Books And The People Who Used To Own Them

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time and money in used book stores. I’ve purchased books both famous and obscure – editions both common and rare.
Used books often have little markings left by their pervious owner. They often give books a little character or sometimes even mystery.
Here I’d like to display a few of these little marking that for one reason or another I found interesting.

It used to rather common for people to write their name on the inside cover of books. It’s something few people still do.

A few years ago I came across a rare English translation of Ernst Jünger’s “On The Marble Cliffs.” The novel was first published in Hamburg, Germany in 1939 and first published in English in 1947, a time when German literature was very unpopular in Britain.
This copy of the anti-authoritarian novella was originally purchased by Brenda Horsefeild in London 1948.

Although rather rare it’s not to hard to find a copy of “D’Annunzio” by Tom Antongini for a reasonable price. Despite being obscure it is considered to be one of the best biographies of D’Annunzio due to Antongini’s long service as the poets right-hand man.
In this copy a pervious owner has signed not only their name but given the place of purchase as Cairo, dating 14.26.38 (putting the month before the date suggests that the previous owner was an American). This little note has always inspired by my curiosity and imagination. I’ve not doubt that this book has a lot of untold history and has had adventures of it’s own. I’ve always wondered who it was who picked up this book all those decades ago.

Worn out, battered and falling apart by the time I’d got it this copy of 1984 was previously owned by Sarah Hughes. I assume she was an English literature student who studied this book as several sections are underlined and annotated in mostly blue ink.

At first I enjoyed reading Sarahs little insights until she gave away the ending less than half way in. I have never forgiven her.

This pre-owned copy of Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy is almost completely unmarked other than a faintly copied the Walt Disney logo in pencil on page 21.

I picked up a copy of Plato’s Symposium in an English book store in Amsterdam. The previous owner had used a boarding pass as a book mark, which they left between pages 56 & 57. They had travelled from Montreal to Brussels.

In this collection of Thomas Mann novellas the previous owners name has been blacked out with marker pen, presumably by a book store worker.

In the days before Doctor Who fans could rewatch their favourite episodes on VHS or DVD several classic series stories were novelised and published by Target books. This copy of “Death to the Daleks” was perviously owned by Robin Turner who illustrated his own little Dalek making it’s way across a blue ink landscape.

Young Robin Turner was an avid reader of Doctor Who books as he ticked off almost all the titles advertised on the inside cover.

This copy of “The Joke” by Milan Kundera was gifted to it’s previous owner by two of their travelling companions. I’ve always felt it was rather sad that this one ending up in a used book store.

One of many notes made in “Nietzsche: The Man and his Philosophy” by R.J. Hollingdale.

Inside “An Outline of the Doctorates of Thomas Carlyle” the previous owner left not only their name but also a newspaper article on Carlyle dated Friday February 8th 1952. The book however is much older, dated 1869.

I came across these three books in the winter of 2015. I was surprised to find all three had belonged to the same person, who marked how and when they got them. Two of these books were gifts from to the previous owner from their father for their Philosophy degree at the university of Hull. Like another book mentioned in this article, I think it’s a little sad to see these gifts ended in a used book shop.

I own perhaps over a dozen books that have been either stolen from or sold off by various libraries.

One favourite used book store finds was a collection of essays by Schopenhauer. J.R. Adamson purchased this book in 1911 – just a few years before the start of the first world war. I’ve always wondered if Adamson found him self involved with that conflict and what fate would he later meet?

This Ugly Civilization: A Review

Ralph Brosodi’s This Ugly Civilisation was originally published in 1929. It gain popularity with various “back to the land” movements active during the great depression and the subculture of the 1960s & 70s before fading into obscurity and out of print for several decades. In late 2019, American Publishing company Underworld Amusements brought the book back into print in celebration of its 90th anniversary.

This fairly long volume comes with a lengthy introduction by Bill Sharp, historian and trustee of Borsodi’s School of Living, which not only educates the unfamiliar reader with the biography of this little known thinker but also shows how he lives unto the ideas and principles put forward in his work.

Brosodi begins this text by telling us that we live in an ugly civilisation – a civilisation filled with pollution, the unnatural noise of machinery, over crowded streets and unending traffic.
He tells us of huge cloud of soot that engulfed Pittsburgh, blackening the buildings and dirtying the homes of cities large population. He tells of similar things occurring in Chicago and New York.
Brosodi tell us that what makes civilisation ugly in the domination of Industry and factory living.

Brosodi sees the factory as an oppressive force that dominates our lives. During the industrial revolution people were led to believe that factory work and living would make their lives more comfortable, the people of Brosodi’s time believed that factory living and consumerism saved them from the brutality of pre-industrial living. Brosodi does not see the Factory system as providing the comfort in promises. He see it forcing us into unsatisfying, monotonous, meaningless work in factories and offices – these jobs we spend the majority of our time working.

The little free time we have we spend consuming – spending our hard-earned money on shallow entertainment, poor quality food, clothing and products – which, much like our work, we take no real satisfaction from.
Brosodi believed that man taken more satisfaction in his pre-industrial way of life and praises Homestead living. He proposed that man should leave his cities and return to the land believing that they would find this to be a much more meaningful and natural life.

Much of the book, if not most of it, details the methods of production that would be used to live outside the industrial system as well as criticism of their factory counterparts. These section of the book feature lengthy and detailed chapters on food-producing / preserving, agriculture, clothing and so on. Many may see these sections are being some of the duller parts of the book, however their presents can be defended as they enlighten us on how we could live an independent life outside of the system.

In my opinion one of the most interesting part of the book is a section in which Brosodi his concept of the three personality types: The Herd Minded, The Quantity Minded and the Quality Minded.
These three personality types are the actors in the tragedy of civilisation. The Herd mind set is the personality type of the unquestioning common man. The Quantity Minded dominate civilisation. They make up the businessmen and industrialists and as their title suggests they favour quantity over quality. They are interested in the accumulation wealth and the expansion of his business empire. His duel opposite is the quality minded, whom Brosodi frequently associates with Artists and Philosophers. The Quality minded man is interested in quality of life. He also appears to speculate that had the rise of industrialism been in the hands on the Quality minded and not is opposite, technology would be utilised for the sake of independent living and civilisation would be less ugly.

I think it is worth noting that unlike many of the other critics of industrial civilisation is not against technology, only the way it has been used. He also published this Ugly Civilisation before several better known thinkers published their own views on Technology.

Ralph Brosodi’s This Ugly Civilisation is worth the read and I would recommend it to any critic of Technology and modern living as well as any self-described environmentalist.
I’ve occasionally dipped into the Philosophy of Technology over the past two years and I feel it’s rather refreshing to read something on the topic which is in some way optimistic and rather surprised to read something that gave the reader a possible solution rather the description of sorry state of society. I’d also feel that this book is in many ways superior to some of the environmentalist literature I’ve tried reading recently. It is certainly a book I would read again in the future, perhaps next time with a notebook by my side.

A Saturday afternoon reading “This Ugly Civilization.”