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The Madman's Library

The Greatest Curiosities of Literature

About The Book

'Anybody who loves the printed word will be bowled over by this amusing, erudite, beautiful book about books. It is in every way a triumph. One of the loveliest books to have been published for many, many years' Alexander McCall Smith
'Quite simply the best gift for any book lover this year, or perhaps ever' Lucy Atkins, Sunday Times Literary Book of the Year

'An utterly joyous journey into the deepest eccentricities of the human mind… The most cheering, fascinating book I’ve read for ages' Guardian

From the author of the critically acclaimed and globally successful The Phantom Atlas, The Golden Atlas and The Sky Atlas comes a stunning new work. The Madman’s Library is a unique, beautifully illustrated journey through the entire history of literature, delving into its darkest territories to hunt down the very strangest books ever written, and uncover the fascinating stories behind their creation.

This is a madman’s library of eccentric and extraordinary volumes from around the world, many of which have been completely forgotten. 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, books of code and cypher whose secrets remain undiscovered… and a few others that are just plain weird.

From the 605-page Qur'an written in the blood of Saddam Hussein, through the gorgeously decorated 15th-century lawsuit filed by the Devil against Jesus, to the lost art of binding books with human skin, every strand of strangeness imaginable (and many inconceivable) has been unearthed and bound together for a unique and richly illustrated collection ideal for every book-lover.

About The Author

Photograph © Alex Anstey

Edward Brooke-Hitching is the author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling books The Phantom Atlas (2016), The Golden Atlas (2018), The Sky Atlas (2019), The Madman's Library (2020) and The Devil's Atlas (2021), all of which have been translated into numerous languages; he is also the author of Fox Tossing, Octopus Wrestling and Other Forgotten Sports (2015). He is a writer for the BBC series QI. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and an incurable cartophile, he lives surrounded by dusty heaps of old maps and books in Berkshire. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (October 1, 2020)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781471166921

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Raves and Reviews

'This gorgeous collection of bizarre books through the ages... My favourite - and the jaw-dropping bar is high here - is the beautiful, tubercular, 19th-century countess who asked an author to bind his next novel in her skin (he obliged; who wouldn't?). Quite simply the best gift for any book lover this year, perhaps ever.'

– Lucy Atkins, Sunday Times, Literary Book of the Year

'An astonishing book about books... This profusely illustrated book is a bibliophile’s dream: massive books, tiny books, coded books, books of fathomless eccentricity – they are all here. One of the most amusing and engaging books to be published for years.’

– Alexander McCall-Smith, New Statesman

Fabulously entertaining…a tour of the world, a cross-cultural paean to literary ingenuity in all its forms. The book itself is a handsome tome, full of extraordinary images: illuminated manuscripts, visions of the Devil, early anatomical texts. It is a strangely hopeful book: humankind in all its wild variety, set down somehow on paper.’

– Erica Wagner, Financial Times

'The most beautiful objects in literature. You're going to love this. Extraordinary'

– Dan Snow

‘The strangest books ever written, from tomes bound in human skin to a bible that conceals a pistol and a passage of Martian writing channelled through a psychic. A cornucopia of curiosities. Spellbinding…a fascinating tome.’

– Daily Mail

'Brooke-Hitching’s prose is elegant and witty [and] the images...make the book a real joy'

– Spectator

' is a bibliophile's paradise, bringing together the weirdest and most eccentric books ever published. It is a treasure trove of peculiarity, presented in the most captivating way.'

– The Lady, Books of the Year

‘Sit back and enjoy the ride as the book sails off into ever more outlandish territoryThe Madman’s Library owes as much to his journalistic eye for a good story as it does to bibliographic expertise. It fairly barrels along, delivering a riot of colourful episodes and even more colourful images. Special mention should be made of the illustrations, in fact, since they carry the book every bit as much as the text…This is a book to dip into, browse, fondle and ogle rather than read cover to cover. For bibliophiles who have missed the serendipitous delights of actual libraries over the past few months, it’s the ideal tonic.’

– Gill Partington, Literary Review

‘This riotous history of weird and wonderful books… It’s suitably lively…but never loses sight of the history among the hijinks.’

– History Revealed

'For a bibliophile's reading pleasure, Brooke-Hitching brings together weird and wondrous tomes from antiquity and all corners of the globe.'

– Saga magazine

'The book veers from compulsively gross to deliciously odd, but always fascinating.'

– Francesca Carington, Tatler

'A lavishly illustrated compendium of literary oddities'

– Radio Times

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More books from this author: Edward Brooke-Hitching