Reading Room Archives

Tales and Maxims from the Talmud: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

I'm currently reading the Talmud--a record of more than 600 years worth of rabbinic teaching, commentary, debate, and discussion)  at the rate of one Hebrew page a day. (I'm reading it in English, which works out to about 5 pages per day. I am eternally behind.) At this rate, reading the Talmud is an approximately 7 1/2 year project. That makes Pierre Goodrich's single slim 1910 volume of Tales and Maxims from the Talmud a particularly entertaining contrast with the full 42 volumes comprising the most recent scholarly translation of the full Talmud

An Overweening Purpose: Tolkien on Adapting Middle-Earth

Much can and has already been said regarding Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: the Rings of Power’s merits and flaws, both in the show’s relation to Tolkien’s universally acclaimed world The Tolkien Societybuilding and established lore, and in its quality as a story in its own right. I would like to focus, therefore, not on dissecting the show, but on a theme which I have returned to again and again in my reviews: the theme of adaptation.

Soccer’s Invisible Hand: Globalization

In my previous post in honor of the World Cup, I explored the role that soccer’s early adoption of professionalism played both in its rapid growth and in that tournament’s founding. But that a World Cup was even feasible by the start of the 20th Century is itself a testimony to the remarkable global expansion of a sport whose rules were still being codified within its birth nation less than forty years earlier.

The Enlightenment of Robert Burns

Many a literary critic classifies the (unofficial) national bard of Scotland, Robert Burns, as a poet of the Romantic Movement. It is easy to see why. His poetry deals with nature and those living and working close to it; embraces the folkloric and Scottish tradition; embraces nationalism; and sings of love often in a rural landscape. This is the first stanza and refrain of Burns’s “My Heart’s in the Highlands” (1789): “My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here, My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer; Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe, My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.”

Milton's Poetry and Prose: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

Given that today is the birthday of one of the greatest writers of English prose and poetry, John Milton, I pulled a few of Milton's works from the shelves of Pierre Goodrich's collection in Liberty Fund's rare book room. The first thing that seems to me to be worthy of note here is that Goodrich owned both Milton's prose and his poetry. it's easy to lose sight of Goodrich's commitment to and interest in literature because of his strong interest in economics, politics, and philosophy--but his library contains plenty of well chosen and well-read fiction and poetry as well.

Fukuzawa Yukichi: The Man Who Was “Civilization and Enlightenment” in Japan

“Each individual man and each individual country, according to the principles of natural reason, is free from bondage.” Fukuzawa Yukichi made this statement in Japan in 1872, a few years after the end of Japan’s last samurai (military) government, the Tokugawa Shogunate. Historians resist, as they should, attributing sweeping changes in intellectual culture—new eras in national life—to a single individual. A tough challenge to that viewpoint is the role of Fukuzawa Yukichi in bringing the Enlightenment to Japan, inaugurating what Japanese history calls simply “Civilization and Enlightenment.”

Soccer’s Invisible Hand: Professionalism

On Sunday, November 20th, in Qatar, the World Cup kicked off its 22nd edition since debuting in Uruguay in 1930. There is little question, for better or worse, that viewing the World Cup is among the most widely shared human experiences since at least 1970, and probably since 1966 (when satellites first broadcast games live to non-hosting continents). In the first of several Reading Room reflections in its honor, I want to explore how the early spread of soccer participated in the entrepreneurial spirit of the modern world.

Why Bones and All Leaves Readers Hungry

Camille DeAngelis's Bones and All, now an award winning film directed by Luca Guadagnino promises a delicious repast for readers interested in horror. Cannibalism, wicked relatives, romantic tension, a road trip, a carnival and a sanitorium: the novel offers a buffet of classic Gothic fare.  Unfortunately, Bones and All is, like the meals of its protagonist, sadly undercooked. 

The Screwtape Letters: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

I will confess that I decided to take a look at Pierre Goodrich's 1948 copy of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis because it's a book I love, and not because this edition is a particularly compelling example of the bookbinder's art. The letters between the senior demon Screwtape and  his nephew Wormwood are funny, sardonic, thoughtful, and compelling. Though I'm not a Christian, I was captivated by their insights and literary charms as a teenager, and remain so today. Screwtape seemed like a good antidote to a week of car repairs and other frustrations. I wasn't wrong.

On Geryon’s Spiral Flight: Fraud

Behold the beast who bears the pointed tail,who crosses mountains, shatters weapons, walls!Behold the one whose stench fills all the world!

Walt Whitman: Poet of American Democratic Individualism

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) surely has won the popularity contest as “the greatest American poet” and other accolades beyond counting. The Poetry Foundation writes that “Walt Whitman is America’s world poet—a latter-day successor to Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare.”And yet, his theme is not political liberty, freedom, or individualism—although he refers to them. He is not the poetic scourge of despotic tyranny or mob rule. He rarely refers to any theory of government. Well, then, what of individualism? “I sing of myself…” But in the next line he seems to strike a note of almost metaphysical collectivism with “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

OLL's November Birthday: Pierre Bayle (November 22, 1647-December 28, 1706)

November’s OLL Birthday essay is in honor of Pierre Bayle, a philosopher and theologian who exercised a profound influence on Enlightenment thinkers. His works regarding toleration, in particular, were at least as important as those of John Locke in his own time and for future arguments on the subject of toleration as well.

An Enquiry into the Origin of Honour: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

We've certainly highlighted more extravagantly produced books from our rare book collection. I'm a sucker for marbled endpapers, gold stamping, raised detailing, and glorious illustrations. It would be easy to pass by this volume, from the Hamburger collection, without taking it off the shelf to consider it.

Thanksgiving Greetings from the Reading Room

A menu of our traditional Thanksgiving treats for visitors to the Reading Room

A Toast: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

Recently, I've been diving into the Liberty Fund rare book room every Friday to find and share a treasure with readers of this blog. I hope my posts so far have persuaded you of the wealth of materials that we have on hand in the library. But with Thanksgiving arriving tomorrow, I particularly wanted to share one of the Liberty Fund Fellows' favorite items from the rare book room.

Authority and Oppression in Verdi’s Operas

Giuseppe Verdi’s operas present drama and conflict, heightened by his superb music. Like most opera composers, he didn’t write his own texts but employed several different librettists. In his most successful ones, he worked with the librettist to make the story say exactly what he wanted. All but two of his operas are serious dramas, almost invariably ending tragically. Even when the plots are absurd, his music makes the characters plausible and vivid.

Antigone: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

Antigone is one of the greatest literary debates about freedom and responsibility in human history, and one of our most enduring works of literature as well. Pierre Goodrich's 1900 edition of Antigone is clearly well loved, and carefully read. And it provides a beautiful housing for a literary work of immeasurable importance.

One Way Out--Andor's Critique of Fascism

What is the nature of power and accountability in a fascist regime? The new Star Wars television show Andor is interested in interrogating this question and especially the ways that unaccountable power undermines itself.

Henry Maine’s “Society of Status” Under Feudalism

Even among intellects of the Victorian era, Sir Henry Sumner Maine (1822-1888) shone brightly: on the Cambridge University faculty, at the Inns of Court in London, in India leading legal-system reform, at Oxford University teaching jurisprudence, and writing now-classic works on the history of the law, institutions, and government, including the most famous, Ancient Law.

Homer’s Odyssey: Reason vs. Desire

Today, we will consider appearance vs. reality in Homer's Odyssey. When Odysseus returns home to Ithaka after his ten year long journey, he does so in disguise. He comes as a beggar, a dismal vagabond, and though he is a war-hero, a king, and the craftiest man alive, he presents himself humbly, unobtrusively, and quite differently from several characters he encounters. 

Hume's History of England: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

Some of the most remarkable books in the Liberty Fund rare book room come from the collection of the American historian Joseph Hamburger. Acquired in the late 90s, the selections from Hamburger's collection that we own are some of the oldest and most unusual books in our rare book room, like this first edition of Hume's History of England.

Looking at The Spectator

Before denizens of the web could pass hours wandering down rabbit holes like McSweeney’s Internet Tendency or The Onion, what did well-read, culturally au currant folks do for amusement?

William Blake: Romantic Poet and Enlightenment Man?

In an article published by the British Library, Stephanie Forward, Ph.D., writes: “In England, the Romantic poets were…inspired by a desire for liberty… There was an emphasis on the importance of the individual; a conviction that people should follow ideals rather than imposed conventions and rules. The Romantics renounced the rationalism and order associated with the preceding Enlightenment era, stressing the importance of expressing authentic personal feelings.” 

William Blake, the Romantic Revolution, and Liberty

The Romantic poets, long in English poetry’s pantheon, present a paradox. As a movement, they are defined by their emotional power, preoccupation with nature, fascination with the mythic, and their search for the ideal in earlier eras such as the age of chivalry. And yet, on closer examination, we learn that they were ardent, engaged, and usually “radical” intellectuals and political revolutionaries. Among them, William Blake, born in 1757, was a progenitor of the era. He is a rare individual who attained the highest level of achievement in both the visual arts and poetry. In both fields, his reputation has grown to this day, when critical opinion deems him among the greatest British artists (and influential in America) as well as in the first rank of poets.