A Cabinet of Curiosities: Discover The Public Domain Review’s New Book of Essays


Many of the reg­u­lars to the glo­ri­ous pages of Open Cul­ture might be famil­iar with The Pub­lic Domain Review project, hav­ing been fea­tured on OC a fair few times. From six­teenth-cen­tu­ry wood­cuts on how to swim to hand-col­ored pho­tographs of nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Japan, you will have seen links to all sorts of his­tor­i­cal odd­i­ties and delights that we’ve gath­ered from var­i­ous archives and high­light­ed on The Pub­lic Domain Review. In addi­tion to these short­er col­lec­tion posts, since we start­ed in 2011, we’ve also pub­lished a steady stream of long-form essays on sim­i­lar won­ders from the his­tor­i­cal record. It is with great plea­sure this week to announce that The Pub­lic Domain Review has com­piled a selec­tion of these essays into a brand-new beau­ti­ful book!

Spread across six themed chap­ters – Ani­mals, Bod­ies, Words, Worlds, Encoun­ters and Net­works – the col­lec­tion includes a total of thir­ty-four essays from a stel­lar line up of con­trib­u­tors, includ­ing Jack Zipes, Frank Delaney, Col­in Dick­ey, George Prochnik, Noga Arikha, and Julian Barnes.


There’s a whole host of weird and won­der­ful top­ics explored: from the case of Mary Toft, the woman who claimed to give birth to rab­bits, to William Warren’s search for the coor­di­nates of Eden; from Thomas Browne’s odd litany of imag­ined arte­facts, to the phrase­books of the invent­ed lan­guage Volapük; from the strange lit­er­ary fruits of the “it-nar­ra­tive” fad, to epic verse in praise of a cat named Jeof­fry; from a his­to­ry of the paint­ed smile, to the bizarre world of medieval ani­mals tri­als.

The col­lec­tion is not all obscu­ri­ties and unknown tales. We have some big hit­ters in there too. Great essays on fig­ures you will no doubt have heard of — the Broth­ers Grimm, Proust , Flaubert, Joyce — but all approached from new angles and illu­mi­nat­ed by unfa­mil­iar lights.

With 146 illus­tra­tions, more than half of which have been new­ly sourced espe­cial­ly for the book, this is very far from sim­ply the web­site in print form. It is a beau­ti­ful object in and of itself, lov­ing­ly designed by writer and design­er Nicholas Jeeves.

Any­how, I hope I’ve enticed you all suf­fi­cient­ly to check out the page on the site for more details, and per­haps even to place an order or two! If you would like to grab your­self a copy then do make sure to put your order in before mid­night on Novem­ber 26th as up until then we’ll be offer­ing the book for a spe­cial dis­count­ed rate and also ensur­ing deliv­ery by Christ­mas.

Adam Green is the co-founder and edi­tor of The Pub­lic Domain Review.

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