Top 10 Most Read Pieces from 2023

December 28, 2023

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A whopping 10 million pages of the PDR site were viewed this year — I think our first foray into octuple digits... Without our readers we are nothing, so an equally whopping "thank you" to all of you who clicked, swiped, and perused. And to all our contributors who keep filling the pages with such bounty. From the 64 collection posts, 21 essays, and 1 conjecture piece that we had the pleasure to publish, here's a rundown of the ten most read. ...

Monochromatic drawing depicting a humorous scene of exaggerated figures in a tavern drinking and talking loudly, all in caricature style

The introduction of gin to England was a delirious and deleterious affair, as tipplers reported a range of effects: loss of reason, frenzy, madness, joy, and death. With the help of prints by George Cruikshank, William Hogarth, and others, James Brown enters the architecture of intoxication — dram shops, gin halls, barbershops — exploring the spaces that catered to pleasure or evil, depending who you asked. Read More »


Japanese illustration of the 'Utsuro-bune', a legend of a hollow ship, depicted as a rounded, reddish object with dark vertical stripes and mysterious symbols, accompanied by Japanese script

Was an alien woman really cast back into the sea after surfacing on the coast of Japan in 1803? Our post on Edo images of the mysterious "utsuro-bune" phenomenon. Read More »


Astronomical illustration showing a detailed star map with zodiac constellations and the solar system's orbital paths, highlighted by colorful planets against a dark blue starry background

Our post on Levi Walter Yaggy’s series of elaborate geographical and astronomical charts (1887/93), featuring illuminated cutaways and chromolithographic layers — a demonstration of their creator's belief that wonder is the helpmate of learning. Read More »


Medieval manuscript illustration of a mythical creature, the bonnacon, with curled horns and a horse-like body, being attacked by a human figure with a spear and defending itself with excrement

Our post on medieval illustrations of the Bonnacon, a mythical animal said to ward off attackers by expelling excrement with a devastating explosive force. Read More »


Painting of a reclining human figure surrounded by eerie skeletal creatures, with one injecting the figure's side, against a dark vortex-like background with a white glowing spot

Those who sipped or sniffed ether and chloroform in the 19th century experienced a range of effects from these repurposed anaesthetics, including preternatural mental clarity, psychological hauntings, and slippages of space and time. Mike Jay explores how the powerful solvents shaped the writings of Guy de Maupassant and Jean Lorrain — psychonauts who opened the door to an invisible dimension of mind and suffered Promethean consequences. Read More »


Colorful caricature of a large bipedal machine with large scissors, wheels, and gears and a head made of a pile of books with spine labels including 'History' and 'Mechanics', surrounded by clouds with a person's head in profile floating nearby

Our post on William Heath’s March of Intellect series which offered a satirical vision of the wonders and potential cost of progress in 1820s Britain. Read More »


Two figures in a grappling pose, with one figure restraining the other's neck and arm, while holding a spear, suggestive of a martial arts or fencing technique demonstration

Our post on a set of “fight book” manuscripts from the 1400s which raise a historically vexing question: did men and women really duel to settle judicial disputes? Read More »


Black and white drawing of a human figure with arms extended, holding two pentagrams, with an alchemical symbol at the navel and a halo around the head, against an arched backdrop

Reading Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s encyclopedic study of magic is like stumbling into a vast cabinet of curiosities, where toad bones boil water, witches transmit misery through optical darts, and numbers, arranged correctly, can harness the planets’ powers. Anthony Grafton explores the Renaissance polymath’s occult insights into the structure of the universe, discovering a path that leads both upward and downward: up toward complete knowledge of God, and down into every order of being on earth. Read More »


Embossed golden illustration on a maroon book cover featuring an eye emitting rays towards a skull and crossbones over wings, with pyramids, a palm tree, a sphinx, and a person in the foreground.

Erotic magic, Black emancipation, gender fluidity, interplanetary spirit realms — these were but a few of the topics that preoccupied Paschal Beverly Randolph (b. 1825), an occult thinker who believed that his multiracial identity afforded him “peculiar mental power and marvelous versatility”. Lara Langer Cohen considers the neglected politics of Randolph’s esoteric writings alongside the repeated frustration of his activism: how dreams of other worlds, above and below our own, reflect the unfulfilled promises of Emancipation. Read More »


Black and white photo of a rugged coastline with a distinctive rock formation resembling a tower, under a dramatic sky with visible clouds, next to a calm sea.

Beneath the waves, off the Suffolk Coast, lies a city taken by the sea through centuries of erosion. Matthew Green revisits Dunwich, a once lively port transfigured into a symbol of loss, both eerie and profound, for generations of artists, poets, and historians drawn to its ruinous shores. Read More »