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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The Assassination of Paris (People and Places, 1985, and reprinted in Paris and Elsewhere, ed. David Gilmour, 1998)

by Richard Cobb

1985

Not so much a book review as a book abridgement, the historian Richard Cobb adds his own passionate style and personal observations to the, presumably drier, Yale research of one P...

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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (The London Review of Books, 1983, and collected in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, 1985)

by Oliver Sacks

1983

A neurological case-study of ‘visual agnosia’, written in the accessible, urbane style that made the book a bestseller. The reader journeys through Dr Sacks’ bizarre examinat...

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Think/Classify (First published in Le Genre humain, 1982, and reprinted, in English, in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, 1997)

by Georges Perec

1982

This darkly humorous, postmodern essay of fragments by a popular OuLiPo author (whose day-job was as an archivist) starts with a ‘Summary’ of its eclectic subsections that suff...

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Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity (1982, reprinted in Blood, Bread and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985)

by Adrienne Rich

1982

Wrenched from Rich’s multiple identities (a Jewish lesbian ‘raised to be a heterosexual gentile’), this is prose elaboration upon one line of her early poetry. It de...

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Why Read the Classics? (First printed in L’Espresso , 28 June 1981, and republished in The Literature Machine / The Uses of Literature)

by Italo Calvino

1981

Calvino lists several definitions of ‘the classics’, starting with the witty observation that they are those books adults usually claim they are ‘rereading’. His o...

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Finding (Antaeus, and reprinted in The Geography of the Imagination, 1981)

by Guy Davenport

1981

A critic writes with tenderness about his Appalachian childhood Sundays spent foraging with his father for Native American arrowheads. He then made no connection between t...

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Darwin’s Sea Change, or Five Years at the Captain’s Table (Originally written for Natural History Magazine and collected in Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural His History, 1978)

by Stephen Jay Gould

1978

Gould was an influential evolutionary biologist interested in Darwin’s purposeless, materialistic worldview as an answer to man’s ongoing cosmic arrogance. This essay, however,...

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The Soccer War (Wojna futbolowa, 1978, and trans. William Brand, Granta Books, 1990)

by Ryszard Kapuscinski

1978

Kapuscinski presents himself as a hapless ‘amateur’ reporting to Warsaw on Latin American politics, for whom the 1969 war between Honduras and El Salvador, following an escalat...

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On Lying Fallow: An Aspect of Leisure (International Journal of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Vol. 6, 1977)

by Masud Khan

1977

A clinical paper that reads as an elegant essay despite its professional vocabulary, relevant to every writer or artist who claims that staring out the window is working. ...

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Less Than One (1976, reprinted in his eponymous collection of essays)

by Joseph Brodsky

1976

A Russian memoir in English that refuses the usual life-story linearity or hierarchies: ‘To get a low grade, to operate a milling machine, to be beaten up at an interrogation, or...

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Down With Dons (The New Review, Vol. 1, No.10)

by John Carey

1975

An Oxford don considers what his colleagues might look like, collectively, to a ‘non-don’, in terms of arrogance, bumptiousness, insolence, economic parasitism, hypocritical li...

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Toys (Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers)

by Roland Barthes

1973

More specifically ‘French toys’, this short essay remarks on the way French children are only supplied with playthings that are miniaturised items from the adult world, complet...

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