The Books on Barack Obama’s Summer Reading List (2019)

Photo by Pete Souza via obamawhitehouse.archive.gov

As is his custom, Barack Obama posted on Facebook his summer reading list, a mix of novels, memoirs, and instructive non-fiction. If you haven't achieved the perfect state of tsundoku, you can get a few new reads for the waning days of summer. President Obama writes:

It's August, so I wanted to let you know about a few books I've been reading this summer, in case you're looking for some suggestions. To start, you can't go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison. Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, Sula, everything else — they're transcendent, all of them. You’ll be glad you read them. And while I’m at it, here are a few more titles you might want to explore:

Sometimes difficult to swallow, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is a necessary read, detailing the way Jim Crow and mass incarceration tore apart lives and wrought consequences that ripple into today.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang is a collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel­’s epic fictionalized look at Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power, came out in 2009, but I was a little busy back then, so I missed it. Still great today.

Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women examines what happens to characters without important women in their lives; it'll move you and confuse you and sometimes leave you with more questions than answers.

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson is a whole lot more than just a spy thriller, wrapping together the ties of family, of love, and of country.

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr came out a few years ago, but its arguments on the internet’s impact on our brains, our lives, and our communities are still worthy of reflection, which is something we all could use a little more of in this age.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a beautifully written memoir about the life of a woman in science, a brilliant friendship, and the profundity of trees. Terrific.

Inland by Téa Obreht just came out yesterday, so I won’t spoil anything. But those of you who’ve been waiting for Obreht’s next novel won’t be disappointed.

You’ll get a better sense of the complexity and redemption within the American immigrant story with Dinaw Mengestu’s novel, How to Read the Air.

Maid by Stephanie Land is a single mother’s personal, unflinching look at America’s class divide, a description of the tightrope many families walk just to get by, and a reminder of the dignity of all work.

POTUS' previous lists of recommended books can be found in the Relateds below.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Related Content:

Barack Obama Shares a List of Enlightening Books Worth Reading

The 5 Books on President Obama’s 2016 Summer Reading List

A Free POTUS Summer Playlist: Pres. Obama Curates 39 Songs for a Summer Day

The Books on Barack Obama’s Summer Reading List: Naipaul, Ondaatje & More

Take a Virtual Tour of Jane Austen’s Library

Jane Austen read voraciously and as widely as she could in her circumscribed life. Even so, she told her niece Caroline, she wished she had “read more and written less” in her formative years. Her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh made clear that no matter how much she read, her work was far more than the sum of her reading: “It was not,” he wrote in his 1870 biography, “what she knew, but what she was, that distinguished her from others.” What she was not, however, was the owner of a great library.

Members of Austen’s family were well-off, but she herself lived on modest means and never made enough from writing to become financially independent. She owned books, of course, but not many. Books were expensive, and most people borrowed them from lending libraries. Nonetheless, scholars have been able to piece together an extensive list of books Austen supposedly read—books mentioned in her letters, novels, and an 1817 biographical note written by her brother Henry in her posthumously published Northanger Abbey.




Austen read contemporary male and female novelists. She read histories, the poetry of Milton, Wordsworth, Byron, Cowper, and Sir Walter Scott, and novels written by family members. She read Chaucer, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Spencer, and Wollstonecraft. She read ancients and modern. “Despite her desire to have ‘read more” in her youth,” write Austen scholars Gillian Down and Katie Halsey, “recent scholarship has established that the range of Austen’s reading was far wider and deeper than either Henry or James Edward suggest.”

Austen may not have had a large library of her own, but she did have access to the handsome collection at Godmersham Park, the home of her brother Edward Austen Knight. “For a total of ten months spread over fifteen years,” Rebecca Rego Barry writes at Lapham’s Quarterly, “Austen visited her brother at his Kent estate. The brimming bookshelves at Godmersham Park were a particular draw for the novelist.” In the last eight years of her life, Jane lived with her mother and sister Cassandra at Edward’s Chawton estate, in a villa that had its own library.

Reconstructing these shelves show us the books Austen would have regularly had in view, though scholars must use other evidence to show which books she read. In 2009, Down and Halsey curated an exhibition focused on her reading at Chawton. Ten years later, we can see the library at Godmersham Park recreated in a virtual version made jointly by Chawton House and McGill University’s Burney Center.

Called “Reading with Austen,” the interactive site lets us to navigate three book-lined walls of the library. “Users can hover over the shelves and click on any of the antique books,” writes Barry, “summoning bibliographic data and available photos of pertinent title pages, bookplates, and marginalia. Digging deeper, one can peruse a digital copy of the book and determine the whereabouts of the original.”

These volumes are what we might expect from an English country gentleman: books of law and agriculture, historical registers, travelogues, political theory, and classical Latin. There is also Shakespeare, Swift, and Voltaire, Austen’s own novels, and some of the contemporary fiction she particularly loved. The Burney Center “tried,” says director Peter Sabor, “to imagine Jane Austen actually walking around the library…. We’re basically looking over her shoulder as she looks at the bookshelf.” It’s not exactly quite like that at all, but the project can give us a sense of how much Austen treasured libraries.

She wrote about libraries as a sign of luxury. In an early unfinished novel, "Catherine," she has a furious character exclaim in reproach, "I gave you the key to my own Library, and borrowed a great many good books of my Neighbors for you." Austen may have feared losing library and lending access, and she longed for a kingdom of books all her own. During her final visit to Godmersham Park in 1813, she wrote to her sister, “I am now alone in the Library, Mistress of all I survey.”

Try to imagine how she might have felt as you peruse the library’s haphazardly arranged contents. Consider which of these books she might have read and which she might have shelved and why. Enter the "Reading with Austen" library project here.

Related Content:

The Jane Austen Fiction Manuscript Archive Is Online: Explore Handwritten Drafts of Persuasion, The Watsons & More

Download the Major Works of Jane Austen as Free eBooks & Audio Books

15-Year-Old Jane Austen Writes a Satirical History Of England: Read the Handwritten Manuscript Online (1791)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A 9th Century Manuscript Teaches Astronomy by Making Sublime Pictures Out of Words

Concrete or visual poetry does not get much respect these days. Tersely defined at the Poetry Foundation as “verse that emphasizes nonlinguistic elements in its meaning" arranged to create “a visual image of the topic,” the form looks like a clever but frivolous novelty in our very serious times. It has seemed so in times past as well.

When Guillaume Apollinaire published his 1918 Calligrammes, his major collection of poems after he fought on the front lines of the first world war, he included several visual poems. Critics like Louis Aragon, “at his most hard-nosed,” notes Stephen Romer at The Guardian, “criticized it sharply for its aestheticism and frivolity.”




Apollinaire also wrote of war as a dazzling spectacle, a tendency that “raised the hackles of critics.” One can see there is moral merit to the objection, even if it misreads Apollinaire. But why should visual poetry not credibly illustrate phenomena we find sublime, just as well as it illustrates potted Christmas trees?

Indeed, the form has always done so, argues prolific visual poet Karl Kempton, until it took a “dystopian” turn after World War I. In his vast history of visual poetry, Kempton reaches back into ancient Buddhist, Sufi, European, and Indigenous cultural history. Forms of visual poetry, he writes, “are associated with ongoing traditions and numerous unfolding pathways traceable to humankind’s earliest surviving communication marks.”

Not as ancient as the examples into which Kempton first dives, the pages here from a manuscript called the Aratea nonetheless show us a use of the form that dates back over 1000 years, and incorporates “nearly 2000 years of cultural history,” writes the Public Domain Review. “Making use of two Roman texts on astronomy written in the 1st century BC, the manuscript was created in Northern France in about 1820.”

The text that has been arranged into images wasn’t originally poetry, though one might argue that arranging it thus makes us read it that way. Instead, the words are taken from Hyginus’ Astronomica, a “star atlas and book of stories” of somewhat uncertain origin. The poems in lined verse below each image are by 3rd century BC Greek poet Aratus (hence the title), “translated into Latin by young Cicero.”

If this feels like hefty material for a literary production that might seem more whimsical than awe-inspiring, we must consider that the manuscript’s first—and necessarily few—readers would have seen it differently. The text is a visual mnemonic device, the red dots showing the positions of the stars in the constellations: an aesthetic pedagogy that threads together visual perception, memory, imagination, and cognition.

“The passages used to form the images describe the constellation which they create on the page,” the Public Domain Review writes, “and in this way they become tied to one another: neither the words nor the images would make full sense without the other to complete the scene.” We are encouraged to read the stars through art and literature and to read poetry with an illustrated mythological star chart in hand.

The Aratea is a fascinating manuscript not only for its visually poetic illuminations, but also for its significance across several spans of time. Its physical existence is necessarily tied to the British Library where it resides. One of the institution’s first artifacts, it was “sold to the nation in 1752 under the same Act of Parliament which created the British Museum.”

“Part of a larger miscellany of scientific works,” including several notes and commentaries on natural philosophy, as the British Library describes it, the medieval text uses classical sources to contemplate the heavens in a form that is not only pre-Christian and pre-Roman, but perhaps, as Kempton argues, dates to the origins of writing itself.

via The Public Domain Review

Related Content:

Behold Fantastical Illustrations from the 13th Century Arabic Manuscript Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing

800 Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts Are Now Online: Browse & Download Them Courtesy of the British Library and Bibliothèque Nationale de France

700 Years of Persian Manuscripts Now Digitized and Available Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Prediction of How American Democracy Could Lapse Into Despotism, Read by Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq's third novel Platform, which involves a terrorist bombing in southeast Asia, came out the year before a similar real-life incident occurred in Thailand. His seventh novel Submission, about the conversion of France into a Muslim country, came out the same day as the massacre at the offices of Islam-provoking satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. His most recent novel Serotonin, in which farmers violently revolt against the French state, happened to come out in the early stages of the populist "yellow vest" movement. Houellebecq has thus, even by some of his many detractors, been credited with a certain prescience about the social and political dangers of the world in which we live today.

So too has a countryman of Houellebecq's who did his writing more than 150 years earlier: Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, the enduring study of that then-new country and its daringly experimental political system. And what does perhaps France's best-known living man of letters think of Tocqueville, one of his best-known predecessors? "I read him for the first time long ago and really found it a bit boring," Houellebecq says in the interview clip above, with a flatness reminiscent of his novels' disaffected narrators. "Then I tried again two years ago and I was thunderstruck."




As an example of Tocqueville's clear-eyed assessment of democracy, Houellebecq reads aloud this passage about its potential to turn into despotism:

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Being a writer, Houellebecq naturally points out the deftness of Tocqueville's style: "It's magnificently punctuated. The distribution of colons and semicolons in the sections is magnificent." But he also has comments on the passage's philosophy, pronouncing that it "contains Nietzsche, only better." The operative Nietzschean concept here is the "last man," described in Thus Spoke Zarathustra as the presumable end point of modern society. If conditions continue to progress in the way they have been, each and every human being will become this last man, a weak, comfortable, complacent individual with nothing left to fight for, who desires nothing more than his small pleasure for the day, his small pleasure for the night, and a good sleep.

Safe to say that neither Nietzsche nor Tocqueville looked forward, nor does Houellebecq look forward, to the world of enervated last men into which democracy could deliver us. Houellebecq also reads aloud another passage from Democracy in America, one that now appears on the Wikipedia page for soft despotism, describing how a democratic government might gain absolute power over its people without the people even noticing:

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

"A lot of what I've written could be situated within this scenario," Houellebecq says, adding that in his generation the "definitive transformation of society into individuals" has been more complete than Tocqueville or Nietzsche would have imagined.

In addition to lacking a family, Houellebecq (whose second novel was titled Atomized) also mentions having "the impression of being caught up in a network of complicated, minute, and stupid rules" as well as "of being herded toward a uniform kind of happiness, toward a happiness which doesn't really make me happy." In the end, adds Houellebecq, the aristocratic Tocqueville "is in favor of the development of democracy and equality, while being more aware than anyone else of its dangers." That the 19th-century America Tocqueville knew avoided them he credited to the "habits of the heart" of the American people. We citizens of democratic countries, whichever democratic country we live in, would do well to ask where the habits of our own hearts will lead us next.

Related Content:

Alexis De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America: An Animated Introduction to the Most Insightful Study of American Democracy

How to Know if Your Country Is Heading Toward Despotism: An Educational Film from 1946

George Orwell’s Final Warning: Don’t Let This Nightmare Situation Happen. It Depends on You!

Is Modern Society Stealing What Makes Us Human?: A Glimpse Into Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra by The Partially Examined Life

The History of Western Social Theory, by Alan MacFarlane, Cambridge University

Hunter S. Thompson Gets in a Gunfight with His Neighbor & Dispenses Political Wisdom: “In a Democracy, You Have to Be a Player”

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

An Animated Introduction to the Magical Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges

"Reading the work of Jorge Luis Borges for the first time is like discovering a new letter in the alphabet, or a new note in the musical scale," writes the BBC's Jane Ciabattari. Borges' essay-like works of fiction are "filled with private jokes and esoterica, historiography and sardonic footnotes. They are brief, often with abrupt beginnings." His "use of labyrinths, mirrors, chess games and detective stories creates a complex intellectual landscape, yet his language is clear, with ironic undertones. He presents the most fantastic of scenes in simple terms, seducing us into the forking pathway of his seemingly infinite imagination."

If that sounds like your idea of good read, look a little deeper into the work of Argentina's most famous literary figure through the animated TED-Ed lesson above. Mexican writer and critic Ilan Stavans, the lesson's creator, begins his introduction to Borges by describing a man who "not only remembers everything he has ever seen, but every time he has seen it in perfect detail." Many of you will immediately recognize Funes the Memorious, the star of Borges' 1942 story of the same name — and those who don't will surely want to know more about him.




Stavans goes on to describe a library "built out of countless identical rooms, each containing the same number of books of the same length," that as a whole "contains every possible variation of text." He also mentions a rumored "lost labyrinth" that turns out to be "not a physical maze but a novel," and a novel that reveals the identity of the real labyrinth: time itself. Borges enthusiasts know which places Stavans is talking about, meaning they know in which of Borges' stories — which their author, sticking to a word from his native Spanish, referred to as ficciones — they originate.

But though "The Library of Babel" (which in recent years has taken a digital form online) and "The Garden Forking Paths" count as two particularly notable examples of what Stavans calls "Borges' many explorations of infinity," he found so many ways to explore that subject throughout his writing career that his literary output functions as a consciousness-altering substance. It does to the right readers, that is, a group that includes such other mind-bending writers as Umberto Eco, Roberto Bolaño, and William Gibson, none of whom were quite the same after they discovered the ficciones. Behold Borges' mirrors, mazes, tigers, and chess games yourself — thereby catching a glimpse of infinity — and you, too, will never be able to return to the reader you once were. Not that you'd want to.

Related Content:

Jorge Luis Borges Explains The Task of Art

Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967-8 Norton Lectures On Poetry (And Everything Else Literary)

An Animated Introduction to H.P. Lovecraft and How He Invented a New Gothic Horror

Why Should You Read James Joyce’s Ulysses?: A New TED-ED Animation Makes the Case

Why You Should Read The Master and Margarita: An Animated Introduction to Bulgakov’s Rollicking Soviet Satire

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Beatles Songs Re-Imagined as Vintage Book Covers and Magazine Pages: “Drive My Car,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” & More

What makes the Beatles the best-known rock band in history? None can deny that they composed songs of unsurpassed catchiness, a quality demonstrated as soon as those songs hit the airwaves. But the past 55 or so years have shown us that they also possess an enduring power to inspire: how many beginning musicians, fired up by their enjoyment of the Beatles, play their first notes each day? The tributes to the music of the Beatles keep coming in non-musical forms as well: take, for example, these Beatles songs turned into vintage book covers and magazine pages by screenwriter and self-described "graphic-arts prankster" Todd Alcott.

"'Drive My Car' re-imagines the classic 1965 Beatles song as a classic 1965 advertisement for an actual car," Alcott writes of the work at the top of the post, "mashing up the image from an ad for a 1966 Chevrolet Corvair with the lyrics from the song."




Below that, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" makes of that number a mass-market book cover "in the style of Erich von Daniken's classic 1970s alien-visitation book Chariots of the Gods?" Below, Alcott's interpretation of "Tomorrow Never Knows" perfectly re-creates the look (and, with that visible cover wear, the feel) of a heady 1960s science-fiction novel.

Tomorrow Never Knows does sound like a plausible piece of speculative fiction from that era, but Alcott has made use of much more than these songs' titles. Even casual Beatles fans will notice how much of their lyrical content he manages to work into his designs, for which the 1967 National Enquirer cover pastiche he put together for the 1967 single "A Day in the Life" ("complete with photos of Tory Browne, the Guinness heir about whom the song was written") offered an especially rich opportunity. Just when the Beatles broke up in real life, the era of the new-age self-help book began, and after seeing what Alcott did with "Hello Goodbye" using the distinctive visual branding of that publishing trend, you'll wonder why no one cashed in on such a combination at the time.

You can see all of Alcott's Beatles book cover and magazine page designs, and buy prints of them in various sizes, over at Etsy. Other selections include "Rocky Raccoon" as an 1880s dime novel (publishers of which included a firm named Beadles) and "Revolution" as a Soviet history book. Open Culture readers will know Alcott from his previous forays into retro music-to-book graphic design, which took the songs of David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Radiohead and others and re-imagined them as sci-fi novels, pulp-fiction magazines, and other artifacts of print culture from times past. In the case of the Beatles, Alcott's formidable skill at evoking a highly specific era of recent history with an image underscores, by contrast, the timelessness of the songs that inspired them.

Related Content:

A Short Film on the Famous Crosswalk From the Beatles’ Abbey Road Album Cover

How The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Changed Album Cover Design Forever

Songs by David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads & More Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers

Classic Songs by Bob Dylan Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers: “Like a Rolling Stone,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” & More

Classic Radiohead Songs Re-Imagined as a Sci-Fi Book, Pulp Fiction Magazine & Other Nostalgic Artifacts

Pulp Covers for Classic Detective Novels by Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie & Raymond Chandler

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Behold Fantastical Illustrations from the 13th Century Arabic Manuscript Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing

Religion, history, medicine, poetry, ethnography, zoology, cosmology, political philosophy—in many a medieval text, these categories all seem to melt together. Or rather, they don’t exist separately in the way we think of them, as labels on a library shelf and courses in a catalogue. The same logical rules do not apply—the appeal to authority, for example is not a fallacy so much as a primary methodology. If knowledge came from the right prophet, scholar, or sage, it could be trusted, a mode of thinking that gave rise to monsters, phantoms, and outlandish beings of all kinds.

It’s easy to call these methods primitive, but so-called medieval ways of thinking are still very much with us, and thinkers hundreds and thousands of years ago have had surprisingly scientific approaches, despite limited resources and technologies.




We find both the fantastical and the scientific woven together in medieval manuscripts, illuminating and commenting on each other. And we find exactly that in the works of Abu Yahya Zakariya' ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini, Persian writer, physician, astronomer, geographer, and author of a 13th century treatise called ‘Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt, or Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing.

This work is “the most well-known example,” writes the National Library of Medicine, “of a genre of classical Islamic literature that was concerned with ‘mirabilia’ or wonders of creation.” Drawing on 50 different authors, including several ancient Islamic geographers and historians, Qazwini weaves myth, legend, and science, tying them together with stories and poetry. The Qur’an and hadith are significant sources—for a section on “angelology,” for example. When the cosmography comes down to earth, moving down through the ranks of humans, beasts, plants, and minerals, all sorts of weird, folkloric terrestrial creatures show up.

The phoenix (or Simurgh), for example, and the Homa, or paradise bird—which lands on someone’s head and instantly makes them king—sit comfortably next to eagles, vultures, and ostriches, all of which are construed as marvelous or miraculous in some way.

The treatise covered all the wonders of the world, and the variety of the subject matter (humans and their anatomy, plants, animals, strange creatures at the edges of the inhabited world, constellations of stars, zodiacal signs, angels, and demons) provided great scope for the artist.

First written in Arabic in the late 1200s and dedicated to the governor of Baghdad, the manuscript was “immensely popular” in the Islamic world. It was translated into Persian and Turkish and copied out in richly illustrated editions for centuries. The images here come from a Persian translation, “thought to hail from 17th-century Mughal India,” writes The Public Domain Review, and the art vividly displays the “eclectic mix of topics” in al-Qazwini’s book. These were subjects that “challenged understanding”—often because they concerned things that do not exist, and often because they described natural phenomenon that could not yet be explained.

“From humans and their anatomy to strange mythical creatures; from plants and animals to constellations of stars and zodiacal signs,” The Public Domain Review explains, the treatise purported to survey all the “known” world. Al-Qazwini embellished his explorations for entertainment purposes, but he also created extensive taxonomies and described practical science like the use of “a type of pitch or tar that we today know as asphalt,” San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum notes in their catalogue description of another illustrated manuscript, in Arabic, from 1650. For al-Qazwini and his readers, as for other 13th-century scholars, writers, and readers around the world, the boundaries between faith, fact, and fiction were permeable, and imagination sometimes seems to have been the ultimate authority.

via The Public Domain Review 

Related Content:

700 Years of Persian Manuscripts Now Digitized and Available Online

The Complex Geometry of Islamic Art & Design: A Short Introduction

Learn Islamic & Indian Philosophy with 107 Episodes of the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps Podcast

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

More in this category... »
Quantcast