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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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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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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Field (1971, reprinted in About Looking, 1980, and Selected Essays ed. Geoff Dyer, 2001)

by John Berger

1971

An essay resisting paraphrase as it attempts to define an experience ‘seldom referred to only because it is nameless’. It begins with poetic description of how a momen...

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Experience

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

1844

Emerson finds himself standing halfway up some stairs; an image of personal disorientation in middle age and an allegory for Life. He writes with wit and candour about procrastinat...

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Essay on Epitaphs (The Friend)

by William Wordsworth

1810

The essay in which Wordsworth uttered the Romantic Biographer’s credo: that commemoration is ‘truth hallowed by love’, truth ‘of the highest order’, even if it glosses ov...

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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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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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Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in my Mind (New Yorker, and reprinted in The Fire Next Time)

by James Baldwin

1963

Baldwin wrote this long essay amidst the Civil Rights Movement, but it speaks forcefully to post-9/11 preoccupations. Structured around two autobiographical passages – h...

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Discourse on Inequality (Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, or ‘The Second Discourse’, written 1754, published 1755)

by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

1754

Answering the Academy of Dijon’s question ‘What is the origin of inequality among men, and whether it is authorized by the natural Law’, this essay acknowledges natural physi...

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Days of Reading (La Renaissance latine)

by Marcel Proust

1905

Note: Another Proust essay of the same title, designated ‘Days of Reading II’ by Penguin Classics, was published in Le Figaro in 1907; the latter mostly concerns the marve...

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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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Conversation about Dante (Written sometime during 1933-5 but not published until 1967. Trans. by Clarence Brown and Robert Hughes as ‘Talking about Dante’ in Delos, no.6, 1971, and collected in Mandelstam: Selected Essays, ed. Sidney Monas.)

by Osip Mandelstam

1933

Composed under Stalinist persecution, this is a statement of Mandelstam’s own poetics and of Dante viewed through a Russian lens: ‘If the halls of the Hermitage should suddenly...

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