The Strange Life and Legacy of Karl May

His Wild West novels have sold over 100 million copies and have shaped the way millions of Europeans view the American frontier.

The summer sun sears into the crowded streets of downtown Santa Fe. Tourists meander through the maze of vendors and booths lined with silver and turquoise jewelry, masterful pottery, and stone sculptures that make up the city’s Indian Market. Greetings buzz through the air:


“Buenos dias.”

“Good morning.”

“Guten Tag.”

Come again? How did German become a part of Santa Fe’s tri-cultural heritage? Part of the answer comes from the nearly two million Deutschlanders who visit the United States each year.

But if you go beyond the figures, it becomes apparent that roots of this Teutonic wanderlust date back more than a century to one of Germany’s best-selling authors, Karl May.

Karl May (1842-1912) was a prolific author and a favorite read of many famous Germans, including Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, and Herman Hesse. According to the Karl May Press based in Bamberg, his works have sold over 100 million copies across the globe, and his 60 novels have been translated into over 30 languages, including a recent series in Chinese.

“Not all Europeans have read the Bible,” says Vanja Aljinovic, who residesin Santa Fe and read May’s novels translated into his native tongue as a 12-year-old boy in Croatia, “but we have all read Karl May.”

Scholars know May as a storyteller whose intention was to write for children. “That’s one main reason why his stories appear so black and white to adult readers,” says Dr. Meredith McClain, professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. But readers of all ages have been drawn to May’s legendary tales about a noble Indian named Winnetou and his virtuous German blood-brother, Old Shatterhand.

Karl May“To me the stories have that universal appeal of good versus evil, like Star Wars set in the Wild West,” says Regina Arentz of Karl May & Co. Magazine, a quarterly based in Cologne, Germany.

Yet it is the story of the man himself that proves almost as compelling.

May was born in Hohenstein-Ernstthal to an extremely poor family of 14 children, and was one of only five to survive infancy. He suffered from malnutrition and temporary blindness as a child.

May survived his childhood and regained his eyesight. His talents and ambition enabled him to attend a teachers’ school where he secured a teaching job.

It was during a Christmas break that May first ran afoul of the law. While visiting his family, his roommate reported a watch missing. He pointed the finger at May.

“He was probably borrowing it,” speculates McClain, “and hoping to impress his family with a sign of his newly achieved position.” May ended up in the slammer for several weeks but even worse, the incident cost him his precious teacher’s license during a politically oppressive period in Germany.

Without a livelihood, May used his wits to survive. He was arrested again and behind bars for several more years, this time for impersonating a police officer in an attempt to confiscate “counterfeit” Deutsche Marks.

May scholars believe his literary seeds began to sprout during his incarceration. “We think he may have read German travelers’ accounts of their experiences in the West and popular novels,” says McClain. The Last of the Mohicans, for instance, was one inspiration. There, in prison, Winnetou and Old Shatterhand may have been born.

In 1874, May finished his prison sentence, then found work as an editor in Dresden, Germany. There he began publishing his first stories like Old Firehand (1875). His first book, Im fernen Western (In the Distant West), was a reworking of this tale and appeared in 1879. Here, readers first encounter Winnetou:

His bronze-coloured face bore the imprint of special nobility.

Pierre Brice as Winnetou, shot in Frmanya Canyon, Croatia

Pierre Brice as Winnetou, shot in Frmanya Canyon, Croatia (courtesy Michael Petzel, Karl-May-Archiv)

Christopher Frayling, author of Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone(I.B. Tauris, 1998) believes Winnetou was based on the life of Cochise. Old Shatterhand was modeled to be a German superman-cowboy who made his American counterparts look like bumbling fools or brutal thugs. Take May’s explanation of how Old Shatterhand is named in Winnetou:

‘To knock out a bruiser like that with one blow. No mean achievement…!’

‘Shatterhand!’ cried Sam. ‘Not bad! Our greenhorn has a nom de guere at last!’

Scholars have pointed out the errors in his works. He mistakenly assumed that the Llano Estacado resembled the Sahara Desert. He situated Apache “Pueblos” there though none ever existed. And he stereotyped Native Americans quite broadly. But May did write fiction. Just as importantly, he did not venture to the United States until 1908, well after he had penned his Western novels. Fans, however, are also quick to admit that, despite errors, his books captured a real spirit for the West.

“He created a longing for the West in the German soul,” says Michael Petzel, author of Karl May in Film.

As Herman Hesse once noted of May, “He is the most brilliant representative of a truly original type of fiction — fiction as wish fulfillment.”

“In the 1890s May experienced the kind of adoration from the public that we would associate today with rock stars like Mick Jagger,” says McClain. According to a German newspaper clipping from 1904, May’s annual income was estimated to be 160,000 DM (approximately $87,000 today).

But like the beginning of his life, the last part wasn’t free of turmoil. Upon his return from a trip to the Orient in 1900, some of his earliest works, written under a pseudonym, were reissued illegally under his realname. The scrutiny of these works by critic led to further revelations of his unearned “Dr.” title and his time in prison.

After May’s death in 1912, his legacy lived on in part because his second wife, Klara May, had the foresight to create the Karl May Press, according to McClain. Over 80 years later, people around the world can get copies of his books. Between 30,000 to 50,000 people attend his hometown’s annual two-day Karl May Festival, and over 600,000 make their way to annual events in Elspe and Bad Segeberg.

In early ’60s, Winnetou and Old Shatterhand debuted on the silver screen. Shot along the rugged Yugoslavian landscape, German rolled off the tongues of Croatian character actors in scenes that made Spaghetti Westerns look almost mundane. From 1963 to 1968, six films were made and starred Pierre Brice as the brave Winnetou and Lex Barker as the dashing Shatterhand. Other cast members included Elke Sommer, Herbert Lom, and Klaus Kinski.

Yes, May’s Western novels are campy and highly romanticized, but weren’t Hollywood’s first images of the Wild West also this way? The impact of May’s writings are arguably as long lasting and as far reaching as those of any American writer.


One of Shakespeare’s Rare First Folios Discovered in French Library

By Sarah Pruitt

While preparing an exhibit on English-language literature last fall, staff members of the public library in Saint-Omer, near Calais, pulled what they thought was an unremarkable old book off the shelves. Instead, it turned out to be a first folio of William Shakespeare’s plays, of which only around 230 are known to exist. As no known manuscripts of his plays survive, the first folio has been credited with preserving much of Shakespeare’s work, and has been called the most important book in the history of English literature.

shakespeare first folio

Edited by Shakespeare’s friends and fellow actors John Heminges and Henry Condell, the first folio of the Bard’s work was printed in a run of about 800 copies in 1623, seven years after his death. It contains 36 of Shakespeare’s 38 plays, and is considered to be the only reliable text for half of his works, including “Macbeth.”

First folios are among the world’s most sought-after volumes, and Shakespeare aficionados track their whereabouts like bloodhounds. According to Rasmussen, a new one surfaces around every decade. Over the centuries, there have been some famous first folio disappearances: one went down with the doomed S.S. Arctic off Newfoundland in 1854, while another burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. More recently, a first folio sold at Sotheby’s in 2006 for $5.2 million.

The volume recently uncovered in the library in St.-Omer is the 233rd known surviving first folio. It is missing its title page and several introductory pages, and was originally catalogued as an ordinary old edition, believed to be a reprint from the 18th century. But Rémy Cordonnier, director of the medieval and early modern collection at the library, suspected it might be a first folio. He turned to Eric Rasmussen, a professor at the University of Nevada in Reno and the author of “The Shakespeare First Folios: A Descriptive Catalogue.” Rasmussen traveled to Calais late last month to examine the volume, and found it had the distinctive watermarks that appear on the handmade paper used in the original folios. Within minutes, he deemed the folio authentic.

As Rasmussen told the New York Times: “First folios don’t turn up very often, and when they do, it’s usually a really chewed up, uninteresting copy. But this one is magnificent.” Scholars pore over the variations—however minute—between Shakespeare’s first folios in the hopes of uncovering something new about the master playwright’s intentions. The St.-Omer folio has a number of handwritten notes in the margins, which may provide clues as to how the plays were performed in medieval times. For example, in one scene in “Henry IV,” the word “hostess” is changed to “host” and the word “wench” to “fellow,” indicating that a female role might have been changed to a male.

Most interestingly, the first folio found in St.-Omer may fuel the controversial debate over whether Shakespeare may have been a secret Catholic, which has been going on for years in scholarly circles. The public library inherited the holdings of a long-defunct Jesuit college founded there in 1593 to provide a Catholic education for boys, which at the time was banned in England. The name “Neville,” inscribed on the folio’s first surviving page, links the volume to Edward Scarisbrick, a member of a prominent English Catholic family who took that name, and who may have brought the book to St.-Omer in the 1650s. (The college was expelled from France in 1762 and relocated to the Low Countries before finally settling in its present home in Lancashire, England, where it became Stonyhurst College.)

But even if this particular first folio has Jesuit connections, skeptics warn, that doesn’t necessarily indicate anything concrete about Shakespeare’s personal religious beliefs. As Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro of Columbia University told NPR News: “If it had been found in a yeshiva in Vilna, I wouldn’t suggest that Shakespeare was Jewish.”

The first folio will go on display in St.-Omer next summer as part of the library’s planned exhibition. Though it will no doubt prove a special draw for fans of English literature, the folio is not the rarest book among the small-town library’s collections: It also has a Gutenberg Bible, fewer than 50 of which are known to survive.

Categories: William ShakespeareWriters

62 of the World’s Most Beautiful Libraries

filed under: architecturebooks

For the last couple years, Jill Harness has been rounding up the world’s most beautiful libraries by continent. Here they are all in one place, in no particular order.

1. Trinity College Library, Ireland

Image courtesy of Irish Welcome Tours’ Flickr stream.

Aside from being absolutely gorgeous, with two story dark wooden arches, this is also the largest library in all of Ireland. It serves as the country’s copyright library, where a copy of all new books and periodicals must be sent when they apply for copyright protection. The library is also home to the famous Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript created by Celtic monks around the year 800.

2. Bristol Central Library, England

Image courtesy of Steve Cadman’s Flickr stream.

This library, completed in 1906, is fascinating for its unique combination of architectural styles. The front exterior was designed in Tudor Revival and Modern Movement styles in order to allow it to harmonize with the next-door Abbey Gatehouse. It was built on a slope, and the front of the building is only three stories tall, but thanks to the two basement levels built into the hill, the back of the building has five stories. Inside, the design is mostly Classical, featuring ample arches, marble flooring and a stunning turquoise glass mosaic at the entrance hall.

3. Codrington Library, England

Images courtesy of Miguel Bernas’ and Beth Hoffman’s Flickr streams.

The Codrington Library of Oxford University was completed in 1751 and has been used by scholars ever since. In the late 1990s, the building underwent a massive renovation in order to provide better protection for the books and to make the library more user friendly with better wiring and some new electronic work stations.

4. Bibliotheque Nationale de France, France

Image courtesy of Wikipedia user Zubro.

The National Library of France has expanded greatly since new buildings were added to house the collection in 1988. Even so, the old buildings on the Rue de Richelieu are still in use, and are utterly gorgeous as well. These buildings were completed in 1868, and by 1896 the library was the largest book repository in the world, although that record has since been taken from it.

5. The Library of El Escorial, Spain

Image courtesy of Jose Maria Cuellar’s Flickr stream.

This library is located in the Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the historical residence of the king of Spain. Phillip II was responsible for adding the library and most of the books originally held within. The vaulted ceilings were painted with gorgeous frescoes, each representing one of the seven liberal arts: rhetoric, dialectic, music, grammar, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. These days, the library is a World Heritage Site, and it holds more than 40,000 volumes.

6. Biblioteca Geral, University of Coimbra, Portugal

Images courtesy of Taco Ekkel’s and Mick L’s Flickr streams.

The General Library of the University of Coimbra consists of two buildings: the New Building built in 1962, and the Joanina Library built in 1725. The Joanina Library is adorned with Baroque décor and houses the library’s volumes that date from before 1800.

7. Handelingenkamer, Netherlands

Image courtesy of Jackie Kever’s Flickr stream.

The library of the Dutch Parliament contains every record of parliamentary hearings and discussions. Because it was built before electric lighting made the storage of books a lot safer, the building was constructed with a massive leaded glass dome in the ceiling to allow in light and minimize the need for candles and gas lamps inside the library.

8. Delft University of Technology Library, Netherlands

Images courtesy of Robert Lochner’s and Thomas Guignard’s Flickr streams.

While modern architecture can often be fascinating, it rarely stands up to more classical designs in terms of beauty. The Delft University of Technology library is a rare exception. With a massive skylight in the ceiling that becomes a steel cone after escaping the confines of the library, and an eco-friendly grass-covered roof, the library is both stunning and totally modern.

9. Abbey Library of St. Gallen, Switzerland

Image courtesy of Wikipedia user Stibiwiki.

This lovely library is not only the oldest in Switzerland, but one of the oldest and most important monastery libraries in the world, holding over 160,000 volumes many of which date back as far as the 8th century. The Rococo-styled library is often considered one of the most perfect libraries in the world and has earned the Abbey recognition as a World Heritage Site.

10. Admont Abbey Library, Austria

Built in 1776, the Admont Abbey Library is the largest monastery library in the world. The ceiling is adorned with frescoes depicting the stages of human knowledge up until the Divine Revelation. The entire design reflects the ideals and values of the Enlightenment.

11. Melk Monastery Library, Austria

The Baroque-styled abbey and the library within were completed in 1736 based on designs by Jakob Prandtauer. The library includes a world-famous collection of musical manuscripts and features stunning frescoes by artist Paul Troger.

12. Austrian National Library, Austria

Images courtesy of Craig Elliot’s and Jessica Curtin’s Flickr streams.

Austria’s largest library is located in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna and houses over 7.4 million items in its collections. The library was completed in 1723 and features sculptures by Lorenzo Mattielli and Peter Strudel and frescoes by Daniel Gran.

13. Wiblingen Monastery Library, Germany

Image courtesy of volzotan’s Flickr stream.

This library, completed in 1744, was modeled in the Baroque style after the Austrian National Library, but it is by no means just a cheap imitation of the original, and it certainly stands on its own. Just outside the library there is an inscription reading “In quo omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae,” which translates to “In which are stored all treasures of knowledge and science.”

14. Strahov Monastery Library, Czech Republic

Image courtesy of Claudia Dias’ Flickr stream.

This impressive library collection contains over 200,000 volumes, including just about every important title printed in central Europe by the end of the 18th century. And as if the gorgeous décor and impressive book collection weren’t impressive enough on their own, the library also has a favorite feature of many geeks –- two secret passageways hidden by bookshelves and opened with fake books.

15. Clementinum National Library, Czech Republic

Image courtesy of Bruno Delzant’s Flickr stream.

The series of buildings that make up this National Library owe their inception to an 11th century chapel dedicated to Saint Clement (hence the name). The National Library itself was founded in 1781, constructed in a Baroque style, and has served as a copyright library since 1782. The collection now includes historical examples of Czech literature, special materials relating to Tycho Brahe, and a unique collection of Mozart’s personal effects.

16. The Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Brazil

Images courtesy of Luciano Joaquim’s and Sebastian R.’s Flickr streams.

The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura in Rio de Janeiro holds more Portuguese works than anywhere else outside of Portugal, including a number of rare titles. Completed in 1887, the building’s design is based on the Gothic-renaissance style that was popular at the time of the Portuguese colonization of Brazil. Inside the library are both a stunning chandelier and a gorgeous iron skylight that was the first of its kind in the country.

17. The National Library of Brazil

Image courtesy of Patricia Valeria’s and Yuken Chen’s Flickr streams.

Another amazing library of Rio, the National Library of Brazil was constructed back in 1810 and has since become the largest library in Latin America and the 7th largest in the world. As a copyright library, publishers have been required to send over one copy of every title they’ve published since 1907, pushing the library’s collection to over 9 million items, including a number of rare books and an extensive collection of over 21,500 photos all dating from before 1890.

18. The National Library of Chile

Image courtesy of Ejercito de Chile’s Flickr stream.

Featuring a similar style to the National Library of Brazil, this beautiful building was designed in 1913 and completed in 1925 with a neoclassical design meant to commemorate the country’s centenary anniversary. Aside from housing the National Library, the building serves as headquarters to the country’s National Archives.

19. The Library of the San Francisco Monastery, Peru

Images courtesy of Sierra Michels Slettvet’s and dgphilli’s Flickr streams.

The library in Lima’s San Francisco Monastery is one of the oldest and most beautiful on the continent. The stunning convent was completed in 1672, with renovations and improvements continuing up until 1729. The 25,000 volumes contained therein are extremely rare, chronicling a massive variety of knowledge dating from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries.

20. Home of Peruvian Literature, Peru

Image courtesy of Chimi Fotos’ Flickr stream.

If you think the architecture of this building looks familiar, that’s because it was a commonly used design for train stations around the early 1900s. As for why this library looks like a train station, well, that’s simple—it used to be one. In fact, it wasn’t converted into a library until 2009. In an effort to get more of the country’s citizens to read and to support the country’s artists and writers, the library features over 20,000 works, mostly written by or about native Peruvians.

21. Public Library of Lima, Peru

Image courtesy of The Librarian is In.

The previous home to the National Library of Peru, the Public Library of Lima was completed in the 1940s with a small addition completed in 1974. It’s been declared a historical monument by the country’s National Institute of Culture. The main gallery features marble floors and stairs, sculptures of the library’s founders, and gorgeous high ceilings.

22. National Library, Costa Rica

Images courtesy of The National Library System of Costa Rica and Alex Watkins’ Flickr stream.

With a massive upside-down arch above a glass window and concrete levels sandwiching a fragile-looking glass central story, the National Library of Costa Rica is quite striking. It still appears modern despite being over 40 years old. Unfortunately, the location has been subject to a number of earthquakes, leading to a number of closures over the years.

23. Virgilio Barco Library, Colombia

Images courtesy of elroquero’s and Colombia Travel’s Flickr streams.

If you are a fan of modern architectural design, then you’ll really love what Colombia has created in the last decade or so. Famed architect Rogelio Salmona designed this library, completed in 2001. Featuring red brick walls, blue water pools and green lawns, this creative design looks like a maze of colors housing a labyrinth of books inside.

24. Spanish Park Library, Colombia

Images courtesy of Daniel Echeverri’s and dfinnecy’s Flickr streams.

The Parque Biblioteca España stands out from its native Santo Domingo more than any other library on this list. That’s because the striking modernist design of its three boulder-like structures stands in stark contrast to the simple homes of the neighborhood around them. The architect designed the building, specifically its odd windows, as a way to help the impoverished community imagine bigger and better things, says architect Giancarlo Mazzanti. “We wanted to take people from this poor community into another place and change their reality.”

25. EPM Library, Colombia

Images courtesy of Guia de Viajes Oficial de Medellin’s and Biblioteca EPM’s Flickr streams.

Designed like an upside-down pyramid, the EPM library, completed in 2005, may be a unique architectural feat, but its best-known feature remains the odd forest of white columns located just outside. Even so, the 107,000 square foot interior is quite beautiful, particularly the strikingly angled walls.

26. Villanueva Public Library, Colombia

Images courtesy of Nicolas Cabrera via Dezeen.

Perhaps the most famous of Colombia’s new libraries is the Villanueva Public Library, which was constructed using not only locally sourced materials, but also by the people of the village. Stones were gathered from nearby rivers and sustainable wood from nearby forests, and local people were trained to help construct the building. The design, created by four nearby college students, focuses on natural ventilation and plenty of shade to keep the interior nice and cool. All of these cost-cutting measures went a long way in helping a truly impoverished area secure a much-needed library.

27. Central Library of Vancouver, Canada

Images courtesy of Evan Leeson’s and David J. Laporte’s Flickr stream.

Many modern building designs are based on historical icons, but few of these designs focus on the ruins rather than the original. The Central Library of Vancouver is an exception. Based on the Roman Coliseum, this massive building takes up one full city block and features not only a library with 1.3 million reference materials, but also retail shops, restaurants, a parking structure, office buildings and a rooftop garden.

28. Library of Parliament, Canada

Images courtesy of Wikipedia users Wladyslaw and Alejandro Erickson.

The Library of Parliament was once part of the city’s original Parliamentary headquarters constructed in 1876. The building had been under construction for ten years before it was revealed that the builders didn’t know how to create a domed roof as seen in the plans. To get around this issue, the Tomas Fairbairn Engineering Company of England was commissioned to create a pre-fabricated dome. As a result, the building had the distinction of being the first building in North America to have a wrought iron roof. The unique Gothic building is so iconic that today it is even featured on the Canadian ten-dollar bill.

29. Library of Congress, USA

Images courtesy of NCinDC’s and BamaLawDog’s Flickr streams.

The Library of Congress, a personal favorite, is the largest library in the entire world as ranked by both shelf space and number of books. Among its several buildings, the oldest is the Thomas Jefferson Building, which just might be the most beautiful structure in the library system. Completed in 1897, the library’s neoclassical style features some of the most intricate interiors of any building in the U.S., including murals and sculptures from a variety of classically-trained American artists. Interestingly, the building’s exterior was even more lavish than it is now, as it was originally gilded, but this was criticized as it was believed to draw attention away from the Capitol Building. These days, the roof consists merely of copper that has aged to a sea green shade.

30. Stephen A. Schwarzman Library, USA

Images courtesy of melanzane1013’s Flickr stream and Wikipedia user Diliff.

You might recognize this National Historical Landmark, better known simply as the “New York Public Library,” by the two stone lions guarding the building (known as either Lord Astor and Lady Lenox or Patience and Fortitude). Inside, the wooden shelves, frescoed ceilings and grand chandeliers give the entire building an old-world feel. Completed in 1911, the library featured more than 75 miles of shelves when it was first opened. The collection still managed to grow too large for its home by 1970, so the library was expanded by adding an underground area that extends under nearby Bryant Park.

31. Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library in Vassar College, USA

Images courtesy of mebrett’s Flickr stream and Wikipedia user noteremote.

This massive Gothic structure consists of three wings and a central tower, and now houses around a million books, 7500 periodicals, and a massive microfilm and microfiche collection. While the main tower is quite striking, the most famous part of the library is the enormous stained glass window in the West Wing showing Elena Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman to earn a doctorate in Europe, receiving her degree from the University of Padua.

32. Jay Walker’s Private Library, USA

Images courtesy of Aaron “tango” Tang’s Flickr stream. founder Jay Walker’s gorgeous wooden library, filled with an array of historical and pop culture artifacts, has been labeled by Wired as “the most amazing library in the world.” As if the gorgeous etched glass, labyrinthine design and multiple stories of book shelves weren’t impressive enough, the collection of rarities stored in the library is completely mesmerizing. Between books bound in rubies, a Sputnik, a chandelier from Die Another Day, and a list of plague mortalities from 1665, visitors to the private library might just have a hard time leaving.

33. Harold Washington Library, USA

Images courtesy of Douglas Kaye and clarkmaxwell’s Flickr stream.

This is one of my favorite modern library designs as it takes new construction techniques and applies them to neoclassical building styles. The result is a vintage look with a modern twist. The red brick base perfectly balances the glass rooftop adorned with seven massive aluminum adornments. Best of all, the designers took their inspiration from other famous Chicago buildings, ensuring the whole structure fits in perfectly with its surroundings.

34. Beinecke Rare Book Library in Yale University, USA

Images courtesy of Henry Trotter and Lauren Manning.

From the outside, this windowless monstrosity really isn’t much to look at, but the interior of this Yale library is quite impressive and undeniably unique with its beautiful marble walls. The library is now the largest building in the world designed exclusively for the protection of rare books and manuscripts. And it has quite the collection to protect, as the building is home to one of 48 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible, ancient papyri, rare maps, medieval manuscripts, early American newspapers and more.

35. José Vasconcelos Library, Mexico

Images courtesy of CliNKer’s and vladimix’s Flickr streams.

Nicknamed the “megalibrary” by the Mexican press, this giant library takes up a whopping 409,000 square feet, making it large enough to dwarf the painted gray whale skeleton displayed inside the main hallway. Outside of the library is an impressive botanical garden that protects the building from the loud city streets, providing a moat for this castle of knowledge. Inside, over 500,000 books are displayed on glass shelves hanging from the five stories of the building. The end result is as striking as it is stunning.

36. Palafoxiana Library, Mexico

Images courtesy of Carlos Enrique Lopez C’s and David Cabrera’s Flickr streams.

Established in 1646, this Puebla library was the first public library in Mexico; some even argue that it was the first library in the Americas. It is now listed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register and its 41,000 books and manuscripts include an array of rare and antique titles.

37. The Armstrong-Browning Library at Baylor University, USA

Image courtesy of Texas Tongs’ Flickr stream.

Philanthropist Dr. A.J. Armstrong wanted to create the “most beautiful building in Texas,” and the end result was this 3-story, Italian Renaissance-styled masterpiece adorned with 62 stained glass windows, massive marble columns and intricate ceiling designs. Armstrong justified the expense by pointing out that the “compelling beauty” of the building might be able to inspire someone enough that “if we by that means give the world another Dante, another Shakespeare, another Browning, we shall count the cost a bargain.”

38. Morgan Library, USA

Image courtesy of Rob Shenk’s Flickr stream.

Constructed in 1906, this amazing New York landmark was originally built as the personal library and museum space for financier Pierpont Morgan’s impressive collection of rare books, manuscripts, drawings, artifacts and prints. After Pierpont’s death, his grandson, J.P. Morgan, Jr., opened the library to the public in 1924.

39. Boston Public Library, USA

Image courtesy of koalie’s Flickr stream.

Talk about old school: The Boston Public library, established in 1848, was the first municipal library in all of the U.S. Its first location was a small Massachusetts schoolhouse, but it had to expand almost immediately. In 1895, the current building, called a “palace for the people” by architect Charles Follen McKim, was completed in Copley Square. In 1972, the building was expanded, and it now contains over 8.9 million books, a number of rare manuscripts, maps, musical scores, and prints. It even has first edition folios from Shakespeare and original music scores by Mozart.

40. Braddock Carnegie Library, USA

Image courtesy of macwagen’s Flickr stream.

The first Carnegie library in the U.S., this library was designed in an eclectic medieval style by William Halsey Wood and opened in Pennsylvania in 1889. Only 5 years later, it received a Romanesque-styled addition, doubling the size of the building. At the time, it featured a variety of entertainment options, including billiards tables on the first floor, a music hall, a gymnasium, and a swimming pool. Additionally, it held a bathhouse in the basement so mill workers could take a shower before accessing the facilities. These days, the bathhouse is a pottery studio, but the tiled floors and walls remain.

41. Indianapolis Public Library, USA

Image courtesy of sergemelki’s Flickr stream.

This Indiana library manages to balance old and new influences in a refreshingly unique manner. The original building, completed in 1917, is located in the front of the complex, while a massive, modernized addition from 2007 sits in the background. The first building was designed in the Greek Doric style and is often called one of the most outstanding architectural libraries in the U.S. The addition is just about as modern as can be, with glass and wood paneling throughout the building, and the 6-story, 293,000 square foot tower provides even more space for books and reading rooms.

42. Los Angeles Central Library, USA

Image courtesy of hollywoodsmile78’s Flickr stream.

Like the Indianapolis Public Library, the Central Library of Los Angeles features a striking balance between old and new architecture. The original library building was completed in 1926 and featured influences from ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival architecture, including pyramids and mosaics. A 1993 renovation added a new wing with Modernist and Beaux-Arts influences, including an eight story atrium and more storage space for the museum’s ever-growing collection. These days, the library is the third largest public library in the U.S. and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

43. Hearst Castle Gothic Study, USA

Image courtesy of Stuck in Customs’ Flickr stream.

Hearst Castle is one of the most famous buildings in California, but most tour groups miss the opportunity to explore the second story of the building, which includes a massive guest library and a cozier gothic library and study. This room also played a vital role in Hearst’s life, as the mogul preferred to use this room as his executive board room, doing business here whenever possible, .

44. Skywalker Ranch Library, USA

Image courtesy of Michael Heilemann’s Flickr stream.

If you ever happen to get access to California’s Skywalker Ranch, make sure you get a chance to look at the library, which is crowned with a 40-foot stained glass dome that allows employees and guests of Lucas Studios to enjoy their reading in natural light.

45. Suzzallo Library of the University of Washington, USA

Image courtesy of Curtis Cronn’s Flickr stream.

This Collegiate Gothic building was completed in 1923 and among its many impressive details are 18 terra-cotta figures set atop the buttresses featuring academic heroes such as Louis Pasteur, Dante, Shakespeare, Plato, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Gutenberg, Beethoven, Darwin, and more. Inside, a series of shields depict the coats of arms from many top universities around the world, including Yale, Oxford, Stanford and Uppsala. While the library is home to many rare volumes, the most famous item in its collection is one of the world’s largest, a photo book of Bhutan by Michael Hawley. Library staff turn the pages about once a month so interested viewers can slowly enjoy the entire work from front to back—assuming they visit regularly.

46. Fisher Fine Arts Library of the University of Pennsylvania, USA

Image courtesy of jeffhartge’s Flickr stream.

In 1888, most architects were focused on Romanesque styles built with marble and granite. But this library’s architect, Frank Furness, wanted the building to reflect the architectural style of Philadelphia’s many red brick factories. Throughout the following years it received a number of additions and alterations and finally, in 1962, most of the school’s collection was moved to a new location and the former main building became the home to the fine arts library.

47. David Sassoon Library, India

Images courtesy of Flickr users bookchen and Carol Mitchell.

Completed in 1870, the David Sassoon Library is one of only 145 monuments protected by India’s government, and the oldest library in Mumbai. One of its most famous features is the beautiful garden in the back—a rare sight in the commercial area in which it is located.The library and reading room were originally intended to be an entire institute dedicated to mechanics, science and technology, but funding ran short. The Sassoon Mechanic’s Institute was renamed the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room after its primary donor.

48. Raza Library, India

The Raza Library in Rampur was completed in 1904, and was once part of a palace. While many of the royal family’s other properties have been left to crumble, the library is still protected by the Indian government—another one of the country’s few protected monuments. The royal family started gathering works for the library way back in 1774. Included in their collection are 17,000 rare manuscripts, 205 hand-written palm leaves and 5000 miniature paintings.

49. The National Library of China

Image courtesy of  Flickr user Dennis Deng

If you’re looking for info on China’s ancient history, the National Library of China’s old buildings might be a good place to start. They serve as the home to a vast array of historical and ancient books and manuscripts—even inscribed tortoise shells. And though the buildings themselves are designed in a traditional Chinese style, they were only completed in 1987.

50. The Tianyi Pavilion Library, China

Images courtesy of What’s On Ningbo.

If you’re looking for real traditional Chinese architecture, you’ll need to leave Beijing and head over to Ningbo City—home to the oldest private library in Asia. Built in 1560 by a retired imperial minister, Tianyi Pavilion Library is the third oldest private library in the world. As you might expect, the collection is rather impressive: 300,000 ancient books, including a number of woodcut and handwritten titles.

51. National Library of Bhutan

Image courtesy of Wikipedia user Christopher J. Flynn.

Completed in 1984, the National Library of Bhutan is also technically a Buddhist temple, and the structure is intended to integrate the three aspects of Buddha and his teachings: the physical represented by statues and paintings, the speech represented by books and printing blocks, and the heart represented by the eight small bowls found on the shrine on the first floor. The library is home to about 6100 Tibetan and Bhutanese books, manuscripts and xylographs, and about 9000 printing boards and wood printing blocks. While the collection isn’t massive, it is one of the largest collections of Buddhist literature in the world.

52. Grand People’s Study House, North Korea

Images courtesy of Flickr users John Pavelka and gadgetdan.

The Study House was completed 1982 in honor of Kim Il-Sung’s 70th birthday and features an amazing 600 rooms with capacity for 30 million books. Of course, being housed in North Korea, foreign publications are only available with special permission, so it will probably be a while before all the shelves are full.

53. Nakanoshima Library, Japan

Image courtesy Flickr users hetgallery of and muzina_shanghai.

This Neo-Baroque design might not be something you’d immediately associate with Japan, but the 1904 Nakanoshima Library actually fits in quite well in Osaka, as the area has quite a few other stone-walled buildings with similar architecture. This building, complete with a copper roof dome (not visible in the exterior image above), is certainly one of the most stunning.

54. Beitou Library, Taiwan

Images courtesy of Flickr user JAQ’s PhotoStorage.

While this attractive building might not be the most beautiful one on this list, it is undeniably the most eco-friendly and the most modern. The slanted roof collects moisture from humidity and rain, and then recycles it for the restrooms and gardens. The Beitou Library has also been fitted with solar panels and deep-set and latticed windows to reduce energy use.

55. Victorian State Library, Australia

Images courtesy of Wikipedia users Bjenks and Diliff

This library was first opened in 1856 with a collection of 3,800 books, and the famous domed reading room was opened in 1913. While the dome’s skylights were covered with copper sheets in 1959 due to water leakage, they have since been renovated, allowing beautiful natural light to once again fill the reading room. This library is not only massive – containing over 2 million books – it also has some fantastic rarities, including the diaries of the city’s founders, folios of Captain James Cook, and the armor of famed outlaw Ned Kelly.

56. The State Library of New South Wales, Australia

Image courtesy of Flickr user Christopher Chan

The oldest library in all of Australia, the State Library started as the Australian Subscription Library in 1826, and the current building was built in 1845. The most famous, and most stunning, part of the library is the Mitchell Wing, which was completed in 1910. The wing was named for David Scott Mitchell who had a fantastic collection of older books, including original journals of James Cook. The library now houses over 5 million items, including 2 million books and 1.1 million photographs.

57. The State Library of South Australia

Images courtesy of Flickr users OZinOH and gracias!

The State Library of South Australia is not as large as some of the other Australian State libraries, but it does have the distinction of having the largest collection dating from pre-European times in its South Australiana collection. This collection is mostly contained within the Mortlock Wing, the oldest and most gorgeous part of the library. Opened in 1884, the building originally held 23,000 books and employed three librarians. Since then, the collection has expanded so much that two massive buildings had to be added to the library, although the Mortlock Wing remains the most visually impressive.

58. Victorian Parliamentary Library, Australia

Images courtesy of Flickr user Sally Cummings

The Parliament House was built in stages, starting in 1855, and the library was one of the first things completed after the Legislative Assembly and Council. While construction continued all the way through 1929, the building’s Roman Revival design is fluent and smooth, so the whole thing seems like one single entity rather than a series of extra wings tagged on throughout the years

59. Barr Smith Library at the University of Adelaide, Australia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia user pdfpdf

In 1927, the last heir to a prominent philanthropic Australian family offered £20,000 to the University of Adelaide for a new library, on the condition that it be named after his father, Robert Barr Smith. The red brick library was completed in 1932, complete with two friezes commemorating the donations of the Barr Smiths. Since the collection expanded quite quickly, addition after addition had to be added. These days, the library holds over two million volumes and now spans over almost 21,000 square meters.

60. University of Otago Central Library, New Zealand

Image courtesy of Flickr user petahopkins

There are ten different libraries at the University of Otago, and when it comes to looks and impressive collections, the Central Library stands above the rest, with its gorgeous, modern architecture that lets in ample natural light and its Special Collection containing over 9000 books printed before 1801. The library offers over 2000 study spaces for students and over 500,000 books, periodicals and microfilms.

61. The George Forbes Memorial Library at Lincoln University, New Zealand

Lincoln University isn’t huge, nor is the George Forbes Memorial Library located at the heart of campus inside Ivey Hall, but what they lack in size they make up for in beauty. Ivey Hall was opened in 1880, and while the library was originally opened in the George Forbes Memorial Building in 1960, it was moved into Ivey Hall in 1988 after the building underwent a major refurbishment.

62. Tuggeranong Library, Australia

Image courtesy of Flickr user longreach

Lake Tuggeranong is a man-made body of water created by a dam in 1987. As a result, the suburban town built around the lake is equally new, but with the lovely scenery, it’s no wonder that the local architecture is a step above typical suburban towns. The Tuggeranong Town Center Library is no exception and is, in fact, one of the most picturesque buildings in town – particularly when viewed from the water where you can see its reflection. While it might not be particularly old or have an impressive collection of rare books, with a view like this, it certainly deserves its place on this list.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Of course, with all the thousands of libraries in the world, this list of beautiful libraries still leaves out plenty of gorgeous architectural marvels. If you feel your favorite library was left out, feel free to tell everyone about it in the comments.

These Are Some of the Coolest Libraries in the World

Library of Alexandria, Egypt.

Hisham Ibrahim / Getty Images

Libraries are at once solitary and social, often serving as cornerstones of communities. Throughout history, their design has developed alongside the democratization of knowledge. A new book, Reflections: Libraries, which was published by Roads in November, traces this evolution through buildings that, whether modern and inviting or ancient and exclusive, are marvelous to see.

The first library in the book is the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. The book then traverses the globe, from the minimalist, modern libraries of Asia and Scandinavia to the lavish classical libraries of the United States and Western Europe, including the Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Centre at Humboldt University in Berlin, with its five stories of cherry-wood terraces.

“In terms of function, we aimed to have a wide representation. There are some of the largest libraries in the world, private libraries, university libraries, and small community libraries,” Maeve Convery, publishing director for Roads and editor of Reflections: Libraries, said via email. “Some were chosen because of the extremely interesting design, such as Stuttgart City Library, and others have unparalleled historical significance, like the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.”

Sir Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen, U.K.

Adam Mørk

Seattle Public Library.

Frank Elschner / Artur Images

Libraryat Admont Abbey, Austria.

Imagno / Getty Images

Classical libraries catered for the privileged classes, so the design and décor were lavish and often churchlike. The libraries of the 18th century, such as Admont and Melk Libraries in Austria, took this elaborate, decorative style of library building to its extreme. Beginning in the mid-19th century, libraries like the Saint-Geneviève Library in Paris became more open and elegant, using innovative construction techniques, and responding to the needs of a more diverse audience. In the 21st century, libraries like the Seattle Central Library are daring and innovative, responding to the demands of a digital world and a changing environment.

“The modern library is inclusive and accommodates all social classes, genders and ages. It seems the very nature of the library, as a cathedral of knowledge, has encouraged architects to challenge tradition and be experimental,” Convery said.

Sir Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen, U.K.

Adam Mørk

Stuttgart CityLibrary, Stuttgart, Germany.

Axel Hausberg / Artur Images

Saint-Geneviève Library, Paris.

Paula Soler-Moya

LuckenwaldeLibrary, Luckenwalde, Germany.

Thomas Lewandovski

While some argue that the Internet and new media may pose a threat to the printed book, many architects think the role and influence of libraries is likely to expand as the need for new adaptable and accessible learning spaces increases.

“Nowadays, when information is accessible to almost every one, at all times, the sense of community offered by the library is vital, and will continue to be so as we become more tech-obsessed. The greatest challenge and opportunity for the architect, then, is creating a democratic and lasting social space for the public.”

TU Delft Library, Netherlands.

M. Sleeuwits / TU Delft

Philological Library, Free University of Berlin.

Benjamin Antony Monn/Artur images

Library at Melk Abbey, Austria.

Danica Delimont / Getty Images

Jordan G. Teicher writes about photography for Slates Behold blog. Follow him onTwitter.

How to Write 50,000 Words in a Month

Have you ever tried to write a novel? Yes? Then you know what soul-crushing despair looks like: you, sitting by yourself, in front of a blinking cursor.

Now imagine trying to write a novel as a teenager. Could you motivate yourself to finish an entire book at that age? To most, the prospect seems impossible.

But in 2009, as part of the first Unschool Adventures Writing Retreat, we brought 15 teenagers to a beach house in Oregon for a month and watched each of them write 50,000 words of original fiction.

We ran it again in Colorado with 20 teens. Then on Cape Cod with 25 teens. Every year, the teens — passionate but largely untrained amateurs — continued to write volumes.

What was the trick? Did we intensively coach the teens or closely monitor their daily word counts? Did we outlaw non-writing-related socializing, make them go to bed early to ensure sufficient rest, require attendance at all workshops and group activities, or use some more complex trick to motivate them to work toward their challenging goals?

We did none of these things.

The secret to the success of the Writing Retreat, I believe, was that we created a place for our writers to work alone, together.


Here’s a little slice of life at the Writing Retreat. Imagine waking up in a bunk bed to the smell of toasting bagels, stumbling into a common area and seeing four people typing dutifully on their laptops. What seems like the logical thing to do? Start writing.

But let’s say you don’t. Instead, you to opt to take a walk on the beach. Passing by the local coffee shop on the way back, you run into two more fellow students, each writing. What seems like the logical thing to do? Write.

Or maybe you don’t. Instead, you return to the house, where you find a “power hour” underway, a fun challenge to see who can write the most words in an hour. Or a writing workshop about plot lines. Or a casual conversation about character development. What do you do next? Well, you probably start writing.

At the Writing Retreat, no matter where you go, some form of writing is happening. People are working on their individual books, but they’re doing it together. In this kind of culture, writing is simply what you do. It’s as natural as breathing.

Then, suddenly, it’s the end of the month, and you’ve written 50,000 words, but with far less pain and suffering than if you’d attempted it on your own.

Self-directed learners often find themselves facing solitary challenges, simply because they’re not doing the same thing as everyone else. Then they give themselves a hard time for not feeling motivated.

But self-directed learning isn’t about doing everything by yourself. Putting yourself in the right atmosphere, with people who share your interests and with the right amount of structure, can make all the difference.

When the challenge of individual work feels overwhelming, join a community of people facing the same challenge.

-Michael F. Booth, commenting on a Hacker News post:

Humans are pack creatures. If you put us in solitary confinement we go insane. This is generally true even for introverted people; only on the far edge of the bell curve do you find people who crave absolute solitude for weeks or months on end (and these people tend to be really odd, and it’s often hard to tell if the oddness is cause or effect).

However . . . being surrounded by a bunch of people that is constantly interrupting you makes it hard to focus. And so civic design has evolved the library, the coffee shop and the co-working space: Places where you can be alone yet also surrounded by people.

The secret is to surround yourself with people who don’t have the same agenda as you. Then you won’t often be interrupted by things that break your focus: The staff might occasionally ask to refill your coffee, and you’ll get interrupted if the building catches fire, but otherwise you can work on your own thing.

This is an excerpt from The Art of Self-Directed Learning by Blake Boles. The original chapter is titled “Alone, Together”. Illustration by Shona Warwick-Smith.

The original Writing Retreat was inspired by NaNoWriMo.

Download the audiobook for free by joining Blake’s author mailing list.

Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language

Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language

Translate emotions into written body language 

We are always told to use body language in our writing. Sometimes, it’s easier said than written. I decided to create these cheat sheets to help you show a character’s state of mind. Obviously, a character may exhibit a number of these behaviours. For example, he may be shocked and angry, or shocked and happy. Use these combinations as needed.

The Top Five Tips For Using Body Language

  1. Use body language to add depth to dialogue.
  2. Use it because more than 50% of human communication is non-verbal.
  3. Use it to show how your character’s emotions affect his or her actions.
  4. Use it to help you show rather than tell your reader everything.
  5. Use it in moderation. If overused, it can slow your story down.

Email to find out more about our creative writing course, Writers Write – how to write a book.

 by Amanda Patterson

© Amanda Patterson

Follow her on Facebook and Pinterest and Google+ and Tumblr and Twitter. Amanda is the founder of Writers Write. Her signature courses are Writers WriteThe Plain Language Programme, and The Social Brand.


Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to for more information.

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