The Books That Changed The World at Ueno Royal Museum

Most book collections focus on the literary greats of their country: Epic poems, novels, and plays that exemplify the excellence of that culture and its people. I remember one time my brother musing about what science books would comprise a “scientific cannon,” a must-read list of books for the scientifically-minded. Well, the Kanazawa Institute of Technology leaned into that idea and put on display a collection of rare and important science books at the Ueno Royal Museum, free for all to see.

The Books That Changed The World

The idea is simple: Check out a collection of rare books that gather and display the evolution of knowledge in disciplines such as architecture, alchemy, chemistry, physics, aeronautics, and biology. My wife and I took a stop by to see what it was all about last weekend. First, you should know it’s 100% free, so if you’re worried about costs, you only have to pay to get yourself out there.

You first enter the wall of knowledge. It’s set up like a massive bookcase and works as a metaphor for entering the metaphorical forest of knowledge. It’s a bit conceptual, but this is where they housed the architecture books. The bookshelves themselves looked beautiful, but the lighting was less than optimal, making photography difficult (getting the right exposure proved too much for my poor phone). Which reminds me: Photography is OK an encouraged by the museum for this exhibit!

Hydrodynamica - Two Second Street -
Bernoulli’s Hydrodynamica

The forest of knowledge had more subjects divided into small paths you could follow along to see a piece of their evolution. I saw a few names I knew: translations of ancient Greeks, Descartes, Pythagoras, and Darwin. One I got pretty excited about was a book written by Bernoulli, the man behind Bernoulli’s Principle in fluid motion. It was one of the few things I remembered from AP Physics in high school, so I was pretty excited to see a more obscure name I recognized.

The Web of Knowledge

Hydrodynamica - Two Second Street -
A nice replica of the Sceptical Chymist you can play with at the museum!

After the books, they had an area where you could interact with faithful replications of classic works, such as the Sceptical Chymist and The Origin of Species. Once you thumb through those, you see what the museum was building towards: An art installation the visually represents the knowledge in all the books in the collection and how they all relate and inform one another. It was dizzying to think about how they began that process of connecting all the information. The result is nice to look at but everything is in Japanese. I tried my best to power through the katakana, but in the end, I decided to just stand back and admire the whole instead of the individual pieces. It was one of the coolest examples of data visualization I’ve ever seen!

If you’re around Ueno or plan on being in the area, this exhibit would be great to stop by, even if just for 15 minutes. There are plenty of old books with nifty illustrations open you can glance at and tons more history to soak up.


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