Sunday, 30 November 2008

A very short post

Wandering through Blackwell's Bookshop the other day a rather large display caught my eye. On two large bookcases were laid out almost every volume in the OUP's 'A Very Short Introduction' series, in alphabetical order.

This produced some wonderful juxtapositions: The Quakers and Quantum Theory; Game Theory and Gandhi; The Crusades and Cryptography. It also brought our attention to gaps in our knowledge base: what, for example, is Pre-Socratic Philosophy? Do we know enough about Choice Theory?

I quite like the Very Short Introductions: for one thing they're very pleasing physically, with nice thick covers which pretend to be dust jackets, and lovely white paper. For another they're full of serendiptiously interesting topics.

Competing for my money available for ridiculously short books, however, are Penguin's 'Great Ideas' series, released in three 'issues' each of twenty volumes, each of which contains an extract from a longer, famous work, like Clauseowitz's On War, or a complete work in itself, like Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, or a selection of essays by someone famous like George Orwell. The charm of these books is that while they are all small and palely green, they have the most fantastic raised designs on their front covers, which are terribly terribly tactile. Their inner pages are not as pleasing as the Very Short Introductions, being less sharply white, and more fuzzily beige. But still worthwhile - especially in introducing you to some of the world's greatest writers and thinkers.

So not strictly an English post - more of a share. And it did start in a bookshop, at least...