Happy Birthday, P.J. O’Rourke!

“Wherever there’s injustice, oppression, and suffering, America will show up six months late and bomb the country next to where it’s happening.”

PJ O’Rourke

some of my favorite quotes from his books:

— A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off for the rest of your life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat.

— Fish is the only food that is considered spoiled once it smells like what it is.

— With Epcot Center the Disney corporation has accomplished something I didn’t think possible in today’s world. They have created a land of make-believe that’s worse than regular life.

— In fact, safety has no place anywhere. Everything that’s fun in life is dangerous. Horse races, for instance, are very dangerous. But attempt to design a safe horse and the result is a cow (an appalling animal to watch at the trotters.) And everything that isn’t fun is dangerous too. It is impossible to be alive and safe.

— There are a lot of mysterious things about boats, such as why anyone would get on one voluntarily.

— To grasp the true meaning of socialism, imagine a world where everything is designed by the post office, even the sleaze.

— The French are a smallish, monkey-looking bunch and not dressed any better, on average, than the citizens of Baltimore. True, you can sit outside in Paris and drink little cups of coffee, but why this is more stylish than sitting inside and drinking large glasses of whiskey I don’t know.

— Bachelors know all about parties. In fact, a good bachelor is a living, breathing party all by himself. At least that is what my girlfriend said when she found the gin bottles under the couch. I believe her exact words were, “You’re a disgusting, drunken mess.” And that’s a good description of a party, if it’s done right.

— Ecology is the science of everything. Nobody knows everything. Nobody even knows everything about any one thing. And most of us don’t know much. Say it’s ten-thirty on a Saturday night. Where are your teenage children? I didn’t ask where they said they were going. Where are they really? What are they doing? Who are they with? Have you met the other kids’ families? And what is tonight’s pot smoking, wine-cooler drinking, and sex in the backseats of cars going to mean in a hundred years? Now extend these questions to the entire solar system.

— Are we disheartened by the breakup of the family? Nobody who ever met my family is.

— It’s hard to come back from the Balkans and not sound like a Pete Seeger song.

— People who are wise, good, smart, skillful, or hardworking don’t need politics, they have jobs.

— Earnestness is just stupidity sent to college.

Give War a Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind’s Struggle Against Tyranny, Injustice, and Alcohol-Free Beer

All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty

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16 Responses to Happy Birthday, P.J. O’Rourke!

  1. dorkafork says:

    I think he’s the wittiest writer in America, and has been for several decades.

    Parliament of Whores is probably the best book on the American political system ever written. I also loved Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut, Give War a Chance, and Modern Manners. (I think that last one is the one where he had a short piece on interior decorating by drinking.)

  2. red says:

    The manners book is just laugh out loud funny – but you’re right, they all are.

  3. Tommy says:

    P.J.’s great. Parliament of Whores is absolutely a favorite. You made a list of books you own you want to re-read…that one’s on mine.

    He’s like David Sedaris…I’ll read their stuff, get inspired to try to write something incredibly smart and funny…..

    The trick is to not read those guys while I’m trying to write that stuff, because that’s a LONG measuring stick to have to live up to….

  4. DBW says:

    Parliament of Whores is a great book. Like Tommy above, I should read it again. I have always loved O’Rourke’s Introduction to his book Give War A Chance. The book is just so-so, but the Introduction, entitled Hunting the Virtuous–and How to Clean and Skin Them, is a tour de force.

  5. red says:

    Tommy – yeah, that’s a good point. There are certain writers you need to stay away from if you’re trying to write something yourself!!

  6. Emily says:

    I can’t remember which book it was – it’s been too long since I’ve read this guy – but one of my favorite lines of his was inviting anyone who would argue that capitalism is the cause of pollution to take a long, tall drink from the River Volga.

  7. red says:


    You know – it’s rare that someone these days is quotable in that way, you know? In the way Oscar Wilde was quotable. Those people who are almost epigrammatic in their language. I love that about O’Rourke.

    He’s also the guy who said, “I believe in vibrators, baby oil, and Nastassia Kinski.” Like … THOSE are his political beliefs.

  8. red says:

    Oh – and I can’t remember where that quote comes from – it might have been from an interview, not sure – but it stuck with me.

  9. Emily says:

    You can definitely argue that a person has defined themselves as one of the best writers of their generation when they have the kind of books you break out to read aloud at drinking parties.

  10. Kathy says:

    One of my personal faves (and there are way too many to choose from). This one,literally, had me rolling on the floor. From All the Trouble in the World:

    Political means could be used to prevent almost all deaths from childhood diarrhea. Diarrhea is spread by contaminated water. Public sanitation is, like personal security, national defense and the rule of law, one of the few valid reasons for politics to exist. Lowly, semicomic diarrhea kills 2,866,000 people a year worldwide. 2,474,000 of them children under the age of five. This is ten times the number of people who die from AIDS. But no one is wearing a brown ribbon on his tuxedo lapel at the Academy Awards or marching up the Mall in Washington carrying a sign reading DIARRHEA—IT CAN BE CONTAINED.

    There are very few writers out there who not only highlight absurdity, but who do it in a way that is equally absurd. For that, I adore him.

    Another good one is one of his drunken youth tales from Age and Guile… where, for lack of regular booze, he drinks wood alcohol. The next morning he wakes up and only sees white. He freaks out, thinking he’s gone blind from the moonshine, until he realizes he had simply passed out under the toilet and all that white he’s seeing is simply the porcelain.

    Oh, and just one recommendation: don’t ever let someone read Modern Manners aloud while on long road trips if you ever want to get somewhere. You’ll have to pull over and stop often because you’re laughing too hard.

    Happy Birthday Peej!

  11. red says:

    //He freaks out, thinking he’s gone blind from the moonshine, until he realizes he had simply passed out under the toilet and all that white he’s seeing is simply the porcelain. //


    I love how he includes himself in his observations about the absurdity of life. I love that about him. Self-deprecation is one of the hallmarks of high intelligence. I say that just from personal experience. Anyone who completely lacks any self-deprecating qualities is usually a dumbell, socially and brain-wise.

  12. Mr. Bingley says:

    Gosh, he’s great. One of our favorites at home.

  13. alli says:

    How did I not know that PJ O’Rourke and I share a birthday??? I’m slacking. Good lordy this man cracks me up. :-)

  14. red says:

    Happy birthday, alli!

  15. Hank says:


    I wear a hat.


  16. Nightfly says:

    I don’t think PJ O’Rourke ever writes a sentence that doesn’t get where it means to be.

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