Art Books

Marks of Genius

An exhibition looking at ways in which attitudes towards genius are manifested in a number of remarkable books and manuscripts, and exploring how works of genius found in a university library can be acquired, collected and read.

It opened with a few references to genius but very quickly turned into an exercise in showing off some of the Bodleian’s treasures. To be honest it got a little ridiculous:

A Magna Carta of 1217, Newton’s Principia Mathematica, a Gothenburg Bible, Pliny’s Natural History, the watercolour cover Tolkien painted for The Hobbit, Shelley’s draft of Frankenstein, a First Folio, Audobon’s Birds of America, MS Bodley 764, so much more…

It really was just showing off! Definitely worth a visit if you’re in Oxford.


Salamanders Rock

Which makes this news a little sad:

New survey work suggests that fewer than 1,200 Mexican axolotls remain in its last stronghold, the Xochimilco area of central Mexico.

Just in case you weren’t sure whether salamanders actually rock:

Axolotl look freakin awesome

(and retain this larval appearance throughout their lives)


They’re pretty shit-hot at regeneration[1]:

After amputation, the epidermis migrates to cover the stump in less than 12 hours, forming a structure called the apical epidermal cap…Motor neurons, muscle, and blood vessels grow with the regenerated limb, and reestablish the connections that were present prior to amputation. The time that this entire process takes varies according to the age of the animal, ranging from about a month to around three months in the adult and then the limb becomes fully functional.

Ōsanshōuo or Japanese Giant Salamander are frickin huge

And are pretty much living fossils. The Chinese Giant Salamander is even bigger but unfortunately both are critically endangered due to habitat loss, over-collection, and in the acse of the Chinese Giant Salamander it’s used in traditional Chinese medicine and considered something of a delicacy.


  • As any good medieval bestiary will tell you Salamanders are impervious to flame, even Aristotle believed that the salamander, ‘not only walks through the fire, but puts it out in doing so.’ (not actually true)
  • And as a result of the misconception, when asbestos was discovered it was thought to be the wool of the salamander – Pope Alexander III had a tunic made from it (as did Prester John, but he’s made up)

[1] The wikipedia entry is worth reading just for the bit about children regrowing fingertips which reminds me of the man who regrew his finger using magic powder