Reading Room Archives

Considering The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys


by Renee Wilmeth

“It was a beautiful place – wild, untouched, above all untouched, with an alien disturbing, secret loveliness.  And it kept its secret. I’d find myself thinking, ‘What I see is nothing – I want what it hides – that is not nothing.”  Edward Fairfax Rochester, The Wide Sargasso Sea

Dante at 700: What the Supreme Poet can teach us about work, love, art, and life: Inferno, Canto II: Overcoming the Impostor Syndrome:



A Reading Room Series

by Daniel Ross Goodman

Before Dante embarks upon his journey through hell with Virgil, he invokes the muses (the classical spirits of the arts in ancient Greece and Rome) to assist him in being able to remember—and then later write about—what he will see in the infernal realms. Dante reminds us that he will not be the first to descend to hell while still living: the great Trojan hero Aeneas had done so during his journey from Troy to Rome. Dante’s literary idol Virgil immortalized Aeneas’s journey in his epic poem The Aeneid. 

Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty and the Question of Historical Fiction

by Garth Bond

Francis Spufford’s Light Perpetual was released last May to considerable praise, unsurprising given the multiple awards received by its predecessor, Golden Hill. This new book is regularly referred to—by the author himself, as well as by reviewers—as the follow-up to his debut fiction novel, though usually with a nod to the nearly two decades of award-winning non-fiction that preceded the 2016 publication of Golden Hill.]

Without wishing to undermine or invalidate Spufford’s own truth, this account makes something of an awkward step-child of his actual fiction debut, 2010’s Red Plenty

Viva Dante 700: Che può insegnarci il Sommo Poeta sul lavoro, l'amore, l'arte e la vita: Inferno, Canto I: il viaggio della nostra vita e l'importanza dei classici


Una serie di Reading Room su La Divina Commedia

di Daniel Ross Goodman

La scorsa settimana abbiamo iniziato il nostro epico viaggio con Dante accompagnando Dante mentre si perde nei boschi, prima di incontrare il suo idolo letterario Virgilio e accettare di prendere con Virgilio un altro sentiero che lo porterà fuori dalle selve oscure ma che lo condurrà attraverso un rehmp pieno di suoni e visioni più terribili di quanto la maggior parte degli esseri mortali possa persino immaginare. Questa settimana esploreremo alcuni dei significati più profondi di questo canto introduttivo...

The Semantic Revolution


by Daniel B. Klein

Pedaling my exercise bicycle is made tolerable by watching history lectures from The Teaching Company’s Great Courses. Today I watched part of a course on the French Revolution and Napoleon

Dante at 700: What the Supreme Poet can teach us about work, love, art, and life: Canto One


A Reading Room series on The Divine Comedy

By Daniel Ross Goodman

Last week we began our epic journey with Dante by accompanying him as he is lost in the woods, before meeting his literary idol Virgil and agreeing to set forth with Virgil upon another path that will take him out of the dark woods and lead him through a domain filled with more terrible sounds and sights than most mortal beings can bear to even imagine. This week we shall explore some of the deeper meanings of this introductory canto… 

OLL's October Birthday: Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque (October 25, 1767)


by Peter Mentzel

This month’s featured birthday anniversary is the Swiss-born French political philosopher, activist and statesman, Benjamin Constant. Along with his long-time friend and lover Germaine de Stael, and Democracy in America author Alexis de Tocqueville he is probably the most famous and influential of the French liberals of the early nineteenth century.

Viva Dante 700: Che può insegnarci il Sommo Poeta sul lavoro, l'amore, l'arte e la vita: Inferno, Canto 1


Una serie di Reading Room su La Divina Commedia

di Daniel Ross Goodman

La settimana scorsa abbiamo visto come Dante scrivesse del suo viaggio attraverso l'inferno, il limbo e il paradiso come se si trattasse di un viaggio vero, realmente intrapreso (a cominciare, nel suo racconto, dal Venerdì Santo - 25 marzo 1300) e abbiamo visto come proprio tale comprensione del suo viaggio come reale ci aiuta a capire l'importanza - e la realtà - della nostra immaginazione. Questa settimana guarderemo al Canto I e inizieremo il nostro viaggio con Dante attraverso l'inferno e oltre...

Discussing Milton



by Sarah Skwire

I recently had a chance to host a book discussion with Reading Room blogger, Garth Bond, and our friend Steve Pincus about Nicholas McDowell's new book Poet of Revolution: The Making of John Milton, which considers the question of how Milton's early life could have produced the great radical revolutionary.  Have a listen!

Dante at 700: What the Supreme Poet can teach us about work, love, art, and life, Inferno: Canto I



A Reading Room series on The Divine Comedy

By Daniel Ross Goodman

Last week we saw how Dante wrote about his journey through hell, limbo, and paradise as if it were a real journey that he really undertook (beginning, in his recounting of it, on Good Friday—March 25, 1300), and saw how his understanding of his journey as a real one helps us grasp the importance—and the reality—of our own imaginations. This week we will delve directly into Canto I, and begin our own journey with Dante through hell, and beyond…

Why Marvel's Black Widow Would Love Mary Wollstonecraft



by Caroline Breashears

In Marvel's film Black Widow (2021), the Red Guardian (Alexei) praises the achievements of the two women he had pretended to father as part of a Russian sleeper cell: "Yelena, you went on to become the greatest child assassin the world has ever known." And Natasha Romanoff, the famous Black Widow and Avenger, excelled even more: "You've killed so many people; I could not be more proud of you."

Viva Dante 700: Che può insegnarci il Sommo Poeta sul lavoro, l'amore, l'arte e la vita: Inferno, Canto I: L'importanza dell'immaginazione



di Daniel Ross Goodman

La scorsa settimana abbiamo concluso la nostra introduzione alla Divina Commedia di Dante presentando le sette lezioni cardinali che il poema epico può insegnarci oggi. Questa è una serie incentrata sulla presentazione del significato e della rilevanza complessivi dell'opera immortale di Dante; come tale, esploreremo le sue intuizioni centrali, canto per canto, ogni settimana. Questa settimana iniziamo con il Canto I, il preludio al viaggio di Dante negli inferi...

No Instructions for the Art of Peace: Molesworth’s An Account of Denmark


By Eric Schliesser

Robert Molesworth’s An Account of Denmark (1694; hereafter Account) is intended as a contribution to the “arts of peace.” The reader quickly realizes that seventeenth century Denmark is held up as a kind of anti-exemplar or cautionary tale. Even so, it is by no means obvious how Molesworth’s Account contributes to the art of achieving peace. 

Dante at 700: What the Supreme Poet can teach us about work, love, art, and life: Inferno, Canto I: The Importance of Imagination



A Reading Room blog series on The Divine Comedy
By Daniel Ross Goodman

Last week we concluded our introduction to Dante’s Divine Comedy by presenting the seven cardinal lessons that the epic poem can teach us today. If you missed this introduction you can find it here. This week we begin with Canto I—the prelude to Dante’s journey into the underworld…


OLL's September Birthday: Henry George (September 2, 1839 -- October 29, 1890)


by Peter Mentzel

This month’s featured birthday anniversary is the American Political Economist Henry George, best known as the founder of an economic and political philosophy subsequently called “Georgism.” His work was tremendously influential during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and is sometimes seen as marking the beginnings of the Progressive Era.

Viva Dante 700: Che può insegnarci il Sommo Poeta sul lavoro, l'amore, l'arte. e la vita ,Introduzione, seconda parte


Una serie di Reading Room su La Divina Commedia
di Daniel Ross Goodman

La scorsa settimana abbiamo iniziato la nostra introduzione alla Divina Commedia di Dante con le prime tre delle sette lezioni generali che possiamo imparare dall'immortale italiano sul lavoro, l'arte, l'amore, l'educazione, la religione, la politica e la creatività. Ecco i prossimi quattro:

Arabian Nights and Commercial Culture


by Garth Bond

The classic collection of middle eastern stories known as  The Arabian Nights is not in the Online Library of Liberty, which is perhaps understandable given its emphasis on irresponsible liberties taken and arbitrary exercises of power. 
But inspired by David Quint’s argument (in Epic and Empire) that the romance genre and its wandering adventures contrast the interests of commercial culture to the imperial motives of the teleological epic, I want to make a similar case for The Arabian Nights.

Dante at 700: What the Supreme Poet can teach us about work, love, art, and life, Introduction Part Two


A Reading Room blog series on The Divine Comedy
by Daniel Ross Goodman

Last week we began our introduction to Dante’s Divine Comedy with the first three of the seven overarching lessons that we can learn from the immortal Italian about work, art, love, education, religion, politics, and creativity. Here are the next four:

Luxury and Literature in Shakespeare and Mandeville: Too Much of a Good Thing


by Sarah Skwire

Whenever economic times get tough, the debate over luxury--what defines it and how much of it is too much--reappears as part of public discourse. Photos from this year’s Met Gala, and the recent return of “maximalism” and its “too much of a good thing is a very good start” philosophy to fashion and home decor is certain to spur a whole new round of the debate. 

Viva Dante 700: Che può insegnarci il Sommo Poeta sul lavoro, l'amore, l'arte e la vita

by Daniel Ross Goodman

Quest'anno ricorre il 700° anniversario della morte di Dante. Numerosi eventi sono stati programmati in tutto il mondo, soprattutto nella nativa Italia di Dante, per celebrare l'eredità del Il Sommo poeta. Ma di gran lunga il modo migliore per commemorare questa occasione è approfondire nella stessa scrittura di Dante.

OLL's August (Belated) Birthday: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (August 30, 1797 – February 1, 1851)



by Peter Mentzel

This month’s featured (belated) birthday anniversary is the English author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Best known for writing Frankenstein, she also wrote a number of plays, poems, and novels, all strongly embodying a philosophy of personal and political liberty. 

Dante at 700: What the Supreme Poet can teach us about work, love, art, and life


A Reading Room Series 
by Daniel Ross Goodman

This year marks the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death. Numerous events have been planned throughout the world, especially in Dante’s native Italy, to celebrate the supreme poet’s legacy. But by far the best way of commemorating this occasion is by delving into Dante’s writing itself. 

The Slave Bible

Steve Ealy

Many enslaved people who learned to read were actually taught or encouraged by their masters or owners for religious reasons. Janet Cornelius found that “the majority of owners who taught slaves were concerned with Bible literacy, and connected their instruction with Christian worship and catechization.” 

The Fairy Godmother and the Invisible Hand: Jane Marcet's Economic Tales


Caroline Breashears

Fairy tales have long conveyed lessons about morality, survival, and even success. Charles Perrault's "Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper" (1697), for instance, illustrates the values of not only kindness and grace but connections.