cover image The Book of All Books

The Book of All Books

Roberto Calasso, trans. from the Italian by Tim Parks. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-374-60189-8

Italian publisher and writer Calasso (The Celestial Hunter) once again muses eloquently on the Bible in this 10th entry in his series dedicated to exploring ancient myths and the human search for meaning. In Calasso’s signature style, he retells Bible stories, mostly from the Old Testament, emphasizing the themes of separation and sacrifice that tie the stories together. These narratives feature alongside literary criticism, scholarly analysis, philosophical digressions, and quotes from a wide range of thinkers—including Freud, Baudelaire, and Robert Alter. For instance, the story of Moses gives Calasso the space to muse on the nature of authority and how primogeniture (the primacy of one’s first born son) has affected world history: “You can act as a judge, but there will always be someone who casts doubts on your authority.” In their refraction through Calasso’s prodigious mind, biblical stories are connected to a broader history of ideas, and the author argues that the Bible, like other ancient texts and myths, represents the human drive for transcendence and meaning. Despite the scholarly trimmings, the individual retellings will have wide appeal. Readers with any level of biblical knowledge will benefit from Calasso’s far-ranging insights. (Nov.)