Richard Parmentier is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Brandeis University. His studies in semiotic anthropology Signs in Society and Signs and Society discuss the subject the context of its “twin peaks” of Charles Sanders Peirce and Ferdinand de Saussure. I discovered Parmentier’s Amazon Listmania! lists many years ago–I believe they were linked off of a Hans Blumenberg book–and they were responsible for introducing me to a number of works of great scholarship.

Unfortunately, Amazon subsequently discontinued its Listmania! feature and deleted all lists that had ever been posted. This still dismays me. The internet does not cater to intellectual content and Amazon had, in its way, managed to cultivate a disorganized but incredibly worthwhile amount of organic intellectual work.

I archived Parmentier’s lists before they were taken down, and he has kindly permitted me to repost them here. I encourage people to delve into the lists and discover something new.

I have retained Parmentier’s introductory notes at the beginning of each list.

David Auerbach

1. Really Important Books

I keep a special selection of books close-to-hand in my study, not because they contain information I need to refer to on a regular basis but because each embodies a particular mode of argumentation that I find useful to keep in mind (and difficult to remember in detail). In the (hypothetical) event of having to abandon ship, I hope I would have time to grab at least these volumes.

Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt

Price: $100.00

7 used & new available from $26.05

Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity

Price: $33.95

30 used & new available from $17.16

Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World

Price: $28.00

43 used & new available from $1.40

Language in Literature (Belknap Press)

Price: $25.84

13 used & new available from

The King's Two Bodies

Price: $49.98

17 used & new available from $18.47

The Implications of Literacy

Price: $95.00

23 used & new available from $20.50

Categories of Medieval Culture

Price: $22.50

14 used & new available from

Archaic Roman Religion

Price: $94.95

5 used & new available from

History of Madness

Price: $35.66

38 used & new available from $19.95


2. Great Short Books

When challenged to present a substantive yet succinct account of their subject matter in less than 150 pages, a number of scholars have written remarkable short books. Some of these books were originally lecture series and, thus, maximize the clarity of presentation. Others represent syntheses or summaries of larger works of scholarship. And, in some cases, authors have expanded what was basically an article-length work into a tidy monograph. I don’t include in this list books that collect independent articles.

Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India

Price: $22.99

129 used & new available from $1.82

Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages

Price: $12.95

46 used & new available from $2.87

The Enigma of Piero: Piero Della Francesca

Price: $22.00

24 used & new available from $11.99

Race Matters

Price: $10.25

26 used & new available from

The Many Faces of Realism (Paul Carus Lectures)

Price: $24.60

29 used & new available from $6.50

The Origins of Greek Thought

Price: $19.90

50 used & new available from $3.98

Mental Illness and Psychology

Price: $50.00

11 used & new available from

An Introduction to Legal Reasoning (Phoenix Books)

Price: $22.00

94 used & new available from $0.35

Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism

Price: $40.95

9 used & new available from


3. Big Books

Here are some big books in my collection that cover the topic without the constraint of space. There is some comfort in knowing that one will not need to read another book on a topic for quite a while.

Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe

Price: $65.91

46 used & new available from $17.70

Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750

Price: $51.08

23 used & new available from $43.00

The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain

Price: $26.45

15 used & new available from

Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb

Price: $15.99

111 used & new available from $2.99

Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity

Price: $31.25

34 used & new available from $25.00

Malinowski: Odyssey of an Anthropologist, 1884–1920

Price: $24.90

29 used & new available from $9.67

Utopian Thought in the Western World (Belknap Press)

Price: $109.00

21 used & new available from $20.83

Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages

Price: $66.70

11 used & new available from


4. Risky Books

Here are a group of books that take risks, either in advancing an original hypothesis, charting a new direction for research, or proposing an innovative methodology. Not everyone will agree with these authors, but readers will be struck by their creativity and daring and will be envious of their ability to take a path less traveled by.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

Price: $12.60

56 used & new available from $10.00

Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

Price: $18.95

74 used & new available from $2.97

Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life

Price: $60.60

28 used & new available from $7.00

The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry

Price: $62.51

21 used & new available from $40.00

The Elementary Structures of Kinship

Price: $43.00

30 used & new available from $16.99

Appendix: Richard Parmentier’s Books

I add these for convenience. –DBA

Signs and Society: Further Studies in Semiotic Anthropology

Price: $33.59

19 used & new available from $29.60