Focused on works of philosophy, the Mona and Marjorie and Peter Maihles Memorial Collection is one of the cornerstones of the Rare Books Collection. Historically the word ‘philosophy’ covered a wide range of knowledge, so while the collection contains many works by standard philosophers like Aristotle, Descartes, and Nietzsche, it also includes works on religion, medicine, and the ‘natural philosophy’ of the sciences.
Published about twenty years after Isaac Newton's death, this book initially had its source in Newton's nephew, who sought assistance from Newton’s contemporaries in preparing a biographical memoir of his famous uncle. While the memoir never came into being, one of those contemporaries, Scottish mathematician Colin MacLaurin, felt moved to prepare a volume that celebrated both Newton’s theories and his methodology. Not merely a simple collection of information about Newton's work, it examines the importance of Newton's methods as compared to other ancient and modern philosophers, then continues into a thorough exploration of Newton’s theories of natural philosophy, rational mechanics and gravitation. It was regarded as one of the best popular introductions to Newton and his influence. MacLaurin himself was a highly distinguished mathematician and physicist of the 18th century, whose studies in the fields of algebra and geometry produced several important works, such as the Geometria Organica (also held by Rare Books).
French humanist Michel de Montaigne was one of the most notable philosophers of the 16th century, due in large part to his famous Essais. Living and writing in France during the period when Renaissance optimism had dimmed due to the religious conflict of the Huguenot Wars, Montaigne had a view of world and humanity that was tempered with a deliberate skepticism—not simply negativity, but a need reject standard ideas and assumptions and seek the most thorough truth possible. His stated aim in writing his Essais was to present both humanity and himself as honestly as possible, using short compositions to cover a wide range of topics including religion, marriage, colonization, mental reasoning, and the necessity of public and private selves. Montaigne was the first to describe literary compositions of this sort as essays; the word essay in English (and essayer in French) at the time meant ‘attempt’, and these works were Montaigne’s attempts at putting his various thoughts on humanity into writing. The Essais had a significant influence on both French and English literature; their style and structure were likely an influence on Francis Bacon’s own Essays, published a little over ten years later.
The Haggadah tells the story of Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt and is part of the text read during the Passover Seder. Many varied and unusual editions of this work exist, but Arthur Szyk’s is of particular note. Szyk, a Polish-Jewish artist and illustrator, began work on his illustrated version of the Haggadah in the 1930s just as Hitler was solidifying his hold on power in Germany. Fully aware of the growing anti-Semitism in German politics, Szyk incorporated contemporary elements and symbols into his illustrations relate the historical events to current ones and emphasize the topical message of the work--even going so far as to paint Egyptians with the Nazi swastika. While some of these more overt symbols had to be toned down or removed before publishers would print the volume, Szyk’s Haggadah is still a powerful and beautiful example of the political and the theological presented as literary art.