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Worlds Made by Words

Worlds Made by Words

Scholarship and Community in the Modern West

Anthony Grafton

ISBN 9780674060258

Publication date: 05/31/2011

In this book Anthony Grafton lets us in on one of the great secrets of scholars and intellectuals: although scholars lead solitary lives in order to win independence of mind, they also enjoy the conviviality of sharing a project sustained by common ideals, practices, and institutions. It’s like Masonry, but without the secret handshakes.
Grafton reveals the microdynamics of the scholarly life through a series of essays on institutions and on scholars ranging from early modern polymaths to modern intellectual historians to American thinkers and writers. He takes as his starting point the republic of letters—that loose society of intellectuals that first took shape in the sixteenth century and continued into the eighteenth. Its inhabitants were highly original, individual thinkers and writers. Yet as Grafton shows, they were all formed, in some way, by the very groups and disciplines that they set out to build.
In our noisy, caffeinated world it has never been more challenging to be a scholar. When many of our fellow citizens seem to have forgotten why we collect books in the buildings we call libraries, Grafton’s engaging, erudite essays could be a rallying cry for the revival of the liberal arts.


  • Grafton challenges readers to consider the pursuit of scholarship in the twenty-first century by reflecting on its practices and practitioners—from the libraries of the Renaissance to the classrooms of the late nineteenth and twentieth-century universities to the virtual spaces where minds and worlds meet today. Part history, part historiography, part autobiography, this is a manifesto for the future of intellectual history by one of its best practitioners.

    —Paula Findlen, author of Possessing Nature and editor of Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything


  • Anthony Grafton is the author of The Footnote, Defenders of the Text, Forgers and Critics, and Inky Fingers, among other books. The Henry Putnam University Professor of History and the Humanities at Princeton University, he writes regularly for the New York Review of Books.

Book Details

  • 432 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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