e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Read this book and weep

The book of my title is The Book of Lost Books by Stuart Kelly. It’s subtitle is very appropriate:

An incomplete history of all the great books you’ll never read.

The author looks back through the history of literature and tells us what is known of great lost books. The history of literature is a long one – going back to the earliest days of writing in places like Sumeria, Egypt, China – and the opportunities for even famous books to vanish are numerous.

The classical age in Europe is one of the best known, partly because the authors who have survived commented on their colleagues and predecessors who haven’t. But even the very literary Greeks and Romans produced many Mr and Mrs Anonymouses not to mention Mr Who-was-Homer?.

We leave the realm of this vagueness the nearer we approach the present. It’s interesting to read about what we haven’t got of Lord Byron, Jane Austen and other well-known people. Most of them are Westerners but Asia has its own ‘lost’ catalogue and a few chapters introduce us to it.

The last author dealt with in the book is Philip K Dick. Three of his known works have vanished. I suspect that Dick himself was responsible for this; by the 20th century he should have had access to ways of not losing things if he didn’t want to.

The works Kelly covers are just the ones we know about – how much more has turned to dust over the centuries?

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10 thoughts on “Read this book and weep

  1. The loss of the great library at Alexandria, Egypt ( accidently burned down by Julius Caesar ), lost many great works of notable thinkers such as Euclid, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Herophilus, Erasistratus, Hipparchus, Aedesia, Pappus, Hypatia, Aristarchus of Samos, and Saint Catherine.

    Had those works survived, the 20th century may have been built in the 10th century. http://www.crystalinks.com/libraryofalexandria.html

    Hank

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    • Hi Hank, Thank you for your comment. It’s an interesting thought how many things would have been different. I also think that even if history was roughly the same our thoughts and feelings about the past might be different.
      Cheers

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      • I have the same feeling about Algebra not getting to Europe until 400AD… after the fall of Rome..i.e. the Barbarians would have lost the war and Henry Ford’s Model T would have gotten invented in 800AD.

        http://hcurci.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/hank-curci-writes-if-only-ancient-rome-had-algebra-barbarians-would-have-lost-the-war-7/

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      • One shudders to think what the environment would be like with an extra 1000 years of cars. But perhaps we’d have discovered something better by then and the Model T would be as antique as chariots.

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      • Agreed…However, Synthetic Genetics would have popped in to the mix some where along the line and you and I would be mostly bio-nuclear circuits rather than carbon based DNA life forms.. BEEP..BEEP

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      • If we could do that much bio-engineering perhaps we could have wings and dispense with cars or anything like them.

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      • Human Being will become an electronic chip the size of your thumbnail being serviced by an attending computer mainframe..Circa 3000AD.

        This chip is more powerful than the natural human brain and can generate multiple virtual thought processes at nanosecond speeds from data supplied by traveling nano space ships roaming the vast Milky Way Galaxy.

        All life’s experiences are now virtual from transmitted information through time compression worm holes that exceed the speed of light.

        Hence there will be no need for transportation the chip will never leave it’s service module…the human being is now extinct.

        Hank

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      • Hi Hank, It doesn’t sound very pleasant. I’d rather have real experiences than virtual ones. But who knows what people of the future will want.

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      • No, being synthetic with a computerized response system would not sound appealing to us who have an in-depth emotional structure.

        However like it or not, the synthetic DNA thing has begun as we speak..

        I now have 20/20 vision from two eye cataract operations..every thing I see near or far is clear as a bell with artificial acrylic lenses permanently inserted in to my eyes..I certainly would not want my original eyes back….
        Hank

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      • A bit of the bionic is good I agree. I’m glad to hear it’s worked so well for you.

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