This is a cultural history of emotions structured in the form of an encyclopaedia of 150 entries, each of which contains a definition and, sometimes, a miniature story. It begins with Abhiman, a Sanskrit term for ‘the pain and anger caused when someone we love, or expect kind treatment from, hurts us’, and ends with the Polish emotion Zal, a form of dejection that is ‘at one moment resigned, the next rebellious’. We can apparently hear zal in Chopin’s later works, the Etudes and the Scherzos, composed when he was dying of consumption. There are also new words, such as ‘Ambiguphobia’, coined by David Foster Wallace to capture the discomfort felt when things are left open.
Like all encyclopaedias, The Book of Human Emotions is filled with curious facts. (Curiosity is defined here as ‘the itch to find out more’, experienced by Leonardo da Vinci and ‘that poor cat…’) It is also very irritating. Reading it is a frustrating experience (the entry for Frustration says ‘see: Exasperation’, the entry for Exasperation says ‘see: Frustration’) because it is impossible