The Top Nevil Shute Quotes You’ll Never Forget

, Staff Writer
Updated February 16, 2022
Portrait Nevil Shute with quote
    Portrait Nevil Shute with quote
    Picture Post / Picture Post / Getty Images editorial
    Used under Getty Images editorial license

How many people can claim to be both a novelist and an aeronautical engineer? Nevil Shute was not only adept at both professions, but he also broke new ground in each field. His literary catalog includes diverse works such as the post-apocalyptic novel On the Beach and the sweeping historical romance A Town Like Alice. Regardless of genre, the common thread woven through his novels is the dignity of work and class barriers. As a man who had a lot to say on a variety of topics, he left behind many memorable and quotable works.

About Nevil Shute

Nevil Shute Norway (1899-1960) was an English author and aeronautical engineer. Shute pursued his engineering career and eventually his own aircraft construction company, Airspeed Ltd., while consistently writing novels. He dropped the name Norway from his pen name in order to separate his work as a novelist from his day job. In 1946, Shute flew his own plane to Australia — eventually settling there in 1950 — and the setting and history of the continent played a pivotal role in many of his novels.

His writing style was to-the-point and stripped of pretense, favoring characters with strong morality and recognizable characterization juxtaposed with exciting, at times exotic or fantastical locations. Nevil Shute was described as a “friendly, nervous, tweedy man ... with the strong hands of an engineer'” by those who knew him, and he left behind an unparalleled legacy in the fields of air travel and the written word.


Quotes From A Town Like Alice

One of Shute’s best-known and loved novels is A Town Like Alice, which was published in 1950 when he had moved to Australia. It tells the story of an Englishwoman named Jean who falls in love with a prisoner of war and emigrates to Australia to be with him. The lovers attempt to build a life together in the post-war world and turn their small outback community into “a town like Alice.”

  • “It's no good going on living in the ashes of a dead happiness.”

  • “I only did what anybody could have done."

  • "You've got enough troubles on your own plate, my word. But we'll come out all right, so long as we just keep alive, that's all we got to do.”

  • “Men's souls are naturally inclined to covetousness; but if ye be kind towards women and fear to wrong them, God is well acquainted with what ye do.”

  • “It was a gambler's action, but his whole life had probably been made up of gambles; it could hardly be otherwise in the outback.”

  • “You don’t feel any different as you get older. Only, you can’t do so much.”

  • “Most jobs are interesting when you are learning them.”


Quotes From On the Beach

Nevil Shute published On the Beach in 1957 toward the end of his life. The story details the lives of people in Melbourne as deadly radiation spreads across Australia following a nuclear war. As each person’s time comes, they confront death in their own way.

  • “Maybe we've been too silly to deserve a world like this.”

  • “‘It's not the end of the world at all,’ he said. ‘It's only the end for us. The world will go on just the same, only we shan't be in it. I dare say it will get along all right without us.’”

  • “No, it wasn't an accident, I didn't say that. It was carefully planned, down to the tiniest mechanical and emotional detail. But it was a mistake.”

  • “Some games are fun even when you lose. Even when you know you're going to lose before you start. It's fun just playing them.”

  • “If what they say is right we're none of us going to have time to do all that we planned to do. But we can keep on doing it as long as we can.”

  • “She lived in the dream world of unreality, or else she would not admit reality; he did not know. In any case, he loved her as she was. It might never be used, but it would give her pleasure to have it.”

  • “Security was now a thing of the past though it took a conscious effort to remember it; with no enemy in all the world there was little but the force of habit in it.”

  • “I couldn’t bear to—to just stop doing things and do nothing. You might as well die now and get it over.”

  • “Into the world of romance, of make-belief and double brandies!”

  • “The news did not trouble her particularly; all news was bad, like wage demands, strikes, or war, and the wise person paid no attention to it.”

  • “All those cities, all those fields and farms, with nobody, and nothing left alive. Just nothing there. I simply can't take it in.”


Quotes From Other Nevil Shute Novels

Nevil Shute wrote 24 novels including an autobiography, Slide Rule. He completed his first novel, Stephen Morris, in 1923, but it was published posthumously in 1961. Similarly, he completed Pilotage in 1924, but it was not published until after his death.

  • “Differential equations won't help you much in the design of aeroplanes — not yet, anyhow.” - Stephen Morris

  • “He was one of that great class of Englishmen who love their wives and trust them unquestioningly with their money and their honour, but are apt to hedge a little over their motor-cars.” - Stephen Morris

  • “It has been said that an engineer is a man who can do for ten shillings what any fool can do for a pound; if that be so, we were certainly engineers.” - Slide Rule

  • “You can call a sunset by a filthy name, but you do not spoil its beauty, monsieur.” - Pied Piper

  • “You cannot argue stupidity, you just have to accept it patiently as one of those things.” - Round the Bend

  • “When things like this happen there’s just nothing to be done about it; even suffering itself is a mere waste of time.” - The Breaking Wave

  • “There are some things about oneself that it’s not very nice to wake up to.” - Requiem for a Wren


Words That Soar

Nevil Shute is a remarkable example of an author who was not only a great writer but a great man who made an impact on multiple fields. These other wordsmiths also broke new ground and used their voices to make a difference.