Meilan Solly in Smithsonian:
Louis Renard, an 18th-century book publisher who moonlighted as a British spy, had a somewhat tenuous relationship with the truth. As writer and rare-book collector Edward Brooke-Hitching notes in The Madman’s Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities From History, Renard “knew even less” about Indonesian wildlife than the average European of his day. Far from letting this obstacle stand in his way, however, the publisher leaned into his imagination, producing a fantastical compendium of fish from the opposite of the globe that featured illustrations of a mermaid, a four-legged “Running Fish” that trotted around like a dog and a host of other impossibly vivid-hued creatures.
Renard’s Fishes, Crayfishes, and Crabs (1719) is one of hundreds of unusual titles featured in Brooke-Hitching’s latest book. From books that aren’t actually books—like 20 Slices of American Cheese, a 2018 volume with a name that conveys all one really needs to know—to books made out of flesh and blood to books of spectacular size, The Madman’s Library takes readers on a riveting tour of literary history’s most overlooked corners.