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 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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Supplementary Observations on the Voyage of Bougainville, or, A dialogue between A and B on the inexpediency of attaching moral ideas to certain physical actions which have nothing to do with them   

by Denis Diderot

1772

(‘Supplément au voyage de Bougainville, ou dialogue entre A et B sur l'inconvénient d'attacher des idées morales à certaines actions physiques qui n'en comportent pas’) ...

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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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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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Some Blind Alleys: A Letter (Originally published in French in La tentation d’exister, 1956, and in English translation in The Temptation to Exist, 1968 and 1987 Quartet edition with an introduction by Susan Sontag)

by E.M. Cioran

1956

A Romanian intellectual discourages an aspiring author. Intending to shock, Cioran spews vitriol over the twentieth century addiction to confessional, therapeutic self-expression, ...

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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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Reflections on Ghandi

by George Orwell

1949

Inspired by Gandhi’s autobiography, this is one great ethical thinker reflecting on another. Orwell measures Gandhi in accessible terms based on biographical detail, then moves o...

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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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On Thinking for Yourself (Parerga and Paralipomena: Kleine philosophische Schriften, 1851)

by Arthur Schopenhauer

1851

A sardonic essay in twelve short aphoristic sections, in which Schopenhauer emphasizes the differences between scholars and thinkers. Ultimately it is only our own ideas t...

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On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life (First published in Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen, 1874, and reprinted in Untimely Meditations, 1997, ed. Daniel Breazeale and trans. R.J. Hollingdale)

by Friedrich Nietzsche

1874

Germany’s first modern essayist attacks his culture’s ‘oversaturation’ in historicism and Hegel in a ‘treatise’ of engaging playfulness – for example, the comparison ...

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On the Use of Reason by Irrational Animals (Moralia, vol.12, 46-127 as date unknown)

by Plutarch

127

Plutarch uses Homer’s Odysseus to dramatize a first-century debate about consciousness and character. Odysseus is trying to get his compatriots turned back from pigs into men by ...

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On the Subjection of Women (1860-1, published 1869)

by John Stuart Mill

1869

Possibly co-authored by his wife Harriet Taylor Mill, this is a boat-rocking attack on the socio-legal inequalities imposed on Victorian women. The argument aims not solely to bene...

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