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I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World

For lovers of language and fans of Blink and Freakonomics, New York Times bestselling author James Geary offers a fascinating look at metaphors and their influence in every aspect of our lives, from ordinary conversation and commercial messaging to news reports and political speeches.

I Is an Other is available in Chinese

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  • “In his fine new book, James Geary [shows that] metaphors are not rhetorical frills at the edge of how we think. They are at the very heart of it.” — David Brooks, the New York Times
  • Geary “succeeds in making the case that metaphor is the meat of language and not a sauce.” — The Wall Street Journal
  • “Smart fun for anyone fascinated by the play of language ... Geary traces the history of [metaphor] from Aristotle to Elvis.” — Yvonne Zipp, Washington Post
  • “Think of Geary ... as the bridge between the burgeoning field of metaphor studies and the man and woman in the street.” — Carlin Romano, The Chronicle of Higher Education
  • “Enchanting ... Geary writes with clarity and power on how ... metaphors are an aid to understanding.” — Amol Rajan, The Independent on Sunday
  • “The author ... manages to weave together a fascinating amount of information ... I Is an Other really shines when it focuses on the simple yet profound … You'll never look at a metaphor the same way again — metaphorically speaking.” — New York Journal of Books
  • “Most effective are Geary's demonstrations of the disturbingly powerful role of metaphor in politics and advertising, as well as the concluding chapter about metaphor in psychotherapy.” — Steven Poole, The Guardian
  • “Geary writes a succinct, easily readable yet intellectually provoking work ... After reading any chapter of I is an Other, TV, books, music, conversation all take on a new life as you hear and see metaphor being put to use.” — John Ottinger III, Grasping for the Wind
  • “The scope of I is an Other is astounding ... Still, Geary manages to put everything in comprehensible packages—primarily through metaphor, thereby proving the basic premise of the book ... The idea that metaphor is so much more than language was positively revelatory” — Jen Karsbaek, Devourer of Books
  • “For James Geary, metaphor is ‘not merely a matter of language alone but of thought itself.’ He’s made an impressive case for that proposition, prompting us to reflect on its importance in our own lives and in the world around us.” — Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
  • Geary “knows how to distill specialized research [showing that] humans are astonishingly susceptible to figurative language and suggestive imagery.” — Meredith Blake, The A.V. Club
  • After reading the book, “you’ll feel like you have at least a master’s in metaphor and ... a much greater appreciation for the benefits and drawbacks of this cognitive tool.” — Michael van Baker, The SunBreak
  • “I is an Other compels multiple reads and rewards them with greater understanding of how indivisible our reality is from the language we use to describe it.” — Emily DePrang, Texas Observer
  • “A delightful and extremely readable essay.” — Patrick Hayes, spiked
  • “An illuminating study of metaphor in all its guises ... Required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in language.” — Wayne Gooderham, Time Out London
  • “Even the most up-to-date metaphorician will find new insights in this book ... a well-researched guide to what is known about metaphor.” — Bertie Kaal, Metaphor and Symbol
  • “A delightful examination … Voters, consumers, and investors interested in knowing how their decisions may be influenced by well-planned metaphors will be fascinated by Geary’s adept explication of the metaphor’s role in defining perceptions.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • “Sherlock Holmes could glance at a bowler hat and tell that its owner's wife had ceased to love him. In this brilliant book, James Geary is no less astonishing, as he deciphers the subtle implications embedded in advertising slogans, familiar slang, and government double-talk. After all, human beings don't just use language; language uses us. Whether a man refers to his wife as 'the light of his life' or his 'old ball and chain' says a mouthful about their marriage. Linguistic theory, brain research, Asperger's syndrome, childhood education — Geary covers all these with a crack reporter's eye for the humanizing detail and an easy-going essayist's light touch. You'll learn an immense amount about metaphor from "I is an Other," but you'll also have more fun than a barrel of monkeys or a ride on a Ferris wheel or a trip to the moon on gossamer wings.” — Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and author of Book by Book and Classics for Pleasure
  • “This book is a prism, refracting the white light of language into a kaleidoscopic celebration of its images and etymologies.” — Ben Schott, author of Schott's Original Miscellany, Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany, Schott's Sporting, Gaming, & Idling Miscellany and Schott's Almanacs
  • “There are books that are in themselves a whole library of wit and wisdom: James Geary's I Is an Other is one of them. This is a distillation of distillations, a core collection of core pronouncements, the crème de la crème de la crème.” — Alberto Manguel, author of The Library at Night and A History of Reading
  • “A fascinating excursion to the land of metaphor, with many delightful side trips selected by a knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide.” — Dr. Mardy Grothe, author of I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like.
  • “This book is for everyone interested in the subtle operations of language and thought. James Geary brings into play an astonishing range of thinking on the matter — literary, commercial, scientific. His examples and anecdotes are compelling. In all, he’s a marvelous teacher, with his own unique gifts of expression. I is an Other is one of those ‘must-read’ books for this year, for any year. It deserves a wide audience, and it will find one.” — Jay Parini, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Middlebury College and author of Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America
  • “Geary vividly shows the poetry, the science, and the power of metaphor in every aspect of our lives. From anthropology to behavioral economics to social psychology to cognitive psychology to neuroscience, he gets the science right. A first-rate achievement.” — Sam Glucksberg, Professor of Psychology, Princeton University
  • “This is perhaps the very best book on metaphor ever written!” — Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr., professor of psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought, Language, and Understanding
  • “Metaphors are not just for poets anymore. As Geary's wonderful book shows, metaphors are a major way we communicate with each other and even a major way your own body communicates with your brain! Geary shows us that once you look for them, metaphors are everywhere, like water to a fish, which might explain why we have taken them for granted for so long and therefore missed their important clues about the basic architecture of the mind,” — John A. Bargh, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Yale University
  • “Metaphor isn't just a fancy turn of speech. It shapes our thoughts and feelings, reaches out to grasp new experience, and even binds our five disparate senses. James Geary's fascinating and utterly readable I is an Other brings the news on metaphor from literature and economics, from neuroscience and politics, illuminating topics from consumer behavior to autism spectrum disorders to the evolution of language. As a writer, as a teacher, and as someone just plain fascinated by how our minds work, I've been waiting years for exactly this book.” — James Richardson, professor of English and creative writing, Princeton University, and author of National Book Award finalist By the Numbers: Poems and Aphorisms
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Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists

Geary’s Guide is the result of a lifetime’s obsession with aphorisms and a year’s death-defying research in the British Library.

More than 350 authors from around the world, some of whom appear here in English for the first time, are brought together in this lively and thought-provoking compendium.


  • “A wonderful breviary of wisdom, insight and cynicism, and one that will immediately find a place at many bedsides ... There are pleasures and surprises galore.” —Michael Dirda, Washington Post
  • “One can hardly imagine the riches contained in this anthology.” — Jay Parini, The Chronicle of Higher Education
  • “An agreeable thing to have in your lap.”
    Dwight Garner, New York Times Paper Cut
  • “Fun and indispensable ... All writers should own this book.” — Ken Wells, Portfolio
  • A “wonderful collection.” — Rob Kyff in Mark Twain’s local newspaper The Hartford Courant
  • “The virtue of Mr. Geary's guide isn't the familiar faces, but rather the legion of unknowns: Les Coleman (‘Glass is silent until broken’), Yahia Lababidi (‘Impulses we attempt to strangle only develop stronger muscles’), Antonio Porchia (‘He who makes a paradise of his bread makes a hell of his hunger’).” — Adam Begley, The New York Observer
  • “A masterful compilation from a man adept at taking the pith.” — Ben Schott, author of Schott’s Original Miscellany, Schott’s Food & Drink Miscellany, Schott’s Sporting, Gaming, & Idling Miscellany and Schott’s Almanacs
  • Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists is a rich, well-edited comp­endium, which is at once a feast, a frolic, a thought-kit and a treasure trove. A book to relish and to keep close.”
    John Lahr, The New Yorker
  • “A model of clarity, simplicity, humour, wisdom, unpretent­iousness and almost fanatical diligence. The information is so richly distilled, the learning worn so lightly and the expression so elegant that you can open it anywhere and be instantly delighted.” — John Lloyd, British TV comedy producer of programs such as Not the Nine O'Clock News, Spitting Image, Blackadder and QI.
  • A Way with Words
    KPBS Radio, San Diego Oct. 23, 2007
    Dangerous Books You Should Read
    Grant Barrett explains why leafing through such books can be rewarding — but hazardous to your time management.
  • “A fun book that is too quirky to serve as a reference.” — Library Journal

The Body Electric: An Anatomy Of The New Bionic Senses

Cover of The Body Electric

“Geary ... meets var­ious robots and con­sid­ers (with a mild scept­icism) ideas of thought-control machines and elect­ronic memory dev­ices.” — Steven Poole, The Guardian

“Geary [shows] that computers are more touchy-feely than we imagined and will soon bring new horizons of exp­erience within our reach.” — PD Smith, The Guar­dian

“A fasc­inating ac­count of a nascent revolu­tion.”
Scotland on Sunday

“A remarkably fertile, imaginative read.”

UK EditionU.K. hardback edition (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) at »

UK EditionU.K. paperback edition (Phoenix) at »

UK EditionU.S. hardback edition (Rutgers University Press) at »

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Spanish EditionThe Body Electric in SPANISH can be ordered through the online bookstores, El Corte Ingles, Casa del Libro and

Words for Refrigerator Doors

The 20th Anniversary Edition, 2007

Words for Refrigerator DoorsComprises the complete texts (poems ad aphorisms) of both Words for Refrigerator Doors (1985, 1987) and 17 Reasons Why (1988). The Bay Area Reporter (April, 1986) said of Words for Refrigerator Doors: "Treats the tragedy of life with headline succinctness and a warm understanding which points up life's sweet ironies." You can buy the print edition and/or ebook from

So what’s with the fish: click to find out
©1986-2017 James Geary

“Sometimes, two goldfish in a bowl are enough”

The New York Times Bestseller

The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism

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The World in a Phrase is a whimsical, humorous tour through the history of this remarkable literary form and its extraordinary practitioners. The book chronicles the varied, often idiosyncratic backgrounds of the world’s key thinkers and shows, as eighteenth-century aphorist Vauvenargues puts it, just how much “the maxims of men reveal their hearts”.

US EditionU.S. paperback edition (Bloomsbury USA) at »

US EditionOn Kindle at »

US EditionU.S. paperback edition at Barnes & Noble »

US EditionBuy The World in a Phrase on Nook »

UK EditionIn the U.K. at »

US EditionOn IndieBound »


The World in a Phrase in ItalianItalian EditionThe World in a Phrase in ITALIANla Vita in una Frase — can be ordered through online bookstores and Read reviews from the Italian national newspapers Corriere Della Sera here and Il Giornale here.


The World in a Phrase in SpanishSpanish EditionThe World in a Phrase in SPANISHEl mundo en una frase — can be ordered through the online bookstores, El Corte Ingles , Casa del Libro and Click for reviews from Artes y Letras, Cinco Dias, and La Vanguardia.


Buy the book at EditionThe World in a Phrase in Brazilian PORTUGUESEO Mundo em uma Frase — can be ordered through the online bookstores and Livraria Cultura. Click here for a review from Veja, Brazil’s leading newsweekly, and here for a review from the newspaper Folha de São Paulo.


Buy the book at EditionThe World in a Phrase in KOREAN can be ordered through the online bookstores Yes24, Kyobo Bookstore and Aladdin. Click for reviews from Sisa Journal, a monthly magazine, and from the daily newspaper Kyunghang.


Buy the book at EditionThe World in a Phrase in Britain is out of print, but was known as We Are What We Think: A Journey Through the Wisest and Wittiest Sayings in the World.


“Geary fell in love with aphorisms when, at 8, his eye wandered to the Quotable Quotes section of Reader’s Digest ... His attraction turned into a lifetime obsession, which he indulges to the fullest in ‘The World in a Phrase’, his entertaining love letter to the compact form.”
New York Times

“Geary serves up old favorites: Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce. But he has also rustled up phrase-makers who are undeservedly forgotten.”
Washington Post

“This is a real treasure house. I intend to raid it relentlessly.”
John Humphrys

“It is impossible not to be swept along with Geary’s enthusiasm. He has illuminated some poignant observations of the significance of introspection.”
The Times Literary Supplement

“What a pleasant, personal, thoughtful little book ... Geary’s account is full of wonderful aphorisms .... Delightful.”

“Probably the definitive work on aphorisms, a love letter-cum-memoir disguised as a reference book ... fellow fanatics will be delighted.”
Publishers Weekly

“Might become a Christmas bestseller — another Eats, Shoots and Leaves perhaps?”
The Bookseller

“Geary’s book is a short and enlightening introduction to this short and enlightening literary form.”
The Charleston Post and Courier

“A delight ... offers extraordinary phrases that any lover of the prickly thought and the graceful sentence can savor.”
New York Sun

Geary’s “enthusiasm for his subject shines through this delightful little book ... An insightful journey through the world of philosophy, offering up sayings from a captivating collection of prophets, thinkers and poets.”
The Sunday Express

“Geary’s fascinating book takes us on a journey through the pithy sayings of some of the world’s most profound and amusing thinkers and wits, [providing] entertaining and informative commentary on figures ranging from Confucius to Dr. Seuss.”
What’s On In London

“A fetching dictionary of quotations.”
Scotland Sunday Herald

“Whimsical, humorous and a great book to leave beside the toilet.”
The Daily Ireland


cover of The Big Quotation Book of the 21st Century website

Het Groot Citatenboek van de 21ste Eeuw

Belgian publicationSome of my aphorisms appear in Het Groot Citatenboek van de 21ste Eeuw (The Big Quotation Book of the 21st Century), compiled by Belgian gnomologist Gerd de Ley.

cover of Ifferisms


My aphorism about aphorisms — "Aphorisms are literature's hand luggage" — is cited in Mardy Grothe's Ifferisms: An Anthology of Aphorisms that Begin with the Word "IF".
cover of Gedanke, Bild und Witz

This Will Change Everything

The 2009 Edge question was: What Will Change Everything? Here are the answers, including mine, in book form.

US EditionBuy the American edition at and

UK Editionthe British edition at

cover of Gedanke, Bild und Witz

Gedanke, Bild und Witz

German publicationPapers and presentations, including my own, from the German Aphorism Conference 2008.

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Het Grootste Citatenboek ter Wereld

Belgian publicationSome of my aphorisms are included in Het Grootste Citatenboek ter Wereld (The Biggest Quotation Book in the World), compiled by Belgian gnomologist Gerd de Ley. The book contains some 35,000 quotations from roughly 10,000 authors.

Best American Science Writing

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008

The Litvinenko Assassination: Move over weapons of mass destruction; make way for targeted nuclear terrorism. This article appears in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008.

US EditionBuy the American edition (Houghton Miffin) at

What Are You Optimistic about?

What Are You Optimistic About?

The 2007 Edge question was: What are you optimistic about? Why? Here are the answers, including mine, in book form.

US EditionBuy the American edition (Harper Perennial) at

UK Editionand the British edition (Simon & Schuster) at