How the written word shaped the written world


The Written World: How Literature Shaped History. By Martin Puchner. Random House; 448 pages; $32. Granta; £14.99.

“IN THE beginning was the Word…” That stirring opening of the Gospel of St John could easily serve as the thesis of Martin Puchner’s “The Written World”, an episodic history of human civilisation as shaped by and told through its literature.

Mr Puchner, a professor at Harvard University, places the written word at the very heart of things, bringing scribes and scribblers out from the shadows and giving them their moment in the sun. When discussing Alexander’s astounding conquests, the author has far less to say about his innovative use of cavalry than about the fact that he carried around with him a text of Homer’s “Iliad”, a book that goaded the great Macedonian to surpass the achievements of his hero Achilles. Recounting the transformative impact of Buddha, Confucius, Socrates and Jesus, Mr Puchner chooses to…Continue reading

Powered by WPeMatico

Personal pronouns are changing fast

NOT so long ago a man could be jailed in Texas for sex with another man. In 2015 a county clerk in Kentucky was jailed for refusing to certify the marriage of two men. Gay rights in America proceeded at an extraordinary rate between Lawrence v Texas (2003), in which …

Giorgio Vasari, the man who created art history

Vasari made craftsmen into stars The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art. By Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney. Norton; 432 pages; $29.95 and £23.99. TOWARDS the end of his life Michelangelo Buonarroti, the most famous artist of the Italian Renaissance, began burning his drawings. He did …

Esther Kinsky muses on a river in England

Esther Kinsky goes with history’s flow River. By Esther Kinsky. Translated by Iain Galbraith. Fitzcarraldo; 368 pages; £12.99. To be published in America this autumn by Transit Books. IN HER post-war childhood beside the Rhine, the narrator of Esther Kinsky’s third novel learns that “every river is a border.” Flowing …