over the course of what is becoming a rather long life, I have never killed anybody. That is my greatest achievement.’ A little negative maybe, but that’s it.” – from Vanity Fair, 2009