Most will no doubt remember Hackett's gloriously bland covers from their college years; in all likelihood, the publisher would have seemed the primary source of all the titles under the "recommended reading" section of any given course's syllabi. It publishes many of the standard texts of the standard writers in the most standardized of academic fields. The utter disregard it displays for aesthetics – a Hackett text is immediately identifiable as such and can be spotted, if only in college cafés, from afar – is a large part of its unaffected charm; it doesn't even have a logo to match its imprint, which is rendered in un-fussy, perhaps unimaginative, italicized Helvetica. But Hackett has earned the right to proudly wear its blandness on its sleeve through the sheer, unadulterated integrity of its texts and the never less than illuminating introductions and annotations that accompany them; and, amid the "regulars" that it offers – no shortage of works by Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, or Spinoza may be found in their catalogue –, are many unique and rare finds.
It was only upon coming across their extraordinary publication of the letters between Abelard and Heloise – published in The Letters and Other Writings, which, true to its workmanlike title, also features several of Aberlard's theological tracts and poems, as well as letters between Heloise and Peter the Venerable, a staunch defender of Abelard – that the more unexpected side of Hackett's output came to my attention. This is no doubt my favorite of their publications that I have thus far read, in no small part due to William Levitan's immensely dedicated, resourceful, and entirely brilliant introduction and notes. Surely, the letters of Abelard and Heloise are no rare find; but this edition is simply phenomenal and re-renders their letters as revelatory and profound as they were when you first read them.
The anthology Time collects a wide variety of essays and treatises on notions of time; it is closer in attitude to Hackett's textbooks than their more literary output – it has no notes and, by the very nature of its enterprise, reads as though it were intended strictly for course reading –, but the selections are just remarkable: there are many expected extracts – the first is by Proust, the last by Simone Weil – as well as what were to me numerous revelations to me, such as J.M.E. McTaggart's essay "The Unreality of Time," or Oets Kolk Bouwsma's riveting "The Mystery of Time (Or, the Man Who Didn't Know What Time Is)." It has since sent me on endeavors to discover more about several of the essays' authors, searches that would never have otherwise taken place had I not read this. The introduction by Carl Levenson and Jonathan Westphal may not yield any particularly salient revelations, but their choices are exceptional.
Sarah Schneewind's fascinating A Tale of Two Melons: Emperor and Subject in Ming China was purchased on a whim; I know little about Ming China – or Chinese history in general, I'm embarrassed to admit –, but this analysis of Ming culture and society – viewed through the variations on a telling of one story – is terrifically engaging and demands further exploration of the era. The work is inclusive, involving, and ingeniously devised; I cannot recommend it enough.
While it may seem – and, indeed, it can be – somewhat plodding work to pour through their titles in search of something novel, it yields tremendously exciting finds. I am tremendously looking forward to their publication of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a fascinating, occasionally bizarre, and entirely fictional travel guide that was cobbled together in the 14th century from over a thousand other travel guides; passed off as the real thing, the work became quite successful, and has since given rise to many intriguing theoretical responses. The introduction by Iain Macleod Higgins will no doubt provide further thoughtful analyses of this singularly odd publication. I always begin salivating upon news of antiquated travel guides, and for this reason I'm also awaiting quite impatiently The Mission of Friar William of Rubruck, the Flemish missionary's 13th century guide to Asia; I knew nothing of Friar William nor of his guide, and am very excited for its publication. Their entire catalogue is exciting, and is certainly worth a gander or, as the case may be, a post-collegiate return.