How beautiful!

Born in Catalonia in 1904, Salvador Dali’s artworks are known the world over thanks in no small part to their surreal, dreamlike nature, his iconic paintings filled with optical illusions, distorted scenery, melting objects, and sexual imagery. This, coupled with a flamboyant persona that itself was somewhat a work of art, have cemented his place

Am I really writing it at all?

Author Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888, and to this day remains one of the greats in the world of crime fiction thanks to his creation of Philip Marlowe, the hardboiled detective who stars in many of his stories: The Big Sleep (1939), Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1942), The Lady

Better Letters of Note

Dear all, It gives me untold amounts of pleasure to announce that the Letters of Note website has been given its first facelift since I naively launched it in 2009 using a bog-standard Blogger template. I would like to thank, profusely but from a very safe distance, the patient team of wizards over at Automattic

It is only a matter of time

On September 12th of 2011, the New York Times published an article by Dr. Abigail Zuger in which she criticised certain supposedly unrealistic aspects of Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s recently released and widely lauded thriller in which a deadly pandemic sweeps the globe. In response, a week later the following letter reached the newspaper, penned by the movie’s screenwriter, Scott Burns, and

Letters in Need

Hello, I’m feeling pretty helpless at the moment, as I’m sure you are too. I’m especially worried about the countless people–many elderly and vulnerable–who now find themselves isolated in their homes, alone, unable to see friends and family, some facing months with very little human contact, if any at all. At the risk of furthering

God be with you

On September 29th, 1918, months before the end of World War I, a freshly assigned physician at Camp Devens military base in Massachusetts wrote the following letter to a friend and fellow doctor, and described a terrifying influenza epidemic that was now killing hundreds of his camp’s soldiers each day. The death toll in this

How the hell have you done it?

On April 18th of 1961, it was announced that iconic Hollywood star Gary Cooper was dying of cancer after a glittering 36 year career that saw him amass countless fans, plaudits, and awards across the globe. Weeks after that news broke, and just days before he died, Cooper received the following fan letter from Kirk Douglas,

There is no danger down here

On October 31st, 1918, as the First World War neared its end, celebrated war poet and officer of the Second Manchesters Wilfred Owen wrote home to his mother. Sadly, this would be his last letter. Four days later–exactly a century ago–Owen was shot dead as he led his company across the Sambre–Oise Canal. His mother

It’s the trip of a lifetime

In the early hours of July 21st, 1969, shortly after the Apollo Lunar Module landed on its surface, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to step foot on the Moon. 28 years later, Buzz wrote a letter to Barry Goldman, a professor at the University of Maryland. Transcript follows. (Many thanks to

It’s up to you now

In 1983, at the end of an amazing career during which she was nominated for a then-record breaking ten Academy Awards for acting, two of which she won, Hollywood actress Bette Davis was diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgery followed, as did a number of strokes which left her partially paralysed. Then, in 1985, her daughter,

Diversity guarantees our cultural survival

In November of 1993, a week after the death of celebrated Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, the New York Times published an article by Bruce Weber in which he made clear his impatience with the supposedly opaque, perplexing movies of directors like Fellini. One person who read the piece was Martin Scorsese–he responded by letter. (Source: New

We all wish for peace

In 1960, George Whitman, owner of the world-famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, wrote the following letter to Anne Frank, the young girl whose diaries have been read the world over since her death in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. The letter is still on display in Whitman’s store. (Photo: Anne Frank in

Merry Christmas

Dear All, It gives me great pleasure to announce that 2016–an unrelentingly gruesome year in many respects–is almost behind us. This website has been quiet for some of the year due to other commitments but shall spring back to life in the new year–enormous thanks to the millions who have continued to visit and enjoy

Tell him about his father

Above: Luz Long and Jesse Owens To win four gold medals at a single Olympic Games is astonishing enough; however, to do so as a black person in 1936, at a tense Olympic Games hosted by Adolf Hitler, is almost beyond belief. Yet Jesse Owens did exactly that, somehow managing to ignore talk of Aryan

Farewell, my dear brother

On October 15th of 1944, with support from Nazi Germany, the far-right Arrow Cross Party took control of Hungary and immediately began to kill large numbers of Jewish citizens. Thousands more were deported to Auschwitz. The following farewell letter was written the next day by 17-year-old Budapest resident Pinchas Eisner to his brother, Mordechai, who at

The Elephant Man

In December of 1886, the chairman of London Hospital, Francis Carr-Gomm, wrote to The Times newspaper and told of a disfigured 27-year-old man whose appearance was so “terrible” that he was reduced to living in a small, isolated attic room at the hospital, hidden from view. Carr-Gomm was in fact describing Joseph Merrick—”The Elephant Man”—a

Dear Friend

In 1950, English actress Hermione Gingold appeared on stage in London alongside Hermione Baddeley in Fallen Angels, a Noël Coward comedy in which–controversially at the time–the two female leads contemplate adultery. Gingold soon received a threatening letter from a disgusted member of the public. With no address at which to aim a reply, Gingold instead

Letters of Note – Portable Edition

Dear All, It will soon, in October, be three years since the first volume of Letters of Note was published. Three long, surreal years. This was my first book, and making it very nearly broke me into the tiniest of smouldering pieces. My wife, too. And my editor. Oh, and my publisher. Maybe some of

This appalling horror

Florence Nightingale’s influence in the world of nursing is impossible to quantify. Born in 1820 to a wealthy family, she knew from a young age that caring for the sick and vulnerable was her calling in life, much to the disapproval of her parents. Little did they know, but their daughter would one day become

What do you take me for?

Sitting behind a sheet of glass at the British Museum in London, inscribed on a clay tablet in an ancient script known as cuneiform, is solid proof of two things: firstly, that poor customer service–an affliction that somehow feels like a modern phenomenon–has actually been a plague on societies for at least 3775 long years,

You are the best author in human history

In 2013, a then-9-year-old boy named Joshua wrote to his hero, Alan Moore, the genius responsible for writing such classics as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Joshua’s father recently told me by email: “Whilst my sons were at primary school they both did an exercise in English where they wrote letters

A man has to BE something

The inimitable Hunter S. Thompson was just 20 years of age and still in the U.S. Air Force when, in April of 1958, he wrote this profoundly wise letter to his friend Hume Logan in response to a request for life advice. It would be another ten years until Thompson’s own career gathered pace, due

Who is this kid?

In 1974, five years after directing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, George Roy Hill was awarded a Best Director Oscar for his work on The Sting, a heist film that starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Later that year, Hill received the following letter, written by a 17-year-old aspiring actor whose name may sound

The most astonishing thing

In 1670, Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans, granddaughter of Henry IV, stunned the masses by falling in love not with a king but with Antoine Nompar de Caumont, duc de Lauzun, a relatively lowly member of society known widely for his “unique” looks. One person who found the news particularly amusing was Madame de Sévigné, who

The mingled souls of wheat and corn

In 1887, American lawyer and famed orator Robert G. Ingersoll sent to his future son-in-law, Walston, a bottle of the finest whiskey and a letter, reprinted below, in which he poetically sang its praises. The alcohol was enjoyed, but not as much as the letter, which was so loved that it soon circulated amongst family,

Prayers for Rain

Photo © IWM (MH 26392) In 1919, with the UK suffering at the hands of a severe drought, the Duke of Rutland wrote a letter to The Times in which he urged the general public to pray for rain, en masse. Upon hearing the news, then-Secretary of War Winston Churchill composed this satirical reply. Churchill’s

All for a good cause

Battle of the Somme. Supporting troops moving up to the attack, 25th Sept 1916. © IWM (Q 1308) Exactly 100 years ago, on July 1st, 1916, British and French soldiers advanced on German troops in northern France, thus beginning the Battle of the Somme, a particularly devastating 5-month period of World War I during which

Like a tree in full bearing

Born 200 years ago today, Charlotte Brontë was the eldest of the Brontë sisters, three siblings whose novels–Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Halls, to name but three–are now considered classics. In 1848, Emily died from tuberculosis; she was just 30 years old. A few days after her death, Charlotte

I hope you don’t feel too disappointed

One would imagine that Eric Idle, one-sixth of beloved comedy troupe Monty Python, and John Major, Prime Minister of the UK from 1990 to 1996, have nothing in common – but you would be wrong, for both Idle and Major were born on the same day: March 29th, 1943. In 1993, as their 50th birthdays

The Galilean moons

According to the great Stephen Hawking, Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei was, more than any other person, “responsible for the birth of modern science.” In 1609, having seen details of a very early telescope that had been constructed in the Netherlands, Galileo designed and built his own, superior version that boasted far better magnification,

Every ounce of my energy

Bertrand Russell, one of the great intellectuals of his generation, was known by most as the founder of analytic philosophy, but he was actually a man of many talents: a pioneering mathematician, an accomplished logician, a tireless activist, a respected historian, and a Nobel Prize-winning writer, to name but a handful. When he wrote this

Dear Orwell

George Orwell and T. S. Eliot – Photos via Wikipedia In June of 1944, a V-1 flying bomb fell on Mortimer Crescent just outside the London home of George Orwell, his wife, Eileen, and their adopted 3-week-old son, Richard, all of whom were thankfully away that evening. On returning the next day to survey the extensive damage,

Merry Christmas!

Dear All, That’s another year gone. As always, heartfelt thanks to everyone who has visited this website, made the Letters of Note and More Letters of Note books possible, and bought tickets to the amazing Letters Live. 2016 looks set to be even busier on all fronts and I’m itching to get started. In the meantime,

I drank too much wine last night

Since her death in 1817, Jane Austen’s anonymously penned novels – Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma, to name but three – have become required reading in many circles and are now held aloft as classics. She was also a prolific and observant writer of frank letters that rarely failed to entertain; however,

This wretched comedy as a man!

In 1930, with support from her wife and fellow artist Gerda Gottlieb, a 47-year-old Danish transgender artist named Lili Elvenes – born Einar Wegener – travelled to Germany to undergo one of the very first examples of sex reassignment surgery. She had identified as a woman for some time and sought to transition fully by

With many good wishes for our house

In January of 1933, as he toured the US giving lectures, influential German-Jewish author Lion Feuchtwanger received word that Adolf Hitler, a man whose beliefs he had been publicly lambasting for the past decade, had risen to power back in Germany, his home and place of birth. To return now would be suicide for both

Every writer has his own voice

V.S. Naipaul in 2007 (Photo: Georgia Popplewell @ Flickr) Copy-editors are an essential cog in the wheel of publishing and a world without them would be an unkempt one, its verbose books peppered with redundant hyphens, needless repetition, misplaced semicolons, dangling participles, needless repetition and factual inaccuracies. Despite this, their relationship with the author can

Along with this letter comes a play

Born in Salford in 1938, Shelagh Delaney was just 18 years old and new to the world of theatre when she began to write A Taste of Honey, the play for which she is now widely known. In the blink of an eye she was the talk of the industry: by 1958, the play had

New Fangled Writing Machine

Few authors have made an impact as enduring as literary icon Samuel Clemens, a man who, under his pen name, Mark Twain, wrote such classics as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a book which has been read by many millions of people around the world since its publication in 1884. It was ten years earlier, whilst

I would like to give you your own history

Juan Gelman kisses his granddaughter Macarena Gelman on March 21, 2012. Photo: MIGUEL ROJO/AFP/Getty Images In 1976, shortly after a coup that saw the President of Argentina, Isabel Martínez de Perón, replaced by a military dictatorship, the life of celebrated Argentine poet Juan Gelman darkened immeasurably when his son and daughter-in-law—Marcelo, 20, and Maria Claudia,

Do not remain nameless to yourself

Above: Richard Feynman in 1984 In 1966, nine years after gaining his Ph.D. with a dissertation titled The Self-Energy of the Scalar Nucleon, physicist Koichi Mano wrote a congratulatory letter to Richard Feynman, the man who had originally taught him at the California Institute of Technology and, more recently, joint-recipient of the Nobel Prize in

The Parakeet Has a Goiter

Remington Steele the parakeet is prepared for surgery at the Animal Medical Center, NYC. The dreaded rejection letter is, more often than not, an entirely miserable experience for all concerned. To receive one is to instantly and all at once have one’s hopes dashed, confidence thinned, and mood dampened; to send the same is to

Gentlemen, I just don’t belong here

In 1987, multi-award winning author Ursula K. Le Guin was asked to supply a blurb for Synergy: New Science Fiction, Volume 1, the first in a new four-part series of anthologies edited by George Zebrowski which intended to showcase science fiction stories from authors both established and up-and-coming. For Ursula K. Le Guin, however, the

I see no beauty in lopsided true love

Above: Elizabth Smart, c.1930 Elizabeth Smart was in her 20s when she first met and fell for fellow poet George Barker; despite his already being married, by 1941 she was pregnant with the first of their four children. Smart and Barker’s unorthodox relationship was a famously rocky affair due in no small part to their

The most extraordinary scenes

Above: British and German troops meet during the truce On Christmas Eve of 1914, five months into World War I, something amazing happened: thousands of British and German troops on the Western Front decided to put down their weapons, rise from the trenches, and greet each other peacefully. In fact, for the next few days,

Give women the vote

It wasn’t until the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act in 1928 that women in the UK were finally given the same voting rights as men. Campaigners had been pushing for such a development for decades, however, progress had been far too slow for some. In 1903, a small group of frustrated activists, headed

A nightmare continued into broad daylight

In September of 1857, James Russell Lowell, then editor of the newly-launched Atlantic Monthly, approached Henry David Thoreau and asked him to write for the publication. Although reluctant at first, some months later Thoreau submitted Chesuncook, a written account of his 1853 trip to Maine that was to be published in the magazine in three parts.

More Letters of Note

“[A] wonderful treasure trove of a book […] Is there anyone who wouldn’t find something in these letters to delight or surprise or astonish them, to make them gasp, or laugh, or cry?– MAIL ON SUNDAY “This follow-up volume, delivered in the same beautifully designed format, is engaging, eclectic, geekily and gleefully enthusiastic — and

Is it a disgrace to be Born a Chinese?

In September of 1884, San Francisco residents Joseph and Mary Tape did something seemingly quite ordinary: they attempted to enroll their 8-year-old daughter, Mamie, at Spring Valley School, a local school also to be attended by Mamie’s friends. However, this was 1884, and although born in the U.S., Mamie was of Chinese descent and the

A Most Important Discovery

On March 19th of 1953, weeks before it was announced to the public, scientist Francis Crick excitedly wrote a letter to his son and told him of one of the most important scientific developments of modern times: his co-discovery of the “beautiful” structure of DNA, the molecule responsible for carrying the genetic instructions of living

Do

In 1960, pioneering American artists Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse met for the first time and instantly clicked, quickly forming a strong, deep bond that would last for ten years and result in countless inspirational discussions and rich exchanges of ideas. Indeed, they remained incredibly close friends until May of 1970, at which point Hesse,

Book!

Hello! The Lists of Note book is out today and can now be found in shops across the UK. I’m VERY excited. A few things: 1. The special edition can still be purchased via Unbound. 2. Waterstones have chosen it as their ‘Non-Fiction Book of the Month‘ across the land. Hooray! 3. An extract of

Hello!

Dear All, Hi! It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ve just returned from a much-needed holiday that seemed to finish before we’d unpacked–quick as a flash; however, the main reason for my recent silence can be seen above. The Lists of Note book. I finally got my hands on a copy yesterday and it’s

Dear USA

Dear USA, Today is very exciting, for me at least, for one particular reason: the beautiful US edition of Letters of Note is released at long last, which means that you can finally get your hands on a copy in all sensible American book shops, or by ordering one online. I’m very, very proud of

The US, Lists, and LETTERS LIVE

Dear All, A few things: 1. The US edition of the Letters of Note book will be published, at long last, on May 6th by Chronicle Books. I received an advance copy yesterday—see photo above—and I can tell you, it’s stunning. More pictures and details can be found here.  2. Lists of Note, the follow-up

We will be millionaires before long

In 1914, Charlie Chaplin was on the cusp of superstardom. In February, he made his big-screen debut in Making a Living; two months later, his directorial debut, Twenty Minutes of Love, was also released. That year alone, he starred in 36 films for Keystone Studios, 19 of which he wrote and directed, and audiences were

The Lists of Note Book

Dear All, With your help, the Letters of Note book is soon to have a sister called Lists of Note—something I’ve been itching to bring to life for almost as long as Letters of Note has been an obsession, and which I have been busy researching for two years, writing for many months. Just as Letters

Darling old father

In December of 1882, while visiting Paris, distinguished psychologist William James received word that his father‘s ill-health had further deteriorated at the family home in the US. Almost immediately he travelled to England in a bid to return home, only to find that his brother, Henry, had already left his London home for New York.

Best of 2013

2013 is nearly over. And what a year it has been. The beautiful Letters of Note book, stockists of which can be found here, is finally finished and has been receiving amazing reviews from all corners—just this week it was also named ‘Book of the Year’ by Big Issue; and on December 10th, a hugely

Our lives have been ruined

On May 28th, 1934, in Corbeil, Ontario, five girls were born two months prematurely to Elzire and Oliva Dionne, a couple who already had five children and little money to speak of. The new arrivals became the first identical quintuplets known to survive more than a few days; media interest was intense. Four months later,

I see you, my beauty boy

For two months in 1974, as Richard Burton filmed his part in The Klansman, he and his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, moved to California with Cassius, just one of Taylor’s many beloved cats. Sadly, the trip confused Cassius somewhat and he soon went missing, never to return. Taylor wrote the following letter some time after his disappearance.

LETTERS LIVE

CLICK HERE FOR LETTERS LIVE TICKETS LETTERS LIVE returns to London for its most ambitious season yet, with Benedict Cumberbatch & Louise Brealey in starring roles. Five unique shows at London’s Freemasons’ Hall (Covent Garden), from Tuesday 31st March until Saturday 4th April. Following its great successes in 2013 and 2014, LETTERS LIVE present its

The Book

Dear All, After what seems like decades, the GORGEOUS Letters of Note book will be available to buy in all sensible UK shops this Thursday (24th)—info and photos here. Those who ordered the special edition via Unbound: as mentioned in the email you hopefully received the other week, yours will arrive on your doorsteps mid-November

I’ll rap your head with a ratchet

Although they only existed for a mere 7 years and released just 3 albums, Nirvana were a band of immeasurable influence in the music world thanks in no small part to Smells Like Teen Spirit, a single track on Nevermind, their second album. It was this song that brought them out into the open, going

Take your pick

In 1984, iconic advertising executive and real-life Mad Man David Ogilvy received a letter from his 18-year-old great nephew, Harry. Having just finished school, Harry was now faced with the common dilemma of whether to go to university or jump straight into full-time work, and so asked his highly respected relative for some wisdom on

Arkell v. Pressdram

“Messrs Jeffrey Benson and Michael Isaacs of Tracing Services Ltd, currently on bail on charges of conspiracy to create a public mischief, appear to have lost most of the work collecting debts and tracing absconders for the Granada group, to the considerable regret of Mr James Arkell, Granada’s retail credit manager. Ever since last June,

Let us blaze new trails

Bill Bernbach was one of the original Mad Men. A real-life Don Draper. One of the greats. In May of 1947, at which point he was 35 years of age and Creative Director at Grey Advertising on Fifth Avenue, he noticed a worrying development: as the agency grew in size, they were in danger of

“GAY CONVERSION WEEK”

In May of 1975, then-Los Angeles Police Chief Edward Davis was invited to participate in the LA Pride parade — an annual celebration of the LGBT community which first took place in 1970 — by the event’s organisers, Christopher Street West. Davis responded with the following letter. LA Pride continues to this day. 2013’s three day

I don’t know how to write this letter

In 1968, shortly after finishing 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick began work on what he would later predict to be “the best movie ever made” — a meticulously researched, large-scale biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte. A 1969 draft of his screenplay, which he later discarded, can be read here. A few years later, after adapting Anthony

Have you enjoyed embracing men?

In 1961, four years after losing his job as a U. S. Army astronomer on account of his homosexuality, 36-year-old Frank Kameny saw his latest appeal against the dismissal rejected by the Supreme Court. However, the decision only strengthened his commitment to the wider cause: Kameny went on to become a major figure in the

Thine in the bonds of womanhood

In the 1820s, having grown up on her father’s plantation amongst dozens of slaves — many of whom she had befriended and educated — Sarah Grimké began to tour the Northern United States giving anti-slavery lectures to all who would listen. She was joined by her sister some years later, by which time the talks also covered

Best of 2012

Happy New Year! 2012 has been an incredible year for Letters of Note, with over 30 million visits to its 900+ letters. Of those featured in the past 12 months, the 15 most-read are as follows, beginning with the most popular: 1. To My Old Master A stunning letter from an ex-slave to his former

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Day beneath London during WWII, via The Atlantic (Larger) It’s time to sign-off for Christmas. To those who enjoy this time of year, I wish you all a wonderful, festive, laughter-filled holiday; to those who don’t, I just hope it’s painless and fast-moving for you. Huge thanks to everyone who has continued to visit

America is like that second kind of Christmas

In November of 1959, as a shocked American public were hit with the news that a number of their favourite quiz shows had in fact been rigged for some time, author John Steinbeck wrote the following letter to his friend, politician Adlai Stevenson, and spoke of his concern at such a morally bankrupt turn of

Keep the faith

I can offer very little in the way of context when it comes to the following letter, however I’m not sure much is needed. What I do know is that it was written in the late-1960s by Frank Sinatra, and given to his daughter, Nancy. Transcript follows. (Source: Frank Sinatra: An American Legend, via Jeremy; Image:

Creditors are tough in Ethiopia

I’m currently reading an old book about “collection letters” — yes, I am committed — and thought I’d share a couple that were sent to late-paying subscribers of TIME magazine in the 1930s. They were, I understand, in circulation concurrently alongside other examples, and different letters were sent according to each subscriber’s situation. I have

Hardcase Survival Pinto Bean Sludge

In 1973, whilst compiling the book, “John Keats’s Porridge: Favorite Recipes of American Poets,” Victoria McCabe asked the author and poet Edward Abbey to contribute his favourite recipe to the project. Thankfully, he agreed, and soon responded with the following — a recipe for “Hardcase Survival Pinto Bean Sludge,” a potful of which could “feed one poet for two full

Here the roads seem to fork

As well as being one of the most popular American humourists of the 19th Century and founder of the Laramie Boomerang, Edgar Wilson “Bill” Nye was at one point the proud Postmaster of Laramie City. Unfortunately, in 1883, three years before his contract was due to expire, an attack of meningitis forced him to leave his

The Vision of Sin

In the 1840s, shortly after reading Alfred Tennyson‘s poem, “The Vision of Sin,” mathematician and “father of the computer,” Charles Babbage, wrote the following letter to the poet and suggested an alteration in the name of accuracy. For a modern day equivalent, see Simon Singh’s take on Katie Melua’s song, Nine Million Bicycles. (Source: The

First you have to kick my arse

In November of 1987, shortly after the release of Sting‘s second solo album, …Nothing Like The Sun, a scathing article about the musician (titled, “Bring Me the Head of Gordon Sumner”; reprinted here) was published in The Village Voice, written unflinchingly by critic Howard Hampton. In it, Hampton described Sting’s latest music as, amongst many other things, “perfumed gunk,” compared

A vampire in striped pajamas

In April of 1994, after being shown a copy of the publication’s Turkish edition, legendary Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown wrote the following amusingly despairing letter to its editor, Elif Dagistanli. The two ladies never did meet at the conference — soon after the letter reached Turkey, Dagistanli was relieved of her job. (Source: Dear Pussycat; Image:

I am in a state of shock

In 1961, a professor of English wrote to author Flannery O’Connor and asked her, on behalf of his students, to explain “A Good Man is Hard to Find” — a short story of hers that his class had recently been studying, and for which they were struggling to find an acceptable interpretation. He wrote, in part:

Dear All

A few days ago I came to the conclusion that far too few of the letters on this website are written by women.  A quick look at the all-time most popular posts, over there, on the right, illustrates the point perfectly: of the 32 listed, just one of them — this beautiful one, by Laura

We have listened long enough to the pessimists

In March of 1906, unable to preside over a public meeting of the Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind, deafblind activist and author Helen Keller instead sent the following stirring letter to her good friend, Mark Twain. On the day of the event, Twain, who was chairing the meeting in Keller’s absence, read her

If I’m not a writer then I’m nothing

In October of 1949, while working in public relations at General Electric, 27-year-old aspiring writer Kurt Vonnegut sold his first story to Collier’s; just over a year later, he quit said job and began life as a freelance writer. The following two letters, both from Vonnegut, offer an intriguing glimpse into his mind during that period

‘Music is ‘life it’self

In 1967, jazz legend Louis Armstrong wrote this generous, heartfelt letter to a fan who, as a Marine stationed in Vietnam, had recently sent him some fan-mail. You wouldn’t think they were strangers, as Armstrong’s favourite laxative, “Swiss Kriss,” is amusingly mentioned in the first paragraph (and in closing); he then goes on to reminisce about

All of my friends were on the shelves above

Ray Bradbury was an outspoken supporter of libraries throughout his career, and the following letter to the assistant director of Fayetteville Public Library — in which he explains the race to write the novella upon which Fahrenheit 451 was eventually based — perfectly illustrates why. The letter was written in 2006 in response to a city-wide “Big Read,” in which Bradbury’s classic novel was

Mrs. Sinclair Lewis to you

In 1930, after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, author Sinclair Lewis began to receive a steady stream of fan mail, from all corners. One woman in particular wrote and offered to become his secretary, adding, “I’ll do everything for you—and when I say everything I mean everything.” The following brief letter was sent to

The Skills of Leonardo da Vinci

In the early 1480s, many years before he painted the world-famous pieces for which he is now best known—the Mona Lisa being just one—Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci sought a job at the court of Ludovico Sforza, the then de facto ruler of Milan. Fully aware that Sforza was looking to employ military engineers, Leonardo

The Empire State Building

Early-1932, after seeing a photograph in the New York Times of the great Helen Keller at the top of the newly-opened Empire State Building, Dr. John Finley wrote to her and asked what she really “saw” from that height. Keller — famously both deaf and blind from a very early age — responded with the incredible

Will you please have his place raided?

In September of 1931, with the sale of alcohol still banned in the U.S. due to prohibition, a frustrated housewife named Mrs. Hillyer wrote the following letter to the Seattle Bureau of Prohibition. Transcript follows. (Source: National Archives; Image above via.) Transcript Seattle, Wash.Sept. 22, 1931 Dear Sir: My husband is in the habit of

Deep sickness seized me

In October of 1819, 23-year-old schoolteacher Lucy Thurston and her husband, Asa, left their home in Massachusetts to become members of the first expedition of Christian missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands. Their efforts were welcomed, and for the rest of their lives they educated the locals, helped to build schools and churches, and even translated

The other guy just blinked

In April of 1985, in a misguided attempt to revitalise the brand, The Coca-Cola Company stunned millions by announcing their decision to change the formula of Coca-Cola. Almost as soon as “New Coke” was unveiled, the backlash began, and in fact the reaction was so negative that within three months the old formula had been

The Book of Letters of Note

Thanks to you lot, the Letters of Note book is now fully funded! It’s amazing news and means that — barring disaster — the book will be published in October of this year. All I need to do now is write it. Enormous thanks to everyone who got the project this far by either pledging or spreading

Like all frauds your end is approaching

In November of 1964, fearful of his connection to the Communist Party through Stanley Levison, the FBI anonymously sent Martin Luther King the following threatening letter, along with a cassette that contained allegedly incriminating audio recordings of King with women in various hotel rooms — the fruits of a 9 month surveillance project headed by William

Scratching the Back of the Hand that Feeds You

In December of 1958, advertising executive Leo Burnett — a hugely influential force in the industry who had a hand in creating, amongst many other things, the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, and Marlboro Man — sent the following memo to all staff within his agency, and reminded them of their unwritten duty to at least try

Lists of Note

Dear All, I’d like to introduce you to Lists of Note, a website I’ve just started which is — unsurprisingly, given its name — a blog dedicated to noteworthy lists. Whilst searching for letters over the past couple of years I’ve often come across fascinating lists, written by all manner of people for many different

Dear Mr. Vonnegut

In 1949, just a few years after surviving the bombing of Dresden as a POW, 27-year-old aspiring author Kurt Vonnegut submitted a written account of the event to The Atlantic Monthly for consideration, along with two other pieces. Below is the rejection letter he later received from the publication’s editor at the time, Edward Weeks.

When Einstein wrote to Gandhi

In 1931, Albert Einstein wrote the following short letter of admiration to another of the world’s greatest minds, Mohandas Gandhi. Despite their intentions, the pair never met in person. Einstein can also be heard speaking of Gandhi in the above clip — an excerpt from an interview recorded in 1950, two years after Gandhi’s death. Transcript

We were both asleep when the boat hit

On April 24th of 1912, 24-year-old John Snyder wrote the following letter to his father, Frank, and recalled the night of April 14th; an altogether tragic night that saw him and his wife, Nelle, escape the RMS Titanic following its collision with an iceberg, only to then witness the ship sink to the bottom of