Wilfrid Priest, WILLIAM BLACKSTONE; and Robert R. Desjarlais, BODY AND EMOTION

Wilfrid Priest, William Blackstone: Law and Letters in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012.

A biography of William Blackstone, most famous for his four-volume commentary on the English common law. An Oxford fellow, an MP, a judge, something of an academic reformer, his biography makes for interesting reading – and now I want to read more about English 18th-century law, too.

History! It’s fun! Recommended if you like the 18th century.

Robert R. Desjarlais, Body and Emotion: The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1992.

Some good, really readable, immensely interesting anthropology. Desjarlais does the difficult thing of trying to portray a cultural practice from inside and outside perspectives at once, while keeping his own position in the narrative, and the impossibility of outsiders ever achieving true inside perspectives, perfectly clear.

Darnton, The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France

Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France. WW Norton, London & New York, 1996.

This is a book with a very tight focus: the illegal book trade in France in the couple of decades before the Revolution. A little under two-thirds of it is history, well-written, well-sourced, and not infrequently entertaining (although I should recommend having read at least a summary of the period in question before diving it); the remainder is devoted to significant extracts in translation from three of the most popular illegal books with which Darnton is concerned.

Pornography and philosophy were close kindred in 18th century France, it seems, and both were equally dangerous for the people who traded in them. Indeed, one of the most popular novels of the period is a philosophical tract with pornographic interludes, or a pornographic tract with philosophical interludes – they were, at any rate, close bedfellows, and booksellers asked their suppliers to provide them with works in the “philosophical” line when they meant illegal books of any flavour.

It is a very interesting read, although now I want to read more about illegal literature and censorship in Europe as a whole in the 18th century.