Monday, 29 August 2011


“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind.  Books are humanity in print.” — Barbara W. Tuchman

I was on my way to a meeting off-campus this afternoon and I went by a new bookshop that has only been open for just under four weeks. As I had a little time before my meeting started I went in, not being able to resist, for as Henry Beecher says “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?”. The shop is called Embiggen Books and is situated at 197-203 Little Lonsdale Street Melbourne, Victoria, 3000, directly across the road from the State Library’s southern side, close to the corner of Russell Street.

If you have read my post on the closure of the Borders Bookstores you are also aware of the recent closures of several others in Melbourne (and considering the dicey state of the economy and the incertitude of the times), it may be considered an ill-advised move to open a new large bookshop in the City. However, the minute I walked into this shop, I felt a warm and welcoming atmosphere and the look and feel of this shop was so different to the large chain bookstores that I was pleasantly surprised. The shopkeeper was discreet and after greeting me continued working in his little nook, while I explored. He was most helpful and pleasant when I requested some information.

I was disappointed I didn’t have enough time to do a proper job of exploring the well-stocked shelves and certainly will go back sooner rather than later. One book did strike my fancy as it was the first one that I laid my eyes on and it is on a topic that fascinates me. It was a copy of Andreas Cellarius’ “Atlas: The Divine Sky” History’s Most Beautiful Celestial Atlas”. It is a collection of celestial maps by Dutch-German mathematician and cosmographer Andreas Cellarius (ca 1566 - 1665) and brings back to life a masterpiece from the Golden Age of celestial cartography. It is  a book first published in 1660 in the Harmonia Macrocosmica. The book that has been reprinted in glorious colour and includes the complete 29 double-folio maps and dozens of unusual details that depict the world systems of Claudius Ptolemy, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Tycho Brahe, the motions of the sun, the moon, and the planets, and the delineation of the constellations in various views. Cellarius’ Atlas is not only a work of science but also has superbly embellished details, richly decorated borders depicting cherubs, astronomers, and astronomical instruments, and features some of the most spectacular illustration in the history of astronomy. This reprint was made from the beautifully hand-coloured and complete copy of the first edition in the Library of the Universiteit van Amsterdam. Mmmm, definitely one on my shopping list!

I loved the strategically placed seats and the ‘special offers’ bins conveniently located nearby – yet unobtrusive. Decorative touches here and there are provided by some tasteful objets d’ art or curios, some architectural detail such as the glimpse of the street through a hole in one of the bookcases and the general look of the shop. There is a children’s book section, but also sections on art, philosophy, science, fiction, history, politics, travel, poetry, social sciences, etc. This is a dark but not dingy store, spacious but not cavernous, well-stocked but not catering to populist tastes, eclectic and conducive to browsing, old-wordly yet modern, quiet but not funereal, and welcoming for every serious bookworm.

I was given a very small and elegant bookmark as I was leaving the store by its agreeable manager and the quote by Barbara Tuchman that begins this post is from the reverse of this bookmark. The obverse is an elegant business card with the name of the shop, its address and contact details surrounded by a delightful border that is in tenor with the ambience of the shop. Oh, and it’s all in black – so Melbourne!

Now before I am accused of having an interest in the place, as I am waxing quite lyrical about it, no, I do not have shares in the place. I just think that it is a delightful place and deserves success as a business venture in these uncertain times. I think the passionate bibliophiles who have opened this shop should be supported, and I for one will be going back to offer them my custom. Duck in and have a look and resist the temptations therein if you can!


  1. I think the extraction of research data has nothing to do with the pleasure of wandering through a beautiful, polished timber bookshop, of holding and smelling a beautifully bound book. You could get research data from a Kindle, I suppose, and never go into a bookshop in your life. But what a sad life that would be.

  2. This looks like a place I could spend hours in! So different to the chain bookshops in big shopping centers. I also like the way they don't have any food and coffee there. Nothing worse than browsing in a bookstore and smelling garlic and coffee.

  3. Great place for a browse and their website shows some fantastic books. An interesting link to the Skeptics Society too...

  4. Now that's a bookshop worth visiting! From what you say, it's heaven for any bookworm.

  5. Thanks Nic ~ I'll check this one out within the next week, too ... the old double-storey second-hand bookshop in Elgin St has gone too ... also, I used to so love sitting and reading for hours in various Borders ... I look forward to checking Embiggen Books ~ thanks for sharing this :)

  6. A good interview with Warren from Embiggen books: