U Penn’s President Amy Gutmann received almost $23 million in total compensation in 2022!

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported yesterday that Amy Gutmann received almost $23 million in total compensation before stepping down in 2022. About 89 percent of that amount came from deferred compensation, set aside over the course of her 18-year tenure as president. In its Form 990, filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the university states that the compensation was “in recognition of Dr. Gutmann’s outstanding service as Penn’s president, as well as for retention purposes.” In 2020, Gutmann also received a $3.7-million loan from the university, on which she has not made any payments, according to the university tax forms.

Gutmann’s base pay in 2021 was $1,564,547, which was the fifth-highest that year and a 1.5-percent increase from her 2020 base pay. Gutmann has been among the 10 highest-paid presidents in The Chronicle’s analysis since 2012, and her base pay increased by 45 percent from 2012 to 2021. Among 2021’s highest-paid presidents, only Columbia University’s Lee C. Bollinger has appeared in the top 10 with the same consistency.

The average total compensation for all 312 presidents in The Chronicle’s analysis 2021 is $952,159, compared with the $907,625 average for 306 presidents in 2020.

The 2021 fiscal year is the most recent year for which 990s are available. For more about 2021’s top-paid private-college presidents, and the biggest earners over time, see the chart above.

Good work if you can get it!


Nancy Pelosi: Denounces Trump comments on Navalny’s death as ‘beneath the dignity of a human being’

Dear Commons Community,

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) denounced former President Trump on Monday for his response to the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, calling Trump’s comments “’beneath the dignity of a human being.”

Navalny died Friday in a Russian penal colony, the country’s government announced, in what has been widely denounced as a likely political assassination. Trump first addressed the death on Monday after being called out by Democrats for ignoring the issue.  As reported by The Hill.

Trump compared Navalny’s death to his own legal circumstances, and did not blame it on Russian President Vladimir Putin, as President Biden and U.S. allies have.

“You wonder, what does Putin have on Donald Trump that he always has to be beholden to him, his buddy in vileness?” Pelosi said in an MSNBC “Inside with Jen Psaki” interview.

She said Trump’s statement was “beneath the dignity of a human being.”

“It is so horrible you think, ‘No, somebody must have made this up. Not even Donald Trump could go this far,’” she said. “This statement should disqualify him from running for anything, much less President of the United States.”

Trump, she noted, has even been “encouraging” Putin to invade NATO allies who don’t pay what he thinks is enough for protection.

“I don’t know what Putin has on him, but I think it’s probably financial,” she said. “Or something on the come ― something that he expects to get.”

President Biden first commented on Navalny’s death after the news broke Friday, quickly pinning it on Putin and using the opportunity to call for military aid for Ukraine.

“Make no mistake: Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death. Putin is responsible,” Biden said. “What has happened to Navalny is yet more proof of Putin’s brutality. No one should be fooled.”

“We have to provide the funding so Ukraine can keep defending itself against Putin’s vicious onslaughts and war crimes,” he continued, adding that he is “contemplating” whether further sanctions on Russia are possible.

Ukraine aid is stuck in the House, after a bipartisan coalition of Senators passed a foreign spending bill earlier this month. House Republican leaders said there is no chance the body passed Ukraine aid without action on the Southern border, after the House killed a bipartisan border security bill.

“History is watching the House of Representatives,” Biden said Friday. “The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will never be forgotten.”

Pelosi also went after the House GOP leadership for delaying Ukraine aid, calling it a “disgrace” that the U.S. is yet to fund additional support against Russian invasion.

“We will get this done in the house,” she said. “It’s a disgrace that we haven’t done it yet. People will die every day that we are not supplying the weapons with the distance, with the speed, with the strength that is needed to defeat the Russians.”

“And people there know that if anything were to happen in Ukraine — which we must make sure it doesn’t in terms of Russia winning — that other countries are next,” she added.

Pelosi is one of the best in describing Trump and his odorous behavior.


A new ranking of presidents by the Presidential Greatness Project has Abraham Lincoln as America’s greatest president, and Donald Trump as the worst!

Dear Commons Community,

A new ranking of presidents by a group of presidential history scholars determined that Abraham Lincoln was America’s greatest president, while Donald Trump ranks last.

Lincoln topped the list of presidents in the 2024 Presidential Greatness Project expert survey for the third time, following his top spot in the rankings in the 2015 and 2018 versions of the survey.  As reported by Fox News.

According to a release from the Presidential Greatness Project, which touts itself as the “foremost organization of social science experts in presidential politics,” the 154 respondents to the survey included “current and recent members of the Presidents & Executive Politics Section of the American Political Science Association…as well as scholars who have recently published peer-reviewed academic research in key related scholarly journals or academic presses.”

The respondents were asked to rank presidents on a scale of 0-100, with 0 being a failure, 50 being average and 100 being great. Rounding out the top five in the rankings were Franklin Delano Roosevelt at number two, George Washington at three, Theodore Roosevelt at four, and Thomas Jefferson at five.

Trump was ranked in last place in the survey, being ranked worse than James Buchanan at 44, Andrew Johnson at 43, Franklin Peirce at 42, and William Henry Harrison at 41.

Respondents were also tracked by their political affiliation and ideology, which the release argues did not “tend to make a major difference overall” in the rankings, though there were some outliers, mainly with recent presidents. 

Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Trump were more likely to be ranked higher by conservatives or Republicans, with Reagan being ranked an average of 5th by Republicans respondents, Bush 19th and Trump 41st. Among Democrat respondents, Reagan was rated an average of 18th, Bush 33rd and Trump 45th.

A similar partisan divide was noticeable for Barack Obama and President Biden, who ranked an average of 6th and 13th, respectively, among Democrat respondents, and 15th and 30th by Republicans. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was ranked higher by Republican respondents (10th) than he was by Democrats (12th).

The divide resulted in an overall ranking of 7th for Obama, 12th for Clinton, 14th for Biden, 16th for Reagan and 32nd for Bush.

This ranking is sure to make Trump and his supporters go crazy!



Nikki Haley Says She Is Going the Distance Against Trump. Here’s Her Plan!

Peter Zay/Anadolu/Getty Images

Dear Commons Community,

Nikki Haley is vowing not to give up and to go the distance against Trump.  Jazmine Ulloa, politics reporter for The New York Times, had an article yesterday in which she laid out the candidate’s plan. 

Below is the entire article.

We wish Haley well and hope she can pull it off!



The New York Times

Haley Says She Is Going the Distance Against Trump. Here’s Her Plan.

By Jazmine Ulloa

Feb. 18, 2024

One week before the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, where polls suggest she trails by an insurmountable margin, Nikki Haley was in Texas, promising to go national, as most primary candidates, even in the most dire circumstances, usually do.

Despite big losses in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, and the steep odds facing her in South Carolina, her home state, Ms. Haley is showing no signs of relenting. She is still raking in donations and building out her national footprint, as she pledges to move her party past former President Donald J. Trump.

“He said he’s going to spend more time in a courtroom than he is going to be on the campaign trail,” she said of Mr. Trump on Friday in San Antonio, referring to the hours he spent in New York last week facing criminal and civil cases. “But let me tell you what we are going to be doing. We are going to be on the campaign trail.”

Ms. Haley, a former governor of South Carolina and a United Nations ambassador under Mr. Trump, is projecting confidence even as her path to victory looks stark. In many South Carolina polls, she trails Mr. Trump by roughly 30 points — and the picture beyond next week’s contest does not look much brighter.

If Ms. Haley continues with her plans to stay in the race beyond South Carolina, as she has pledged, here is a look at how she intends to take her long-shot bid national.

The Map

The Haley campaign has announced teams of elected officials, business leaders and prominent community members to help lead their efforts in Alaska, California, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Utah and Washington. Her “National Women for Nikki Coalition,” which counts chapters in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, has kicked into full gear, with a mission to court suburban women turned off by Mr. Trump.

On the day after the South Carolina primary, regardless of the outcome, Ms. Haley has said she will head to Michigan, which holds its own contest Feb. 27. From there, she has plans to crisscross the country ahead of Super Tuesday, the largest single day of the primary season, and the last real chance she will have to prove she can change the course of the nomination. The expected stops include Colorado, Minnesota, Utah and Virginia.

Ms. Haley is betting her candidacy on courting independents and new Republicans in Michigan and in 11 Super Tuesday states where Republican primaries are not limited to voters affiliated with her own party. But that strategy did not succeed in New Hampshire, and she has shown weaknesses with her own base: She received support from only 29 percent of college-educated Republicans nationally, according to a CNN poll, while Mr. Trump had 55 percent of the same demographic. Another Morning Consult tracking poll showed Ms. Haley trailing Mr. Trump by big margins in every Super Tuesday state.

Ms. Haley held campaign events in Dallas and San Antonio this week and has said she would travel to Super Tuesday states in the coming weeks.

Mr. Trump has undertaken his own push in Super Tuesday states, announcing nearly 80 endorsements from state party and elected officials in 14 states. And his team has left little to chance: He and his allies have engaged in a backroom campaign to twist delegate rules in his favor, and he has said Ms. Haley’s donors would be “permanently barred from the MAGA camp.”

The Message

Ms. Haley and her allies have kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism on Mr. Trump in national media appearances and in television and digital ads. Her message has largely remained consistent: that it is time for a new generational leader who can move her party beyond the “chaos” that is Mr. Trump. But her attack lines to underscore that most recently have become sharper-edged and more numerous. She has criticized him for disparaging her husband, Maj. Michael Haley; for suggesting he would encourage Russian aggression against U.S. allies in Europe; for skewing the delegate count; and for tightening his grip over party institutions, including the Republican National Committee.

She has continued to blast Mr. Trump for spending time and campaign donations on his legal troubles. She has sought to brand him and President Biden as “grumpy, old men.”

But as of last week, Ms. Haley had not spent any money on television ads beyond Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Her allied super PAC, Stand for America Inc., had invested only about $144,900 in other states, according to AdImpact, a media-tracking firm. The Trump campaign, by comparison, had spent nearly six times as much, or about $855,200, nationwide.

Pointing to Ms. Haley’s losses, Karoline Leavitt, Mr. Trump’s national press secretary, contended he would not only “crush” her in own backyard and “demolish her on Super Tuesday.” “Only a birdbrain would stay in this race,” she said in a statement, using Mr. Trump’s insulting nickname for Ms. Haley.

The Funding

Mr. Trump’s war chest dwarfs Ms. Haley’s campaign funds. He had more than $33 million cash on hand at the end of December, while Ms. Haley had $14.6 million.

But as it has been from the start of her campaign, one bright spot for Ms. Haley is her ability to raise money. She pulled in $16.5 million in January, her highest monthly total so far. She has the backing of a number of wealthy donors. Her campaign turned Mr. Trump’s ultimatum against her donors into an opportunity to sell about 20,000 T-shirts that read “Barred. Permanently.” This month, she brought in at least $2.7 million at fund-raisers in Texas and California, according to her campaign, and $1 million more in the 48 hours after Mr. Trump disparaged Ms. Haley’s husband at a rally.

The Rationale

In interviews, some of Ms. Haley’s high-dollar donors in Texas and California echoed her focus on Mr. Trump’s and President Biden’s advanced ages, and cited Mr. Trump’s legal cases as signs that anything remains possible in the race. Mr. Trump spent Thursday in a Manhattan courtroom on criminal charges stemming from a hush-money payment to a porn star in 2016. A New York judge on Friday ordered him to pay a penalty of nearly $355 million plus interest after finding him liable for conspiring to manipulate his net worth.

“A lot can happen in politics and in our legal system,” said Timothy Draper, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Haley donor. “And the American people usually come to their senses when they come to the polls.”

At Gilley’s Dallas South Side Music Hall, an upscale honky-tonk, Jack Matthews, its owner and a prominent developer, said he was having an easier time raising funds for Ms. Haley now than when he started in the early days of her campaign. “Some people are afraid of supporting her because of retribution with Trump,” he acknowledged. But plenty of others, he said, “are saying, ‘We need a change.’”

His venue, where Ms. Haley spoke on Thursday night before more than 1,000 people, one year to the date of starting her presidential bid, has some campaign-trail history. There, in 2020, President Biden held a rally where his onetime Democratic rivals for the nomination endorsed him over an insurgent Bernie Sanders in a show of force for the moderate wing of their party.

Now, Ms. Haley is running a Biden-like strategy but finding herself in Mr. Sanders’s position. Nevertheless, she continued to plead her case.

“Everything he touches, we lose,” Ms. Haley said, painting Mr. Trump as an agent of “chaos” for Congress, the country and Republicans’ down-ballot prospects in November.


President’s Day 2024

Copyright: ©Tomasz Zajda – stock.adobe.com

Dear Commons Community,

Today we honor and remember our presidents especially George Washington and Abraham Lincoln who led our country during perilous times.

We should hope that our election this year will also result in a worthy president!


Maureen Dowd:  Trump – The Ugly American and Florida Fraudster!

Dear Commons Community,

Maureen Dowd in her New York Times column yesterday painted Donald Trump as an ugly American whose sole interest is himself.  She laments the vanishing breed of Republicans who pledged allegiance to our flag.  Here is an excerpt.

“…Republicans pledge allegiance to Donald Trump’s ego. He has to be bigger than everything — even America itself.

“Bush wrapped himself in the American flag,” David Axelrod said. “Trump wants to wrap himself in the Mar-a-Lago flag.”

Just as Trump has remade the Republican Party in his own nasty and selfish image, he wants to remake America in his own nasty and selfish image.

Trump doesn’t seem to subscribe to any of the verities about this country. He doesn’t believe America is exceptional. He only believes that Trump is exceptional — an exception to all the rules that the rest of us live by.

If American laws get in his way — like counting votes to choose a president — he tries to smash them. He’s bigger than democracy, after all.

If American values get in his way — like our distaste for authoritarians like Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban — he mocks those values. When Putin and Orban flattered Trump, that seemed more important to the Mar-a-Lago megalomaniac than our nation’s proud history of facing down autocrats.”

Dowd is so right. 

The entire column (see below) is important reading!



The New York Times

The Florida Fraudster and the Russian ‘Killer’

Feb. 17, 2024

By Maureen Dowd

Opinion Columnist, reporting from Washington.

When I covered George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 1988, he was so eager to wrap himself in the American flag that he took us to a New Jersey flag factory. That way, he could claim that the G.O.P. was “on the American side” while caressing pieces of striped, red-and-white nylon.

At the time, it seemed like a cynical move by Republicans, trying to bogart patriotism. But at least they respected our country enough to try to monopolize its symbol.

That vanishing breed of Republican pledged allegiance to the American flag. Now Republicans pledge allegiance to Donald Trump’s ego. He has to be bigger than everything — even America itself.

“Bush wrapped himself in the American flag,” David Axelrod said. “Trump wants to wrap himself in the Mar-a-Lago flag.”

Just as Trump has remade the Republican Party in his own nasty and selfish image, he wants to remake America in his own nasty and selfish image.

Trump doesn’t seem to subscribe to any of the verities about this country. He doesn’t believe America is exceptional. He only believes that Trump is exceptional — an exception to all the rules that the rest of us live by.

If American laws get in his way — like counting votes to choose a president — he tries to smash them. He’s bigger than democracy, after all.

If American values get in his way — like our distaste for authoritarians like Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban — he mocks those values. When Putin and Orban flattered Trump, that seemed more important to the Mar-a-Lago megalomaniac than our nation’s proud history of facing down autocrats.

Bill O’Reilly asked President Trump in 2017 why he respected Putin even though he was “a killer.”

“You got a lot of killers,” he replied. “What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

America the Beautiful, our Shining City on a Hill, is not so hot. Get in his way, and Trump will bust up institutions, trash courts, tear down cultural icons like Taylor Swift and egg on acolytes to storm the Capitol.

He doesn’t see America as the idealistic leader of the free world. He sees the world as “The Hunger Games,” as Axelrod put it. And frighteningly, Trump sometimes acts as if he prefers America’s enemies to America.

The former president shocked the world last weekend when he said at a rally that if NATO countries did not pay more for defense, he would “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to our allies. Biden called that “un-American.”

Trump’s bromance with the sociopathic Putin, unimpeded by Putin’s foul bid to swallow Ukraine, grew even more sickening with news that the Russian president’s most potent opponent, Aleksei Navalny, 47, died mysteriously in an Arctic prison — very, very suddenly, as high-profile Putin critics often do.

“Make no mistake: Putin is responsible,” President Biden said.

When a CNN reporter asked if Trump had a response to the heroic Navalny’s death, the Trump campaign pointed her to a Truth Social post that wasn’t about Navalny or Putin. It was about how awful America was.

“America is no longer respected,” Trump posted, “because we have an incompetent president who is weak and doesn’t understand what the World is thinking.”

This American Carnage garbage is how he bonds with his base, many of whom are deeply cynical about politics and government, seeing hypocrisy and conspiracies everywhere.

His hallucinatory worshipers admire him as a strongman, even when he’s shown to be liable for sexual assault and an aggrandizing con man whose real estate empire was a Potemkin village. On Friday, a New York judge ordered Trump to pay a penalty of $355 million plus interest and barred him from holding high-up roles at any New York business — including his own — for three years, saying about Trump & Company, “Their complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological.”

The Renfields to Trump’s Dracula are also busy playing sycophants to dictators. At an Axios conference in Miami, Jared Kushner — who was festooned with $2 billion in Saudi investments after he left the White House — called Mohammed bin Salman a “visionary leader.” Asked about the crown prince’s complicity in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, Kushner replied with exasperation, “Are we really still doing this?”

Before Navalny’s death, Tucker Carlson — who scorned Ukraine’s desperate fight for its independence — cavorted in the Kremlin. His interview with Putin was so indulgent that even Putin complained of a “lack of sharp questions.”

In an interview with an Egyptian journalist, Carlson defended his decision not to ask Putin about freedom of speech or assassinations of his opponents.

“Every leader kills people,” Carlson said blithely, adding, “Leadership requires killing people, sorry.”

Will the craven Republicans ever stand up against autocracy — at home or abroad?

Navalny’s death at the hands of the murderous Putin has given momentum to the push for military assistance for Ukraine.

It’s the American thing to do.


Representative Eric Swalwell on Biden age: ‘I’ll take the guy who’s 81 over the guy who has 91 felony counts’

Credit:  The Boston Globe

Dear Commons Community,

Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) went after former President Trump for his legal woes in an interview on MSNBC yesterday.

“I’ll take the individual who’s 81 over the guy who has 91 felony counts,” Swalwell said, making a reference to President Biden’s age in an interview on MSNBC’s “The Katie Phang Show”.

“It’s not about two individuals,” Swalwell continued, speaking about the 2024 election. “It’s about the idea of competence versus chaos, or even greater, freedom versus fascism. If we make it about those ideas, and what they mean in our daily lives, we’re gonna win.”

Swalwell’s comments come after Trump was ordered to pay almost $355 million in penalties in a civil fraud case and amid increased scrutiny faced by the president on his age and memory in the wake of a special counsel report on Biden’s handling of classified documents. The report noted that Biden had problems with memory and recall.

“We have also considered that, at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” special counsel Robert Hur wrote in the report.

Ezra Klein, a columnist and podcast host for The New York Times, made an argument that Biden should stop running for reelection due to the scrutiny the president is facing over his age and memory Friday on his podcast “The Ezra Klein Show.”

“To say this is a media invention, that people are worried about Biden’s age because the media keeps telling them to be worried about Biden’s age?” Klein said.

“If you’ve really convinced yourself of that, in your heart of hearts, I almost don’t know what to tell you,” he added. “In poll after poll, 70 percent to 80 percent of voters are worried about his age. This is not a thing people need the media to see.”

A recent poll, conducted in the wake of the report, found that 86 percent of Americans think he is too old for office.

Trump still faces several other legal challenges heading into the 2024 election season, including in the ongoing Georgia probe.

While I would hope that the Democrats can find another able presidential candidate, I agree with Swalwell if it is a Biden-Trump election.


Republican Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) rips Tucker Carlson as Putin’s ”Useful Idiot”

Dear Commons Community,

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) referred to Tucker Carlson as Putin’s “useful idiot”  for the conservative pundit’s recent fawning over Russian President Vladimir Putin following a Moscow trip the commentator took that included a stop at a local grocery store.

“Ah yes, Russia is so much better than the U.S. with all those cheap groceries and lavish subway stations,” Tillis wrote in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, mocking Carlson. “The Soviets had a term for people like Tucker: useful idiots.”

Tillis was specifically responding to a video Carlson had posted of a trip he took to a grocery store in Moscow in which he praised the country for the price of its groceries and what he said is superior cleanliness compared to the United States.

Earlier last week, Carlson praised Moscow as “so much nicer than any city in my country.”

Carlson also published a wide-ranging interview with Putin, who used the two-hour conversation to spread propaganda about Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine and admonish the United States and other Western countries.

Carlson, a former Fox News host, is an embarrassment to his profession!


More on Illuminated Manuscripts:  “Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts” by Christopher de Hamel

Dear Commons Community,

Over the past two months I have been reading about illuminated manuscripts.  I previously posted about a new book entitled, The Manuscripts Club (2022), by Christopher de Hamel.   See:   https://apicciano.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2024/01/13/new-book-christopher-de-hamel-the-manuscripts-club/   

I so enjoyed de Hamel’s work that I decided to read his previous book, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World (2016), which is every bit as interesting as The Manuscripts Club. In Meetings with Remarkable…, de Hamel reviews the histories of twelve illuminated manuscripts produced during the medieval period. From the gospels of St. Augustine to the Book of Kells to the Canterbury Tales, de Hamel takes  the reader on explorations of these incredible works of art. His last chapter on The Spinola Hours was my favorite.

My life’s work has been based on modern technology and research methods. de Hamel’s work could not be more different as he explores art, composition, and the mystery of how these manuscripts came to be.  Most of the illuminators and monks who toiled on these manuscripts  are unknown and will never be known yet their work will continue to be admired for ages. In sum, de Hamel’s book is a most worthwhile read.  Below is a review of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts as published in The New York Times.

Lastly, de Hamel’s work piqued my interest so that I was curious about  what it would be like to develop a “modern” illuminated manuscript.  While I have written a great deal in my professional career, I have absolutely no talent for drawing or visual art. However, I decided to rely on what I know best and that is digital technology and so I spent the better part of six weeks, developing what I call  an  illuminated “technuscript.”   See: https://apicciano.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2024/02/08/an-illuminated-technuscript-of-theories-and-frameworks-for-online-education/  Essentially, I used design techniques from medieval times and applied them with digital technology and relied on generative AI to produce colorful images to depict the subject matter of the “technuscript.”  I found it an exhilarating experience.  If you have a few moments, take a look at my work and let me know what you think.



The New York Times

Illuminating the Past, One Precious Book at a Time

By Helen Castor

Dec. 19, 2017

Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World

By Christopher de Hamel
Illustrated. 632 pp. Penguin Press. $45.

“Meetings With Remarkable Manuscripts” is one of the least likely and most wonderful books I have ever read. Least likely: Where to start? It’s a vanishingly rare pleasure, given the commercial constraints of modern publishing, to handle 600 smoothly weighty pages in which the printed text winds its way seamlessly among more than 200 glorious, often full-color illustrations. And in producing such a gorgeous object, Christopher de Hamel’s publisher has had the courage of his convictions, because its physical and visual delights mirror its commercially unlikely subject matter.

De Hamel — who, after an immensely distinguished career at Sotheby’s, is now a fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge — wants us to meet 12 of the most extraordinary medieval manuscripts that survive in archives around the world. They appear in chronological order spanning a thousand years, beginning with the sixth-century Gospels of St. Augustine, now in the Parker Library at Corpus, and ending with the National Library of Russia’s 15th-century armaments treatise called the Visconti Semideus, and the 16th-century Spinola Hours, housed in the luxury of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Strange as it may seem, “meet” is exactly what de Hamel means. You and I would not be allowed within touching distance of these rock stars of the manuscript world, but de Hamel’s expertise gives him access behind the velvet rope. We travel with him, seeing libraries and librarians through his eyes, from Trinity College Dublin’s affable keeper of manuscripts (who sports “a neatly cropped graying beard, a bit like a friendly Schnauzer dog with glasses”) to the “saint among manuscript librarians” in St. Petersburg, who feeds him whiskey-flavored Russian chocolates when, work-absorbed, he misses lunch. We hold our breath with him as the priceless volumes are propped on special bookrests or foam pads or cushions (or, in one case, a pile of other books in an unsupervised photocopier room), and we exhale with him as they begin to reveal their secrets.

De Hamel thinks of these encounters as “interviews,” and — as with all the best interviewers — he takes his place as a character in his own narrative. He is voraciously completist, recording impressions of each journey, place, building and reading room, as well as every recoverable detail of each manuscript’s creation, content and existence as a physical object through time and space. Both supremely learned and cheerfully opinionated, he hates the pictures in the eighth-century Book of Kells (“I am not qualified to say whether the four unpleasant-looking angels are lifelike, but they are certainly anatomically very improbable”) but loves its script (“It is calligraphic and as exact as printing, and yet it flows and shapes itself into the space available. It sometimes swells and seems to take breath at the ends of lines”). Forced to wear unnecessary and unhelpful white gloves while examining the 13th-century Carmina Burana, he is left disconsolate when his wife puts them, blackened with the 800-year-old dust he has brought home as a souvenir, straight into the wash.

On this archival odyssey, I lost count of the things I learned. In the Middle Ages, an impossible task was one harder “than it was for a one-legged man to shave a hare” (which accounts for the wooden-legged figure holding a pair of shears over a long-eared beast in a margin of the 12th-century Copenhagen Psalter). Perhaps the most prolific and gleeful thief in the history of manuscripts was the 19th-century Count Guglielmo Bruto Icilio Timoleone Libri-Carrucci dalla Sommaia — known appropriately as “Libri” — for whom de Hamel has an unmistakable soft spot. Paleographers of de Hamel’s caliber can guess where in Europe a manuscript was made simply by the touch and smell of the parchment. And the move from Egyptian papyrus to locally prepared animal skins after the fall of the Roman Empire changed the shape of books from square to rectangular: “most mammals,” after all, “are oblong.”

What of the manuscripts themselves? Some are tiny, jewel-like, exquisite: The Hours of Jeanne de Navarre, from the 14th century, was made for the hands and the devotions of a queen, its psalms and prayers framed by illuminations of extraordinary delicacy. Some are mammoth and intimidating: The seventh-century manuscript Bible known as the Codex Amiatinus is made of the skins of 515 calves and weighs as much (an earlier scholar noted) as a fully grown female Great Dane. Some have barely moved from the places where they were written, while others have taken long and troubled paths to the hushed havens in which they now lie: Jeanne de Navarre’s book was found alongside the “Très Belles Heures” of the Duc de Berry — which was mistaken for a brick by the soldier who stepped on it — when the train carrying Hermann Göring’s stolen art collection was raided by French troops in 1945. Most are sacred texts, but some are deliciously secular, like the sometimes bawdy poems and songs of the Carmina Burana or the tales of Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims. All are fascinating, all speak of the world in which they were made, and all are tangibly, movingly human, thanks to the skills and quirks of the mostly unknown scribes and illuminators whose remarkable creations they are.

The Copenhagen Psalter contains a collect for peace, asking that we “may pass our time in rest and quietness.” Its words, de Hamel suggests, are as relevant today as they were to the Danish kings Valdemar the Great and Knud IV, “who read them here too, as we do.” In the ambiguous tense of that verb, “read,” past and present for a moment collide and intermingle. This, like the volumes that are its subject, is a book of wonders.


Key Takeaways from Trump’s New York $355 million penalty and business ban in fraud verdict!

Dear Commons Community,

Judge Arthur Engoron has ordered Donald Trump and his companies to pay $355 million in penalties for engaging in a years-long scheme to deceive banks and insurers.

The ruling adds to Trump’s legal woes as he prepares to defend himself at trial against criminal charges in four cases while also vying for the Republican presidential nomination. He said he would appeal.

Trump and his adult sons, who serve as top executives of the family’s Trump Organization, denied any wrongdoing and characterized the case brought by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James as politically motivated.

Addressing reporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida after the ruling, Trump declared that it was “election interference,” a term he often applies to recent cases against him.

Trump attorney Christopher Kise said the decision from Judge Engoron could “cause irreparable damage to both the business community and the rule of law in our country” if not overturned.

James, meanwhile, called it a victory for fair play in business and “for every American who believes in that simple but fundamental pillar of our democracy that the rule of law applies to all of us equally.”

Here’s a look at three major takeaways from the judge’s ruling as reported by The Associated Press.



In addition to the huge financial penalty for Trump and his businesses, Engoron barred the former president from serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation for three years. The ruling also prohibits Trump from getting loans from banks registered in the state for three years.

The judge wrote that the “frauds found here leap off the page and shock the conscience,” adding that Trump and his co-defendants were likely to continue their “fraudulent ways” without the serious consequences and controls the ruling imposed.

Trump had argued the financial documents in question actually understated his net worth and came with caveats that should shield him from liability. But his testimony during the more than 2 1/2-month trial appeared to do little to help his case with the judge.

Engoron wrote that Trump’s and his co-defendants’ “complete lack of remorse borders on pathological,” noting that the former president testified that he doesn’t believe the Trump Organization needs to make any changes going forward. The judge also wrote that Trump on the witness stand “rarely responded to questions asked” and “frequently interjected long, irrelevant speeches on issues far beyond the scope of the trial.”

“His refusal to answer the questions directly, or in some cases, at all, severely compromised his credibility,” Engoron wrote.


The verdict, if upheld on appeal, stands to roil the C-suite at the Trump Organization. Engoron barred company Executive Vice Presidents Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump from being officers of New York corporations for two years. Their father doesn’t currently have a formal leadership position at the company.

But Trump’s businesses also got a bit of a reprieve in Friday’s decision.

Before the trial, the judge ruled that Trump engaged in years of fraud with his financial statements. At that point, the judge ordered some of Trump’s companies to be removed from his control and dissolved. An appeals court put that decision on hold months ago.

On Friday, the judge backed off the earlier call for rescinding the companies’ business licenses — but left the door open for watchdogs to take action, if they see fit.

One of those watchdogs is a retired federal judge whom Engoron appointed last fall as an independent monitor for the Trump Organization. Friday’s verdict also adds an “independent director of compliance,” to be appointed by the monitor.

Given their oversight, “cancellation of the business licenses is no longer necessary,” Engoron wrote. But he said “the restructuring and potential dissolution” of any of the companies would be “subject to individual review” by the compliance director, with input from the monitor.


Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump were each ordered to pay $4 million. In his ruling, Engoron characterized portions of Donald Trump Jr.’s testimony as “entirely unbelievable” and described Eric Trump’s credibility as “severely damaged” by his claim that he was not aware of his father’s role in compiling the organization’s financial statements.

Eric Trump testified at trial that he relied on accountants and lawyers to assure the accuracy of the financial documents at the heart of the case, while Donald Trump Jr.  said he never worked on his father’s financial statements.

Justice served!