University of Chicago Press

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The winner of the BSLS Book Prize for 2019 was announced yesterday at the Society's online conference: it is Gerard Passannante's Catastrophizing: Materialism and the Making of Disaster (University of Chicago Press)

Gerard Passannante’s timely study brings together literature, visual art, and the history of science to provide rich insights into catastrophic thinking and the history of materialist thought. His accounts of analogy and of the juxtaposition of incompatible scales will be stimulating to readers working across a wide range of periods. His key idea is that the image of disaster renders the imperceptible perceptible. The book takes in Lucretian materialism, Leonardo da Vinci, John Donne, the idea of interpretation ‘anything out of anything’ (quidlibet ex quolibet), Shakespeare, Robert Hooke and microscopes, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and – in a suggestive Afterword – our current climate crisis. It has foundations of precise historical scholarship, but is informed by a wider range of historical knowledge, such that Sergei Eisenstein can inform a discussion of Leonardo da Vinci, or Samuel Beckett provides the opening to a chapter on Shakespeare.

Further details of the book prize, and of past winners and shortlisted titles, are given here.

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