A living reading list

I intend to update this as I go, arranged by topic as best I can. The texts are arranged in roughly descending order of importance i.e. how strongly I would recommend them to somebody new to the subject.

All articles will be open-source and/or can be found on If you can’t find a text you’re interested in, DM me on twitter and I’ll point you in the right direction. Books listed are possibly open-source online, but are more likely ones I’ve bought myself or borrowed from the library.

Formatting may be janky as it's lifted straight out of zotero with minimal cleaning.

Topics covered:

Notetaking, contemporary

📚 Ahrens, S. (2022) How to take smart notes: One simple technique to boost writing, learning and thinking. Sönke Ahrens.

One of the best introductions to not only zettelkasten but notetaking in general. Thoroughly recommended.

📚 McPherson, D.F. (2007) Effective Notetaking. 3rd edition. Wayz Press.

📚 Forte, T. (2022) Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organise Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential. Profile Books.

📚 Zinsser, W. (2013) Writing to Learn: How to Write - and Think - Clearly About Any Subject at All. New York: Harper Paperbacks.

📄 Jackson, H.J. (no date) ‘Marginalia and Authorship’, in Oxford Handbooks Editorial Board (ed.) Oxford Handbook Topics in Literature. Oxford University Press, p. 0. Available at:

Notetaking, a history of


📚 Blair, A. (2010) Too much to know: managing scholarly information before the modern age. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

The single best overview of notetaking and knowledge management c.1300-1800.

📄 Blair, A. (2003) ‘Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload ca. 1550-1700’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 64(1), pp. 11–28. Available at:

A potted preview of the 2010 book, with a more restricted time period.

📄 Yeo, R. (2008) ‘Notebooks as memory aids: Precepts and practices in early modern England’, Memory Studies, 1(1), pp. 115–136. Available at:

📄 Soll, J. (2010) ‘From Note‐Taking to Data Banks: Personal and Institutional Information Management in Early Modern Europe’, Intellectual History Review, 20(3), pp. 355–375. Available at:

📄 Blair, A. and Stallybrass, P. (2010) ‘Mediating Information, 1450–1800’, in C. Siskin and W. Warner (eds) This Is Enlightenment. University of Chicago Press, p. 0. Available at:

Very similar to Blair 2003.

📚 Rhodes, N. and Sawday, J. (eds) (2000) The Renaissance computer: knowledge technology in the first age of print. London ; New York: Routledge.

A highly original book looking at how components of technology can be seen in Early Modern books and note-taking.

📄 Dorandi, T. (2016) ‘Chapter 1: Notebooks and Collections of Excerpts: Moments of ars excerpendii in the Greco-Roman world’, in Forgetting Machines: Knowledge Management Evolution in Early Modern Europe. BRILL.

📄 Blair, A. (2004) ‘Note Taking as an Art of Transmission’, Critical Inquiry, 31(1), pp. 85–107. Available at:

📄 Blair, A.M. (2007) ‘Organizations of knowledge’, in J. Hankins (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Philosophy. 1st edn. Cambridge University Press, pp. 287–303. Available at:

📄 Nelles, P. (2009) ‘Reading and Memory in the Universal Library: Conrad Gessner and the Renaissance Book’, in D. Beecher and G. Williams (eds) Ars Reminiscendi: Mind and Memory in Renaissance Culture. Toronto, p. 169.

📄 McEvoy, J. (ed.) (1996) Robert Grosseteste: New Perspectives on his Thought and scholarship. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers (Instrumenta Patristica et Mediaevalia). Available at:

Commonplace books

📚 Havens, E. (2001) Commonplace books: a history of manuscripts and printed books from antiquity to the twentieth century. New Haven, CT: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, distributed by University Press of New England.

The best overview of the subject.

📄 Havens, E. (2002) ‘“Of Common Places, or Memorial Books”: an anonymous manuscript on commonplace books and the art of memory in seventeenth-century England’, The Yale University Library Gazette, 76(3/4), pp. 136–153.

📄 Blair, A. (1992) ‘Humanist Methods in Natural Philosophy: The Commonplace Book’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 53(4), p. 541. Available at:


📄 Stallybrass, P. et al. (2004) ‘Hamlet’s Tables and the Technologies of Writing in Renaissance England’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 55(4), pp. 379–419. Available at:

Less about Hamlet and more about writing tables.

📄 Smyth, A. (2008) ‘Almanacs, Annotators, and Life‐Writing in Early Modern England’, English Literary Renaissance, 38(2), pp. 200–244. Available at:

🌐 ’Tis the season for almanacs (2013) The Collation. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

📄 Kassell, L. (2011) ‘Almanacs and Prognostications’, in J. Raymond (ed.) The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture: Volume One: Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660. Oxford University Press, p. 0. Available at:

Slip notes, index cards, etc

📄 Schmidt, J.F.K. (2018) ‘Niklas Luhmann’s Card Index: The Fabrication of Serendipity’, Sociologica, 12(1), pp. 53–60. Available at:

📄 Charmantier, I. and Müller-Wille, S. (2014) ‘Carl Linnaeus’s botanical paper slips (1767–1773)’, Intellectual History Review, 24(2), pp. 215–238. Available at:

📄 Müller-Wille, S. and Charmantier, I. (2012) ‘Natural history and information overload: The case of Linnaeus’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 43(1), pp. 4–15. Available at:

🌐 Filing, seventeenth-century style (2013) The Collation. Available at: (Accessed: 28 September 2022).

Education and literacy

📚 Houston, R.A. (1988) Literacy in early modern Europe: culture and education, 1500-1800. London ; New York: Longman.

📄 Enterline, L. (2013) ‘Schooling in the English Renaissance’, in Oxford Handbooks Editorial Board (ed.) Oxford Handbook Topics in Literature. Oxford University Press, p. 0. Available at:

📄 Grafton, A. (2006) ‘Libraries and Lecture Halls’, in K. Park and L. Daston (eds) The Cambridge History of Science. 1st edn. Cambridge University Press, pp. 238–250. Available at:

Book history

📚 Pettegree, A. (2011) The book in the Renaissance. Paperback ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press.

The best and most comprehensive introduction to the book in the Renaissance.

📚 Duncan, D. (2021) Index, a history of the: a bookish adventure. London: Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books.

One of my favourite reads overall; very readable, highly entertaining, and chock full of interesting tidbits. Make sure to check out the index itself in this one.

📚 Flanders, J. (2021) A place for everything: the curious history of alphabetical order. London: Picador.

📚 Battles, M. (2004) Library: an unquiet history. London: Vintage.

📚 Clemens, R. and Graham, T. (2007) Introduction to manuscript studies. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

📚 Gillespie, A. and Wakelin, D. (2011) The Production of Books in England 1350-1500. Cambridge University Press.

📚 Reynolds, L.D. and Wilson, N.G. (2013) Scribes and scholars: a guide to the transmission of Greek and Latin literature. Fourth edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

📄 Grafton, A. (2021) ‘Chapter 6. The Margin as Canvas: A Forgotten Function of the Early Printed Page’, in K. (Kevin) Chang, A. Grafton, and G.W. Most (eds) Impagination – Layout and Materiality of Writing and Publication. De Gruyter, pp. 185–208. Available at:

Generally interesting

📚 Burke, P. (2021) The polymath: a cultural history from Leonardo da Vinci to Susan Sontag. First published in paperback. New Haven London: Yale University Press.

📚 Burkeman, O. (2021) _Four Thousand Weeks. Vintage Digital.

Thought-provoking and impactful, it makes you look at productivity a very different way.

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