Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: Summary & Notes

Rating: 8/10

Available at: Amazon

Related: A Gentleman in Moscow, The Great Gatsby


A period novel set in New York in 1937, the book recounts the most formative year of the main character's life.

The book has been compared to The Great Gatsby, and for good reason. You're transported to the glamorous New York of the early 20th century, and the world of wealthy New Yorkers.

The title comes from George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.

The writing is easy and stylish, and the book is a joy to read.


  • As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion—whether they’re triggered by anger or envy, humiliation or resentment—if the next thing you’re going to say makes you feel better, then it’s probably the wrong thing to say.
  • —Most people have more needs than wants. That’s why they live the lives they do. But the world is run by those whose wants outstrip their needs.
  • Which is just to say, be careful when choosing what you’re proud of—because the world has every intention of using it against you.
  • One must be prepared to fight for one’s simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.
  • Old times, as my father used to say: If you’re not careful, they’ll gut you like a fish.
  • —If we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us, he said, then there wouldn’t be so much fuss about love in the first place.
  • Because when some incident sheds a favorable light on an old and absent friend, that’s about as good a gift as chance intends to offer.
  • —That’s the problem with being born in New York, the old newsman observed a little sadly. You’ve got no New York to run away to.
  • He always looked his best, I thought to myself, when circumstances called for him to be a boy and a man at the same time.
  • I know that right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss.

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