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Tony Grafton's Reading Wheel, etc.

It's conceivable you haven't heard of Anthony Grafton. He's a Princeton professor who made his reputation with the two-volume intellectual biography of Joseph Justus Scaliger (oh, THAT Anthony Grafton). He's also written a book on Leon Battista Alberti. Also a book on Isaac Casaubon. And a book about the history of the footnote (he said in an interview, "I hate the practice that's now cropping up of putting the footnotes to a book not even in the back, but on the web, where we have no certainty that they will remain accessible over the book's whole shelf-life"). He speaks or reads eight languages. He's an intellectual's intellectual. And like everyone else, he's pressed for time. From the Chronicle of Higher Education site:

"Casaubon loved nothing better than to get up early in the morning (very early, this was the man who once wrote `I rose at 5:00, alas, so late!') and spend several hours of uninterrupted work in his study, annotating a Greek text. For company he preferred his family to distinguished visitors. Joseph Scaliger--who was unmarried, though students boarded with him in his elegant brick house in Leiden, now a karate school--worked 18-hour days for weeks on end, stopping only now and then to catch up with his Latin and French correspondence. Heaven knows, I'm no Casaubon or Scaliger. But I have the sense that the kind of concentration they could muster--and some semblance of which I did manage to bring to bear on their work in my early years, before email, fax machines and the other implements of buzz had taken shape--is now hard for any senior academic in the States to find. We are pushed, pulled, urged, bribed to spend our time traveling, to give talks (or worse, to give the comment after three young, promising folks have given talks), to award prizes and fellowships, to serve on boards, to review books, articles, tenure cases. All of this is important, all of it has to be done--but it also gives us an excuse for not going down the mine any more, with lamp and pick, to see what we can find after a day's hard work at the coal face. From this point of view at least, that of the twenty-first century fox, I envy my protagonists their laborious, erudite, productive, hedgehog lives."

Grafton is the subject of a feature in the latest issue of the Princeton alumni magazine (fyi, I'm on the magazine's board, which means twice a year I drive up there and eat a free sandwich and nod my head at a meeting). What jumps out at me is the photograph of Grafton in his home office with this amazing contraption directly behind his desk. It's a "reading wheel." It's like a water wheel with books on it.

'From his seat he can rotate any one of eight shelves into view by spinning the wheel. With a tug, Grafton rotates past Greek, Latin, and Hebrew lexicons until a book on eclipses drops into view. "Not everyone has Eclipses for Humanists," he observes dryly.'

I gotta get one of those. But what to put on it? A book on ... Ellipses for Humanists...?

Clearly I'd need this one. And maybe this one. And definitely this one.

By Joel Achenbach  |  April 10, 2007; 11:36 AM ET
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