Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rare Book Room

Gaining access to rare books is a problem for the ordinary reader - they can be viewed in exhibitions, but for the most part they can only be read by the privileged few with access to the special libraries that have copies. Digitisation and the Internet have changed this situation as many Libraries now make electronic versions of the books available online.

Ten years ago a company called Octavo began "digitally photographing some of the world ’s great books from some of the greatest libraries. These books were photographed at very high resolution (in some cases at over 200 megabytes per page)."

The Rare Book Room contains all of the books (about 400) that Octavo have digitized to date. These range over a wide variety of topics and rarity. In particular the site includes:

1. Some of the great books in science, including books by Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, Einstein, Darwin and others.

2. Most of the Shakespeare Quartos from the British Library, the Bodleian Library, the University of Edinburgh Library, and the National Library of Scotland. It also contains the First Folio from the Folger Shakespeare Library.

3. The complet copies of Poor Richard ’s Almanac by Benjaman Franklin.

4. Very rare editions: Gutenberg ’s Bible of 1455 (from the Library of Congress), Harvey's book on the circulation of blood, Galileo ’s Siderius Nuncius, the first printing of the Bill of Rights, and the Magna Carta.

The first edition of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary is included - as far as I know the only freely available online copy.

Among my own favourites is Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio a series of massive, detailed prints depicting the life and culture of the North American Indians. Catlin spent eight years of his life studying and drawing the members of some 48 Indian tribes before publishing this portfolio, which is based on a small part of his massive outpouring of paintings and sketches.

Although the books presented here are scanned to fairly high resolutions - still try to see the originals if you can, because they possess an innate magic that the camera cannot capture.

(note that the images won't load in a Safari browser - so if you use a Mac use Firefox or Camino)

Friday, June 29, 2007

Amnesty International Report 2007

All across the world governments are waging war against their own populations. It is an undeclared war, but probably the longest-lasting conflict in history - in which the rich make war on the poor, and the powerful make war on the weak. Amnesty International is one of the few organisations attempting to document human rights abuses across the world, and its annual report makes chilling reading - the understated tone of the report adding weight to what is essentially an indictment of our rulers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Library Fix

Musings on using libraries by Garrison Keillor:
"The library is the temple of freedom. Growing up, we kids were aware of how much of our lives was a performance for adults. In school, at church, in Scouts, adults were watching, cueing you, coaching, encouraging, commenting; but in the library, you didn't have to perform for the librarian. She simply presided over an orderly world in which you had the freedom of your own imagination. The silence was not repressive but liberating: to allow your imagination to play, uninhibited by others:

Monday, June 25, 2007

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

Roger Deakin's Wildwood, completed shortly before his death last summer has just been published by Hamish Hamilton. Tobias Jones has reviewed it in The Times - "the result is a breathtaking book":

[link shortened at tinyurl]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Word on the Street

A great collection of street literature that contains nearly 1,800 Scottlish "Broadsides" covering the period 1650-1910. Broadsides were the "tabloids of their day. Sometimes pinned up on walls in houses and ale-houses, these single sheets carried public notices, news, speeches and songs that could be read (or sung) aloud."

The subjects include crime, politics, romance, emigration, humour, tragedy, royalty and superstitions and each broadside comes with a detailed commentary and most also have a full transcription of the text, plus a downloadable PDF facsimile. You can search by keyword, browse by title or browse by subject.
From the National Library of Scotland:

Saturday, June 23, 2007

From Verne to Vonnegut:

A Century of Science Fiction: an online exhibition based on the Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library, curated by Iris Snyder. This exhibition covers early works of science fiction including Thomas More's Utopia (1566) Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (1627) and
the Journey of Neils Klim to the World Underground (1741) which "follows the adventures at the center of the earth of Niels Klim, a penniless Norwegian student, after he plunges into a bottomless hole in a cave. Klim discovers exotic civilizations and fabulous creatures scattered across the underside of the earth's crust and, at the earth's center, a small, inhabited planet orbiting around a miniature sun". Other sections cover S F Magazines, "Aliens & Others", "Other Voices" (looking at African-American authors, women authors and gender issues), dystopias, "curator's choice" and there is also a short bibilography. Its an interesting site - the only downside is that the illustrations could have been larger, enabling a better appreciation of some great artwork!

Other online exhibitions available on the University of Delaware site include an exhibition on The Animal Kingdom: Six centuries of Zoological Illustration, Samuel Beckett: A Celebration, The Art of Botanical Illustration, and Ezra Pound in His Time and Beyond. A complete list is available here:

Friday, June 15, 2007

Mule: News with a Kick

MULE is a not-for-profit, grassroots, quarterly newspaper with a print-run of 20,000 handed out free on the streets. It is committed to using mass distribution as a tool for promoting social, environmental and economic justice and peace. The first issue - "The Radioactive Issue" - is online at:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In Print.....

Some new books:

The Anarchist Geographer: an Introduction to the Life of Peter Kropotkin, by Brian Morris. Published in paperback at £7.50 by the Genge Press. 0954904338
There are rumours that this long awaited book may now be published.

The Old World is Behind You: the Situationists and Beyond in Contemporary Anarchism.
Published in paperback at £8.06 by Autonomedia (July 2007) 1570271801
An anthropological investigation of the situationist influence on contemporary anarchism.

Divagations by Stephane Mallarme.
Published by Belknap Press, March 2007. hardback 0674024389 £19.95
"An entrancing work through which a notoriously difficult-to-translate voice shines in all of its languor and musicality."

Beat Generation by Jack Kerouac.
Oneworld Classics, May 2007. paperback 9781847490070
"Kerouac's characters are working-class men and women - a step away from vagrants, but not a big step. Their dialogue positively sings, suggesting jazz riffs in their rythmn and content."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Politics and the English Language

George Orwell's essay remains a great guide to writing clear and concise English. I find it boosts my confidence just to read the passages quoted by Orwell near the beginning of the article, and count the number of negatives crammed into a single sentence by Harold Laski.
The essay is reprinted on the Libcom website:

Some useful websites...

A couple (well four actually) of good websites I have found myself using on several occasions recently are:

Byliner "allows you to keep up-to-date with your favourite writers. You can set up a personal list of writers and Byliner will look out for new articles by them. You can be sent daily or weekly emails containing links to these articles." There are also charts to see what are the most popular articles and writers, and links to sites regularly indexed by byliner. There are 1132 writers listed under the letter"A" alone.

Describes itself as "an intelligence aggregator that tracks the activities of people we have determined to be noteworthy, both living and dead. Superficially, it seems much like a "Who's Who" where a noted person's curriculum vitae is available (the usual information such as date of birth, a biography, and other essential facts.)
But it mostly exists to document the connections between people, many of which are not always obvious. A person's otherwise inexplicable behavior is often understood by examining the crowd that person has been associating with." Currently contains over 24,000 profiles of variable length.

EServer Drama Collection
Full text plays, critical essays, and links to scholarly journals about drama. Read for example, Ben Jonson's amazing prologue to Bartholomew Fair.

The Literature Network

Full text works by a wide range of authors, fiction, classical literature, poems and short stories.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Kokogiack Book Search

This is a nifty new tool for searching the online contents of books, combining results from 3 search engines on a single page. Results from, Google Book Search, and MSNs Live Search are presented side by side. Viewed in this way it is also possible to assess the effectiveness of the different services offered by the three search engines. I was slightly surprised that Live Search provided the most satisfying results, linking to whole text, free content every time, although it failed to work at all when using a Safari browser, and I had to switch to Camino before I could view the results. A9 proved frustrating as it requires logging in to Amazon, who promptly told me that I hadn't purchased enough from them to use the service. Google linked to the largest number of items - but when I tried to view them I was informed they didn't link to full text versions as the publications were in copyright - although many of them were clearly out of copyright. Still the Google and A9 entries are useful as an index to possible sources I can consult in the Library I suppose...