- Paperback: 392 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; Reprint edition (March 22, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300219806
- ISBN-13: 978-0300219807
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #215,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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On top of this nominal framework, the whole enterprise is diffused through the prism of Dante's Commedia. Why? Apparently Manguel becomes obsessed with various books at different points in his life, and discovering the riches of Dante later in life, he is currently immersed thinking through that great work, and by extension, so are we.
His tangents are often fascinating, sometimes less so, often seemingly tethered by the merest thread to the topic on hand. A chapter on the representation of thought by writing veers off into the Inca way of representing thought by a series of knots organized by shape and color known as quipu. A chapter on How Do We Question concentrates on various medieval commentators on the Talmud.
This book doesn't rigorously explore the concept of curiosity so much as embody its workings in the author.The reader travels along with him on his intellectual and often literary explorations, sometimes leading to open vistas, sometimes down a cul-de-sac. This is a frequently enlightening, usually entertaining journey, so long as there isn't any place you are in a hurry to get to.
N.B. I've been assured no cats were killed in the writing of this book.
The caveat is not a criticism, but simply a warning to prospective readers, some of whom may be surprised to find how much the book is not only inspired by Manguel's reading of Dante, but is devoted to that close reading. Nearly every section begins and ends with the text of the Comedy, and much interpretive work is done. With a few exceptions, [e.g., Manguel's effort to rehabilitate our canine friends from Dante's condemnation of "dog-like" villains is a bit thin!], I thought Manguel's commentary keen and stimulating. But then, I also am a Dante enthusiast, and readers looking mostly for a philosophical exploration of the concept of "curiosity" may find more textual criticism than expected.
It is quickly evident that Manguel is not trying to provide a systematic exploration of the concept of human curiosity, but rather is intrigued by the deeper questions of "why" and "how" and to what end that are prompted by that curiosity. He uses the text of the Comedy as springboard to explore those questions with great erudition and often with striking insight. Not all of his intellectual delving is profound: A few sections, especially in the middle of the book, as well as some political rambling may strike some readers as a bit trite --- that is the criticism promised! But for me at least, these were a small price for accompanying Manguel on his mostly absorbing and thought-provoking exploration of how curious and self-conscious humanity, and particularly its writers and readers, inquires about our world and our place in it.
Yes, an odd, hybrid sort of book. But (to steal from one review) also an "elegantly conceived excursion" and highly enjoyable reading.