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Encyclopedia of the Exquisite: An Anecdotal History of Elegant Delights

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  604 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
Encyclopedia of the Exquisite is a lifestyle guide for the Francophile and the Anglomaniac, the gourmet and the style maven, the armchair traveler and the art lover. It’s an homage to the esoteric world of glamour that doesn’t require much spending but makes us feel rich.
Taking a cue from the exotic encyclopedias of the sixteenth century, which brimmed with mysterious arti
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published November 2nd 2010 by Nan A. Talese (first published January 1st 2010)
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Becky R.
May 19, 2011 Becky R. rated it really liked it
I couldn't help myself when I saw this pretty book sitting on the "New Arrivals" shelf at my local library. When I flipped it open, it had the coolest entries about things like milk baths, the trapeze, the omelet, badminton, and more, all with their history and context. The history isn't intense, but it is a nice overview of how things have evolved. In a sense, it's a cultural encyclopedia of random facts that might pop up in a British or French novel. For instance, the entry on red lipstick was ...more
Annie Pliego
Apr 15, 2012 Annie Pliego rated it it was amazing
A simply fantastic and fun book.
"The perfect omelet is an exacting work of simplicity: delicate, but not puffy; golden, but not burned; firm enough to fold, but not so stiff it breaks; creamy, but cooked through. Ancient Romans ate omelets."
Jul 12, 2016 Josiphine rated it it was amazing
I love this book. It's a beautiful collection of short essays on a myriad number of topics. I enjoyed learning more about the history of common things (such as pears or cat's cradle) and being introduced to unfamiliar things too. This was just a fun, pretty book.
May 23, 2012 Keata138 rated it it was amazing
I feel richer for having read this book. Interesting historical facts - that I never would have come across had it not been for this book - stuck in my mind long after having read about them. It's a very diverse collection. There are stories of people, stories of places, and stories of things (several of which I've managed to grab off of e-bay).

Since it's written as an encyclopedia, it's a nice nightly read before bed allowing one to read a lot or a little. Sections range from half a page to fi
Oct 22, 2012 Antonia rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
A veritable cabinet of curiosities. Anecdotes about a wide range of subjects of particular interest to the author, the exotic and the elegant, arranged alphabetically (though I was very surprised and disappointed to find no Z! How could she not include Z??/). Really great fun — a book to read at a leisurely pace, dipping into from time to time. I’ve taken my time with it and will return. I’ve enjoyed reading entries to my husband after dinner (or while he cooks dinner!). Typical entries: champag ...more
Feb 05, 2011 Alison rated it really liked it
An encyclopedia of charming delights, and the folklore and history that accompanies them. Example entries: far niente (languorous idleness), Bartlett pears, pouf hairstyles, red lipstick, saffron.
Dec 30, 2010 Ann rated it really liked it
Alli gave me this delightful book for Christmas, and I have greatly enjoyed it. The authoress subtitles this book "An Anecdotal History of Elegant Delights" and points out that "exquisite" comes from the Latin verb exquirere, to search out, or to seek, or as the OED explains it, "It means uncommon delicacies, carefully selected, and the kind of beauty that can excite intense delight or admiration." Basically this is a trivia book but a very interesting and well-researched trivia book.

The subject
Rae Ganci Hammers
Jan 25, 2012 Rae Ganci Hammers rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Jessica Kerwin Jenkins' ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE EXQUISITE is a beautifully designed and well-researched book of diversions. Not meant to be read cover-to-cover, but rather, to be thumbed through when one is struck with ennui, boredom, or the occasional spark of curiosity.

Some critics will surely say, "She left out this!" or, "Why in the world would she include that!?" But I think Jenkins has curated a delightful assortment of historical anecdotes and trivia that span the globe and reach as far back
Feb 07, 2013 Nomad rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I recieved many miscellany books such as this recently and can't really figure out where to put them on my shelves, so for the time being... we're going to call them history. Whimsical history yes, but history nevertheless.

Alright, so this was an absolute treat. I honestly believe that it is impossible to be in a bad mood when you put this book down. It's that infectious and happy a kind of a book. Recently I started reading romance genre books a bit and it lead me to these sorts of books. The w
Aug 11, 2012 Violet rated it it was amazing
If you love fun, bizarre historical facts, this is the book for you. It has brief entries about things throughout history that were created for beauty's sake. Some are small things like origami, some are entire buildings or magical gardens. Particularly interesting are the stories about chopines and the art of hot air ballooning. This is a great bedside reader since you can pick it up and read a single entry without a big investment in time. A most enjoyable read!
Dec 26, 2011 Treasure rated it it was amazing
Shelves: grown-up-books
An excellent gift book, this reference guide covers the history and use of lovely things, such as champagne, bubble baths, red lipstick, and badminton, with fun anecdotes and occasionally salacious details. Easy to pick up and put down, flip through, or settle into, this is ideal for a secret santa, coworker, or gift for a woman (or sensitive man) when you have no idea what to get them. Must be read under a cozy blanket with a cup of tea.
Jun 03, 2011 Bronwyn rated it really liked it
This was a treasure trove of wonderful things, ranging from the well-known to the obscure. Some entries, such as the essays corresponding to 'Tempest' and 'Solteties' left me breathless with delight and aching to learn more.

I greatly enjoyed the read and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in history.
Sep 16, 2011 Annie rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book! A wonderful, inspiring, elegantly-written little tome of information. I loved that I could read a few chapters, put it down, and then pick it up again to be inspired anew by something I'd never heard of before.

I am definitely keeping this as a reference book, and also giving it to friends!
The perfect book to accompany a cup of tea and a cozy chair. The format makes it easy to dip in and out of, but I ended up reading it more or less all the way through in order because each entry is so interesting that you just want to keep reading.
May 22, 2016 Sherri rated it liked it
Clever idea with lots of fun, if not useless facts. Just went on a little long. It might be best as a coffee table sort of book rather just sitting down and reading.
Wendy Darling
This is what you might call a "fancy side table" book. Not a big book full of photographs that would be displayed boldly out in the open like a coffee table book, but one that you might discreetly tuck into a corner where it might be glimpsed and discovered by passers-by. It essentially serves the same purpose, however, to give casual acquaintances the idea that you have some modicum of style or curiosity about the world around you.

The book is smallish in size, has a beautiful cover, and is nic
Thanks to Alison for mentioning this at book club -- it's lovely. Subtitled "An Anecdotal History of Elegant Delights," the author's introduction talks about her years writing for a slick magazine.

"While those years taught me to recognize beauty of all kinds, to respect it, and to allow myself the time to ponder the exquisite, by contrast, this book is an ode to life's many luxuries that don't require much spending. It's about how knowing the royal lineage of a common Bartlett pear or the origi
May 21, 2015 Donna rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating book. When I picked it up, I equated "exquisite" with "beautiful." It's that and so much more. Each entry is packed full of interesting facts and for me, anyway, it explained some of those everyday things that I never knew where they originated. The word "hello," for instance, has quite a history and the quadrille naturaliste, a wild, uninhibited, scandalous (and very popular) dance morphed into the can can. Did you know Thomas Jefferson coined the term pell mell to differ ...more
Jun 05, 2016 Tabor added it
Whimsical and a delightful anecdotal encyclopedia. This book is ideal for anyone seeking a brief introductory to the pleasurable/finer things in life, which have been enjoyed throughout history.

I was particularly fond of how the author focused on a handful of instances to illustrate the delight and often the most outlandish. The only issue with this approach is the delight could seem insignificant. Such was the case of love letters, where Catherine the Great was used as the sole example. For th
Debby  Debryana
May 28, 2016 Debby Debryana rated it it was amazing
This book shows me various trivia of things that I haven't heard before (such as the pillowbook of sei shonagon and the history of bon chrétien pear) or take for granted (such as omelet and the word 'yes'). I like how the author shows me through her writings that even the simplest things in our life can be appreciated as an exquisite thing. For those who are curious about the world or looking for inspiration, I guess this book will be perfect for you. Reading this book surely is a delightful exp ...more
May 17, 2013 Bobbi rated it liked it
Like most personal compilations of encyclopedias this has it's moments of good and bad.
The entry on white paint, for instance, isn't so much on white paint as it's on the interior decorator who stripped away Victorian chintz for our more modern decorating is pretty good sample of what the book is about.

This made a great bathroom book. It took a while, but it was fun to dip into the short entries every so often.
Rebecca Huston
Mar 12, 2011 Rebecca Huston rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It's hard to define this book beyond that it's a collection of things. And nonfiction, mostly. Very light, rather fluffy, but fun to read through; it's the sort of book to dip into now and then, rather than just read through in a sitting or two.

For the longer review, please go here:
Feb 15, 2016 Denise rated it liked it
I am very fond of "cabinet of curiosities" style books, of which this is one, but I feel though this book is in some very desperate need of pictures. I found myself time and time again having to go to Wikipedia to see things that had been described to me, which was annoying.

However, the extensive bibliography at the end is a refreshing inclusion in a non-academic book such as this, and much appreciated.
Sep 25, 2012 Jessie rated it it was ok
This is a great "coffee table" read but I scored it low due to lack of photos for entries that would have benefited from it. For example, the book has an entry about the infamous beauty of Countess de Castiglione and talks about several portraits so I had to stop reading and google her (for the record, she's beautiful). Since some entries got illustrations, I would have preferred more of them in the book.
Jun 03, 2015 Liz rated it liked it
I'm really into words and learning the provenance and history behind a lot of our common (and not-so-common) vocabulary was really interesting to me. However, I wasn't too keen on the skimming--I want to know more! Give me more in-depth history about these words! It just felt very superficial and the researcher I. Me was not satisfied by all the explanations.

Also, there are no Zs. The rest of the alphabet is present (ending with a single Y), so why not Z? I dunno, but that really bothered me.
Feb 09, 2011 Dina rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2011
A fascinating potpourri of tidbits about the things that make the author like it here on earth. The entries vary in topic from the frivolous to more serious matters, but all are well presented with plenty of interesting facts to consider. I especially enjoyed reading about the music of crickets, the development and use of fireworks, and the origin of the word "hello." Fun to browse and dip into the entries of most interest to you.
Thomas Stama
Oct 04, 2014 Thomas Stama rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating book of helter skelter subjects.

One entry was about two gardening experts from the end of the 19th century.

The most precious is the entry on the word Enthusiasm. It comes from the ancient Greek ethousiasmos - literally "having God in us"! It had a negative meaning as in fanatic in the 17th thru 18th century and was referencing a religious fanatic.
Mila Rossi
Mar 11, 2016 Mila Rossi rated it it was amazing
I love books that provide snippets on information about the most random things. Feels like it prepares me for the Jeopardy session I'll never partake in. This is one of the many such books I own. If you like learning bits of information that most likely you won't remember again a week later, then this is for you.
Sep 05, 2014 Stephen rated it really liked it
Wildly diverting, I liked this book very much. It made me long for a life of luxury I probably wouldn't appreciate if I had. Some of my favorite entries: Crickets, Far Niente, Mouches, pouf, and Quintessence. there were only a few, like Gloves, and Talk, I had less enthusiasm for. An added bonus is that I found this book for free in a pile of junk, and it's signed by the author!
Erin Tuzuner
I want to buy several copies of this and give them to people I love who live faraway. That is hardly an endorsement, per se, but really, this is an excellent compendium of underrated history and salacious historical tidbits. There are recipes, anecedotes, and history. I loved it. I need it. I need to give it to others.
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Jessica Kerwin Jenkins began her career in New York writing for Women's Wear Daily and for W magazine, later moving to Paris, where she was W's European editor. She lived in Montmartre, but assignments took her all over Europe, and beyond, from Madrid to Copenhagen to Athens to Venice to Ibiza to Tallin, visiting villas, palazzos, chateaux, and haciendas. She once dined in the Tower of London and ...more
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