Thursday, February 27, 2020

Diego Rivera: The Complete Murals by Luis-Martín Lozano and Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera

Finally, a definitive fresco-spective catalogue
The German publisher Taschen is known for its lavish art books, and they have truly outdone themselves with Diego Rivera: The Complete Murals. This book was originally published in 2008, but I am reviewing the 2019 edition, and I’m not sure what if any changes were made between editions. Buying a used copy of the out-of-print first edition would cost you hundreds of dollars, but this re-release is surprisingly affordable for its mammoth size (roughly 10 x 15 inches and 10 pounds), especially when Amazon is selling it at under half of Taschen’s list price.

Prior to this book, the most comprehensive guide to Rivera’s murals was Diego Rivera: A Retrospective by Linda Bank Downs, et al., an excellent book that covers all aspects of Rivera’s life and career, including an admirably extensive 98-page section on his murals. While that earlier book includes explanatory numbered diagrams of multi-panel mural schemes, The Complete Murals expands upon that strategy to a much higher level of detail by accompanying such diagrams with close-up shots of almost every panel, as well as many preparatory drawings. While a few of Rivera’s murals have been featured in in-depth, heavily illustrated studies of their own, such as Downs’s Diego Rivera: The Detroit Industry Murals, The Complete Murals is the most comprehensive compendium of images and information on Rivera’s entire career as a muralist.

I’ve seen about half of Rivera’s murals in person and can attest that they have never looked better in print than they do here. The abundance of close-up details amounts to such extensive coverage that it is sure to render obsolete the photo albums of even the most obsessive of Mexico City vacationers. The clarity and color accuracy of the images is better than what you can view on the internet, and the size of the reproductions, some of which fold out to a four-page spread, may even be larger than your computer monitor. The selection of images goes beyond the frequently photographed masterpieces to include lesser-known murals that have not seen much coverage in previous books, such as Glorious Victory, Rivera’s critical commentary on U.S. intervention in Guatemala.

In addition to all its beautiful photographs, this book is also a well-researched scholarly monograph, complete with extensive notes and bibliography. The text by authors Luis-Martín Lozano and Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera is very detailed and informative (though the fact that it is set in 5-point type is unforgivably inconsiderate to the reader). Their pet topic is Rivera’s use of Masonic and Rosicrucian symbolism, a thesis that they push farther than most Rivera fans will care, but they also provide much valuable background information on the creation of Rivera’s murals. In particular, one learns a great deal about Rivera’s tempestuous relationship with the Communist party and how his murals reflect his evolving political views. Following the murals there is a brief chapter on Rivera’s easel painting, which is a subject better covered in other books, but here provides an opportunity for more beautiful illustrations. The book closes with a detailed chronology of Rivera’s life accompanied by thumbnail images of many obscure works in various media.

This book is a must-have for any lover of Mexican murals and Diego Rivera’s art, and for what you’re getting the price is more than reasonable. As far as coffee-table books go, Diego Rivera: The Complete Murals and Downs’s aforementioned Diego Rivera: A Retrospective are the two books essential to getting an authoritative visual overview of Rivera’s multifaceted career.
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Friday, February 21, 2020

John Silence by Algernon Blackwood

Clever ideas marred by plodding plotting
In classic horror literature, English author Algernon Blackwood is a name often mentioned in the revered company of writers like Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. If Blackwood’s 1908 book John Silence is any indication, however, his writing is neither as macabre as the former nor as morbid as the latter. The stories included in John Silence are more reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s supernatural tales, such as the novel The Parasite or the short stories in Tales of Terror and Mystery. In fact, the character of Dr. John Silence, a physician and philanthropist who aids people plagued by paranormal phenomena, is like a Sherlock Holmes of the supernatural, so much so that one has to think that Blackwood deliberately patterned his hero after Conan Doyle’s detective. Two of the Silence stories are narrated by a Mr. Hubbard, a Watsonesque figure who serves as the doctor’s “confidential secretary.” Unlike Watson, however, Hubbard has no personality; he merely serves as the eyes and ears of the reader. Silence himself is an underdeveloped character who sometimes barely appears in his own stories.

While Blackwood builds these stories around interesting paranormal premises, the reader’s enthusiasm is soon dulled considerably by long-winded storytelling and lethargic plotting. These are not short stories; these are novella-length works that should have been short stories. The plots are overly drawn out and padded with needless description. Instead of suspense, this engenders boredom, and often the climax is not an adequate reward for the long wait. The first two stories are prime examples of this, “Case I: A Psychical Invasion” and “Case II: Ancient Sorceries” both waste much of their length on minute descriptions of dog and cat behavior, down to each and every arching of back or wag of tail. Silence’s confrontation of the supernatural entity in the first story is brief and anticlimactic. In the second case, he isn’t even present for most of the story and only shows up at the end to explain what happened.

Hubbard is introduced as narrator in “Case III: The Nemesis of Fire.” An old soldier inherits his family estate after his brother is murdered. Mysterious lights in a nearby wood lead him to contact John Silence. Towards the end this one develops some interesting plot elements, but it is still too protracted and its conclusions to vague. The best story in the book is “Case IV: Secret Worship.” A British silk merchant returning from a business trip decides to visit his old childhood boarding school, a secluded and strictly religious institution in Germany. He is welcomed with open arms by the monks who run the school, but he gradually begins to feel like he is their prisoner. John Silence is absent from the narrative until the very end. Again, this is probably twice as long as it needed to be, but at least it’s a good horror story. “Case V: The Camp of the Dog” is a trying exercise in patience. The reader has it all figured out from the beginning, sees exactly where the story is headed, and then has to wait for the characters to catch up.

When originally published in 1908, the collection entitled John Silence contained five stories. Some later editions, however, include “Case VI: A Victim of Higher Space.” This one is actually a short story, not a novella, so it’s not as painfully slow as the others. John Silence is an active participant in this one, and it contains some fun ideas about other dimensions beyond the third dimension we perceive with our senses. Cases IV and VI are really the only ones worth reading. Despite my interest in genre fiction of this period, this book was a disappointment. Blackwood’s prodigious reputation in horror fiction must be founded on better books than this.

Stories in this collection

Case I: A Psychical Invasion 

Case II: Ancient Sorceries 

Case III: The Nemesis of Fire

Case IV: Secret Worship 

Case V: The Camp of the Dog 

Case VI: A Victim of Higher Space

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Shell-Fish by Emile Zola

Risqué humor elevated to literature
In its departure from European romanticism, Emile Zola’s writing was ahead of its time. His naturalistic style was so audacious for its day that many readers and critics considered the blunt and explicit realism of his works to be obscene. Before he ever achieved much renown in his French homeland, Zola found a receptive audience for his works in Russia. Early in his career, several of his short stories and essays first saw publication in the St. Petersburg journal Vestnik Evropy (The European Messenger). One such story, entitled “Shell-Fish,” appeared in the September 1876 issue of that Russian periodical. Perhaps because of this foreign debut, the story is one of Zola’s more obscure works, not found in many short story anthologies and often absent from even so-called “complete works” collections. In 1911, however, the English-language publisher Warren Press produced a series of thin volumes by Zola that includes Shell-Fish as a stand-alone book of 64 pages. A scan of this book can be found online at the HathiTrust website.

Monsieur Chabre is a retired grain merchant, 45 years of age, with a healthy fortune and a beautiful young wife of 22. The one great unfulfilled desire of his life is to have children. The Chabres’ efforts toward this goal, however, have not been successful. At first Monsieur Chabre blames Madame Chabre for the couple’s infertility, but when she suggests that perhaps the problem lies with him, he consults a physician. The doctor prescribes an unscientific remedy to boost Monsieur Chabre’s reproductive potency: shell-fish (a word which is always hyphenated in the book). Willing to try anything, the Chabres retreat to a secluded seaside resort in Brittany so that Monsieur can indulge in all manner of oysters, mussels, limpets, and shrimp.

Shell-fish, therefore, is basically just a risqué joke about a married couple’s sex life that Zola has elevated to a brief literary novella. Zola takes the racy humor a bit further than just the eating of molluscs. To reveal more would be to spoil any possible surprises, but the average reader will likely see where this story is headed a mile in advance. That doesn’t lessen its appeal, however, as Zola handles the humor deftly. True to his more serious works, the characters are well-developed personalities based on keen social observation. The coastal setting also benefits from Zola’s excellence at natural description as he picturesquely brings the resort culture of Brittany to life, though not without a fair helping of wry criticism.

In his more serious novels, Zola often features humorous subplots and buffoonish supporting characters, so the sense of humor he displays here will not be unfamiliar to his habitual readers. Amid a career filled with masterpieces, Shell-fish is a rather inconsequential work, but it is nonetheless a fine piece of writing that demonstrates that Zola could also excel at lighter fare.

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Monday, February 17, 2020

Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library, edited by Tom Baione

A masterful exhibition of science history, book history, and art
Walk into any public library in America and you’re likely to find a shelf devoted to “Staff Picks.” Imagine that same idea applied to an institution with one of the world’s greatest collections of historical science books, where all the staff hold doctoral degrees and are experts in their fields. The result is the American Museum of Natural History’s 2012 publication entitled Natural Histories, edited by Tom Baione. The subtitle, Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library is no mere boasting and aptly describes what you will find between the covers of this wonderful book.

Natural Histories profiles twenty stunning illustrated texts, arranged chronologically from Conrad Gessner’s Historia Animalum of 1551 to Emile-Alain Séguy’s volumes on Butterflies and Insects from the 1920s. Each entry takes up two two-page spreads, which is enough space to reproduce five or six beautiful full-color illustrations. The images are accompanied by brief essays, written by the museum’s curators, research associates, directors, and librarians, that detail the production of these historical volumes and explain each book’s scientific importance. Though the book features several well-known naturalists such as John James Audubon, John Gould (both known for their birds, but featured here for their mammals), Charles Darwin (Voyage of the Beagle), and Ernst Haeckel (Art Forms of Nature), the contents also include the work of many lesser-known figures, making for an eye-opening educational experience. It brought to my attention several natural history texts of which I was not previously aware. Scanned versions of many of these books can likely be found at online sources such as the Biodiversity Heritage Library or HathiTrust.

Most of the historic books profiled in this volume are zoological treatises, but the scope of natural history the authors cover is broad enough to include other disciplines such as astronomy (the star atlases of Johannes Bayer and Elijah Burritt), anthropology (the Native American portraits of Charles Bird King), geology (William Hamilton’s book on the eruptions of Vesuvius), archaeology (Napoleon’s grand project Description of Egypt), microscopy (Robert Hooke’s Micrographia), and even gemology (Jean-Baptiste Tavernier’s buyers’ guide to East Indian jewels). Oddly enough, there are no strictly botanical texts included, but many of the selections do feature birds and insects depicted amid the flowering plants and trees of their natural habitats. As a book designer, I found one of the more interesting entries to be Barbara Rhodes’s brief summary on the gilt-stamped cover designs of popular nature guides of the Victorian era.

This book is sold in a boxed set that also includes 40 loose-leaf print reproductions of historic natural history illustrations that are suitable for framing. This original Natural Histories volume has spawned a series with three sequels so far: Extraordinary Birds, Opulent Oceans, and Innumerable Insects. Unless you have an avid interest in ornithology, marine biology, or entomology, Natural Histories is a good one to start with because you get a little bit of everything. This beautifully produced book will please any reader with an interest in natural history, wildlife art, or the history of books.
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Friday, February 14, 2020

The Humboldt Library: Catalogue of the Library of Alexander von Humboldt by Henry Stevens

The books make the man
Authors are often defined by the books they write, but you can also learn a lot about a person from the books they read and own. That’s what’s so fascinating about legacy libraries—the book collections left behind by historical personages. The libraries of Thomas Jefferson and Charles Darwin, for example, are well documented. Prussian explorer, geographer, and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is another prominent and influential intellectual whose library could theoretically be recreated, thanks to the profit-driven opportunism of one Henry Stevens. When Humboldt died, he willed his library to his servant, who in turn sold the collection to Stevens, who then put it up for auction.* To facilitate sales, Stevens published a book in 1863 containing an extraordinarily detailed list of items for sale entitled The Humboldt Library: A Catalogue of the Library of Alexander von Humboldt. Obviously, this isn’t the kind of book you read from cover to cover, but I skimmed every page and found it very interesting and informative.

The list is almost 800 pages long and amounts to 11,164 enumerated items, each as large as a 150 volume set or as small as a single-page letter. Maps, prints, and manuscripts are also abundant. Many of the listings include annotations by Stevens that point out valuable details such as luxurious bindings, authors’ signatures, or Humboldt’s handwritten marginalia. While Stevens’s notes are in English, the titles of Humboldt’s books are presented in their original languages. Judging from the collection, it’s probably safe to say that Humboldt could read German, French, English, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek, and possibly Russian. As a curious student of the world, however, he was interested in all world cultures, so one finds such volumes as an Albanian dictionary, the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit, the Koran in Arabic, a Grammar of the Persian Language, the Polyglotta Africana, the New Testament in the Language of Java, and volumes on Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Chinese writing system. While Humboldt is known for his expeditions to South America, Mexico, and Russia, he didn’t confine his interests to those areas. His library exhibits the true worldwide scope of his studies.

Many of the books are signed by their authors, often with cordial notes to Humboldt. Correspondence was a primary avenue of scholarly communication in the 18th and 19th centuries, and learned authors often exchanged books as a form of networking. Humboldt’s books indicate that he shared corresponding relationships with such luminaries as Charles Darwin, Louis Aggasiz, Charles Lyell, Auguste Comte, Michael Faraday, Victor Hugo, Carl Jung, and the Brothers Grimm. Almost all of the books Humboldt owned were published in the 19th century. The oldest volume I found is the epic poem The Araucan Conquest by Brazilian poet Pedro de Oña, from 1596.

One highlight of the Catalogue is a fascinating list of miscellaneous documents under the heading of Humboldtiana. This includes an extensive inventory of diplomas for honorary degrees, memberships, and knighthoods bestowed upon Humboldt by nations and organizations worldwide (see list below). The diversity of this list makes for a fun browse and illustrates how Humboldt’s intellectual endeavors spanned a staggering array of disciplines. The Humboldt Library catalogue is a book you really have to be a library nerd or an enthusiast of book history to enjoy, but if you are a Humboldt fan, you will learn a great deal about the man from browsing through his bookshelves.

* Reference: Von Hagen, V. W. (1950). Was this the fate of the library of Alexander von Humboldt? An inquiry, Isis (41)2, 164-167

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Alexander von Humboldt’s Honors and Distinctions 
This probably isn’t a complete list of Humboldt’s honors, but it includes all the ones I’m aware of. This list is compiled almost entirely from information in The Humboldt Library, with a few entries taken from other sources. For better or worse, I translated the organizational names for the convenience of English-language readers. I’m not very knowledgeable on 19th-century German political geography, so when in doubt about which kingdom, state, or duchy a city was located, I just use the word “Germany,” even though it’s anachronistic.

What’s interesting about this list is that it demonstrates the extent of Humboldt’s worldwide fame and also the wide range of disciplines in the sciences and humanities for which he is honored. It is also interesting to see the mix of major national institutions and minor local associations that granted him honorary membership. 


  • Prussia: Order of the Red Eagle, 1817 
  • Russia: Knight First Class of the Order of St. Anne, 1829 
  • Russia: Knight of the Order of the Cross of St. Vladimir, 1st Class, 1830 
  • France: Commander of the Legion of Honor, 1837
  • Prussia: Grand Chancellor of the Peace Class of the Order of Merit for Sciences and Arts, 1842
  • France: Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, 1843
  • Sweden: Knight-Commander of the Order of the North Star, 1844 
  • Norway: Knight of the Order of St. Olaf, 1847
  • Sardinia: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, 1850
  • England: Copley Medal from the Royal Society, 1852
  • Bavaria: Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art, 1853
  • Russia: Knight of the Star of St. Alexander Nevsky, 1856
  • Mexico: Knight Grand Cross of the Imperial Order of Guadalupe, 1863 (posthumous)
  • Bavaria: Order of Merit of the Bavarian Crown, ?
  • Denmark: Grand Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog, ?
  • Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach: Order of the White Falcon, ?
  • Portugal: Grand Cross of the Order of Christ, ?
  • Prussia: Order of the Black Eagle, ?
  • Saxony: Civil Order of Saxony, ?
  • Spain: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Charles III, ?
  • Spain: Order of the Rose, ?

  • Mexican Citizenship, 1827
  • Mexico City: Citizenship of the State, 1827
  • Prussia: Honorary Citizen of Berlin, 1856
  • Mexican President Benito Juárez named him a Hero of the Nation, 1859 

  • Frankfurt-on-the-Weser University (location unknown, Germany), Doctor of Philosophy, 1805 
  • University of Dorpat (Tartu, Estonia), Doctor of Medicine, 1827 
  • University of Bonn (Prussia), Doctor of Medicine, 1828 
  • University of Casan (Kazan, Russia), Honorary Degree of Membership, 1829 
  • University of Moscow, Degree of Honorary Member, 1829 
  • University of Tübingen (Germany), Doctor of Philosophy, 1845 
  • University of Prague (Bohemia), Doctor of Philosophy, 1848 
  • University of Prague (Bohemia), Doctor of Medicine, 1848 
  • University of St. Andrews (Scotland), Doctor of Laws, 1853 
  • University of Frankfurt on the Oder (Prussia), Doctor of Philosophy, 1855 


  • Berlin Academy, Academician, 1800  
  • Society of the Paris School of Medicine, Member, 1802 
  • Royal Scientific Society of Göttingen (Hanover, Germany), Member of the Physical Class, 1803 
  • American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia), Member (signed by Thomas Jefferson), 1804 
  • National Institute (Paris), Class of Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Corresponding Member, 1804 
  • Geneva Society of Physical Sciences and Natural History, Honorary Member, 1805 
  • Pontifical Academy of Arcadia (Rome), Member, given the name of “Megastene” (Megasthenes, an ancient Greek explorer and historian), this organization also granted Humboldt a parcel of “vacant Lands ‘Efesie’ from whence in future he is to be called ‘Megastene Efesio’,” 1805 
  • Royal Academy of Sciences, Sweden, Academician, 1807 
  • Royal Scientific Academy of Munich, Foreign Member, 1808 
  • Physico-Medical Society of Erlangen (Prussia), Honorary Member, 1808 
  • State Medical Society of Venice, Foreign Associate, 1808 
  • Wetterau Society for Natural History (Hanau, Germany), Honorary Member, 1808 
  • Phytographic Society of Gorenken (Germany?), Member, 1810 
  • Royal Academy of Madrid, Member, 1811 
  • Society of Friends of the Arts (Paris), Member of Committee of Arts, 1815 
  • Antiquarian Society of Scotland, Honorary Member, 1815 
  • Royal Society of London, Fellow, 1816 
  • American Antiquarian Society, Member 1816 
  • London Geographical Society, Foreign Member, 1817 
  • Marburg Society for the Promotion of the Natural Sciences, Member, 1817 
  • Swiss Society of Naturalists, Member, 1817 
  • Royal Patriotic Society of Havana (Cuba), Member, 1817 
  • Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg, Honorary Member, 1818 
  • Dresden Mineralogical Society, Honorary Member, 1818 
  • Royal Academy of Lucca (Tuscany), Corresponding Member, 1818 
  • Pharmaceutical Society of St. Petersburg, Honorary Member, 1819 
  • Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh, Honorary Fellow, 1819 
  • The Lower Rhein Society for Nature and Medicine (Bonn, Germany), Honorary Member, 1819 
  • New York Historical Society, Honorary Member, 1820 
  • Holland Society of Sciences (Haarlem, Netherlands), Honorary Member, 1820 
  • Prussian Society for the Promotion of Commerce, Member, 1821 
  • Society of Geography (Paris), Member, 1821 
  • New York Literary and Philosophical Society, Honorary Member, 1822 
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fellow (signed by John Qunicy Adams), 1822 
  • Paris Society of Natural History, Honorary Member, 1822 
  • Roman Academy of Archeology, Corresponding Member, 1822 
  • Royal Bourbon Academy of the Sciences (Naples, Italy), Foreign Corresponding Member in the Class of Natural Sciences, 1822 
  • Prussian Society for the Promotion of Horticulture, Honorary Member, 1823 
  • Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Natural Sciences, Naples, Foreign Corresponding Member, 1823 
  • Linnean Society of Calvados (Caen, France), Corresponding Member, 1823 
  • Royal Society of Literature (London), Honorary Member, 1824 
  • Royal Asiatic Society (London), Foreign Member, 1824 
  • Royal Academy of Medicine (Paris), Academician, 1825 
  • Lower Bergische Naturalists Society (Frankfurt am Main), Corresponding Member, 1825 
  • National Board of Charity and Patriotic Society for the Good Education of the Youth of the City of Los Angeles (Mexico), Honorary Member, 1826 
  • Tuscan Society of Geography, Statistics, and Natural History, Corresponding Associate, 1827 
  • Accademia Pontaniana (Naples, Italy), Honrary Member, 1827 
  • Society of Geography (Paris), Honorary President of the Society, 1827 
  • Medico-Botanical Society (London), Honorary Member, 1827 
  • Horticultural Society (London), Fellow, 1827 
  • Brandenburg Economic Society of Potsdam, Honorary Member, 1827 
  • Imperial University of Kharkov (Kharkiv, Ukraine), Honorary Member, 1827 
  • Lyceum of Natural History of New York, Honorary Member, 1827 
  • Silesian Society for National Culture, Honorary Member, 1827 
  • Royal Institute of the Low Countries (Amsterdam, Netherlands), Member, 1827 
  • German Society for the Exploration of National Language and Antiquities, Honorary Member, 1827 
  • Royal Botanical Society of Regensburg (Germany), Member, 1828 
  • Bohemian Society of National Museums (Prague), Honorary Member, 1828  
  • Pharmacists Association of Northern Germany (Salzuflen), Honorary Member, 1828 
  • Society for the Promotion of the Natural Sciences (Freiburg, Germany), Honorary Member, 1828 
  • Naturalist Society of Eastern Germany (Altenburg), Honorary Member, 1828 
  • Thuringian-Saxonian Association for the Promotion of National Antiquities and the Preservation of Monuments (Halle, Germany), Honorary Member, 1828 
  • Royal Philomathic Society of Warsaw, Member, 1829 
  • Prussian Academy of the Arts (Berlin), Honorary Member and Assessor, 1829 
  • St. Petersburg Mineralogical Society, Member, 1829 
  • Free Economical Society for the Encouragement of Agriculture and Husbandry (St. Petersburg, Russia), Fellow, 1829 
  • St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, Academician, 1829 
  • Moscow Imperial Society of Natural Sciences, Member, 1829 
  • Learned Society at the Gymnasium of Prince Bezborodko (Russia), Honorary Member, 1829 
  • Royal Geographical Society (London), Foreign Honorary Member, 1829 
  • Royal Academy of Art (Berlin), Honorary Member, 1830 
  • Imperial and Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters, and Arts of Padua (Italy), Foreign Member, 1830 
  • French Society of Universal Statistics, Member, 1830 
  • Westphalian Society for the Promotion of National Culture (Minden, Germany), Honorary Member, 1830 
  • Zoological Society of London, Foreign Member, 1832 
  • Prussian Medical Association, Honorary Member, 1832 
  • Association for the Promotion of Horticulture in the Duchy of Braunschweig (a.k.a. Brunswick, Germany) Honorary Member, 1832 
  • Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala (Sweden), Member, 1832 
  • Scientific Academy of the Bolognese Institute (Bologna, Italy) , Member, 1833 
  • Royal Academy of Science in Torino (Italy), Academician, 1833 
  • Royal Nordic Society of Antiquaries (Copenhagen, Denmark), Member, 1833 
  • Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences (Prague), Honorary Member, 1833 
  • Geological Society of Pennsylvania, Corresponding Member, 1834 
  • Moldavian Society of Medicine and Natural Sciences, Corresponding Member, 1834 
  • Palermo Academy of Sciences and Letters (Italy), Honorary Foreign Member, 1835 
  • Physical Sciences Association of Frankfurt (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), Honorary Member, 1835 
  • Royal College of Surgeons (London), Honorary Member, 1836 
  • Botanical Society of Edinburgh, Honorary Member, 1837 
  • Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences (Jakarta, Dutch East Indies), Honorary Member, 1837 
  • Statistical Society of London, Foreign Member, 1838 
  • Archaeological Society of Athens, Member, 1838 
  • Rhode Island Historical Society, Honorary Member, 1838 
  • Brussels Society of the Medical and Natural Sciences, Foreign Corresponding Member, 1838 
  • British and Foreign Aborigines Protection Society (London), Honorary Member, 1839 
  • Swedish Horticultural Association, Member, 1839 
  • Historical and Geographical Institute of Brazil, Honorary Member, 1839 
  • Economic Association of the Grand Duchy of Baden (Germany), Honorary Member, 1839 
  • Italian Society of the Sciences in Modena, Foreign Member, 1840 
  • Society for Pomeranian History and Ancient History (Prussia, now Poland), Honorary Member, 1840 
  • Naturalist Society of Danzig (Prussia, now Gdansk, Poland), Honorary Member, 1840 
  • Pharmaceutical Society of the Bavarian Rhine (Kaiserslautern, Germany), Honorary Member, 1840 
  • University of St. Petersburg (Russia), Honorary Fellow, 1841 
  • Ethnological Society de Paris, Honorary Member, 1841 
  • Royal Academy of Sciences and Letters of Brussels, Academician, 1841 
  • Natural Sciences Society of Harz (Germany), Honorary Member, 1841 
  • Academy of Natural Science of Philadelphia, Correspondent, 1842 
  • Royal Netherlands Society for the Promotion of Horticulture, Honorary Member, 1843
  • Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester (England), Honorary Member, 1843 
  • American Ethnological Society, Honorary Member (signed by Albert Gallatin), 1843 
  • Austrian Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, Honorary Member, 1843 
  • Palatinate Society for Pharmacy and Technology and Their Fundamental Sciences, (Kaiserslautern, Germany), Honorary Member, 1843 
  • Belgian Academy of Archaeology (Antwerp), Honorary Member, 1843 
  • Entomological Association of Stettin (Szczecin, Poland), Honorary Member, 1844 
  • Imperial Royal Lombardy Institute of Science, Letters, and Art (Italy), Corresponding Member, 1844 
  • Royal Zoological Society of Anvers (Antwerp, Netherlands), Honorary Member, 1845 
  • Natural History Association for the Prussian Rheinland (Bonn), Honorary Member, 1845 
  • German Morning Society (Leipzig), Honorary Member, 1846 
  • Garden Association of Götheborg (Sweden), Associate, 1846 
  • Geographical Society of St. Petersburg, Honorary Member, 1846 
  • Munich Association for Natural History, Honorary Member, 1849 
  • Royal Irish Academy, Honorary Member, 1849 
  • Royal Academy of Sciences (Madrid, Spain), Foreign Corresponding Member, 1850 
  • Imperial Archaeological Society (St. Petersburg, Russia), Honorary Member, 1850 
  • Imperial and Royal Society of Physicians in Vienna, Honorary Member, 1851 
  • Cambridge Philosophical Society (England), Honorary Member, 1852 
  • Royal Academy of the Sciences, Letters, and Arts of Lyon (France), Associate, 1852 
  • Imperial Academy of Sciences, Vienna, Honorary Member, 1852 
  • Roman Pontifical Academy of Nuovi Lincei, Corresponding Member, 1847 
  • Hungarian Geological Society, Member, 1854 
  • Privileged Upper Lusatian Society of Sciences (Görlitz, Prussia), Honorary Member, 1854 
  • Germanic Museum (Nüremberg), Honorary Member, 1855 
  • Association of Friends of the Natural History of the Río de la Plata (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Honorary Member, 1855 
  • Besançon Academy of Sciences, Letters, and Arts (France), Foreign Associate, 1855 
  • Imperial and Royal Horticultural Society of Vienna, Honorary Member, 1856  
  • Zoological Acclimatization Society (Paris), Honorary Member, 1856
  • Association for Microscopy in Giessen (Germany), Honorary Member, 1856 
  • Imperial and Central Society of Agriculture (Paris), Foreign Associate, 1856 
  • American Geographical and Statistical Society (New York), Honorary Member, 1856 
  • Indian Society Under the Motto of Investigation Leads to Truth (The Hague, Netherlands), Honorary Member, 1856 
  • Historical Association of Krain (a.k.a. Carniola) (Ljubjana, Slovenia), Honorary Member, 1857 
  • Berlin Society for German Language, Honorary Member, 1857 
  • Royal Institute for the Encouragement of the Natural Sciences (Naples, Italy), Honorary Member, 1857 
  • Geographical Society of Vienna, Honorary Member, 1857 
  • Scientific and Literary Academy dei Concordi in Bovolenta (Italy), Honorary Member, 1857 
  • Imperial and Royal Institute of Sciences, Letters, and Arts, Venice, Corresponding Associate, 1857 
  • Universal Association of Carnival Friends in Düsseldorf, Honorary Member with comedic title: “Assistant Hanswurst and Imperial Chamberlain of His Wicked Majesty,” 1858 
  • Medical-Surgical Society of Edinburgh, Honorary Member, 1858 
  • Transylvanian Society for Natural Sciences in Hermannstadt (Sibiu, Romania), Honorary Member, 1858 
  • Royal Bavarian Academy of Sciences, Member, recognized as the organization’s “oldest Member”, 1859

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Deephaven by Sarah Orne Jewett

Visiting with elderly ladies in Maine
Deephaven is the debut novel of Sarah Orne Jewett, a Maine author whose works of realist literature are often set in the small coastal towns of her home state. Published in 1877, the novel is narrated by Helen Denis, about whom little is revealed other than that she is a Bostonian. Helen’s best friend Kate Lancaster informs her that Kate’s family has inherited a house in the small coastal town of Deephaven. Kate invites Helen to spend the summer with her there, and the two big-city ladies set off for an extended girls’ trip to this secluded village in coastal New England.

Jewett is best known for her 1896 novel The Country of the Pointed Firs, which is very similar in style and subject mater to Deephaven, but the books do have their marked differences. Both novels are low on plot and high on atmosphere. In both cases the narrator relates extensive stories from local inhabitants, but The Country of the Pointed Firs provides a greater sense of place, while Deephaven is definitely more about the people. Helen and Kate don’t use their seaside retreat to enjoy the pleasures of solitude. Surprisingly, they find an active social scene in Deephaven, with a steady stream of callers to their summer home. Their new social circle is comprised largely of elderly women who regale the two listeners with their life stories and homespun wisdom. Unlike The Country of the Pointed Firs, most of the “action” takes place in parlor rooms, so nature isn’t really an active element in the narrative. Many of the stories told here are neither as touching nor as compelling as those told in Jewett’s later novel. The first half of Deephaven gets a little tedious with its small-town genealogical histories, but the second half improves quite a bit when Jewett starts to delve deeper into the living conditions and social problems of rural life. As Helen and Kate become deeply involved in the Deephaven community, the reader sees how their philosophies of life are changed profoundly by the experience.

The close relationship between Helen and Kate invites speculation into whether or not the characters are lesbians. More than a few literary scholars have written on the subject, and some assert that the book is an early example of queer fiction. Jewett herself lived with a woman companion for the last two decades of her life. Perhaps Jewett was gay, and Deephaven is the expression of a longing for lifestyle freedom, or perhaps Helen and Kate are just an illustration of how friendships in the 19th century were stronger and more intimate than those in today’s America. Jewett’s writing is not overtly feminist, but one can’t help but notice that the cast is heavily stocked with independent women in the form of widows, spinsters, and self-sufficient bachelorettes.

One thing’s for sure, Jewett really loves old people, and especially elderly women. The bulk of the book is comprised of stories related by elderly female characters, plus a few old sailors and fishermen. Jewett is clearly enamored with her aged characters and crafts their tales with an obvious love of nostalgia and a harkening for the mythically virtuous life of bygone days. The town of Deephaven itself is an embodiment of this sentimental longing. As Kate puts it, “there is a simple dignity to a town like Deephaven, as if it tried to be loyal to its ancestors.”

Reading The Country of the Pointed Firs made we want to vacation in the fictional town of Dunnet, Maine. Deephaven did not produce the same effect. Despite the friendly folk, the town seems a depressing place, but at least it is realistically drawn and populated by complex and sympathetic characters. In many ways Deephaven feels like an inferior warm-up to The Country of the Pointed Firs, but it is still a quality work of regional realism.
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Monday, February 10, 2020

The 1000th Post!

Marking a milestone
Today Old Books by Dead Guys, a labor of bibliophilic love since January 2012, celebrates its 1000th post. Over the past eight years, this site has amassed a sizable and varied library of book reviews. Just as we did with the 500th post, it is time to take a look back at the history of the blog and get an overview of what’s been covered. Click on the numerous links below to read more.

Most Reviewed Authors
Anyone who follows the blog or the Facebook page will recognize these usual suspects.


1. Jack London (77 reviews)
Best books include The Iron Heel, The Call of the Wild, Martin Eden, Before Adam, The Faith of Men, Moon-FaceThe Road, John Barleycorn. The best biographies of London are Earle Labor’s Jack London: An American Life and Irving Stone’s Sailor on Horseback.

2. Emile Zola (48 reviews)

Best books include Germinal, La Terre, Pot-Bouille, The Debacle, L’Assomoir, Paris, The Death of Olivier Becaille, The Flood

3. Honoré de Balzac (37 reviews)

Best books include Père Goriot, Cousin BetteLost IllusionsEugénie GrandetThe Hidden MasterpieceFarewell, also the biography Honoré de Balzac: His Life and Writings by Mary Frances Sandars

4. H. Beam Piper (31 reviews)
Best books include Police OperationGenesisFlight from TomorrowThe Edge of the Knife, Little Fuzzy. Find them all in The H. Beam Piper Megapack.

5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (30 reviews)
Best books include The Adventures of Sherlock HolmesA Study in ScarletThe Hound of the BaskervillesThe Great ShadowThe Captain of the PolestarThe Doings of Raffles Haw

6. Clifford D. Simak (26 reviews)
Best books include Way Station, City, Mastodonia, and the excellent series The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak.

7. Upton Sinclair (23 reviews)
Best books include The Jungle, 100%: The Story of a Patriot, and the Lanny Budd series

8. Frank Norris (22 reviews)
Best books include The OctopusMcTeagueThe Third CircleThe PitMoran of the Lady Letty. Read the post Frank Norris: An Overview for more info.

9. Georges Simenon (19 reviews)
Best books include Dirty SnowTropic Moon, and the Inspector Maigret mysteries The Late Monsieur GalletA Man’s HeadThe Night at the CrossroadsMaigret and the FortunetellerMaigret and the Killer

10. Henryk Sienkiewicz (17 reviews)
Best books include With Fire and Sword, The Deluge, Pan Michael, Quo Vadis. Of related interest: The Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin (Sienkiewicz’s English translator)

11. Pearl S. Buck (15 reviews)
Best books include The Good Earth, Sons, A House Divided, Dragon Seed, The Promise, Command the Morning

12 (tie). Alexandre Dumas (12 reviews)
Best books include The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, Solange; also the biography The Black Count

12 (tie). Eugene O’Neill (12 reviews)
Best plays include The Hairy Ape, Anna Christie; plus the short story Tomorrow

14 (tie). James Fenimore Cooper (11 reviews)
Best books include The Last of the Mohicans, The Pioneers, Wyandotté

14 (tie). Hermann Hesse (11 reviews)
Best books include Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund, Gertrude, Knulp


Most Reviewed Nations
Consider this the Olympics of OBDG! Although in this case the USA dominates the medal count, Old Books by Dead Guys firmly believes that all nations create great literature (it’s just harder to find some of them in English). So when you’re looking for a new read, cast a wide net and explore the far reaches of the globe. 

1. American (493 reviews) 🇺🇸
Jack London, Frank Norris, Upton Sinclair, James Fenimore Cooper, Katherine Anne Porter, John Steinbeck

2. French (158 reviews) 🇫🇷
Emile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Jules Verne

3. English (139 reviews) 🇬🇧
H.G. Wells, Charles DarwinJoseph Conrad, Bertrand Russell; also includes the Scottish authors (below)

4. Scottish (42 reviews) 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson

5. German (37 reviews) 🇩🇪
Hermann Hesse, Paul HeyseKarl Marx, Alexander von HumboldtErnst Haeckel

6. Polish (34 reviews) 🇵🇱
Henryk Sienkiewicz, Wladyslaw Reymont, Boleslaw Prus, Adam Mickiewicz

7. Canadian (33 reviews) 🇨🇦
Margaret Atwood, Harold BindlossBrian MooreMazo de la RocheGrant AllenHugh MacLennan, and art books featuring Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven 

8. Mexican (25 reviews) 🇲🇽
Juan Rulfo, Mariano Azuela, Carlos Fuentes, artists Diego Rivera and Leopoldo Mendéz

9. Belgian (23 reviews) 🇧🇪
Georges SimenonMaurice Maeterlinck

10. Chinese (21 reviews) 🇨🇳
Pearl S. Buck (American raised in China), ConfuciusLu Xun, Mo Yan, and some Chinese-language textbooks

11. Norwegian (17 reviews) 🇳🇴
Knut Hamsun, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Alexander Kielland, Thor Heyerdahl

12. Russian (15 reviews) 🇷🇺
Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, Boris Pasternak, Mikhail Sholokhov

13 (tie). Danish (10 reviews) 🇩🇰
Joannes V. Jensen, Henrik Pontoppidan, Jens Peter Jacobsen

13 (tie). Swedish (10 reviews) 🇸🇪
Selma Lagerlöf, Frans G. Bengtsson
Werner von Heidenstam, August Strindberg

Top Ten Most Reviewed Genres and Subjects
There is some overlap between these classifications of subject, format, genre, or chronology. Some books fit into more than one category.

1. Classic Literature (612 reviews)

2. Modern Literature  (271 reviews)

3. Adventure (231 reviews)

4. Short Stories (183 reviews)

5. Science Fiction (173 reviews)

6. Pulp Fiction (133 reviews)

7. Nobel Prize (126 reviews) See the complete list of Nobel reviews here.

8. Biography (109 reviews)

9. Recent books (104 reviews)

10. History (86 reviews)

Best Omnibus Posts
Occasionally Old Books by Dead Guys publishes a post that doesn’t focus on a single book, but rather explores a particular author, topic, or theme. 

100 Five-Star Books

The Rougon-Macquart Cycle by Émile Zola

The Best Short Stories of Jack London

The Novels of Jack London

Jack London’s Nonfiction

Frank Norris: An Overview

The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper

Celebrating Polish Literature

Historical Novels of the Ancient World

Literature of the “Soil”: Agrarian Epics from Around the World

Rock and Roll (Auto)biographies

Top Ten Most Visited Reviews
When your primary audience is random Googlers, you never know what they’re going to be looking for. For better or for worse, here is a list of the ten most visited posts at OBDG, as of today.


1. The Best Short Stories of Jack London
This list I compiled is by far the most viewed page on the site. I’ve read and reviewed London’s complete works, so if readers are looking for an authoritative list, my picks are as good as anyone else’s.

2. Swords in the Mist by Fritz Leiber
Really? A lot of people must be nostalgic for the Dungeons & Dragons days of their youth.

3. The Ape-Men of Xlotli by David R. Sparks
I don’t understand this at all. Xlotli isn’t even a real word in any language. 

4. The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel
A vintage English sci-fi novel from 19o1, and not a very good one.

5. Burning Daylight by Jack London
Not one of his better known works. I’m not sure why so many people are interested.

6. Tomorrow by Eugene O’Neill
O’Neill won the Nobel Prize for his plays. This is his only short story.

7. Old Books by (Mostly) Dead Nobel Laureates 2016
OBDG celebrates the Nobels every year. This list has been updated since 2016 (see above).

8. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane
The flagship novel of modern American realism.

9. Mercenary by Mack Reynolds
Reynolds’s sci-fi was hit and miss. This ’60s novella is not one of his better works.

10. The Peasants by Wladyslaw Reymont
A Polish classic that’s largely unknown to English readers, even though he won the Nobel.


Thanks for reading Old Books by Dead Guys! Stay tuned for our 5,000th post (circa 2050).