Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Month: March, 2012

760: Toulouse-Latrec by Robert Burleigh

760.092: Burleigh, Robert. Toulouse-Latrec: The Moulin Rouge and the City of Light. New York: Henry N. Adams, Inc., 2005. 29 pp. ISBN 0-8109-5867-8.

The arts, and especially the visual arts, are very spread all across in the 700s. Graphic arts (what we call “posters”) sit in the 760s. And, naturally enough, a biography of a graphic artist is classed at 760.092. Easy enough.

So…during the process of choosing which books I will read for each Dewey section, I was happy to find a book that went directly into 760. Most artists get filtered out to the 740s (drawing) or the 750s (painting), so finding a pure 760 was rather fortuitous (or so I thought).

And then I received the book. Nowhere—I repeat, nowhere—did I happen to notice the intended audience of this book. This was most likely because I was excited to find it and see that it was very cheap on Amazon.

It’s for teenagers.


This speaks to a complete lack of vetting on my part, and not to an ulterior obfuscation of the facts by the bookseller. In any case, I was a little let down.

BUT! Being the persevering bibliophile that I am, I read it anyway. Namely, because I didn’t know a damn thing about Henri de Toulouse-Latrec other than the fact that he was a French artist in the 19th century.

In 29 over-sized pages, Robert Burleigh gives a concise and start-to-finish biography of Toulouse-Latrec, while still exhibiting a representative sampling of his work. Henri de Toulouse-Latrec was born in 1864 to a family of aristocrats. He had a weakened skeletal structure and broke both of his legs at a young age. This disease stunted his growth, and he never reached five feet tall. He made up for this by adopting a wonderfully charming wit (and also by being moderately rich). After traveling to Paris to go to school, he improved his artistic skills and started capturing the life and landscape around him.

Henri made a wealth of friends and spent a lot of time at the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre (Paris suburb). So much so that he designed posters for them and the surrounding businesses, as well as painting portraits of all his friends and acquaintances. He died young, but created roughly 6,300 works of art. His style attempted to capture the uniqueness of every subject as well as the lights and motion of everyday life.

Someday, I will replace this book with an actual scholarly biography, but for now, this will do.

Burleigh undoubtedly leaves out some of the more harsh details of Parisian life in the late 19th century. As an artist, I would stereotypically expect some bouts of drug and alcohol abuse, but the author wisely edits those parts out. All in all, it makes a decent coffee table book and an avenue to start looking into one of the first graphic artists.

338: Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten

338.766359097291: Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause. New York: Penguin, 2008. 365 pp. ISBN 978-0-14-311632-5.

Books in DDC section 338 are notorious for having long Dewey numbers. The 330s are economics, and 338 is specifically “Production.” Any company that makes something falls under here, and that’s just about half of them (the other half are service companies). 338.7 is “business enterprises,” or what everyone else calls companies. 338.76 starts the “business enterprises by industry”. Then things get interesting—you have to go find the Dewey number for the product that the company makes and attach it. In this case, rum is 663.59, so the number now becomes 338.766359. Since this book is about a rum company specific to the island of Cuba, you can tack on the geographical marker, which is -097291. And voila, a book about a rum-producing business enterprise in Cuba.

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194: The First and Second Discourses by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

194: Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The First and Second Discourses. Translated by Roger D. and Judith R. Masters. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1964. 228 pp. ISBN 0-312-69440-7.

The 100s are a mish-mash of philosophy and psychology. Back when Dewey was devised the system, the two fields had a lot of overlap. Psychology had a lot to do with our philosophical conception of the universe and how that affected an individual’s mind. Our current understanding of psychology is a lot more research- and observation-based than those days, but the 100s still stand. And before you can get to modern philosophy, you have to slog through each basic concept, each of which have their own section. Space is 114, time is 115, and causation is 122. Odd psychologies occupy the 130s (dream psychology, handwriting analysis, phrenology, etc.). Regular books on modern philosophy get pushed all the way to the 190s. Today’s book on modern French philosophy falls into 194.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) may not be all that modern by our scale, but he helped Enlightenment France sort out many of the new ways of thinking that came about before the French Revolution. The First and Second Discourses is actually a joining of separately published works. The First Discourse (otherwise known as the “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences”) was published in 1750, while the Second (“Discourse on Inequality”) came out in 1754. Both were submissions to competitions sponsored by the Academy of Dijon.

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616: Feeding Eden by Susan Weissman

616.975: Weissman, Susan. Feeding Eden: The Trials and Triumphs of a Food Allergy Family. New York: Sterling, 2012. 199 pp. ISBN 978-1-4027-8122-3.

Applied science, or as we call it, technology, falls into the 600s. When you apply scientific knowledge to human health, you end up with a field called medicine, and books on medicine go into the 610s. Books on particular diseases and illness families fall into 616. Diseases of the immune system, and more specifically, food allergies fall into 616.975.

Susan Weissman’s Feeding Eden is about how she dealt with her second child’s severe compound allergy condition. Eden, after suffering bout after bout of allergic reflux for the first six months of his life and unrelenting eczema, is diagnosed with allergies to milk, soy, nuts, fish, shellfish, eggs, and certain fruits. Later, on top of all that, he is diagnosed with asthma. All this made for a very complicated life for the Weissmans. Their first child, Dayna, is fortunately allergy-free.

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920: Banvard’s Folly by Paul Collins

920.02: Collins, Paul. Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck. New York: Picador, 2001. 267 pp. ISBN 0-312-26886-6.

Go into any public library and you will find that all the biographies are cordoned off in their own section. Patrons love reading about the lives of others, and modern biographies have just the same cachet as they did in decades past (the unauthorized ones are usually the most salacious, though).

The Dewey System tried to do it this way, too. In earlier editions, the 920s was the holding place for biographies and it mirrored the other classes internally: the 000s were general works, so 920 was general biographies; the 100s contained philosophy and psychology, so 921 held biographies of philosophers and psychologists, and so on. Then, they decided that people reading books on chemistry should also be able to find biographies of chemists nearby. So, at some point, the folks at Dewey moved everything out of the 920s and decided that they should be classed with the subject’s area of expertise. Biographies of chemists go into general works on chemistry (540); businessmen go to 338, and painters go to 759.

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531: The Lightness of Being by Frank Wilczek

531.1: Wilczek, Frank. The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces. New York: Basic Books, 2010. 220 pp. ISBN 978-0-465-01895-6.

When the folks at Dewey put out the 22nd edition, they probably didn’t foresee the eventual prominence of special relativity, quantum electrodynamics (QED), or quantum chromodynamics (QCD). There’s not really a place for books on those subjects. But, since they all try in some to solve different aspects of classical mechanics, they fit into 531.

If I devoted the rest of my natural (and unnatural) life to study of quantum physics, I might be within an order of magnitude (one-tenth) of what Frank Wilczek has forgotten about it. A pioneer of quantum chromodynamics in the 1970s and winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, Wilczek, in The Lightness of Being, tries to take intensely complicated ideas such as gluon fields and supersymmetry and make them understandable to the lay person. For the most part, he succeeds (the mere fact that I could remember what those were called without opening the book is a feat in and of itself). Wilczek walks the reader through the history (and even some pre-history) of quantum physics, stopping along the way to talk about the current theoreticians and their (inevitably) quirky personalities.

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868: Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

868.62: Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writing. Edited by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby. New York: New Directions, n.d. 251 pp. ISBN 0-8112-0012-4.

The various literatures of the world are stuffed into the 800s, and as such, it is a cornucopia of delights. Spanish literature in contained in the 860s, and 868 is the place for Spanish miscellaneous writing. You don’t necessary have to be from Spain to be considered a Spanish writer. Borges, for instance, was from Argentina, but since his primary writing language was Spanish, that’s where he sits. “Miscellaneous writing” denotes collections that contain essays, plays, letters, poetry, stories, novellas, or any combination thereof.

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