The Adelphi Project

2019 update: I moved from one country to another, then across a country, created a new studio, and have all my books, at last, in a single place. I have fewer than 200 left to read, and have been writing of the experience, with the intention of creating a collection of words by the end of the summer, and some cartographic overlays I build for pleasure, sometime in the same loop.

I met Roberto Calasso for the first time several months after I started this project. I told him I didn’t know what it was, but it could be This or That or The Other. No, he said, it should be exactly This. I couldn’t see the shape of it, but did not disagree. I truly love that what this becomes is what he could see when I started. It makes sense, that he could see what I could not. It pleases me enormously as I watch the words form into shapes and meaning, that while he could see its shape, I may still yet surprise him, when it pulls together. I hope it will be a pleasurable surprise.


The Adelphi Project is an exploration of the creation of the Adelphi Edizioni publishing house, and in particular, the Biblioteca Adelphi catalog. To understand the creation, I undertook a reading project – to read all the books in the catalog, in order, 670 to date.

As I began, at the request of a friend, I wrote and blogged about the experience, my thoughts, and what I think and learn.  Helen suggested that people would be interested in the enormity of my undertaking, and the day to day experience, as they would “never want to do this themselves.”  This initial writing caught the eye of the Italian press, and then the publisher himself, Roberto Calasso. I was fortunate enough to meet him this year, at his request. [Yes, it’s a bit like meeting a god.]

The catalog is enchanting, eclectic, erudite, expansive – each book explores the great questions of humankind – Who am I? Why am I here? What does it mean to be human? What is my purpose? How did the world come to be? What does it mean to have a god? Is there a god? As well, smaller questions – Should I hate my father? Why is the world trying to kill me? What are other cultures like? Whom do I love? To create such a mystery as this catalog requires foresight and intent, yet to understand this, what is one to do?

The majority of books in the series were published in translation to Italian; of the books published to date, only a few over 100 were originally written in Italian. Many of these books were first introduced to Italy by Adelphi. There are over 30 source languages. It is an incredible legacy and a fascinating series of choices, an expression and choice of a culture, perhaps the creation of a canon. I decided I would read all the books, in order, as many as possible in the original language, some, also in Italian.I am reading the books in as many in the original languages as possible, and those not, in a mix of English, French, and Italian.

This is both a scholarly project and a literary project. The books, themes, ideas, are as crucial to humanity today as they were when they were written and when Adelphi Edizioni editors chose to publish them. Bringing these questions, thoughts, ideas, back up to the surface, sharing them out, and suggesting that those who engage with my project also engage with these questions are the loftier goals of this project. The practical goal, is to explore the Catalog and Calasso, and see what map they have created through the creation of this series.

I’ve written a few follow-ups about it,  however I have mostly been reading this past year, and in Rome, working on the project. A few additional updates:

Some very strange articles about me and this project.