Recommended Books from The Public Domain Review
A hand-picked selection of recently published books (within the last 15 years or so), all of which in someway tap into the tastes and concerns of The Public Domain Review. Along with the publications featured in our public domain books section, this represents something close to our ideal library. There are many beautiful facsimiles and reproductions of works we’ve featured on the site, as well as fascinating books on a wide range of historical periods and themes, including many penned by our very own essay contributors. For more information on each book, and to buy online, click on the relevant button below the book’s summary. This will lead you through to the book’s page on Amazon1, who will give us a small percentage of the sale price (about 6%) if you buy the book (or, indeed, any other item on that visit) through them, but we do also encourage you to support your local bookshop!2
(Any books to recommend to fellow PDR readers that aren’t featured here? Please let us know in the comments).
Choose a category…
Art Forms in Nature: The Prints of Ernst Haeckel (Prestel, 2008)
A reprint, in English, of Ernst Haeckel’s groundbreaking Kunstformen der Natur. With the assistance of artist-lithographer Adolf Giltsch, Haeckel produced one hundred stunning plates, depicting his vision of an “aesthetics of nature”.
Oliver Byrne’s Six Books of Euclid (Taschen, 2013)
A facsimile of mathematician Oliver Byrne’s remarkable 1847 edition of Euclid’s Elements, a book of exquisite design which was to prove a key influence for the Bauhaus movement more than 70 years later.
Hieronymus Bosch. The Complete Works (Taschen, 2014)
The complete works of Hieronymus Bosch published to mark the 500th anniversary of the Early Netherlandish painter’s death. Featuring new photography of his works, the book also includes a fold-out spread of his most famous painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights.
The Temple of Flora (Taschen, 2013)
Outstanding reprint of Robert John Thornton’s seminal work in botanical illustration, including a history of how the work came about and a biography of its author.
Cabinet of Natural Curiosities (Taschen, 2011)
One of the most prized works of natural history of all time, Albertus Seba’s beautifully illustrated book on plants, animals, and insects from around the world continues to fascinate in this trilingual edition in English, French, and German.
Cellarius’ Harmonia Macrocosmica (Taschen, 2013)
A collection of maps from the Golden Age of celestial cartography, this book by Dutch-German cosmographer Andreas Cellarius includes 29 double-folio maps depicting the motions of the sun, the moon, and celestial bodies.
Chronicle of the World – 1493 (Nuremberg Chronicles) (Taschen, 2013)
A facsimile of one of the most important books in the early history of printing, more commonly known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, a lavishly illustrated and groundbreaking encyclopedic work recounting the story of human history as related in the Bible.
The Art of Instruction: Vintage Educational Charts from the 19th and 20th Centuries (Chronicle Books, 2011)
A collection of over one hundred vintage educational posters on detailed botanical and zoological subjects, from the anatomy of tulips to that of a starfish.
In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the 17th Century’s Most Enquiring Mind (W. W. Norton & Company, 2015)
Aldersey-Williams examines the life of 17th-century writer, physician, and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne, and how his unique thoughts on knowledge, science, and religion still have relevance today.
How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Other Press, 2011)
A closer look at the life and writings of French Renaissance philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, considered by many to be the first truly “modern” individual.
The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013)
Through a study of the trial records of a 16th-century miller accused of heresy during the Inquisition, Carlo Ginzburg explores the religious and social conflicts of the time.
The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History (Basic Books, 2009)
HIstorian Robert Darnton explores an engrossing array of strange events – such as cats being killed by Parisian apprentices of a printing shop – all of which took place during what we like to call “The Age of Enlightenment.”
Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (Vintage, 1988)
Considered by many to be Foucault’s masterpiece, this book examines the evolving meaning of madness in European culture, from the Middle Ages to the end of the 18th century, while also offering a critique of historical method and the very idea of history.
A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change (Riverhead Books, 2013)
An exploration into the rise, success, and eventual fall, of one of history’s most fascinating thinkers, the 17th-century priest-scientist Athanasius Kircher, whose interests and inventions seemingly knew no bounds.
Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Rublack takes a look at Renaissance Europe through the prism of clothes, pointing to the importance of understanding people’s relationship to appearances and images in the examination of life at this time.
The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century (Picador, 2013)
Harrington takes us deep inside the alien world and thinking of Meister Frantz Schmidt of Nuremberg, who, during forty-five years as a professional executioner, personally put to death 394 individuals and tortured, flogged, or disfigured many hundreds more.
Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library (Sterling Signature, 2012)
Forty wonderfully illustrated essays from top experts at the American Museum of Natural History Library covering a wide array of natural science disciplines, from anthropology to zoology.
The Sick Rose: Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration (DAP, 2014)
An eclectic tour through the golden era of medical illustration, from little-known ailments to history defining epidemics. The book is a visual delight, though be warned it does contain some rather gruesome imagery.
Afterlives of the Saints (Unbridled Books, 2012)
A collection of enthralling essays focusing on the strange lives of different saints, from Renaissance anatomy to the pleasures of castration, from the dangers of masturbation to the history of spontaneous human combustion.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (W. W. Norton & Company, 2012)
How the rediscovery of Lucretius nearly 600 years ago fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists and thinkers such as Botticelli and Giordano Bruno, and shaping the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein.
A History of the World in 100 Objects (Viking Adult, 2011)
Through the frame of one hundred man-made objects, chosen by the director of the British Museum, the history of humanity is told through the things we have created.
Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything (University Of Chicago Press, 2014)
An absorbing inquiry into how attitudes towards curiosity have changed, from something condemnable to the very driving force of science as we know it.
The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014)
For more than 800 years the tree diagram has formed a key part of our visual vocabulary, from medieval times to current trends, a compelling history presented in this delightfully illustrated book.
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition (Princeton University Press, 2014)
In this groundbreaking new translation, all 156 stories from the Grimms’ original 1812 and 1815 editions of the fairytales are presented in English for the very first time.
The Book of Miracles (Taschen, 2013)
First surfacing a few years ago, this newly discovered work of Renaissance art depicts, in a series of stunningly surreal watercolour and gouache illustrations, a whole range of miraculous phenomena.
Curious Visions of Modernity: Enchantment, Magic, and the Sacred (The MIT Press, 2011)
A fascinating study into modernity in visual culture, exposing traces of enchantment and magic which rationality sought to expunge from the “enlightened” world.
Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time (Thames & Hudson, 2008)
A work exploring the many paintings and painters referenced in Proust’s work, including some 200 paintings reproduced in full colour.
The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death (Farrar, Straus and Girou, 2012)
Political philosopher and critic John Gray takes a brilliant and frightening look at how humankind has marched dangerously on toward a scientific version of immortality.
Codices illustres: The world’s most famous illuminated manuscripts (Taschen, 2014)
A collection of examples from some of the most beautiful and important illuminated manuscripts of history, giving a rare chance to see on the page European, Mexican, Persian, and Indian works found in private collections and archives.
The Allure of the Archives (Yale University Press, 2015)
Using as a springboard her research into 200-year-old judicial records, Farge ruminates upon the thrills and revelations of exploring the past through archival research, while sharing astonishing details about life under the Old Regime in France.
The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton: and Other Singular Tales from the Victorian Press (Thistle Publishing, 2014)
From the newspaper archives of the British Library, Jeremy Clay has unearthed the long-lost stories that enthralled and appalled Victorian Britain.
The Gin Lane Gazette (Unbound, 2013)
A collection of illustrated “best bits” from a fictional 18th-century newspaper, containing some of Georgian England’s most sensational headlines and engaging stories.
Visualizations: The Nature Book of Art and Science (University of California Press, 2001)
A collection of art historian Martin Kemp’s essays for the magazine Nature, providing an enthralling and eclectic exploration of the shared motifs present in the two disciplines of art and science.
Cosmigraphics (Harry N. Abrams, 2014)
A richly visual exploration – featuring reproductions of many rarely seen works – into how artists and thinkers over the last 1000 years have conceptualised our universe and our place within it.
Great Maps (DK, 2014)
An overview of cartography and its importance through 55 different maps and the stories of their creation, spanning from Ptolemy’s map of the world to Google Earth.
The Search for the Perfect Language (Wiley-Blackwell, 1997)
In this tour de force of scholarly investigation, Eco explores the idea that there once existed a language which was able to express the essence of all possible things and concepts; an idea which has engaged some of the greatest thinkers and mystics over the last 2000 years.
The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay (Rizzoli, 2009)
Eco turns his powers of subtle and lyrical exposition to one of Western culture’s most enduring needs: that of cataloging, collecting, and making lists.
History of Beauty (Rizzoli, 2010)
In this wonderfully illustrated book, Umberto Eco explores the meaning and history of the idea of beauty, drawing on the thought of some of Western culture’s greatest thinkers.
The Book of Legendary Lands (Rizzoli Ex Libris, 2013)
Exploring the worlds of literature and folklore, Eco conducts an illustrated tour through some of the most compelling utopias and dystopias through which humans over the ages have played out their fears, ideals, and dreams.
On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks (Gotham, 2012)
What would our world be without maps? From the early explorers’ maps to Google Maps available on our smartphones, Garfield offers an engrossing account of the way in which maps reveal our history.
High Society: The Central Role of Mind-Altering Drugs in History, Science, and Culture (Park Street Press, 2010)
A closer look at drug use through the ages, exploring the significance of drugs in different cultures as used in medicine, religious rites, and as prized trade goods in the form of tobacco, tea, and opium.
A Visionary Madness: The Case of James Tilly Matthews and the Influencing Machine (North Atlantic Books, 2014)
Through a study of James Tilly Matthews, a man who believed himself to be under the influence of a machine that could read and control his mind, this book provides a wider look at 18th-century psychiatry and the social upheaval of which defined the time.
William Blake: The Drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy (Taschen, 2014)
This lavish book brings together all 102 of Blake’s illustrations for Dante’s masterwork, accompanied by excerpts from the poem.
The Book That Changed Europe: Picart and Bernard’s Religious Ceremonies of the World (Belknap Press, 2010)
A closer look at the importance of The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of All the Peoples of the World, an exhaustive seven-volume masterwork detailing the world’s religions, a book which paved the way for a modern and secular understanding of religious belief.
Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color (University of Chicago Press, 2003)
A fascinating historical study into how art and technology have interacted through the ages to bring us art in colour.
Bruegel: The Complete Paintings, Drawings and Prints (Harry N. Abrams, 2012)
Reproductions of all of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings, drawings, and prints, as well as a reprint of his very first biography from 1604.
Pedagogical Sketchbook (Faber & Faber, 1968)
Based on his extensive lectures on visual form – what he called an “adventure of seeing” – given throughout the 1920s, Paul Klee’s primer for his Bauhaus pupils has had a deep impact on modern thinking about art. With an introduction by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy.
Paul Klee: Life and Work (Hatje Cantz, 2013)
Presenting a total of 500 reproductions, more than half in colour, this seminal tome of Klee scholarship gives a chronological tour through the German artist’s life and work.
Spectacle of Deformity: Freak Shows and Modern British Culture (University of California Press, 2009)
Durbach explores how the freak shows of the mid 19th-century formed ideas of otherness and identity – and defined what it meant to be British.
Antiquity Unleashed (Paul Holberton Publishing, 2014)
A restaging of an “illustrated” lecture given in 1905 by Aby Warburg, one of the most influential cultural theorists of the 20th century. Through Albrecht Dürer’s Death of Orpheus, and an array of other images, Warburg explores his ideas about how works of art are linked across centuries.
Mnemosyne Atlas (Akademie Verlag Gmbh, 2008)
On the German art-historian’s groundbreaking work, in which he plays out his idea of “pathos formula”, arranging almost 1000 images from books, magazines, newspapers, etc., across 40 themed wooden panels. Even if your German isn’t up to scratch well worth it for the pictures.
Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses (Simon & Schuster, 2013)
Lovejoy brings us the beguiling history of the after-life of corpses, looking at how the bodies (and body parts) of the famous dead have been stolen, sold, or pickled after they’ve been laid to rest.
A New World: England’s First View of America (The University of North Carolina Press, 2007)
Through the drawings and watercolours of John White, this book examines his importance as a colonist and artist who provided 16th-century England with its first glance of American Indian culture.
Curious Woodcuts of Fanciful and Real Beasts: A Selection of 190 Sixteenth-Century Woodcuts from Gesner’s and Topsell’s Natural (Dover Publications, 1971)
Selection from the magnificent bestiary which is Renaissance naturalist Konrad Gesner’s Historia animalium, depicting in a series of wonderful woodcuts both real and imaginary creatures from the animal kingdom.
Egyptian Oedipus: Athanasius Kircher and the Secrets of Antiquity (University Of Chicago Press, 2013)
Stolzenberg interprets the hieroglyphic studies of baroque scholar Athanasius Kircher through the prism of 17th-century ideas on paganism and Oriental studies.
Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World’s Most Beguiling Map (University Of Chicago Press, 2013)
Joseph Nigg explores the magnificent beasts of the ocean found in Olaus Magnus’s influential map of the Nordic countries from 1539.
Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours (Harper Perennial, 2008)
Fusing the history of philosophy, psychology, science and medicine, Akhira examines the belief in humours and how this idea proved so persistent and influential throughout Western language and thought.
Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library (Boydell Press, 2013)
A reproduction of a striking medieval bestiary from mid-13th century England, including 136 illuminations, the position and size of which echo exactly the original manuscript.
The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014)
Through real and fictitious cases, Flanders examines how murder transformed into a strange kind of entertainment in the Victorian era and gave birth to the first detective fiction.
Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange (Penguin Classics, 2015)
Translated for the first time into English, this comprehensive collection of the earliest known Arabic short stories, dating from at least one thousand years ago, includes monsters, lost princes, and a princess who turns into a gazelle.
Trying Leviathan: The 19th-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature (Princeton University Press, 2010)
The fascinating account of a trial in 1818 in which the new science of taxonomy came up against the popular and biblically sanctioned view that whales are fish, creating a public debate centering on the very order of nature and how we perceive it.
The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the beauty and Terror of Science (Vintage, 2010)
HIghly acclaimed exploration of the men and women of the 18th-century whose astronomical, chemical, poetical, and philosophical discoveries brought on The Romantic Age of Science.
Falling Upward: How We Took to the Air: An Unconventional History of Ballooning (Vintage, 2014)
In this wonderful fusion of history, art, science, and biography, author Richard Holmes takes us on an eclectic tour through the 19th-century’s ballooning craze, bringing to life the stories of the daring men and women who first risked their lives to take to the air.
The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World (Harper Perennial, 2012)
Author Edward Dolnick brings to light the true story of one of the most pivotal moments in modern intellectual history, when a group of strange, tormented geniuses invented science as we know it, and remade our understanding of the world.
Alchemy & Mysticism (Taschen, 2014)
An illustrated tour through the compelling history of alchemy, from the obscure cosmographics of the medieval period, through the alchemical diagrams of the Renaissance, to the art of the Romantics. A visual treasure trove.
The First World War in Colour (Taschen, 2014)
A collection of more than 320 colour photographs taken during the First World War by European, American and Australian soldier, offering a rare glimpse of the Great War in colour.
Codex Seraphinianus (Rizzoli, 2013)
A new edition of one of the strangest books to be published over the last fifty years, a visually surreal encyclopedia of an unknown world, originally published in 1981, which remains more topical than ever in today’s media and information society.
Walton Ford: Pancha Tantra (Taschen America, 2009)
Riffing off many 19th-century texts – from Swinburne to colonial diary entries – Ford’s densely allegorical watercolours, meticulously painted in the style of Audubon’s naturalist illustrations, offer a critique of the colonialism and industrialism which lie at the foundations of our modern world.
The Rings of Saturn (New Directions, 1999)
A masterful meditation on the themes of time, memory, identity, and the restorative power of art, the book is a mesmerizing hybrid of genres – part fiction, travel, biography, myth, and memoir – exemplary of Sebald’s strange and unique style.
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary (University Of Chicago Press, 2013)
Although they might appear to be sprung from the pages of some eccentric imaginary bestiary, the animals presented in this book all exist in our world. From the axolotl to the zebrafish, this book celebrates the variety of life found around us.
Une Semaine De Bonte: A Surrealistic Novel in Collage (Dover Publications, 1976)
Created from old catalogue and pulp novel illustrations, dreams and fantasies come together in all manner of beautiful and terrifying ways in this reprinted edition of Max Ernst’s era-defining surrealistic novel.
The Book of Imaginary Beings (Penguin Classics, 2006)
From the pen of one the 20th-centuries most singular and inventive writers, comes this compendium of imagined beasts including mythological creatures from folklore as well as popular literature – beautifully illustrated throughout.
The Dark Side of Nature: Science, Society, and the Fantastic in the Work of Odilon Redon (Penn State University Press, 2006)
An examination into the role that Redon’s interest in science played in the creation of his beautiful and beguiling art, a body of work that was to have such an important influence on the surrealist movement to come in the following decades.
Odilon Redon (Hatje Cantz, 2014)
This catalogue of the art of French artist Odilon Redon combines his early black-and-white lithographs with the later works of colour in bright pastels and oils, showing the development of one modern era’s most important and intriguing artists.
The Art of Adolf Wölfli: St.Adolf-Giant-Creation (Princeton University Press, 2003)
A fresh look at the life and art of Swiss “outsider” artist Adolf Wölfli, who worked from the confines of his cell at Waldau Mental Asylum. As well as reproductions of his densely complicated visual creations, the book offers new translations of his mysterious and darkly humorous writings.
The Arcades Project (Belknap Press, 2002)
One of the great texts of 20th-century cultural criticism, Benjamin worked on his unfinished masterpiece from 1927 until his death in 1940. Notes and quotations centered on 19th-century Paris and its covered arcades combine in an epic and detailed commentary upon the birth of modernity.
Cabinets of Curiosity (Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2011)
The fascinating history of the curiosity cabinet, how collectors from the Renaissance to the 18th-century attempted to display the breadth and variety of life and culture in microcosm, in little “theatres” of the world.
Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London (Verso Books, 2015)
Beaumont presents an alternative history of London through the writers and thinkers for whom the city at night has served as inspiration – taking in the nocturnal preoccupations of such artists as William Blake, Thomas De Quincey, Charles Dickens and many more.
Annotated Alice (W. W. Norton & Company, 1999)
Martin Gardner, one of the world’s leading authorities on Lewis Carroll, was the first to decode the mathematical riddles and wordplay found in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This edition combines Gardner’s notes with the classic illustrations by John Tenniel, creating a great tribute to Carroll’s beloved book.
Curiosity and Method: Ten Years of Cabinet Magazine (Cabinet Books, 2012)
An anthology including both old and new essays from the brilliant Cabinet magazine, bringing together various subjects which are presented in a language accessible also to the non-specialists.
1. It wasn’t an easy decision to get involved with Amazon’s affiliates programme and I know some may be disappointed to learn of us doing so. In creating this “Further Reading” section we first and foremost wanted to create a space to showcase some of the best, recently published books out there on PDR related topics, including the promotion of those books written by our very own essay contributors. We felt it would be irresponsible not to take the opportunity for a revenue stream offered by incorporating the affiliates program into this new section. Although the income from this will be small (expected to form about 3% of the total we need each year to keep the project running) every little really does help, and if we want to keep the site going then we need to take all the opportunities that come our way. Many of the issues, and our standing on them, has been very well echoed in this post by C. Max Magee on The Millions site.↩
2. In addition to, of course, simply popping along to your local bookshop, we’d recommend checking out IndieBound, a site which can help you find books to buy locally (though only for US readers). Also, WorldCat can be a good resource for finding out what your local library has in stock.↩