Jerry Pournelle

American science fiction writer, journalist, and scientist (1933-2017)

Jerry Eugene Pournelle (August 7, 1933 - September 8, 2017) was an American essayist, journalist and science fiction author.

Jerry Pournelle (2006)



Lucifer's Hammer (1985)

with Larry Niven
  • In any ethical situation, the thing you want least to do is probably the right action.
  • The importance of information is directly proportional to its improbability.
  • To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection. (Note: This quote, although found in the 1985 sci-fi novel, 'Lucifer's Hammer', by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, may be erroneously attributed to Pournelle. As this quote can also be found in the Preface of Henri Poincare's "Science and Hypothesis" the 1952 Dover abridged edition)


  • If there aren't any whaling ships, then whales may survive. Anything short of that is so much hot air.
    • Twilight Song, Analog (June 1980), p. 104
  • I thought MAD was truly insane when we first adopted it, and I haven't changed my opinion.
    • Twilight Song, Analog (June 1980), p. 105
  • To stand on the firing parapet and expose yourself to danger; to stand and fight a thousand miles from home when you’re all alone and outnumbered and probably beaten; to spit on your hands and lower the pike; to stand fast over the body of Leonidas the King; to be rear guard at Kunu-Ri; to stand and be still to the Birkenhead Drill; these are not rational acts. They are often merely necessary.
    • There Will Be War (1983)
  • One of the first things they teach stockbrokers is to stay out of the stock market. Brokers make their pile from selling advice, and from commissions on stock transactions. They can't predict the market, and few risk their own money. They, at least, only affect their clients' fortunes. Economists, though, can ruin the lot of us with their advice — yet if no science can predict a relatively closed system like the stock market, how the devil are you going to 'fine tune' something a large as the American economy? I'd think it arrogant to try; as arrogant as the man with three illiterate drug-addicted spoiled brats writing a book on parenting.
  • Of course most people underestimate the warrior characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman peoples anyway. It takes a heap of piety to keep a Viking from wanting to go sack a city.
  • Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.
  • I've noticed that just about every time I find a large program with known glitches that no one seems able to fix, that program is written in C and is likely written by a programming team in a remote location.
    • Chaos Manor, Byte magazine, October 1990, page 84.
  • One thing that is known about ARPA: you can be heaved off it for supporting the policies of the Department of Defense. Of course that was intended to anger me. If you have an ARPA account, please tell CSTACY that he was successful; now let us see if my Pentagon friends can upset him. Or perhaps some reporter friends. Or both., Or even the House Armed Services Committee.


  • I have more information in one place than anybody in the world.
    • Commonly seen with the attribution "Jerry Pournelle, an absurd notion, apparently about the BIX BBS"
    • Clarified in a reply to reader email in Chaos Manor View 402, February 20-26, 2006