Matthijs van Boxsel

The Encyclopedia of Stupidity

A brilliant analysis of stupidity in all its facets

Matthijs van Boxsel thinks that no one is intelligent enough to understand his or her own stupidity. In De encyclopedie van de domheid he shows how stupidity manifests itself in all areas, in everyone, at all times: stupidity is the foundation of our civilization.

Van Boxsel has made it his life’s work to record all facets of stupidity. In short chapters with such titles as ‘The Blunderclub’, ‘Fools in Hell’, ‘Genealogy of Idiots’, and ‘The Esthetics of the Empty Gesture’, stupidity is analyzed on the basis of fairy tales, cartoons, triumphal arches, garden architecture, baroque ceilings, jokes, flimsy excuses, and science fiction.

But Van Boxsel wants to do more than just assemble a shadow cabinet of wisdom; he tries to fathom the logic of this opposite world. Where do understanding and intelligence begin and where do they end? Mythic fools like Cyclops and King Midas, cities like Gotham, the dumb blonde, and everything that symbolizes stupidity in our culture, like a goose, a donkey, a headless chicken, all are reviewed here.

Van Boxsel takes stupidity seriously, as did Musil, unlike Flaubert, who used satire and irony as weapons against stupidity. Van Boxsel puts forward the provocative premise that stupidity is a condition for intelligence, that blunders stimulate progress, that failure is the basis for success. In a scholarly and witty book, Van Boxsel maintains that our culture is the product of a series of failed attempts to comprehend stupidity.

An illustrated hodgepodge of ruminations, anecdotes, aphorisms and esoterica, the book attacks its subject obliquely, spinning a theory of stupidity while cataloging its sightings. Of stupidity’s commentators past and present, Mr. Van Boxsel stands out for his exalted view of the phenomenon.

The New York Times

This satirical exploration of the lineaments of human folly is a fascinating and slightly deranged work that would have Pope and Swift sucking happily from their punch bowls.

Literary Review

I picked it up anticipating either a compilation - a sort of Encyclopedia Stupidica - or bathroom-reading entertainment like The Darwin Awards. It is that, but the Encyclopedia is also something much odder. You will not be reading it in a bathroom, either… unless that bathroom is Italo Calvino’s.

Paul Collins in The Believer (10/2003)

No one is intelligent enough to comprehend the depths of their own stupidity, states Matthijs van Boxsel in this engagingly eccentric history. (…) Fairy tales, science fiction, even garden history are haphazardly drawn together in this slightly surreal, often exasperating but consistently enjoyable view of the history of civilisation.

The Guardian


Matthijs van Boxsel

Literary historian Matthijs van Boxsel (b. 1957) has been studying the topic of stupidity since 1980. In 1999 he published De encyclopedie van de domheid (The Encyclopedia of Stupidity), which was nominated for the prestigious Generale Bank Prize for Literature. In 2001 the sequel Morosofie

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De encyclopedie van de domheid (1999). Non-fiction, 184 pages.
Copies sold: 10,000

With illustrations



Weteringschans 259
NL - 1017 XJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
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