Magazine article World Literature Today

Curiosity

Magazine article World Literature Today

Curiosity

Article excerpt

Alberto Manguel. Curiosity. New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University Press. 2015. 377 pages.

In the opening pages of this ambitious memoir-in which its author tracks the career of his own curiosity through a lifetime of dedicated reading within a capacious framework of the literary history of human inquisitiveness through the ages- he mentions that he was almost sixty when he first encountered Dante's Commedia, the work of literature that did more than any other to guide him through the production of his unusually challenging task. Such a gargantuan project seeks proper scaffolding, and Dante's poem is expected to supply it, along with a conspicuous amount of its content.

Curiously including the introduction and even the notes, every chapter in a series of seventeen-appositely titled as questions such as "What Is Curiosity?", "How Do We Reason?", "What Are We Doing Here?", and "What Is True?"-is preceded, with varying degrees of aptness, by an emblematic woodcut reproduced from the 1487 printing of Cristoforo Landino's commentary on the Commedia. Each of these is followed by a brief prefatory page or two of autobiographical rumination and epigraphs by an array of writers ranging from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Karl Marx to Margaret Atwood to Francis Bacon. Next we plunge into an erudite, often engaging, at times rambling, exposition of Manguel's ample output of thinking and reading relevant to the chapter's thematic question, presumably drawn from a personal collection of more than thirty thousand volumes advertised below his photograph on the book's dust jacket.

Negotiating the enormous number of references, quotations, and citations required by Manguel's manner of micro/macrocosmic exploration demands unusual, if not flawless, attention to detail and consideration of contextual exigencies. …

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