The Good, the Bad, and the Obscene

New article up at Fine Books (The Good, the Bad, and the Obscene) on the making of the bibliography of the Olympia Press. Olympia  flourished in the 1950s and published The Naked Lunch, The Ginger Man, Lolita, and works by Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and (English translations of) the Marquis de Sade.

The Royal Game

Long before chess had black and white squares, it had a checkered past. For some a passion, for others an obsession, the Royal Game has driven more than a few combatants to total madness and others to an early grave. The medieval Norse epic Olaf’s Saga tells us that in A.D. 1037 King  Knut made a terrible blunder during a chess game against Jarl Ulf. When the king asked if he could take back the ill-considered move, his opponent understandably – but foolishly – refused. In what can only be called an act of poor sportsmanship, Knut chased Ulf into a nearby church and killed him. Vikings, apparently, took their chess quite seriously. Read more of this post

Into Africa: The Search for the Source of the Nile

By the time Karen Blixen wrote her critically acclaimed book Out of Africa in the 1930s, untold thousands had perished going into Africa. While its familiar shape had been determined with  surprising accuracy by Portuguese seafarers looking for a trade route to India in the late fifteenth century, little was actually known about the interior of the Dark Continent until the mid-1800s. Early maps marked large expanses simply “Terra Incognita” or, more ominously, “Anthropophagi” (cannibals).

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The Hortus Eystettensis: How Paper Type Can Help Decipher Printing History

In 1613, Basilius Besler (1561-1629), a Nuremberg apothecary, published the Hortus Eystettensis (The Garden of Eichstatt), one of the great early flower books. It was not only one of the most expensive books of the early seventeenth century, but with each leaf measuring 570 x 460 mm. (approximately 22 in x 18 in.), the largest. [1]

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The Case of the Missing Map

In 1548, Nicolo Bascarini published the world’s first ‘pocket atlas,’ La Geografia, in Venice. At 10.5 cm x 16.5 cm (approximately 4 inches x 6 inches), it could indeed fit inside a medium-sized pocket. In addition to being the first edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia translated into Italian (by Pietro Andrea Mattioli), it also contained sixty beautiful, copper-engraved maps by Giacomo Gastaldi. There was only one edition. 

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