The Adelphi Project .

The Adelphi Project is Eva K. Barbarossa’s mad plan to… well, as she puts it, “Why I am reading 653 books to follow the path of an Italian publishing house.” As someone pursuing his own mad plan of reading as much as possible of Russian literature in Russian, I heartily approve, and I am pleased to learn about this remarkable publisher:

The Adelphi Edizioni was started in 1962, with the first of Biblioteca Adelphi series published in 1965. These books come from an amazing array of genres including literature, philosophy, science, poetry, science fiction, religious texts, travel literature and mysteries. In 1965 Biblioteca Adelphi’s first release was The Other Side, by an Austrian author, Alfred Kubin. A strange sci-fi novel, at once dystopian and utopian, it is an interesting stake for the first of the ‘good’ and ‘singular’ books. From there 1965 rounds out with three authors: Edmund Gosse (British biography), Jan Potocki (a Polish Count who wrote a surrealist Spanish adventure story, in French) and Antonin Artaud (French diary of a mystical drug trip in Mexico). It is a curious start and it gets even more curious from there.

Calasso discusses the philosophy behind the house in his short collection of essays, The Art of the Publisher, the ideals of Bazlen and Foà and Olivetti, the founders. It was this book that spurred me to ask what I would learn, what it would be like, to go back to the beginning of Adelphi and read all the books in order. One night, I stayed up late and translated the catalog. I pulled all the records in Italian, and added two additional languages: English, and the original language the book was written in. The next day I began haunting the used book stores of New York City to find the books I needed. And thus began The Adelphi Project.

I began to read the books in order and quickly realized I needed additional context. I needed to understand the context of each book — when and where it was written, why, what could have been the ‘singular’ experience that inspired its creation; I needed to understand the history of Italy and how these books were published when they were, starting in the 1960s, a time of upheaval, the country barely 100 years old. I needed the histories of the authors, the places where the books were written, the time periods, the friendships, and the connections.; and I needed to better understand Calasso himself. In order to understand Calasso, I needed to go back to the classic Vedic texts, the Rigveda, and Sanskrit, a language that creates a shape for the languages that follow.

I’m not sure what she means by “a language that creates a shape for the languages that follow,” but who cares? It’s a grand idea, and I wish her the very best with it. (Via MetaFilter, where the first comment, by misteraitch, says: “The Adelphi volumes are so appealing: I always loved the look of them and bought a few during my couple of years in Italy, even though my Italian was never up to the job of actually reading them.”)

Update (Mar. 2023). The original site is dead, and I’ve substituted an archived link in the post, but the project continues (in a form less attractive to me, though doubtless more so to Young People Today) at tumblr; you can read her 2019 report on the project here.


  1. a language that creates a shape for the languages that follow

    Would this be referring to the role of “Classical languages” in creating a kind of mould for the languages, literatures and cultures that would later take them as a model? After all, Greek and Latin provide a touchstone for traditional grammatical analysis until the present day. Pāṇini presumably played a similar role in Indian tradition. As Wikipedia says of the Aṣṭādhyāyī, “Regarded as extremely compact without sacrificing completeness, it would become the model for later specialist technical texts or sutras.”

  2. Ah, yes, you must be right. Thanks for explaining, and for commenting on this lonely post!

  3. eva barbarossa says

    A friend sent me a post from you this morning, and I fell deeply into reading through your blog. We have similar reading patterns, I’ve taken to gifting The Ghost of Birds to anyone who will stand still long enough to accept it. It was interesting to find this, which I hadn’t noticed at the time.

    The Russians, so far, are the most difficult part of the adelphi project. I am certain, regardless of what language I read them in, in translation, that I am missing something, if not everything.

  4. I’m delighted you found the post and the blog! And yes, The Ghost of Birds is wonderful; I keep reading bits from it to my patient wife. I’d encourage you to learn Russian if you want another mad project after this one…

  5. marie-lucie says

    The publisher and the prolific reader both sound great! I understand that the books are in Italian translation. A good way to improve one’s reading knowledge of a language is to read a translation of a work we already know. I have not tried this with Italian but the Adelphi collection sounds like a good place to begin.

  6. See update; it’s not clear to me if she’s finally finished the project or is still plugging away.

  7. in a form less attractive to me, though doubtless more so to Young People Today) at tumblr
    Is tumblr still a thing with young people? I thought they were all on Instagram and TikTok. I got myself a tumblr account in the mid-2010s to follow some people and found it the worst-organized way to blog and follow blogs I can imagine; I haven’t gone back there since about 2019, but I still regularly get their posts “read these 5 blogs” (it’s always 5) in my spam folder.

  8. It looks like Akismet ate a comment of mine, maybe it was too snarky…

  9. Test

  10. Trond Engen says

    I see three comments.

  11. Trond Engen says

    … but now I don’t see my own. Weird.

  12. Stu Clayton says

    @Hans, Akismet has coughed up the snark, as I suppose you can see now.

    I never moved past Fecebook, realizing fairly quickly that it was an entry drug to remark addiction. All these social meedyas are giant walls of graffiti overlaying other graffiti. They’re perfect for lonely people who like to socialize.

  13. Stu Clayton says

    @Hans, now it has eaten my reply. As long as it doesn’t eat my homework, I can live with that.

  14. Stuart Clayton says


  15. Oh, now they are visible…

  16. There seems to be a delay only in this thread. It also doesn’t automatically jump to the last comment when using JC’s “last-commented-upon” feature, but I have to scroll down, unlike with the other threads.

  17. It also doesn’t automatically jump to the last comment
    Huh, now it does.

  18. Trond Engen says

    @Hans: Back after my comments I also noticed different behaviour on different devices. I wrote my comments from my computer, and they disappeared, but when I tried from my mobile phone, they showed up, but checking the pc again, there was nothing. A little later the thread incuding Stu’s comments showet up on the pc, but not on my mobile. As I start writing now I see three more comments of yours, and the page does indeed open the latest comment.

  19. Trond Engen says

    … but that one was eaten, and the page returned to the top.

  20. The same thing happened to me when I added the Update — it wasn’t visible at first, but then showed up. I’ve checked the coding in the post to see if there’s something amiss, but I can’t find anything. Weird!

  21. (And of course the comment I just posted isn’t visible to me yet.)

  22. John Cowan’s script jumps to the HTML code for the last comment it locates that is associated with a given post. However, the script can locate posts that are not rendered when you load the page. In that case, there is no tag to jump to, and the browser just stays at the top of the page. So if you click on a link on the “Commented-On Language Hat Posts” page and it takes you to the top, that means that the most recent post in the database is not being displayed (thanks to Akismet, presumably).

    Now let’s see whether this comment appears when I first post it.

  23. For the record, my above comment did not initially appear as normal. Presumably this one won’t either.

  24. I’ve removed the Update to see if that somehow helps. Let’s see…

  25. Nope, same problem. I’ll put it back. This is very weird.

  26. John Cowan says

    I keep reading bits from it to my patient wife

    At moments like this I envy you greatly.

    However, the script can locate posts that are not rendered when you load the page.

    It looks only at the “Recent Comments” section on the home page and never at the page itself during normal operation. Only when I reconstruct the database does it examine all the pages and rebuild from that. I’ve been promising to do that for a long time now to clear out some old corruption: this weekend seems as good a time as any, as many of the things I normally do on weekends are blocked, either because of my change in status or because of the current nasty weather here in NYC.

    In that case, there is no tag to jump to, and the browser just stays at the top of the page.

    As all browsers do by default when a “fragment id”, as it is technically called, does not exist on the page. (The name is a misnomer, as they identify a position on the page rather than a fragment of it.)

  27. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Well, the term “fragment” denotes a specific part of a URI, specifically the bit after # if there is one, but the meaning of the content of the fragment depends on the URI scheme innit? For http/s URLs the values are often IDs of anchor objects in the HTML document indicated by the other parts of the URL, and those anchors will be “rendered” (without a visual representation) at specific positions in the page. The conventional behaviour of browsers on loading a URL with a fragment is to scroll the page to put the (position of the invisible) corresponding anchor as high within the viewport as possible, should such a corresponding object be found.

    However, it is possible for ECMAscript code in the page to access the value of the fragment in its own URL and do other stuff with it; since it is also possible for such code to modify the fragment without causing a reload, it used to be used as a primitive sort of local storage that would survive a page refresh from other causes and could be included in links and bookmarks, (I have perpetrated that sin against common sense myself, using the fragment to keep track of which page was loaded in a homebrew magazine viewer). That’s why you sometimes see stuff like #/pages/foobar at the end of your address bar.

    My point is, the page position is not the true meaning of the part after #, and it would be just as wrong to call it “page position”. “Fragment” is not wrong, it’s as good as term as any for a part of the URI with no defined meaning.

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