Reading Room Archives

The “Pamphlet Wars” Climax in the American Revolution and Ratification Debate

You cannot read many biographies of men who engaged the American separation from Britain, declaration of an independent nation, and shaping and winning ratification of the Constitution without encountering—repeatedly—references to pamphlets.Brilliant, fiery, bitterly controversial, famously influential pamphlets: In years around birth of the nation, this brand of journalism climaxed in Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and “Rights of Man” (the latter pamphlet a reply to a pamphlet by Edmund Burke). In advocacy of resistance to British measures by men like John Dickenson. And, yes, in The Federalist Papers by master pamphleteers like Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison who won ratification.

Moll Flanders and the Pursuit of Happiness

Among Daniel Defoe's masterpieces is Moll Flanders, published in 1722 with a long eighteenth-century title that seems to reveal everything but the protagonist's petticoat:  The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. Who was Born in Newgate, and during a life of continu'd Variety of Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother) Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and died a Penitent.

Voltaire's A Philosophical Dictionary: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

I pulled Pierre Goodrich's copy of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary off the shelves because of the glorious mid 20th century book design. The striking cream and black checkerboard is eye-catching and emphasizes the "marquee" quality of the author of the text.

Tracing Turkey’s Creation to French Enlightenment’s Influence

Antecedents of the revolution led by Ataturk must be sought in the Turkish Enlightenment, which had two phases.

Kemal Atatürk Founds a Twentieth-century Islamic Nation Rooted in Enlightenment Ideas

He led an overwhelmingly Islamic population out of the Ottoman Empire, created a new secular nation, introduced protections of individual rights, deposed both the sultan and the caliph to introduce a presidency, initiated a Western economic system and Western dress, launched a new Latin-based alphabet, and earlier than many European nations established the rights of women.

A Dissertation upon Parties: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

I should be clear. I am aware that Bolingbroke's Dissertation Upon Parties has nothing to do with the kinds of parties we are all anticipating as 2022 begins to transform into 2023. That said, I was entirely unable to resist posting about this title from Hamburger's collection in the Liberty Fund rare book room

Robert Burns and the Theory of Moral Sentiments

As a young man, Robert Burns read Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and expressed his reaction in the strongest terms in his “commonplace book”—a personal journal not intended for publication, but obviously not destroyed by him, and so we read today: 

A Meeting of Minds in the Middle of the Street

We lived across a quiet neighborhood street from one another for more than three decades. On the political spectrum, however, we were so far apart that we couldn’t see one another from our houses. On the religion spectrum, we had an almost equal divide. He was devoted. I’ve always envied him and regretted my lost devotion.

Why Read Borges?

At first glance, the idea that classical liberals throughout the world should learn about the writings of an Argentine man who is well-known for his fiction may seem odd. The works of Jorge Luis Borges, though, are something else.

OLL's December Birthday: John Milton (December 9, 1608 – November 8, 1674)

December’s OLL Birthday essay is in honor of the poet, statesman, and political philosopher John Milton, considered by many to be the most important author in the English language.  His deeply idiosyncratic personal, political, and artistic sensibilities mirrored the turbulent and revolutionary times in which he lived.

Christmas Tales From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

Aside from the Bible story, it would be hard to find a more traditional and beloved Christmas tale than Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, so it was no surprise to find a copy in Pierre Goodrich's book collection. The cheery red cover and gilding may not have been intended to give the book a holiday feel, but in late December, the book design reminds readers of a nicely wrapped gift.

The Deadweight Loss of the Magi

Last year, Sarah Skwire and Amy Willis got together to discuss two famous Christmas stories by Charles Dickens. This year, they did some thinking about the equally classic Christmas story, "The Gift of the Magi," by O. Henry. It's a story almost no one graduates high school without reading, and for good reason. Its clear language, warm heart, and thoughtful message are perennial. They're also economically interesting

Dickens as an Adapter of Dante

Today, I turn to Susan Colón’s work “Dickens’s HARD TIMES and Dante’s INFERNO,” in which she makes the case that Dickens’s work Hard Times includes imagery, descriptions, and “moral analysis” of his characters in a way suggestive of Dante’s Divine Comedy. In particular, she focuses on the “protagonists’ journey from a state of sin to a state of grace,” descriptions of the protagonists “silent rebellion,” which is “frequently symbolized by smoldering fire,” and direct references to the second sin of Dante’s fourth circle of his Inferno: “there was an air of jaded sullenness in them both, and particularly in the girl,” (Colón 31; my italics).

Did Dickens Read Dante? Charles Dickens’s Adaptation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy in his A Christmas Carol

Stephen Bertman has observed several structural similarities between Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Dante’s entire Divine Comedy, including their shared tripartite structure, exploration of religious themes, and notions of salvation. Additionally, Susan Colón has observed connections between Dante’s representations of sullenness in his fourth circle of the Inferno and Dickens’s representations of the “besetting sin” of sullenness in Hard Times dual protagonists, Stephen Blackpool and Louisa Gradgrind.

The Economics of Modern Soccer

With the World Cup concluding yesterday, some readers will be quietly relieved at not having to pay attention to soccer for another four years, while others will be anxiously awaiting the European season’s restart with the English Premier League’s Boxing Day fixtures. With apologies to those in the former camp, I want to talk briefly with those in the latter about the economics of modern club soccer.

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.