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Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West Paperback – April 4, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

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Grafton challenges readers to consider the pursuit of scholarship in the twenty-first century by reflecting on its practices and practitioners―from the libraries of the Renaissance to the classrooms of the late nineteenth and twentieth-century universities to the virtual spaces where minds and worlds meet today. Part history, part historiography, part autobiography, this is a manifesto for the future of intellectual history by one of its best practitioners. (Paula Findlen, author of Possessing Nature and editor of Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything)

What comes through here is a deep respect for the achievements of classical scholarship and humanism. This includes the attempt to keep this tradition alive―hard to do in an age that often seems to prefer noise over the silence of an archive or library. (Andreas Hess Times Higher Education 2009-04-16)

It is exceedingly rare to find in one and the same scholar this love for archival material and the talent to show the world at large why it is interesting and important… The scope of Grafton's volume is vast, and the topics it addresses are uniformly important. He takes his readers on a long journey, from the Republic of Letters to the Babel of the Internet. If it is hard to say whether or not the road leads upward to the light, there is no doubt that we could not ask for anyone wiser to lead us. Like Dante's Virgil, Grafton knows everyone we meet along the way. (G. W. Bowersock New York Review of Books 2009-05-14)

Mr. Grafton may be steeped in the past, but he is no antiquarian. He is quick to link submerged traditions with present trends. He regards recent developments in technology, and their effects on libraries and on reading, as both a blessing and a burden. Ideally, new technologies don't displace old ones; they augment them. Cuneiform tablets, papyri, manuscripts, as well as books, remain essential to scholarship and to learning at large, if only because the look and feel of the past can be as important as its content. The larger, more troubling question is: Who will read them in the future? Sometimes Mr. Grafton sounds an elegiac note; he laments 'the dull, provincial scholarship of our own sad time.' He may be right to do so. Nevertheless, he himself represents the best proof that the Republic of Letters is alive and kicking. (Eric Ormsby Wall Street Journal 2009-03-13)

Some of the best and most vivid writing in this new book evokes the ambience, patrons and 'smells of dust and noble rot,' in havens ranging from the Bodleian to the old British Library Reading Room, from the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris ('a building that looks like the set from some forgotten dystopian sci-fi film of the 1970s') to the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, each with its own unique character and perspective… It is from that traditional vantage point that Grafton, Renaissance scholar extraordinaire, has, for the past forty years or so, dispassionately and indefatigably investigated the intellectual activities of the great early humanists. (Peter Green Times Literary Supplement 2009-07-17)

Grafton's essays dance nimbly across that gigantic chasm of time separating the Renaissance from Google… Worlds Made by Words amounts to a tour of Renaissance scholarship conducted by someone with a deep understanding of our own moment in the history of reading. It's an enriching combination. (Robert Fulford National Post 2009-08-18)

Anthony Grafton, Grand Master of libraries and reading, has written a book-lover's guide to the Republic of Letters. Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Communities in the Modern West traces the literate tradition from the codexes of humanist scholars to what he calls the 'dematerialized' book of today. A superb achievement. (Alberto Manguel Times Literary Supplement 2009-11-27)

Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West is one of the most intelligent and moving celebrations of the Republic of Letters I have ever read. Part autobiography (we follow Grafton around his favourite library haunts from New York to Warburg), part intellectual history, part manifesto, Worlds Made by Words manages to sing the praises of the old-fashioned book without embarking on a Luddite crusade against Google and all its works. (Mary Beard Times Literary Supplement 2009-11-27)

Anthony Grafton's Worlds Made by Words is a sparkling series of essays in praise of books, with moving and sometimes hilarious reminiscences of a lifetime spent in libraries. (Mary Beard The Scotsman 2009-12-05)

This volume of essays, created over a long span of time, has a central theme: the world and love of learning since circa 1400. Grafton, a scholar fully at home in that world, offers his type of intellectual history that never lets the grand flow of ideas hide the fullness of life, including the lives of the creative scholars. These brilliant but often flawed individuals became shapers of worlds made of words (critically assessed worlds of thought). Although he does not hide practices motivated by corruption and vainglory, Grafton elucidates lovingly the characteristics of their inquiries: erudition, audacious criticism and creativity, insistence on perfect use of language (for a long time, Latin), and a wide range of inquiries well beyond that possible for modern individual scholars. Grafton exhibits many of the admirable qualities in his own research for and writing of these essays. Even his assessment of the digital world's impact on the world of learning Grafton so admires is sharply critical and tinged with sadness, but shows a balanced judgment. Readers get a fascinating introduction to a true world of learning. (E. A. Breisach Choice 2010-02-01)

About the Author

Anthony Grafton is Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (May 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674060253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674060258
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,148,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By R. H. Mitchell on February 12, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nobody familiar with Professor Grafton's scholarship will be surprised that this is a wise and witty book. I confess that while I have been university teacher, and so have participated in academic communities, I knew little about Renaissance scholars. Now I have some idea what they were up to, what questions they asked, and how they tried to answer this. This is a world of towering scholarship, personality clashes, and some out and out fraud. Yet it also seems to have been a world where most scholars proceeded in good faith, even while distrusting their opponents, and where there was more cooperation among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews than might be expected. Grafton carries his stories up to the present, and relishes the people about whom he write, who include his own father and his own mentors.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anthony Grafton's gift for writing is largely hidden from view in some of the early chapters of this book made up of previously published articles and lectures.

When writing on obscure subjects for a narrow and elite readership in such publications as the Journal of Ideas or American Scholar or before university scholars in seminars at Stanford or Cambridge, the author's voice is naturally scholarly and not aimed at the general reader.

However, when writing for a magazine like The New Yorker Professor Grafton's gift for a wider communication is fully illuminated. I found the last two chapters in this book (on his father trying to interview Hannah Arendt and on the future of books in a Google world) worth the trouble of wading through the initial material that focuses on people few (certainly not I) had ever heard of on issues of seemingly limited importance to a common reader of today (like me).

I think Professor Grafton should now write a full, seamless book on a major modern theme wherein he can put to use both his talent for vivid language and the sharp reporting skills he certainly inherited from his father. Any such new book will indirectly, but still greatly, benefit from the vast knowledge he has obviously acquired over a lifetime of deep research into obscure medieval scholars and early classical ideas.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Intriguing. Very well researched and written. A very good book.
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