Description de l’Egypte (1994) and Alchemy & Mysticism: The Hermetic Museum (1997), Benedikt Taschen, Köln. I might have included these in my paean to fat paperbacks, but these are fatties of a different sort. Back in the middle ‘90s, Taschen was specially fond of publishing stout little art books that weigh like bricks in the hand and open only with some forcing. They are impractical things, but as book-objects very desirable.
Behold the book as antiquarian, historian, naturalist, ethnographer and tour guide. My son pries open Description de l’Egypte to reveal an image of the Sphinx. In its scaled-down single-volume form, this book reproduces the only real triumph of Napoleon’s miserable Egyptian campaign: over 3000 illustrations of persons and landscapes, hieroglyphs and temples, fauna and flora, published by imperial command. According to legend, over 400 copper-engravers worked twenty years on this book.
Behold the book as alchemist, analyst, curator, dream-interpreter and psychopompos. My daughter holds open the doors of The Hermetic Museum to reveal an image of The Ladder. The book is a Jungian fantasy, an encyclopedia of esoteric and alchemical symbology. My patience for this sort of thing ran out about the time the book was published, but the pictures are wonderful. The Masonic Jacob’s Ladder on the right is supposed to represent “the transformation of the raw stone (apprentice, Prima Materia) into the cubic stone (Lapis).”