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A Universal History of Iniquity

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3.96  ·  Rating details ·  6,663 ratings  ·  463 reviews
In his writing, Borges always combined high seriousness with a wicked sense of fun. Here he reveals his delight in re-creating (or making up) colorful stories from the Orient, the Islamic world, and the Wild West, as well as his horrified fascination with knife fights, political and personal betrayal, and bloodthirsty revenge. Sparkling with the sheer exuberant pleasure of ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published July 27th 2004 by Penguin Classics (first published 1935)
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Glenn Russell
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing


From his early years the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges lived among books and languages, classical literature from many civilizations and cultures: Chinese, Persian, Nordic, Spanish, to name several. His greatest childhood memory was his father's library; he was reading Shakespeare in English at age 11; by the time he was an adult, Borges turned his mind into one vast library. Therefore, it is a bit ironic this bookish man chose to write an entire collection of tales about men of sheer act
...more
Vit Babenco
Oct 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is literally impossible to overvalue Jorge Luis Borges’ influence on the modern intellectual literature – however much we think he did, he did even more.
Similar to sounds, skilfully combined by a composer into a harmonious sequence, turning them into melody, simple words, cunningly used by an artful author, become intellectual music.
The runaway expected his freedom. Lazarus Morell’s shadowy mulattoes would give out an order among themselves that was sometimes barely more than a nod of the hea
...more
Mike Puma
Apr 16, 2015 rated it really liked it

Briefly: A catalog, a biographical dictionary of vile people with a worldwide range, real and/or imagined (imagined, certainly, even the real). This owes a debt to Marcel Schwob’s Imaginary Lives and to which J. Rodolfo Wilcox owes a debt for having enabled The Temple of Iconoclasts (which I’ll now return to liking quite a lot), and more recently, providing premise for Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas (which I read first, bassackwards, I).

4 stars for a fun, creepy read, made more

...more
Cecily
"Reading... is an activity subsequent to writing - more resigned, more civil, more intellectual" (the closing words to the preface of the first edition).

I have the Complete Fictions (with copious translator's notes), but am splitting my review of that into its components, listed in publication order: Collected Fictions - all reviews. This is the first, published in 1935.

I had read several profound and passionate reviews by friends, and felt the building lure of Borges, aided by a growing awarene
...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye
"In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing."

Oscar Wilde


Exercises in Style

These stories are fascinating exercises in style.

They effectively document the development of Borges' style at a time when "he was a shy sort of man who could not bring himself to write short stories, and so amused himself by changing and distorting (sometimes without aesthetic justification) the stories of other men."

Matter of Fact

As Borges said in an earlier Preface, "the stories are
...more
Caro the Helmet Lady
My only problem with this book was that it was too short. :) This is the sort of book that makes you want to make further explorations. Widow Ching the Pirate is probably my next stop somewhere over there between my historical reads.
Marko
Feb 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Awww, my 1st Borges ^^ I remember the beauty, the confusion...just don't read it in your teenage years :D
M. Sarki
Apr 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was an enjoyable read and much better than some have mentioned in their criticisms. Borges' style is so natural and free. It is as if he is sitting there in front of you, relaxing, relating his story to our sharpening delight.
Steven Godin
This early selection of short-stories was revised by Borges in 1954 after an original release in 1935.
Most of these were published in singular form in the Buenos Aires newspaper Critica. The collection slots in nicely alongside most of his work. and features all the hallmarks you would come to expect from the Argentine master. Borges looks at notorious criminals from history as well as making things up as he goes along, so it's a classic example of fusing truths and imagination. Although there a
...more
Tomas Ramanauskas
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Borges is primarily a writer of concepts. And here he spreads them in short, short tales, which might be imagined completely or partly or simply remixed from some olden writings—with JLB you never know. Characters die and continue living in the same house, or pretend to be a missing son without having no resembling features. The stories are full of knives, deaths and somehow are fun to read.
Justin Evans
Mar 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I somehow managed to get a BA with a focus on comparative literature and continental philosophy and then a PhD with a focus on twentieth century literature without reading any Borges. How did that happen? Well, any time I tried to read South American 'magical realist' literature I broke out in hives of boredom, and I thought maybe Borges was to blame; in addition, I thought, and still think, that Borges might be responsible in part for recent developments in the anglo-american literature of conc ...more
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
May 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jayaprakash by: jayaprakash@gmail.com
Another re-read. Young Borges working his way toward fiction by playing with fact. Perfidious individuals from history and legend stride through the pages of this slim book, spreading death and fear across 4 continents before coming to, for the most part, sticky ends. A great preamble to a unique body of work, but don't let this be your first or only Borges.
Benjamin Chandler
Jun 15, 2009 rated it it was ok
I was actually pretty disappointed by this book. It's made of very short essays about some unkind people—knife-fighters, pirates, cultists—many of them figures from the footnotes of history books. Although I liked a lot of the ideas Borges presented in this book, I felt as though a lot of it fell flat. The best ideas are just mentioned in passing, and the longer passages seem to be made for the more mundane stuff. Perhaps it was the length of the pieces that prevented them from blossoming into s ...more
Shane
Mar 13, 2012 rated it liked it
I wondered why Borges had regurgitated, in his own interpretation, a rogues’ gallery of historic figures who had met the most inglorious ends. Was this fiction, practice for the fiction to come, or a commissioned set of synopses of these historic villains’ lives? Then I stumbled on a Wikipedia entry that explained that as part of his editorial work at the newspaper Crítica, Borges had written these pieces, some as a cross between non-fictional essays and short stories, and the others as literary ...more
Mariel
Aug 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Muy bueno. Definitivamente seguiré leyendo a Borges

Really good. I will definitely continue reading this author
Tanuj Solanki
According to Borges, the stories here were meant for nothing graver than light entertainment. But today their chief purpose may well be to provide access to the writer's early dabbling. And yes, there are numerous signs of what was to come. There are mirrors here, and recursive systems, and hoaxes, and some mind-boggling endings too.

Though the stories are straightforward, re-reading provides greater pleasures, as with all Borges. The trivia is that each story was written as contribution to a wee
...more
Simon
It is very interesting to read such a historically important writer in the evolution of world literature before he developed the signature style he is best known for today. Jorge Luis Borges is today best remembered as the grandfather of not just Latin American magical realism but also metafiction as we know it today, and while the stories found within "A Universal History of Iniquity" fit neither categorization there is a strong red thread running through them linking to those exact movements.

T
...more
MickthePaddy
Jul 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a gallery full of ROGUES (unusual suspects who are sourced in the index) populate this collection of stories; not hyper-detailed, but rather "zoomed-out" like the pointed recollections of a historian. i could read this over and over. utterly brilliant.

THE CRUEL REDEEMER LAZARUS MORELL - poor white southern trash con artist. mississippi/slavery.

THE IMPROBABLE IMPOSTER TOM CASTRO - weak entry. meh...

THE WIDOW CHING - PIRATE chaos on the yellow sea abates unexpectedly.

MONK EASTMAN, PURVEYOR OF INIQ
...more
Kiarash
The world we live in is a mistake, a clumsy parody. Mirrors and fatherhood, because they multiply and confirm the parody, are abominations. Revulsion is the cardinal virtue. Two ways (whose choice the Prophet left free) may lead us there: abstinence or the orgy, excess of the flesh or its denial.
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جملات بالا اقتباس خیالی بورخس بود از جهان بینی پیامبر نقاب پوش ایرانی و البته تا حدودی یادآور عقاید مانوی ها لااقل برای من.
از مجموعه های دیگه که از بورخس خونده بودم کمی ضعیف تر بود و خودش توی
...more
Chris Via
Mar 30, 2017 rated it liked it
By his own admission, Borges was an avid reader of encyclopedias and epics of every literate culture, and this passion infuses every page of his writing. Though not as striking as his later work, these early narratives give us the seeds of what would become an intoxicating mind.
Rand
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-loan
the people in this book are bad, however you slice it.
good mythos.
Nancy Oakes
I love love love this book, but then again it's Borges so no surprise there.

I'm on vacation but will catch up posting about it next week when I'm home.
Saiful Islam
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
A book of extraordinary variety. From Argentine knife men to False Arab prophets this book covers a lot of "bad egg"s. A truly distinct short story piece.
El Avestruz Liado
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Writing a long review seems an exercise of redundancy to me: there are already many reviews in english and any spanish speaking reader worth his salt already worships Borges (if not the case, just go and read him and stop reading reviews).

Suffice to say that this is his first work, a compendium of fictional criminal chronicle he did for a newspaper. It is entertaining, of course: that is the purpose of such newspaper sections. The great merit of these stories lies not the -quite generic- content
...more
Dan
Mar 11, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
A collection of short stories about some historic criminals, including a pirate, a gang leader, an impostor and a Wild West gunslinger. This is early Borges; moreover, it is Borges writing the factual, rather than the fantastic. However, in these stories one can see the emergence of some of Borges’s fictional techniques. In many passages, particularly those containing his catalogs, and those that include poetic as well as realistic details, Borges appears to be exploring those areas where the li ...more
Rise
Jul 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A catalog of bad persons and their wrongdoings. Entertaining and funny, and sometimes scary. There are many novels inside this encyclopedia novel. The tradition of writing down personal histories in compressed form (vignettes), popularized here by Borges, clearly extends to contemporary writers. Cases in point: Nazi Literature in the Americas and Written Lives. In these histories are multifaceted representations of multi-faced evil and vanity, potent even in small doses. ...more
Jim
Apr 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borges, literature, reread
This early book by Jorge Luis Borges is a pastiche of existing literary works on the subject of infamous behavior, including such perpetrators as Billy the Kid, Monk Eastman, and the Japanese Master of Etiquette who caused the suicide of the 47 Loyal Ronin. Added to Universal History of Infamy is an early story, "Streetcorner Man," together with other short pieces adapted from Swedenborg, the Arabian Nights, and Sir Richard F. Burton, among others. ...more
Peter
Borges gets namc checked a lot by the new weird writers I love. I've read him in the past, but mostly collected works. I decided to read some more of his work.

Well, I'm glad I've read more of him already, because this book didn't exactly exite me. This read more like dry summaries of potentially really interesting stories. Some of Borges dry wit and humour shines through, but for most of these described characters, the wikipedia pages already contain more interesting stuff.
The places were Borges
...more
Erik Graff
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Borges fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: literature
This appears to have been Borges' first book. Published in the thirties, it comprises seven biographies of the infamous, his first short story and a series of reworked tales, some from the 1001 and 1 Nights. The biographies are, all of them, delightfully Borgesian, dryly ironical. The story "Streetcorner Man" is rather amateurish. The retellings remind one of how old the fantastical traditions embodied in his later short stories really is.

Short, readable, I finished the whole of this slight work
...more
Claire H
What… what did I just read.

I don’t even…

Okay. I’m going to try to pull myself together and review this book. I’ll start by awarding it the ultimate “what did I just read” rating of three stars.

The first part of the book kind of makes sense to me as a nonfictional… erm… portfolio of fictional biographies? I guess? These feel like little character outlines you might create in the planning of a novel, and there are also some hints at interesting locations, and then later we have bits of plot - some
...more
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Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo, usually referred to as Jorge Luis Borges (Spanish pronunciation: [xoɾxe lwis boɾxes]), was an Argentine writer and poet born in Buenos Aires. In 1914, his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school and traveled to Spain. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in Surrealist literary journals. He also wo ...more

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