Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Love: First sights in Ovid

By Jane Alison
Among the myriad transformations in Ovid’s Metamorphoses—transformations of girls to trees or stars, boys to flowers or newts, women to rivers, rocks to men—the most powerful can be those wrought by erotic desire. Woods, beaches, and glades in Ovid’s poem are ecologies of desire and repulsion: one character spots another through the trees, and you can almost see the currents of desire flow as one figure instantly wants what he sees—and the other starts running away.

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Fishing with Izaak Walton

By Marjorie Swann
The Compleat Angler opens with a man seeking companionship on a journey. “You are well overtaken, Gentlemen,” Izaak Walton’s alter-ego Piscator (Fisherman) exclaims as he catches up with Venator (Hunter) and Auceps (Falconer) north of London. “I have stretched my legs up Tottenham-hill to overtake you, hoping your business may occasion you towards Ware whither I am going this fine, fresh May morning.”

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An Oxford Companion to Valentine’s Day

By Daniel Parker
It’s big, it’s red, and it’s here. Valentine’s Day strikes fear into the hearts of men and women around the Western world like nothing else can. But you needn’t run scared of the Hallmark branded teddy bears. Oh no. Follow the sprinkling of rose petals, the sweet aroma of scented candles, and the dulcet tones of Phil Collins up the stairs to the luxury boudoir that is Oxford University Press.

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Scenes of Ovid’s love stories in art

The poet Ovid plays a central role in Roman literary history and culture. Best known for his Metamorphoses, a 15-book mythological epic, and his collections of love poetry, particularly Amores and Ars Amatoria, Ovid’s poetry has greatly influenced Western art, and his works remain some of the most important sources of classical mythology.

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What could you read over and over and over again?

Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow once more, which leaves us with 6 more weeks of winter. As card-carrying bibliophiles we know the only to get through this is to cozy up with a warm blanket, a hot beverage, and your favorite book to read over and over and over again. Some Oxford history authors were kind enough to share the book that is going to get them through the rest of this cold, cold winter.

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Sinitic script and the American experience

By Margaret Hillenbrand
In recent years, American studies have taken a decisively transnational turn. The origins of this shift lie in a distaste for the notion of “American exceptionalism”, in a revolt against the disjuncture between cherished ideas of the United States as the special homeland of all the democratic virtues, and the persistent realities of discrimination over race, gender, faith, and sexuality.

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Wrecked on a desert island

When I waked it was broad day, the weather clear, and the storm abated, so that the sea did not rage and swell as before. But that which surprised me most was, that the ship was lifted off in the night from the sand where she lay by the swelling of the tide, and was driven up almost as far as the rock which I at first mentioned, where I had been so bruised by the wave dashing me against it.

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Hal Gladfelder on The Beggar’s Opera and Polly

With The Beggar’s Opera, Gay invented a new form, the ballad opera, and the daring mixture of caustic political satire, well-loved popular tunes, and a story of crime and betrayal set in the urban underworld of prostitutes and thieves was an overnight sensation.

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Robert Burns, digital whistle-blowing, and Scottish independence

By Robert Crawford
For the first time since 1707 (more than half a century before Burns was born), the population of Scotland is being given the chance to vote in a referendum that asks the question, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ The referendum won’t be held until 18 September, but already people are arguing about which side Robert Burns would have been on.

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The Banks O’ Doon

Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759 in Alloway, a small village near the river Doon just south of the town of Ayr, in the south-west of Scotland. As Scots and Scotophiles to world over prepare to celebrate Burns Night tomorrow, here’s an excerpt from the new Oxford World’s Classics edition of his Selected Poems and Songs, dedicated to that river near which he grew up.

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Writing historical fiction in New Kingdom Egypt

By Colleen Manassa
The origins of Egyptian literary fiction can be found in the rollicking adventure tales and sober instructional texts of the early second millennium BCE. Tales such as the Story of Sinuhe, one of the classics of Egyptian literature, enjoyed a robust readership throughout the second millennium BCE as Egypt transitioned politically from the strongly centralized state of the Middle Kingdom…

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How to stop looking for a French Michelangelo

By Phillip John Usher
British comedian Eddie Izzard — known for his Francophilia and for performing standup in French and in France — once made a quip during a show in New York that at first seemed rather Franco-sceptic: why, he asked, do we talk about the “Renaissance” using a word of French origin when France itself had no such moment of Re-birth?

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Escape Plans: Solomon Northup and Twelve Years a Slave

By Daniel Donaghy
During the movie awards season, Steve McQueen’s new film 12 Years a Slave will inspire discussions about its realistic depiction of slavery’s atrocities (Henry Louis Gates Jr. has already called it, “most certainly one of the most vivid and authentic portrayals of slavery ever captured in a feature film.”) and the points at which the film most clearly reflects and departs from Solomon Northup’s original narrative.

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Ellie Collins’ top books of 2013

By Ellie Collins
Thomas Pynchon may have a reputation for writing dense and difficult novels, but Bleeding Edge is something of a page-turner: a thought-provoking thriller. The novel follows Maxine Tarnow, a smart-talking, rogue fraud investigator with a pistol in her purse, and is set somewhere between New York in 2001, leading up to the events of 9/11, and the Deep Web – the dark, buried underworld of the internet, teeming with hackers, code-writers, criminals, and lost souls. Maxine’s investigations lead her into a series of fraught and disorienting encounters with a billionaire CEO, secret agents, drug-dealers, a man with a supernatural sense of smell, and a foot fetishist (amongst others), against a backdrop of weird parties, karaoke joints, a haunted hotel, an offshore waste disposal depot with its ‘luminous canyon walls of garbage’, and the unnerving virtual reality of DeepArcher – an online world, or program. Bleeding Edge melds strange coincidence, conspiracy, and the obtusely unexplained into a brilliant and far-reaching narrative that has stayed with me long after reading.

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“This strange fête”, an extract from The Lost Domain

Alain-Fournier’s lyrical novel, The Lost Domain, captures the painful transition from adolescence to adulthood without sentimentality, and with heart-wrenching yearning. Romantic and fantastical, it is the story’s ultimate truthfulness about human experience that has captivated readers for a hundred years. The following is an extract from chapter 15 and describes the moment when Meaulnes sees Yvonne de Galais for the first time.

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