Essay Library

There are currently 100 essays in the Library – please come in and browse.

Use the ‘additional suggestions’ box to tell us if your favourite essay or author is missing, or comment boxes on each essay’s page to discuss the selection, including where you feel we should have selected another essay by the same author. We will expand the Essay Library in future, using suggestions and comments received. Example intro length, with link to more if needed.

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On Clemency (De Clementia, 56AD, and reprinted with English translation and full scholarly paraphernalia in OUP edition, ed. Susanna Braund, 2009 )

by Lucius Annaeus Seneca - Seneca The Younger

56

Seneca’s profound understanding of the psychology of State terror makes this more than standard advice literature, going beyond ‘clemency’ strictly defined into a...

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What you can do with a hat… (In The Ongoing Moment, 2005, c.pp104-115)

by Geoff Dyer

2005

Dyer tells the story of the Great Depression by looking at photographs of men’s hats. An author of far more stand-alone essays than most, this is in fact an excerpt – a brillia...

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How To Write About Africa (Granta 92, The View From Africa)

by Binyavanga Wainaina

2005

Originating in a fiercely satirical protest sent by a Kenyan-born author to the editors of Granta, this essay has turned Wainaina into the unofficial ‘censor’ of white writing...

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The Anger of the Damned (written October 2001, and reprinted in Striking Terror: America’s New War, 2002, trans. Mary Isin)

by Orhan Pamuk

2002

An example of how the personal essay form can be used to say something both more simple and profound than any amount of in-depth commentary by political journalists. Start...

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The Rights of History and the Rights of the Imagination (in Quarrel & Quandary)

by Cynthia Ozick

2000

An essay about how the ‘broken umbrella of contemporary relativism’ does not change the essentially different aims of history (that which is owed to reality) and imagination (p...

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Six to Eight Black Men (collected in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, 2004, and in Holidays on Ice, 1997 and 2008)

by David Sedaris

1997

America’s most popular living essayist, Sedaris begins this hilarious piece on cultural idiosyncrasies with the small-talk he makes in new places. One of his regular ope...

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Junkspace (Collected in S, M, L, XL, 1995, and also reprinted in October, Spring 2002)

by Rem Koolhaas

1995

Despite an early definition (‘If space-junk is the human debris that litters the universe, Junk-Space is the residue mankind leaves on the planet.’), this essay is as disorient...

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The Bitter Smell of Tulips (Still Life with a Bridle [Martwa natura z wędzidłem])

by Zbigniew Herbert

1993

An acclaimed Polish poet portrays the ‘tulipomania’ that seized the Netherlands in the seventeenth century as exemplary of all ‘follies in the sanctuaries of reason’. ...

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On Tickling (in On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life)

by Adam Phillips

1993

In this compact essay, which remains an unanswered enquiry more than most ‘essais’, an esteemed analyst of children wonders that the childhood experience of being tickled by a ...

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E Unibus Pluram: Television and US Fiction (Written 1990, published in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 1993, and reprinted in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, 1997)

by David Foster Wallace

1993

The most intellectual yet unpretentious essay on the cultural impact of television – a crater so huge we forget we stand in it. Foster Wallace begins with a Walter Benjaminesque ...

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Can the Devil be Saved? (Modernity on Endless Trial, 1990)

by Leszek Kolakowski

1990

The title catchily paraphrases: ‘Can the cosmic and historical drama be interpreted as a movement towards the ultimate reconciliation of all things?’ This is not simpl...

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Stable/Unstable (Originally published in the Turin paper La Stampa, and in English in Other People’s Trades, trans. Raymond Rosenthal, 1989)

by Primo Levi

1989

An elegant, short essay by Levi the scientist, rather than Levi the Auschwitz survivor, which nonetheless turns to subtle metaphor at the end and so speaks to the stable/unstable n...

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