Bill Gates Recommends Five Books to Read This Summer

It's becoming an annual ritual. Every summer Bill Gates offers us a reading list--5-books to take on vacation. As you'll see, his list assumes that even if you're physically on vacation, your mind isn't. The curious mind takes no breaks. Bill writes:

Upheaval, by Jared Diamond. I’m a big fan of everything Jared has written, and his latest is no exception. The book explores how societies react during moments of crisis. He uses a series of fascinating case studies to show how nations managed existential challenges like civil war, foreign threats, and general malaise. It sounds a bit depressing, but I finished the book even more optimistic about our ability to solve problems than I started. More here.

Nine Pints, by Rose George. If you get grossed out by blood, this one probably isn’t for you. But if you’re like me and find it fascinating, you’ll enjoy this book by a British journalist with an especially personal connection to the subject. I’m a big fan of books that go deep on one specific topic, so Nine Pints (the title refers to the volume of blood in the average adult) was right up my alley. It’s filled with super-interesting facts that will leave you with a new appreciation for blood. More here.

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. It seems like everyone I know has read this book. I finally joined the club after my brother-in-law sent me a copy, and I’m glad I did. Towles’s novel about a count sentenced to life under house arrest in a Moscow hotel is fun, clever, and surprisingly upbeat. Even if you don’t enjoy reading about Russia as much as I do (I’ve read every book by Dostoyevsky), A Gentleman in Moscow is an amazing story that anyone can enjoy. More here.

Presidents of War, by Michael Beschloss. My interest in all aspects of the Vietnam War is the main reason I decided to pick up this book. By the time I finished it, I learned a lot not only about Vietnam but about the eight other major conflicts the U.S. entered between the turn of the 19th century and the 1970s. Beschloss’s broad scope lets you draw important cross-cutting lessons about presidential leadership. More here.

The Future of Capitalism, by Paul Collier. Collier’s latest book is a thought-provoking look at a topic that’s top of mind for a lot of people right now. Although I don’t agree with him about everything—I think his analysis of the problem is better than his proposed solutions—his background as a development economist gives him a smart perspective on where capitalism is headed.

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The Lives of John Coltrane & Billie Holiday Are Now Told in Two Graphic Novels

How do you tell the stories of larger-than-life cultural figures—of people whose histories intersect with pivotal moments in American history, whose careers set new standards for excellence—without oversimplifying and risking caricature? With comic art, of course. Graphic novels have long proven themselves worthy vehicles for biography. Something about the bold strokes of the illustrations, the dialogue in word bubble form, and the panel style of storytelling makes for a particularly vivid encounter with history.

Artist Paolo Parisi has capitalized on this kismet of form and content in three biographical graphic novels now, one of which—the story of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s rise to fame and fortune—we highlighted just a couple days ago.




Parisi’s earlier efforts took on no less iconic figures than John Coltrane and Billie Holiday in Coltrane and Blues for Lady Day: The Story of Billie Holiday. The Italian artist has demonstrated a passion for American music, especially jazz, in his career as an illustrator. As a writer, he also displays a talent for restraint, largely letting the images tell the story.

As in Basquiat, these images are both drawn from famous photographs and from imaginative reconstructions of what it might have been like, sitting in on recording sessions, in the clubs, and in the heated conversations. Parisi may inevitably view his subjects through an outsider's lens—he may romanticize them at times and may elide important, but hard to visualize, details, as is the nature of the form.

But he excels at making these two musical giants approachable, telling their stories in broad strokes so that those who haven’t read the dense, heavily-footnoted tomes about them can develop appreciation and empathy for their art and too-short lives. It is a sad irony that those who burn bright and die young leave behind the most compelling material for those who tell their stories.

Parisi seems drawn to such tragic figures, or perhaps the form itself requires high-contrast highs and lows. “How could a graphic treatment provide anything other than the sketchiest of details?" asks Coltrane reviewer William Rycroft Tring. “Perhaps by choosing the right subject.” In Coltrane and Holiday, Parisi has two subjects whose lives were inherently dramatic, full of major triumphs and tragedies.

Above all is the music. Graphic novels may not be substitutes for a “proper biography,” as Tring writes, but they are excellent supplements for getting to know the artists as you listen to Lady Sings the Blues or A Love Supreme, whether for the first time or the millionth.

You can pick up copies of Coltrane and Blues for Lady Day: The Story of Billie Holiday online.

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An Animated John Coltrane Explains His True Reason for Being: “I Want to Be a Force for Real Good”

How “America’s First Drug Czar” Waged War Against Billie Holiday and Other Jazz Legends

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

The Story of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Rise in the 1980s Art World Gets Told in a New Graphic Novel

Jean-Michel Basquiat was keenly sensitive to the way the art market thought about him. He was compared to “a preacher possessed by the spirit,” his art, wrote critics, indicative of his “inner child.” This talk, writes Artnet's Bruce Gopnik, “could easily veer into ideas of the Noble Savage.” The artist thought so; he was disgusted by his portrayal as “a wild man running around,” he said. He wanted no part of the primitivist image forced upon him. Yet “to this day, he’s almost always billed as being more in touch with his emotions and the passions of urban life than with the orderly reasoning of post-Enlightenment culture.”

This itself is a false dichotomy—between expressionist and conceptual art, “urban” passions and reason—but if anyone gets caught in-between, it’s Basquiat. Gopnick leans, maybe too heavily, on the conceptual side of things, pushing comparisons between Jenny Holzer and Hans Haacke, downplaying Basquiat’s roots as a street artist and his connections to hip hop and new wave. Basquiat had his ear to the street—also an artifact of post-Enlightenment culture—and was hardly comfortable with the orderly reasoning of the massively profitable art market.

Whatever anyone wants to call his work, it makes no sense to separate it from its context: Basquiat’s Brooklyn home and Lower East Side stomping grounds, the downtown scene in which he came of age, his complicated relationships with Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Julian Schnabel, three of many figures who, along with Basquiat, created the huge 1980s art market and art gallery culture. A new graphic novel by Italian illustrator Paolo Parisi promises a new take on the now-well-worn biography of Basquiat. It's a story written and drawn by a fellow conceptual artist, albeit one whose work more fits the image.

With eye-popping primary and secondary tones—the comic book colors favored by Basquiat and his contemporaries—Parisi takes some license, imagining conversations that may or may not have occurred. “Basquiat comes off as a bit more naïve and far less conflicted than we now know him to be,” writes Eileen Kinsella at Artnet. The chapter excerpted there, “New Art/New Money,” (see a few pages above and below), has multiple perspectives. In a reconstructed dinner scene between art dealers Mary Boone and Larry Gagosian, Basquiat doesn’t even appear.

But the narrative also draws directly from Basquiat’s own words. One page is a facsimile of a handwritten note the artist made in April 1984. “I have money everywhere, everywhere. I’m paid exorbitant sums for a single piece,” he writes, not to boast but to marvel at the incredible amount of inflation he sees all around him:

A picture I sold to Debbie Harry for $200 only a couple of years ago is now worth $20,000. That’s the art market today. Working with gallery owners is exhausting.

                                                They always want

                                                            More

                                                            More

                                                            More

Later Parisi adapts the artist’s thoughts in a critical monologue: The gallerists “have this way of doing things I’ve never seen before. They focus a lot on the artist’s image, buy in bulk, decide who to promote and how. They often buy and sell among themselves, between galleries. They never respect agreements. I don’t think I’ll be able to trust them.” Basquiat’s frustration at “something rotten in this scene” made him consider giving up painting for good. He didn’t get the chance, though Parisi has him tell a girlfriend “Picasso died at ninety… I’m certainly not going before then.”

Parisi, who has also written and illustrated graphic biographies of Billie Holiday and John Coltrane, has an ear for American speech patterns and class and race dynamics, drawing out with more or less subtlety the associations between the art world’s fascination with “primitivist” art and the continuing resonances of slavery and colonialism in its hyper-capitalist economy. Was Basquiat a childlike character who only slowly realized the greedy machinations of the dealers?

In the 2010 documentary The Radiant Child, his former graffiti partner Al Diaz explains his motivations from the very beginning. “We wanted to do some kind of conceptual art project.” Basquiat aimed directly at the art world, writing messages on walls like “4 THE SO-CALLED AVANT-GARDE.” Once in its company, however, he found, like many other fiercely independent artists who make it big, it wasn’t worth the money. Read the fully excerpted chapter at Artnet and purchase Parisi's graphic novel Basquiat online.

via Artnet

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The Writing System of the Cryptic Voynich Manuscript Explained: British Researcher May Have Finally Cracked the Code

Humanity will remember the name of James Joyce for generations to come, not least because, as he once wrote about his best-known novel Ulysses, "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality." If Joyce was right, then the author of the mysterious Voynich manuscript (about which you can see an animated introduction here) has set a kind of standard for immortality. Filled with odd, not especially explanatory illustrations and written in a script not seen anywhere else, the early 15th-century text has perplexed scholars for at least 400 or so years of its existence.

But recent years have seen a few claims of having cracked the Voynich manuscript's code: one effort made use of artificial intelligence, another concludes that the text was written in phonetic Old Turkish, and the latest declares the Voynich manuscript to have been composed in "the only known example of proto-Romance language." University of Bristol Research Associate Gerard Cheshire, the man behind this new decoding, describes that language as "ancestral to today’s Romance languages including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan and Galician. The language used was ubiquitous in the Mediterranean during the Medieval period, but it was seldom written in official or important documents because Latin was the language of royalty, church and government."




And what, pray tell, is the Voynich manuscript actually about? Cheshire has revealed little about its content thus far, though he has described the text as "compiled by Dominican nuns as a source of reference for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon." Though he has claimed to determine the nature of its unusual language — one without punctuation but with "diphthong, triphthongs, quadriphthongs and even quintiphthongs for the abbreviation of phonetic components" — deciphering its more than 200 pages of content stands as another task altogether. In the meantime, you can read his paper "The Language and Writing System of MS408 (Voynich) Explained," originally published in the journal Romance Studies.

Although Cheshire's discovery has produced headlines like the Express' "Voynich Manuscript SOLVED: World’s Most Mysterious Book Deciphered After 600 Years," others include Ars Techhnica's "No, Someone Hasn't Cracked the Code of the Mysterious Voynich Manuscript." That article quotes Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America (and vocal Voynich-translation skeptic), criticizing the foundation of Cheshire's claim: "He starts with a theory about what a particular series of glyphs might mean, usually because of the word's proximity to an image that he believes he can interpret. He then investigates any number of medieval Romance-language dictionaries until he finds a word that seems to suit his theory. Then he argues that because he has found a Romance-language word that fits his hypothesis, his hypothesis must be right."

Fagin Davis adds that Cheshire's "'translations' from what is essentially gibberish, an amalgam of multiple languages, are themselves aspirational rather than being actual translations," and that "the fundamental underlying argument — that there is such a thing as one 'proto-Romance language' — is completely unsubstantiated and at odds with paleolinguistics." Fagin Davis' criticism doesn't even stop there, and if she's right, Cheshire's approach will be unlikely to produce a coherent translation of the entire text. And so, at least for the moment, the Voynich manuscript's life as a mystery continues, keeping busy not just professors but enthusiasts, technologists, Research Associates, and many others besides.

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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.

Oliver Sacks’ Recommended Reading List of 46 Books: From Plants and Neuroscience, to Poetry and the Prose of Nabokov

Image by Luigi Novi. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

We remember Oliver Sacks as a neurologist, but we remember him not least because he wrote quite a few books as well. If you read those books, you'll get a sense of Sacks' wide range of interests — invention, perception and misperception, hallucination, and more — few of which lack a connection to the human mind. His passion for ferns, the core subject of a travelogue he wrote in Oaxaca as well as an unexpectedly frequent object of reference in his other writings and talks, may seem an outlier. But for Sacks, ferns offered one more window into the kingdom of nature that produced humanity, and which throughout his life he tried to understand by observing from as many different angles as possible.

No small amount of evidence of that pursuit appears in Sacks' list of 46 book recommendations commissioned for The Strand's "Author's Bookshelf" series. (See the full list below.) A fair few of its selections, including William James' The Principles of PsychologyA.R. Luria's The Mind of a Mnemonistand Antonio Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens, seem like natural favorites for a writer so endlessly fascinated by human cognition and consciousness.

Tracing the development of the human brain and mind would, of course, lead to an interest in biology and evolution, here resulting in such picks as Edward O. Wilson's Naturalist, Carl Zimmer's Evolution: The Triumph of an Ideaand the journals Charles Darwin kept aboard the Beagle.

But Sacks wasn't just an observer of the brain: some of his most interesting writings come out of the times he used himself as a kind of research subject — as when he found out what he could learn on amphetamines and LSD. A similar line of inquiry no doubt showed him the value of Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, and in less altered states the likes of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams. But whichever paths took Sacks toward his knowledge, he ultimately had to get that knowledge down on paper himself, and the prose of Vladimir Nabokov, the poetry of W.H. Auden and the philosophy of David Hume surely did their part to inspire his incisive and evocative style. We would all, whatever our interests, like to write like Oliver Sacks: if these books shaped him as a writer and thinker, who are we to demur from, say, A Natural History of Ferns?

  • A Natural History of Ferns by Robbin C. Moran
  • A Rum Affair: A True Story of Botanical Fraud by Karl Sabbagh
  • A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume
  • A Visionary Madness: The Case of James Tilly Matthews and the Influencing Machine by Mike Jay
  • Actual Minds, Possible Worlds by Jerome Bruner
  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
  • Cannery Row (Steinbeck Centennial Edition (1902-2002)) by John Steinbeck
  • Challenger & Company: the Complete Adventures of Professor Challenger and His Intrepid Team-The Lost World, The Poison Belt, The Land of Mists, The Disintegration Machine and When the World Screamed by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Collected Poems by W.H. Auden
  • Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond by Robert R. Provine
  • Darwin and the Barnacle: The Story of One Tiny Creature and History's Most Spectacular Scientific Breakthrough by Rebecca Stott
  • Disturbing the Universe by Freeman Dyson
  • Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
  • Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea by Carl Zimmer
  • Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing by Laura J. Snyder
  • God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet
  • Ignorance: How It Drives Science by Stuart Firestein
  • Imagining Robert: My Brother, Madness, and Survival by Jay Neugeboren
  • In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind by Eric R. Kandel
  • Inward Bound: Of Matter and Forces in the Physical World by Abraham Pais
  • Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics by Ruth Lewin Sime
  • Lost in America: A Journey with My Father by Sherwin B. Nuland
  • Music, Language, and the Brain by Aniruddh D. Patel
  • Naturalist by Edward O. Wilson
  • Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind by V.S. Ramachandran
  • Plutonium: A History of the World's Most Dangerous Element by Jeremy Bernstein
  • Same and Not the Same by Roald Hoffmann
  • Selected Poems by Thom Gunn
  • Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants by Katy Payne
  • Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox
  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes
  • The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy by Bill Hayes
  • The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley
  • The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux
  • The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness by Antonio Damasio
  • The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
  • The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World by Jenny Uglow
  • The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory by A. R. Luria
  • The Principles of Psychology (Volume Two) by William James
  • The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
  • Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin
  • Time, Love, Memory: A Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior by Jonathan Weiner
  • Voyage of the Beagle: Charles Darwin's Journals of Researches by Charles Darwin
  • What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz
  • What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery by Francis Crick
  • Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould

To purchase books on this list, visit The Strand's website.

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29 Lists of Recommended Books Created by Well-Known Authors, Artists & Thinkers: Jorge Luis Borges, Patti Smith, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, David Bowie & More

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.

The Artistry of the Mentally Ill: The 1922 Book That Published the Fascinating Work of Schizophrenic Patients, and Influenced Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky & Other Avant Garde Artists

It's an enduring irony of art history: artists whose work has come to define high culture are often characterized by various mental health issues. But the artwork of ordinary, anonymous people who struggle with those same issues is regarded as therapy, maybe, or a diversion, or a meaningless form of busy work. Though the art world has created a market for “outsider art,” it can seem like such work and its creators get viewed through an ethnographic lens rather than humanizing portraits of the artist.

As Michel Foucault demonstrated in Madness and Civilization, institutions sprung over the course of modern European history to quarantine certain classes of people from the rest of society, even if it is troublingly clear to many of us that the distinctions cannot hold—hence, perhaps, the morbid fascination with the madness of famous professional artists. In 1922, German psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn challenged this reigning orthodoxy with the publication of Artistry of the Mentally Ill.




The book, writes the Public Domain Review, "reflected a breakdown of high culture’s claim to ‘civilization,’ exposing the misery and turmoil at the heart of modern life.... Against the grain, the book granted voice to the previously marginalised: those incarcerated, those deemed insane, those suffering under poverty, those untrained, those in the wrong type of institution."

It granted those artists an audience, more to the point, of appreciative fellow artists like Paul Klee, Max Ernst, and Jean Debuffet (who would coin the term Art Brut in response). As should be abundantly clear from the small sampling of images here from the book, modernists took much from the images they saw in Prinzhorn’s book, most of it the unattributed and anonymous work of schizophrenic artists, some of whom themselves draw from earlier modernist trends.

When the Nazis held their “Degenerate Art” exhibitions in 1937, a portion of Prinzhorn’s collection of “over 5000 paintings, drawings, and carvings” was included next to the avant-garde artists it influenced. Art historian Stephanie Barron argues that “one quarter of the illustration pages in the [Degenerate Art Exhibiton’s] guide featured reproductions of the work of these psychiatric patients.” Modernists identified, in complicated ways, with those excluded from civilization, and they were subjected to the same treatment—“the insane and the avant-garde were here equated, both equally pathologized.”

Prinzhorn’s book receded into obscurity, along with the artists it carefully collected and published. It deserves to be far better known, both for its own sake and for its significant influence on the early 20th century avant-garde, and hence all subsequent avant-garde art. The book takes the work it presents seriously—not as childlike attempts or therapeutic interventions, but as expressions of six basic drives “that give rise to image making,” as the Public Domain Review summarizes.

Those universal drives include “an expressive urge, the urge to play, an ornamental urge, an ordering tendency, a tendency to imitate, and the need for symbols. For Prinzhorn, image making is driven by our intense desire to leave traces.” Art, wrote Prinzhorn, represents “an urge in man not to be absorbed passively into his environment, but to impress on it traces of his existence beyond those of purposeful activity.”

The theories of artists like Kandinsky and Debuffet expressed some similar ideas. The former ascended to the realm of spirit and symbol, and the latter acerbically castigated the empty, out-of-touch veneration of high culture. Who knows what the artists here had in mind when creating their work? In Prinzhorn’s analysis, theoretical concerns may be largely irrelevant. The creation of art, by anyone, is a universal human drive that requires no special training, no social sanction, no web of brokers, curators, and collectors. Maybe this is a threatening message to people who police the boundaries of culture.

The middle classes of his day, wrote Debuffet, were "convinced that [their] fashionable knowledge legitimizes the preservation of their caste. They work at persuading the lower classes of this, at convincing some of them of the necessity to safeguard art, that is to say armchairs, that is to say the bourgeois who know with which silk it is proper to upholster these armchairs." Reducing art to a status symbol turns it into so much furniture, he argued; a "recourse to antique styles takes the place of good taste." In the "raw art" of the mentally ill, Debuffet and other modernists saw a renewal of a primal human drive, the creative act.

Prinzhorn’s neglected book is out of print, though you can purchase an expensive 1972 edition on Amazon, and even an expensive Kindle version. See much more of this incredible artwork at the Public Domain Review and read brief profiles from the ten schizophrenic artists Prinzhorn identified in a later section of the book. Artists like Karl Brendel, an amputee former bricklayer from Turingian, who carved haunting wood sculptures and began his art career sculpting with chewed bread, and August Neter, to whom 10,000 figures once appeared in a single vision that later became the subject of enigmatic pencil drawings like World Axis and Rabbit, below.

via Public Domain Review

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

Why Knights Fought Snails in Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts

The snail may leave a trail of slime behind him, but a little slime will do a man no harm... whilst if you dance with dragons, you must expect to burn.

- George R. R. Martin, The Mystery Knight

As any Game of Thrones fan knows, being a knight has its downsides. It isn’t all power, glory, advantageous marriages and gifts ranging from castles to bags of gold.

Sometimes you have to fight a truly formidable opponent.

We’re not talking about bunnies here, though there’s plenty of documentation to suggest medieval rabbits were tough customers.

As Vox Almanac’s Phil Edwards explains, above, the many snails littering the margins of 13th-century manuscripts were also fearsome foes.




Boars, lions, and bears we can understand, but … snails? Why?

Theories abound.

Detail from Brunetto Latini's Li Livres dou Tresor

Edwards favors the one in medievalist Lilian M. C. Randall’s 1962 essay "The Snail in Gothic Marginal Warfare."

Randall, who found some 70 instances of man-on-snail combat in 29 manuscripts dating from the late 1200s to early 1300s, believed that the tiny mollusks were stand ins for the Germanic Lombards who invaded Italy in the 8th century.

After Charlemagne trounced the Lombards in 772, declaring himself King of Lombardy, the vanquished turned to usury and pawnbroking, earning the enmity of the rest of the populace, even those who required their services.

Their profession conferred power of a sort, the kind that tends to get one labelled cowardly, greedy, malicious … and easy to put down.

Which rather begs the question why the knights going toe-to- …uh, facing off against them in the margins of these illuminated manuscripts look so damn intimidated.

(Conversely why was Rex Harrison’s Dr. Dolittle so unafraid of the Giant Pink Sea Snail?)

Detail from from MS. Royal 10 IV E (aka the Smithfield Decretals)

Let us remember that the doodles in medieval marginalia are editorial cartoons wrapped in enigmas, much as today’s memes would seem, 800 years from now. Whatever point—or joke—the scribe was making, it’s been obscured by the mists of time.

And these things have a way of evolving. The snail vs. knight motif disappeared in the 14th-century, only to resurface toward the end of the 15th, when any existing significance would very likely have been tailored to fit the times.

Detail from The Macclesfield Psalter

Other theories that scholars, art historians, bloggers, and armchair medievalists have floated with regard to the symbolism of these rough and ready snails haunting the margins:

The Resurrection

The high clergy, shrinking from problems of the church

The slowness of time

The insulation of the ruling class

The aristocracy’s oppression of the poor

A critique of social climbers

Female sexuality (isn’t everything?)

Virtuous humility, as opposed to knightly pride

The snail’s reign of terror in the garden (not so symbolic, perhaps…)

A practical-minded Reddit commenter offers the following commentary:

I like to imagine a monk drawing out his fantastical daydreams, the snail being his nemesis, leaving unsightly trails across the page and him building up in his head this great victory wherein he vanquishes them forever, never again to be plagued by the beastly buggers while creating his masterpieces.

Readers, any other ideas?

Detail from The Gorleston Psalter

Related Content:

Killer Rabbits in Medieval Manuscripts: Why So Many Drawings in the Margins Depict Bunnies Going Bad

Medieval Cats Behaving Badly: Kitties That Left Paw Prints … and Peed … on 15th Century Manuscripts

The Aberdeen Bestiary, One of the Great Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts, Now Digitized in High Resolution & Made Available Online

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City May 13 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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