The Madman's Library: The Greatest Curiosities of Literature

by Edward Brooke-Hitching

Hardcover, 2020



Call number



Simon & Schuster UK (2020), 256 pages


Antiques. Reference. Nonfiction. HTML:This fascinating and bizarre collection compiles the most unusual, obscure books from the far reaches of the human imagination throughout history. From the author of the critically acclaimed bestsellers The Phantom Atlas and The Sky Atlas comes a unique and beautifully illustrated journey through the history of literature. The Madman's Library delves into its darkest territories to hunt down the oddest books and manuscripts ever written, uncovering the intriguing stories behind their creation. From the Qur'an written in the blood of Saddam Hussein, to the gorgeously decorated fifteenth-century lawsuit filed by the Devil against Jesus, to the most enormous book ever created, The Madman's Library features many long forgotten, eccentric, and extraordinary volumes gathered from around the world. Books written in blood and books that kill, books of the insane and books that hoaxed the globe, books invisible to the naked eye and books so long they could destroy the Universe, books worn into battle and books of code and cypher whose secrets remain undiscovered. Spell books, alchemist scrolls, wearable books, edible books, books to summon demons, books written by ghosts, and more all come together in the most curiously strange library imaginable. Featuring hundreds of remarkable images and packed with entertaining facts and stories to discover, The Madman's Library is a captivating compendium perfect for bibliophiles, literature enthusiasts, and collectors intrigued by bizarre oddities, obscure history, and the macabre. â?¢ MUST-HAVE FOR BOOKLOVERS: Anyone who appreciates a good read will love delving into this weird world of books and adding this collection to their own bookshelf. â?¢ DISCOVER SOMETHING TRULY UNIQUE: The Madman's Library will let you in on the secret and obscure histories of the strangest books ever made. â?¢ EXPERT AUTHOR: Edward Brooke-Hitching is the son of an antiquarian book dealer, a lifelong rare book collector, and a master of taking visual deep dives into unusual historical subjects, such as the maps of imaginary geography in The Phantom Atlas or ancient pathways through the stars in The Sky A… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lostinalibrary
If you love books, not just the texts, but everything about them, you really need The Madman’s Library by Edward Brooke-Hitching. It describes books of seemingly every possible (and occasionally seemingly impossible) material and text. There are books that are fantastic, beautiful, sacrilegious
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and religious; books made of every conceivable material including human skin and written in human blood; books that are indecipherable and books that are just plain odd. But they are all amazing to look at and read about.

Brooke-Hitching’s descriptions are both informative and entertaining and the pictures that accompany them are absolutely stunning. I definitely recommend this book highly for all the book lovers out there.

Thanks to Netgalley and Chronicle Books for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review
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LibraryThing member DramMan
A remarkable collection of strange books - well illustrated.
LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
I was vaguely expecting something about the OED (The Professor and the Madman). Nope. This is about book oddities. It's divided into multiple sections, though some books seem to belong in more than one. There's Books of Flesh and Blood, which include books (and other things) made with human-skin
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leather, and some "books" tattooed onto a living person. There's Lilliputiana - tiny books, from psalters and the like meant to be carried and easily read from, down to "books" consisting of a few letters etched via electron microscope and completely invisible to the naked eye. Brobdignagia - huge books, in various dimensions - from books that stood several meters tall and needed a motor to turn the pages, to one that, lying on the ground, is thicker than a person's height - that many pages (it's tax laws, and was written to demonstrate the idiocy of same). There are discussions of books that were mis-copied (mostly Bibles), info about the first printed books (long, long before Gutenberg. It was _moveable_ type that he innovated; wood-block pages are thousands of years older). Books that fold accordion-style, and are meters long when unfolded. And so on, and so on...I found it fascinating. There's not much depth to it - it's just Look at this! and this! and this! - but it's a fun and interesting read.
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LibraryThing member murderbydeath
Meh. A good story, but not a well told one. In the author's defence, I think it's her first book, published about 12 years ago and the only one published by Henry Holt (I believe all the rest of her books are published by an Amazon subsidiary).

The premise of the story is a gripping one: when Hallie
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was 5, her father faked her and his deaths, spiriting her away to the other side of the country, convincing her that her mother died in a house fire where everything was lost. He gets away with it for over 30 years, until early-onset Alzheimer's sets in and a picture of him and Hallie end up in the newspaper honouring him for his dedicated teaching career. Her mother, thinking her dead all these years, finds out, only to write her a letter, conveniently change her will, and die of a heart attack, leaving Hallie the sole heir of a mother she thought long dead and never got to meet. A day later, her father passes too.

This is where the book begins, with Hallie heading to the island in Lake Superior, devastated and in shock and wondering why her perfect and adored father would have committed such a crime.

This is definitely a ghost story, unlike my first Wendy Webb (also the most recent, I believe). It's just not a very spooky one, although it definitely should be; the crap that went down in that house should have made me hair stand on end. But it didn't.

This also tries to be a romance. I like both the characters and I don't doubt they fell in loved and lived happily ever after, but I wasn't moved by it.

I'm pretty sure there's supposed to be an element of suspense, but I never felt suspended. I was pretty certain I knew who Iris was, and although I was correct, there is a twist at the end I didn't anticipate at all. It should have been more shocking than it was, and instead it just left me surprised; a 'huh' instead of a 'holy crap!'.

Like I said, a lot of good elements, but executed clumsily. I feel like, had this story been written by someone like Simone St. James, I'd have had to sleep with the lights on for a week. Instead, I'm not sure I'll remember much of it by the time I go to sleep tonight.
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LibraryThing member CasSprout
Wonderfully interesting book. Unique and delightful.
LibraryThing member Dabble58
This. Is. The. Best. Book. Ever.
Gathered and copiously illustrated by the QI writer Edward Brooke-Hitching, every single page is full of delights and bizarre stories and a dry wit that had me spitting my coffee out at the breakfast table.
I paced myself as soon as I’d read the first chapter,
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knowing that I needed to fully dip in to each page. It’s all about ‘extraordinary volumes’, from those written in blood and feathers to ones with type so tiny it wrecked the typesetter’s eyes, from literary hoaxes (delightful!) to curiosities of science (astonishing).
I was beyond thrilled to hear that one could write a million worded diary and donate it to a local college (tempting) with included nose hairs (for future study), that the shortest poem was mn, and sold for many pounds, that the small man used in a royal court as a sandwich filler by a giant snapped and shot a tormenter through the head (cheers!!).
Every, every page is full of treasure. I’ve recommended this book to everyone, even sent it to a few.
Buy it. It’s one you want on your bookshelves, if only to startle guests.
Now I’m off to read one of his other tantalizingly-titled books: ‘Fox Tossing, Octopus Wrestling, and Other Forgotten Sports’. Who can resist such a title? (Ps: the Madman’s Library has a section of odd titles that I plan to use as inspiration for titles for what I write)
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

10.04 x 7.91 inches


1471166910 / 9781471166914
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