February 2011 | Jeremy Dibbell

Book Review: "A Dodo at Oxford"

The editors sure must have had some fun with this one! Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson's A Dodo at Oxford (Oxgarth Press, 2010) is, purportedly, the first volume of a diary kept by an Oxford student in 1683 - but this isn't just any Oxford student; our anonymous diarist is the owner of what may be the very last surviving dodo, inherited from a mysterious Dutchman who met a bad end. The diary covers only March to May (at the end of which the student and his dodo are, it would seem, dodo-homeward-bound), during the course of which the dodo's vital statistics, eating habits, tool use, sleep patterns, and noises are carefully chronicled.

The diary is presented here in facsimile, with many editorial annotations in the margins to explain various things going on in the diary, as well as people mentioned and the collection of random detritus found within the book (receipts, bookmarks, postcards, a spider, &c.). These marginal notes, along with several appendices at the end of the book, go into some depth about seventeenth-century book production generally and at Oxford in particular.

Our diarist doesn't just chronicle his dodo's doings, but also those of certain friends, including the ailing Mr Tompkyns and Mr Flay, whose oft-recounted dreams might seem vaguely familiar to modern readers, if their meaning is teased out a bit.

Full of wit, whimsy, and a fair helping of book history. Who could ask for more?