Wisdom from John Steinbeck

Some of my favorite quotes from John Steinbeck’s book Travels with Charley below.

On how to attract help:

I knew long ago and rediscovered that the best way to attract attention, help, and conversation is to be lost. A man who seeing his mother starving to death on a path kicks her in the stomach to clear the way, will cheerfully devote several hours of his time giving wrong directions to a total stranger who claims to be lost.

On the beauty of San Francisco:

San Francisco put on a show for me. I saw her across the bay, from the great road that bypasses Sausalito and enters the Golden Gate Bridge. The afternoon sun painted her white and gold — rising on her hills like a noble city in a happy dream. A city on hills has it over flat-land places. New York makes its own hills with craning buildings, but this gold and white acropolis rising wave on wave against the blue of the Pacific sky was a stunning thing, a painted thing like a picture of a medieval Italian city which can never have existed. I stopped in a parking place to look at her and the necklace bridge over the entrance from the sea that led to her. Over the green higher hills to the south, the evening fog rolled like herds of sheep coming to cote in the golden city. I’ve never seen her more lovely…Then I crossed the great arch hung from filaments and I was in the city I knew so well. It remained the City I remembered, so confident of its greatness that it can afford to be kind.

On what the rich and stupid do:

To cultivate an opposition to change is the currency of the rich and stupid.

On following advice:

People rarely take action on advice of others unless they were going to do it anyway.

On dog lovers (I second the thought on baby-talk):

I yield to no one by distaste for the self-styled dog-lover, the kind who heaps up his frustrations and makes a dog carry them around. Such a dog-lover talks baby talk to mature and thoughtful animals, and attributes his own sloppy characteristics to them until the dog becomes in his mind an alter ego. Such people, it seems to me, in what they imagine to be kindness, are capable of inflicting long and lasting tortures on an animal, denying it any of its natural desires and fulfillments until a dog of weak character breaks down and becomes the fat, asthmatic, befurred bundle of neuroses.

On virtue’s invisibility:

We value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar gets little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.”

7 comments on “Wisdom from John Steinbeck
  • The quote on virtue’s invivisibility was right on target.People just take Virtue for granted.But I guess virtue is for ones own satisfaction (say get a good night’s sleep) and conscience as compared to attracting others attention.


  • @ Vinod,

    What Steinbeck means by invisibility of virtue is that we don’t appreciate virtuous in our midst us as much as we notice the vicious (around us).

    Not that the upright do it for attracting other’s attention.

  • Wonderful, Ben! Thank you for sorting out a few of the ideas and great phrases that come from such a simple work by Steinbeck.
    Something I really find fantastic is that someone as well read as yourself can read a short novel and discover for your readers and yourself such powerful ideas. Thank you for reminding us. I read that book in high school and glance at it as I look through titles in my small reference library at home. You inspire me to visit it again.
    Tell me, have you read “On The Road”? Being a “road” person such as you are, if you’ve read it or intend to, your thoughts shared would be most appreciated.

  • Please tell me what he means by, “A man…lost.” Thank you. I didn’t know my reading comprehension is that bad. I’ve tried and tried but do not understand what he means.

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