Quotations about   hero

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In retrospect, though many were guilty, none was innocent. The purpose of political activity is to provide peace and prosperity; and in this every statesman failed, for whatever reason. This is a story without heroes, and perhaps even without villains.

A. J. P. Taylor (1906-1990) British historian, journalist, broadcaster [Alan John Percivale Taylor]
The Origins of the Second World War, ch. 1 (1961)
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Added on 7-Jun-21 | Last updated 7-Jun-21
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Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns …
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.

[Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσε·
πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω,
πολλὰ δ’ ὅ γ’ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν,
ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Odyssey [Ὀδύσσεια], Book 1, l. 1ff (c. 700 BC) [tr. Fagles (1996)]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:

The man, O Muse, inform, that many a way
Wound with his wisdom to his wished stay;
That wander’d wondrous far, when he the town
Of sacred Troy had sack’d and shiver’d down;
The cities of a world of nations,
With all their manners, minds, and fashions,
He saw and knew; at sea felt many woes,
Much care sustain’d, to save from overthrows
Himself and friends in their retreat for home;
But so their fates he could not overcome.
[tr. Chapman (1616)]

Tell me, O Muse, th’ adventures of the man
That having sack’d the sacred town of Troy,
Wander’d so long at sea; what course he ran
By winds and tempests driven from his way:
That saw the cities, and the fashions knew
Of many men, but suffer’d grievous pain
To save his own life, and bring home his crew.
[tr. Hobbes (1675)]

The man for wisdom's various arts renown'd,
Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound;
Who, when his arms had wrought the destined fall
Of sacred Troy, and razed her heaven-built wall,
Wandering from clime to clime, observant stray'd,
Their manners noted, and their states survey'd,
On stormy seas unnumber'd toils he bore,
Safe with his friends to gain his natal shore.
[tr. Pope (1725)]

Muse make the man thy theme, for shrewdness famed
And genius versatile, who far and wide
A Wand’rer, after Ilium overthrown,
Discover’d various cities, and the mind
And manners learn’d of men, in lands remote.
He num’rous woes on Ocean toss’d, endured,
Anxious to save himself, and to conduct
His followers to their home.
[tr. Cowper (1792)]

Tell me, oh Muse, of the many-sided man,
Who wandered far and wide full sore bestead,
When had razed the mighty town of Troy:
And of many a race of human-kind he saw
The cities; and he learned their mind and ways:
And on the deep fully many a woe he bore
In his own bosom, while he strove to save
His proper life, and his comrades' home-return.
[tr. Bigge-Wither (1869)]

Tell me, Muse, of that man, so ready at need, who wandered far and wide, after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy, and many were the men whose towns he saw and whose mind he learnt, yea, and many the woes he suffered in his heart upon the deep, striving to win his own life and the return of his company. Nay, but even so he saved not his company, though he desired it sore.
[tr. Butcher/Lang (1879)]

Tell me, O Muse, of the Shifty, the man who wandered afar,
After the Holy burg, Troy-town, he had wasted with war:
He saw the towns of menfolk, and the mind of men did he learn;
As he warded his life in the world, and his fellow-farers' return,
Many a grief of heart on the deep-sea flood he bore,
Nor yet might he save his fellows, for all that he longed for it sore.
[tr. Morris (1887)]

Speak to me, Muse, of the adventurous man who wandered long after he sacked the sacred citadel of Troy. Many the men whose towns he saw, whose ways he proved; and many a pang he bore in his breast at sea while struggling for his life and his men's safe return.
[tr. Palmer (1891)]

Tell me, oh Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Tell me, O Muse, of that many-sided hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the people with whose customs and thinking he was acquainted; many things he suffered at sea while seeking to save his own life and to achieve the safe homecoming of his companions.
[tr. Butler (1898), rev. Power/Nagy]

That man, tell me O Muse the song of that man, that versatile man, who in very many ways veered from his path and wandered off far and wide, after he had destroyed the sacred citadel of Troy. Many different cities of many different people did he see, getting to know different ways of thinking. Many were the pains he suffered in his heart while crossing the sea struggling to merit the saving of his own life and his own homecoming as well as the homecoming of his comrades.
[tr. Butler (1898), rev. Kim/McCray/Nagy/Power (2018)]

Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices, who wandered full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy. Many were the men whose cities he saw and whose mind he learned, aye, and many the woes he suffered in his heart upon the sea, seeking to win his own life and the return of his comrades.
[tr. Murray (1919)]

O Divine Poesy,
Goddess-daughter of Zeus,
Sustain for me
This song of the various-minded man,
Who after he had plundered
The innermost citadel of hallowed Troy
Was made to stray grievously
About the coasts of men,
The sport of their customs good or bad,
While his heart
Through all the seafaring
Ached in an agony to redeem himself
And bring his company safe home.
[tr. Lawrence (1932)]

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wandering, harried for years on end after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.
He saw the townlands
and learned the minds of many distant men,
and weathered many bitter nights and days
in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only
to save his life, to bring his shipmates home.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1961)]

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys after he had sacked Troy's sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
[tr. Lattimore (1965)]

Muse, tell me of the man of many wiles,
the man who wandered many paths of exile
after he sacked Troy's sacred citadel.
He saw the cities -- mapped the minds -- of many;
and on the sea, his spirit suffered every
adversity -- to keep his life intact;
to bring his comrades back.
[tr. Mandelbaum (1990)]

Speak, Memory -- Of the cunning hero,
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy's sacred heights. Speak
Of all the cities he saw , the minds he grasped,
The suffering deep in his heart at sea
As he struggled to survive and bring his men home.
[tr. Lombardo (2000)]

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many turns, who was driven
far and wide after he had sacked the sacred city of Troy.
Many were the men whose cities he saw, and learnt their minds,
many the sufferings on the open sea he endured in his heart,
struggling for his own life and his companions' homecoming.
[tr. Verity (2016)]

Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy,
and where he went, and who he met, the pain
he suffered in the storms at sea, and how
he worked to save his life and bring his men
back home.
[tr. Wilson (2017)]

Added on 31-Mar-21 | Last updated 14-Apr-21
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Such closet politicians never fail to assign the deepest motives for the most trifling actions; instead of often ascribing the greatest actions to the most trifling causes, in which they would be much seldomer mistaken. They read and write of kings, heroes, and statesmen, as never do anything but upon the deepest principles of sound policy. But those who see and observe kings, heroes, and statesmen, discover that they have headaches, indigestions, humors, and passions, just like other people; every one of which, in their turns, determine their wills, in defiance of their reason.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (5 Dec 1749)
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The human race exaggerates everything: its heroes, its enemies, its importance.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship (1998)
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“People aren’t either wicked or noble,” the hook-handed man said. “They’re like chef salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.”

Lemony Snicket (b. 1970) American author, screenwriter, musician (pseud. for Daniel Handler)
The Grim Grotto (2004)
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Thou Sir Launcelot, there thou liest, that thou were never matched of earthly knight’s hand. And thou were the courtiest knight that ever bare shield. And thou were the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrad horse. And thou were the truest lover of a sinful man that ever loved woman. And thou were the kindest man that ever struck with sword. And thou were the goodliest person that ever came among press of knights. And thou were the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies. And thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.

Thomas Malory (c. 1415-1471) English writer
Le Morte d’Arthur, Book 21, ch. 13 (1485)
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The murderer, the victim, the witness, each of us thinks our role is the lead.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Invisible Monsters, ch. 1 (1999)
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Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods?

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Horatius,” st. 27, Lays of Ancient Rome (1842)
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BOB: No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know?! For a little bit. I feel like the maid: “I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for, for 10 minutes?! Please?!”

Brad Bird (b. 1957) American director, animator and screenwriter [Phillip Bradley Bird]
The Incredibles (2004)
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Nations are most commonly saved by the worst men in them. The virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths which are necessary to rouse the people against their tyrants.

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) English novelist, letter writer
Memoirs of the Reign of King George III, Vol. 1, ch. 12 (1859)
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Variants:
  • "The adventurer's career suggests the reflection that nations are usually saved by their worse men, since the virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths needed to rouse the people against their tyrants." (Source)
  • "The virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths that are necessary to rouse the people against their tyrants."
  • Modern paraphrase: "No great country was ever saved by good men because good men will not go to the lengths necessary to save it."
  • Modern paraphrase: "No great country was ever saved by good men, because good men may not go to the lengths that may be necessary."
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Ever since I had dinner with Lou Reed I’ve tried to avoid meeting the people who would make me feel starstruck. It was a great dinner but by the end of it Lou Reed was no longer my hero, and I don’t have many heroes. I resolutely avoided meeting David Bowie, which became harder when I became friends with Duncan Jones, his son, and then got even harder when I moved to Woodstock and he lived around the corner. But I love the fact that the Bowie that I have is the Bowie in my head: a strange, evolving, absolutely fictional Bowie who became my hero when I was 11.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
“This Much I Know,” The Guardian (5 Aug 2017)
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Added on 18-Sep-17 | Last updated 18-Sep-17
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Glorious men are the scorn of wise men, the admiration of fools, the idols of parasites, and the slaves of their own vaunts.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Vain-Glory,” Essays (1625)
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DANILOV: We must give them hope, pride, a desire to fight. Yes, we need to make examples. But examples to follow. What we need are heroes.

Jean-Jacques Annaud (b. 1943) French film director, screenwriter, producer
Enemy at the Gates (2001) [with Alain Godard]
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The grandest of heroic deeds are those which are performed within four walls and in domestic privacy.

Jean-Paul Richter (1763-1825) German novelist, art historian, aesthetician [pseud. Jean-Paul]
(Attributed)

In Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)
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When I was a fighting man, the kettle-drum they beat,
The people scattered gold-dust before my horse’s feet;
But now I am a great king, the people hound my track
With poison in my wine-cup, and daggers at my back.

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) American author
“The Phoenix on the Sword” (1932)
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Anyone who idolizes you is going to hate you when he discovers that you are fallible. He never forgives. He has deceived himself, and he blames you for it.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
An American Bible [ed. Alice Hubbard] (1918)
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The chief business of the nation, as a nation, is the setting up of heroes, mainly bogus.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“On Being an American” (1), Prejudices: Third Series (1922)
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The high sentiments always win in the end, the leaders who offer blood, toil, tears, and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“The Art of Donald McGill” (Sep 1941)
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The political leaders with whom we are familiar generally aspire to be superstars rather than heroes. The distinction is crucial. Superstars strive for approbation; heroes walk alone. Superstars crave consensus; heroes define themselves by the judgment of a future they see it as their task to bring about. Superstars seek success in a technique for eliciting support; heroes pursue success as the outgrowth of their inner values.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
“With Faint Praise,” New York Times Book Review (16 Jul 1995)
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It was involuntary. They sank my boat.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
(Attributed)

When asked how he became a war hero. In A. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days, 4.9 (1965)
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The hero saves us. Praise the hero! Now, who will save us from the hero?

Cato the Elder (234-149 BC) Roman politician and orator [Marcus Portius Cato]
Speech in the Roman Senate
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I need some encouragement. I need to ask myself, “What would an Apollo astronaut do?” He’d drink three whiskey sours, drive his Corvette to the launchpad, then fly to the moon in a command module smaller than my Rover. Man those guys were cool.

Andy Weir (b. 1972) American programmer and writer
The Martian (2011)
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No man is a hero to his valet.

Anne-Marie Bigot de Cornuel (1605-1694) French wit and aphorist
Lettres de Mlle Aïssé, 12.13 (1728)

See Goethe.
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If you really want to judge the character of a man, look not at his great performances. Every fool may become a hero at one time or another. Watch a man do his most common actions; these are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man.

Vivekananda (1863-1902) Indian Hindu monk, spiritual reformer, nationalist [b. Narendra Nath Datta]
Swami Vivekananda on Universal Ethics and Moral Conduct [ed. Swami Ranganathananda (1965)]
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When ye build yer triumphal arch to yer conquerin’ hero, Hinnisssey, build it out of bricks so the people will have somethin’ convanient to throw at him as he passes through.

Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) American humorist and journalist
“Fame”
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I have regard to appearance still. So am I no hero.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (6 Apr 1839)
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Few men of action have been able to make a graceful exit at the appropriate time.

Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) British journalist, author, media personality, satirist
Chronicles of Wasted Time: An Autobiography (1972)
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Heroism is a model. It is worthwhile to the extent that it is useful. Humans are all full of glory and garbage, and to dwell too long on one or the other robs us of that very humanity.

Graham Ericsson (b. 1947) American writer, aphorist
What Have You Done To Me Lately?, ch. 1 (2014)
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We so want heroes, and we want to think that someone who is good and inspirational in some ways is good and inspirational in all ways — a dubious proposition even in modern times, let along fifty, a hundred, two hundred years ago or more. Which then lets us exercise that other instinctive desire: we so want villains ….

Graham Ericsson (b. 1947) American writer, aphorist
What Have You Done To Me Lately?, ch. 1 (2014)
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Anyone can be heroic from time to time, but a gentleman is something which you have to be all the time. Which isn’t easy.

Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) Italian novelist and dramatist
The Pleasure of Honesty (1917) [tr. Murray]
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The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it — because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
Tremendous Trifles, “The Red Angel” (1909)
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Strength of numbers is the delight of the timid. The valiant in spirit glory in fighting alone.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
In Young India (17 Jun 1926)
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We are not a cynical people. The will to believe lingers on. We like to think that heroes can emerge from obscurity, as they sometimes do; that elections do matter, even though the process is at least part hokum; that through politics we can change our society and maybe even find a cause to believe in.

Ronald Steel (b. 1931) American writer, historian, and professor
“The Vanishing Campaign Biography,” New York Times (5 Aug 1984)
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ANDREA: Unhappy the land that has no heroes! …
GALILEO: No, Unhappy the land that needs heroes.

[ANDREA: Unglücklich das Land, das keine Helden hat! …
GALILEO:  Nein, Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat.]

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
Life of Galileo [Leben des Galilei], sc. 13 (1939)

Alternate translation:
ANDREA: Unhappy the land that breeds no heroes.
GALILEO: No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.
[tr. Laughton (1961); cited as sc. 12]
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Routine is the death to heroism.

P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) Anglo-American humorist, playwright and lyricist [Pelham Grenville Wodehouse]
“The Man Upstairs” (1914)
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Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) American writer [Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald]
“The Notebooks” (E), The Crack-Up [ed. Edmund Wilson (1945)]
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Every hero becomes a bore at last.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Uses of Great Men,” Representative Men, Lecture 1 (1850)
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The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
“The Philistine” (May 1907)
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Sometimes misquoted as:
  • "The graveyards are full of indispensable men"
  • "The cemeteries are full of indispensable men."
  • "The cemeteries are filled with people who thought the world could not get along without them."
Also attributed to Charles DeGaulle, Georges Clemenceau, and many others. More discussion: The Graveyards Are Full of Indispensable Men – Quote Investigator.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 14-Apr-21
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True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.

Arthur Ashe (1943-1993) American athlete
(Attributed)

Quoted in Readers Digest, "Points to Ponder" (Sep 1994)
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Celebrity-worship and hero-worship should not be confused. Yet we confuse them every day, and by doing so we come dangerously close to depriving ourselves of all real models. We lose sight of the men and women who do not simply seem great because they are famous but are famous because they are great. We come closer and closer to degrading all fame into notoriety.

Daniel J. Boorstin (1914-2004) American historian, professor, attorney, writer
The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, ch. 2, “From Hero to Celebrity: The Human Pseudo-event” (1961)
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