A love of learning is something that is shared by people across time and space. The same thirst for knowledge that drives us today drove the greatest thinkers in history, and has brought about some of mankind’s greatest achievements. Below, are 30 great quotes that celebrate learning, and a bit about the accomplished people who coined them.
“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.”
Abigail Adams penned this great quotation in a letter to her son, John Quincy Adams, on 8 May 1780. Abigail’s own reputation as an extremely bright and learned woman certainly was not attained by chance. Rather, she was constantly studying and discussing matters of government and politics with her husband, John Adams. Abigail’s intelligence was so highly regarded that she is considered by many historians to have earned her place amongst the American Founders.
“I’m not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
Louisa May Alcott
The American novelist Louisa May Alcott is best known for her beloved book Little Women. Alcott grew up in New England surrounded by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathanial Hawthorne, and other famous intellectuals of her day. But she and her family struggled financially, and Alcott often took on work to help support their household. Little Women and its sequels Little Men and Jo’s Boys, are coming-of-age stories in which the main characters must weather storms during their growing and learning experiences.
“Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.”
Daniel J. Boorstin
Daniel J. Boorstin was a prolific writer and historian who wrote about various topics over the course of his lifetime. During his tenure as Librarian of the United States Congress, Boorstin proved instrumental in the creation of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. He joined the Communist Party while at Harvard University. He later repudiated that association and became a political Conservative. Much of his work celebrates the unique unity of the American people. In his famous book The Genius of American Politics, he argues that propaganda and ideology are both foreign concepts to the typical American.
“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”
Sir Richard Branson
Richard Branson certainly knows what it takes to achieve success. His first entrepreneurial endeavor came at age 16 when he started a magazine called Student. With some inevitable stumbles along the way, Branson continued to create businesses, including a chain of record stores called Virgin Records. Branson’s brand evolved into Virgin Megastores, then Virgin Atlantic airline, Virgin Records, and most recently, Virgin Galactic. His conglomerate continues to grow. Branson has been named one of BBC’s 100 Greatest Britons and has a net worth of approximately $5.1 billion.
“No one ever said learning was to be easy, but it’s part of the process of evolving as a human being, and we all have to go through it. When I look back, I see that each difficult time brought an important lesson. And I prefer to look at it with gratitude because I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t gone through it all.”
Gisele Bündchen is a world-famous Brazilian supermodel. She is one of the highest-paid models and ranks as one of the richest women in the entertainment industry. In addition to modeling, Gisele has appeared in a number of minor movie roles. She’s married to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, with whom she has two children. Though she models significantly less these days, Gisele remains active in a number of charities and environmental causes.
“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”
There are few historical figures as important and beloved as Winston Churchill. Born into an aristocratic family, Churchill enjoyed a long career as a writer, army officer, and British statesman. He is best known for serving as British Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945, during the most chaotic years of World War II. Churchill’s extensive writings remain popular to this day. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.
“You cannot open a book without learning something.”
In today’s modern age, Confucius is practically synonymous with wisdom and learning. The ancient Chinese philosopher and teacher inspired the philosophy now known as Confucianism, which emphasizes morality, justice, sincerity, and correctness of social relationships. Confucius is credited with a number of influential writings. However, many of the most famous quotations attributed to him, including the quote above, are really only best guesses as actual Confucius quotations.
“Learning never exhausts the mind.”
Leonardo da Vinci
Perhaps it’s not so surprising that this great learning quote was coined by Leonardo da Vinci. The Renaissance-era Italian spent his time in painting, sculpting, architecture, science, mathematics, engineering, music, literature, astronomy, anatomy, botany, history, cartography, and paleontology. He is considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time. Some even credit him with inventing the helicopter, parachute, and tank. If his aforementioned quotation is true, then da Vinci must have never felt an exhausted mind.
“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.”
Anthony J. D’Angelo
This is just one of many great learning quotes by Anthony J. D’Angelo, author of The Inspiration Book Series and founder of Collegiate EmPowerment. Major outlets like CNN and SPIN Magazine have declared D’Angelo to be “the Personal Development Guru of his Generation.” He’s often credited with sparking a new revolution in higher education.
“Seeing much, suffering much, and studying much, are the three pillars of learning.”
Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, was a Conservative statesman who served as British prime minister twice during his long political career. In the late 17th century, Disraeli often found himself at odds with the Liberal Party and the most nationalistic of the Conservatives. Disraeli is often credited with helping to create Britain’s modern Conservative Party. Interestingly, Disraeli remains to this day the only British prime minister to have been of Jewish birth.
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, perhaps most famous for developing the theory of relativity, coined a number of great quotes about learning. As the above quote implies, Einstein recognized that not all things worth learning are taught in schools. Often life itself proves to be the better teacher. Einstein would know. He didn’t enjoy school, and in his early years even struggled in courses relating to mathematics and science.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”
Still one of the most famous names in the world of industry, Henry Ford is best known as the founder of the Ford Motor Company. Ford is often mistakenly credited with inventing the automobile and the assembly line. In truth, he is more responsible for streamlining the assembly line process to produce the first automobile the average American family could afford. Ford remained dedicated to innovation and finding new ways in which to lower the cost of something he deemed a necessity. He’s often considered to be one of the most beloved figures in American history.
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re adding something.”
Neil Gaiman is one of the most influential writers alive today. Best known as a novelist, Gaiman has authored a number of bestsellers including Stardust, American Gods, The Sandman series, and the children’s bestseller Coraline. Gaiman is also a screenwriter, and has written comic books, graphic novels, and short fiction. He’s also active in audio theater.
“A happy life is one spent in learning, earning, and yearning.”
Lillian Gish, the “First Lady of American Cinema,” enjoyed a long life of learning, earning, and yearning. Her career as a screen and stage actress spanned nearly eight decades, from silent films like 1915’s The Birth of a Nation to the film The Whales of August in 1987. In addition to her contributions in American cinema, Gish took a fierce noninterventionist stance during World War II. She was also known for her studious nature. She was fluent in French, German, and Italian besides her native English.
“I never learned from a man who agreed with me.”
Robert A. Heinlein
Nicknamed the “Dean of Science Fiction Writers,” Robert A. Heinlein was responsible for creating some of the most controversial, yet culturally significant, science fiction works. For decades, he enjoyed a reputation as one of the best-selling authors of any genre. Today he is better remembered as one of the “Big Three” of English-language sci fi authors. Some of his most famous works include The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers, and Stranger in a Strange Land.
“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
Ernest Hemingway is easily one of the most famous authors in American literature. His beloved novels — including The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea — proved to have a massive influence on 20th-century fiction. Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. Despite his success and globe-trotting lifestyle, Hemingway committed suicide in Idaho in 1961.
“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
Jim Henson included this quote that highlights influence we have over children in his book It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider. Henson certainly knows a thing or two about teaching and influencing children. Creator of The Muppets, he was also a cartoonist, puppeteer, artist, inventor, and screenwriter. Henson remains a household name even three decades after his untimely death.
“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”
B.B. King was a famous blues musician and songwriter. With his unique and sophisticated style of fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato, King did much to influence music. Known as “The King of the Blues,” King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He worked hard throughout his long career, often appearing at more than 200 concerts per year.
“Learning lessons is a little like reaching maturity. You’re not suddenly more happy, wealthy, or powerful, but you understand the world around you better, and you’re at peace with yourself. Learning life’s lessons is not about making your life perfect, but about seeing life as it was meant to be.”
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist who made some of the biggest leaps in understanding death and grief. Through her numerous studies and bestselling book, On Death and Dying, Kübler-Ross popularized the idea of the five stages of grief. This concept which is now widely accepted throughout the world.
“I am still learning.”
Over the course of his lifetime (1475 — 1564), it’s safe to say that Michelangelo never stopped learning. As the archetypal “Renaissance Man,” the Italian was a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. He’s considered one of the most influential figures of the Renaissance and Western art. Some of his most famous works — taken from a very long list — include the sculptures Pieta and David and the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. Also on this list is the architecture of St. Peter’s Basilica, which he contributed to by transforming the design to include its now iconic dome.
“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”
Friedrich Nietzsche is perhaps best known for the massive influence he had on Western philosophy and thought. The German was also an accomplished composer, poet, philologist, and cultural critic. Prominent elements of Nietzsche’s work include critiques of religion and Christian morality, master-slave morality, the concept of eternal return, and truth vs. perspectivism. After his death, his work was largely reworked by his sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, who obfuscated his stated opinions in lieu of her own nationalist ideology. For this reason, Nietzsche unfortunately spent many years associated with fascism and Nazism.
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”
Edson Arantes do Nascimento knows a little something about success and the learning that leads to it. Pelé, as he’s best known worldwide, is considered to be the greatest football (soccer) player of all time. He joined Brazil’s national team at age 16, going on to score 1,281 goals in 1,363 games. Of course, Pelé’s path to success wasn’t without its challenges. Growing up in the poor slums of São Paolo, the would-be football star had to use a grapefruit as a ball because he couldn’t afford proper equipment.
“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
Pablo Picasso is considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. He was a painter, sculptor, ceramicist, and printmaker. Picasso is widely credited with co-founding Cubism, the style of artwork characterized by depicting objects from a single viewpoint, and often in broken, oversimplified shapes. Though he created dozens of works, his most beloved pieces include Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and the anti-war painting Guernica, inspired by the German bombing of a small Basque town.
“Learning is the beginning of wealth. Learning is the beginning of health. Learning is the beginning of spirituality. Searching and learning is where the miracle process all begins.”
Before his death in 2009, Emanuel James “Jim” Rohn was a successful entrepreneur. He evolved into mentor, author, and motivational speaker. In fact, in 1985 Rohn’s excellent speaking was recognized with the prestigious CPAE Award from the National Speakers Association. Much of Rohn’s work was inspired by his rags-to-riches experience, and the achievements Rohn insists were only possible because of his education and love of learning.
“The things that have been most valuable to me, I did not learn in school.”
Will Smith has found massive success as an actor, producer, songwriter, and rapper. He has received five Golden Globe nominations, two Oscar nominations, and four Grammy Awards. Newsweek has called him the “most powerful actor in Hollywood.” Though he has made dozens of movies, Smith is perhaps best known for his breakout role in the television show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Some of his top movies include Men in Black, Independence Day, Ali, and The Pursuit of Happiness.
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
Though Socrates himself did not write anything (at least, he didn’t write anything still existing), he remains one of the most influential thinkers in the modern history of man. The ancient Greek philosopher was a teacher to a number of students, including Plato and Xenophon, both of whom recorded Socrates’s ideas extensively. Socrates has long been considered one of the founders of Western philosophy, and is credited with being the first moral philosopher of the Western tradition.
“The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.”
The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza was an integral figure during the 18th-century Enlightenment. His magnum opus is Ethics. Spinoza laid the groundwork for modern biblical criticism by arguing against many of the most established ideas and concepts of medieval philosophy. He is often considered to be one of the most important rational thinkers in Western philosophy.
“As long as I’m learning something, I figure I’m doing OK — it’s a decent day.”
Hunter S. Thompson
Kentucky native Hunter S. Thompson was a controversial writer credited with founding the gonzo journalism movement. This was an experimental style of journalism in which the reporter involves himself in the action. Indeed, Thompson famously immersed himself into the subjects about which he wrote, which often included dangerous situations. His most famous work is perhaps Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.
“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”
Voltaire, the nom de plume of François-Marie Arouet, is one of the most famous writer/philosophers to come from the French Enlightenment. Voltaire contributed his thoughts on freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and separation of church and state to just about every art form. He wrote more than 2,000 books and pamphlets, plus hundreds of plays, poems, treatises, novels, essays, and scientific papers. Undoubtedly, such a learned man as Voltaire was constantly opening doors to new treasuries of knowledge, and thus inspiring this great quote about learning.
“Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.”
William Arthur Ward
Over the course of his lifetime (1921 — 1994), William Arthur Ward’s articles, poems, and meditations were published more than 100 times in some of the world’s most popular publications. During the peak of his writing career, Ward even maintained a column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram entitled Pertinent Proverbs. His writing success contributed greatly to his reputation today as one of the most quoted writers of inspirational quotations.