Essays
Books

Trüth, Beaüty, and Volapük

Trüth, Beaüty, and Volapük

Arika Okrent explores the rise and fall of Volapük - a universal language created in the late 19th century by a German priest called Johann Schleyer. more

The Implacability of Things

The Implacability of Things

Jonathan Lamb explores the genre of 'it-narratives' - stories told from the point of view of an object, often as it travels in circulation through human hands. more

The Last Great Explorer: William F. Warren and the Search for Eden

The Last Great Explorer: William F. Warren and the Search for Eden

Of all the attempts throughout history to geographically locate the Garden of Eden one of the most compelling was that set out by minister and president of Boston University, William F. Warren. Brook Wilensky-Lanford looks at the ideas of the man who, in his book Paradise Found, proposed the home of all humanity to be at the North Pole. more

The Lancashire Witches 1612-2012

The Lancashire Witches 1612-2012

Not long after ten Lancashire residents were found guilty of witchcraft and hanged in August 1612, the official proceedings of the trial were published by the clerk of the court Thomas Potts in his The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster. Four hundred years on, Robert Poole reflects on England's biggest witch trial and how it still has relevance today. more

The Polyglot of Bologna

The Polyglot of Bologna

Michael Erard takes a look at The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti, a book exploring the extraordinary talent of the 19th century Italian cardinal who was reported to be able to speak over seventy languages. more

Seeing Joyce

Seeing Joyce

The "Bloomsday" of 2012 - 108 years after Leopold Bloom took his legendary walk around Dublin on the 16th June 1904 - was the first since the works of James Joyce entered the public domain. Frank Delaney asks whether we should perhaps now stop trying to read Joyce and instead make visits to him as to a gallery. more

Lost Libraries

Lost Libraries

In the latter half of the 17th century the English polymath Thomas Browne wrote Musaeum Clausum, an imagined inventory of 'remarkable books, antiquities, pictures and rarities of several kinds, scarce or never seen by any man now living'. Claire Preston explores Browne's extraordinary catalogue amid the wider context of a Renaissance preoccupation with lost intellectual treasures. more

Selma Lagerlöf: Surface and Depth

Selma Lagerlöf: Surface and Depth

In 2011 many countries around the world welcomed The Wonderful Adventures of Nils and the other works of the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf into the public domain. Jenny Watson looks at the importance of Lagerlöf's oeuvre and the complex depths beneath her seemingly simple tales and public persona. more

The Mysteries of Nature and Art

The Mysteries of Nature and Art

Julie Gardham, Senior Assistant Librarian at University of Glasgow's Special Collections Department, takes a look at the book that was said to have spurred a young Isaac Newton onto the scientific path, The Mysteries of Nature and Art by John Bate. more

The Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi

The Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi

Andrew McConnell Stott, author of The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi, introduces the life and memoirs of the most famous and celebrated of English clowns. more

Navigating Dürer’s Woodcuts for The Ship of Fools

Navigating Dürer’s Woodcuts for The Ship of Fools

At the start of his career, as a young man in his twenties, Albrecht Dürer created a series of woodcuts to illustrate Sebastian Brant's The Ship of Fools of 1494. Dürer scholar Rangsook Yoon explores the significance of these early pieces and how in their subtlety of allegory they show promise of his masterpieces to come. more

Stories of a Hollow Earth

Stories of a Hollow Earth

In 1741 the Norwegian-Danish author Ludvig Holberg published Klimii Iter Subterraneum, a satirical science-fiction/fantasy novel detailing the adventures of its hero Niels Klim in a utopian society existing beneath the surface of the earth. Peter Fitting, author of Subterranean Worlds: A Critical Anthology, explores Holberg's book in the wider context of the hollow earth theory. more

Slavery in North Africa – the Famous Story of Captain James Riley

Slavery in North Africa – the Famous Story of Captain James Riley

When Captain James Riley published in 1817 the account of his and his crew's capture and enslavement at the hands of a group of North African tribesmen it became an immediate hit, readers being enthralled by this stark reversal of the usual master-slave narrative they were all so used to. Robert C. Davis, author of Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters, looks at the story in the context of other similar tales of Europeans being taken as slaves on the North African coast. more

A Few Words about F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Few Words about F. Scott Fitzgerald

In most countries around the world, 2011 saw the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald enter the public domain. Scott Donaldson, author of the biography Fool For Love: F. Scott Fitzgerald, explores the obscuring nature of his legend and the role that women played in his life and work. more

Aspiring to a Higher Plane

Aspiring to a Higher Plane

In 1884 Edwin Abbott Abbott published Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, perhaps the first ever book that could be described as "mathematical fiction". Ian Stewart, author of Flatterland and The Annotated Flatland, introduces the strange tale of the geometric adventures of A. Square. more

Robert Fludd and His Images of The Divine

Robert Fludd and His Images of The Divine

Between 1617 and 1621 the English physician and polymath Robert Fludd published his masterwork Utriusque Cosmi, a book split into two volumes and packed with over 60 intricate engravings. Urszula Szulakowska explores the philosophical and theological ideas behind the extraordinary images found in the second part of the work. more

Dog Stories from The Spectator

Dog Stories from The Spectator

Dogs who shop, bury frogs, and take 800-mile solo round trips by rail - writer and broadcaster Frank Key gives a brief tour of the strange and delightful Dog Stories from The Spectator. more

Geronimo: The Warrior

Geronimo: The Warrior

In 1906, Geronimo published his autobiography recounting the fascinating story of his life, from his years as a resistance fighter, to his capture and subsequent period of celebrity in which he appeared at the 1904 St Louis World Fair and met President Roosevelt. Edward Rielly, author of Legends of American Indian Resistance, tells of the tragic massacre which underpinned his life. more

Accuracy and Elegance in Cheselden's Osteographia (1733)

Accuracy and Elegance in Cheselden's Osteographia (1733)

With its novel vignettes and its use of a camera obscura in the production of the plates, William Cheselden’s Osteographia, is recognized as a landmark in the history of anatomical illustration. Monique Kornell looks at its unique blend of accuracy and elegance. more

Labillardière and his Relation

Labillardière and his Relation

When the French explorer Lapérouse went missing, a search voyage was put together to retrace his course around the islands of Australasia. On the mission was the naturalist Jacques Labillardière who published a book in 1800 of his experiences. Edward Duyker, author of Citizen Labillardière: A Naturalist’s Life in Revolution and Exploration (1755-1834), explores the impact of his pioneering work. more

American Kaleidoscope: Morton Prince and the Boston Revolution in Psychotherapy

American Kaleidoscope: Morton Prince and the Boston Revolution in Psychotherapy

In 1906 the American physician and neurologist Morton Henry Prince published his remarkable monograph The Dissociation of a Personality in which he details the condition of 'Sally Beauchamp', America's first famous multiple-personality case. George Prochnik discusses the life and thought of the man Freud called "an unimaginable ass". more

John Muir's Literary Science

John Muir's Literary Science

The writings of the Scottish-born American naturalist John Muir are known for their scientific acumen as well as for their rhapsodic flights. Terry Gifford, author of Reconnecting with John Muir, explores Muir's multifaceted engagement with 'God's big show'. more

Beatus of Liébana

Beatus of Liébana

In a monastery in the mountains of northern Spain, 700 years after the Book of Revelations was written, a monk set down to illustrate a collection of writings he had compiled about this most vivid and apocalyptic of the New Testament books. Throughout the next few centuries his depictions of multi-headed beasts, decapitated sinners, and trumpet blowing angels, would be copied over and over again in various versions of the manuscript. John Williams, author of The Illustrated Beatus, introduces Beatus of Liébana and his Commentary on the Apocalypse. more

Bugs and Beasts Before the Law

Bugs and Beasts Before the Law

Murderous pigs sent to the gallows, sparrows prosecuted for chattering in church, a gang of thieving rats let off on a wholly technical acquittal - theoretical psychologist and author Nicholas Humphrey* explores the strange world of medieval animal trials. more