If you were asked to put together a list of remarkable books, where would you begin? Personally, I would start by trying to quantify what it was that would elevate a book to this list. Is it remarkable because it changed the world or because it changed the life of just one person, but they went on to do amazing things? Is it because of the very fact that the author was able to write and have published their book or because they were the most popular writer around and their book sold millions?
Remarkable Books: The World’s Most Beautiful and Historic Works ($40 from Dorling Kindersley) uses these criteria, and many more, to bring together a volume that uses beautiful photographs, author biographies, historical context and detailed examinations of the original copies. All of this detail comes together to create what amounts to a biography of each book, allowing you to get to know it and the social and cultural atmosphere in which it was written.
For example, the pages for “The Diary Of A Young Girl” by Anne Frank includes photographs of Franks’ handwritten diary pages, details of how she revised her entries and information about her fathers editing before publication.
From The Egyptian Books of the Dead, the Book of Kelts, and the Blue Qur’an, through The Wealth of Nations and The Rights of Man to The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grim and Le Petit Prince, Remarkable Books walks you through the written word in a way you have never experienced before.
The visual tours are exquisite. Taking a double page of a book such as Cosmographia by Sebastian Munster and breaking it down into detail with explanations for the illustrations and translations from the original language. Munster was considered one of the finest cartographers of his age (the book was published in 1544) but it his depiction of ‘land and sea monsters’ that are highlighted in Remarkable Books and will delight any reader. One drawing, in particular, is both fascinating and very telling of the time in which it was created. Munster illustrates a galleon throwing its cargo overboard to outrun a sea monster blowing water from its head, better known to you and me as a whale, reminding us that today’s mysteries can be tomorrows facts.