Bento’s Sketchbook

A meditation, in words and images, on the practice of drawing, by the author of Ways of Seeing

The seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza—also known as Benedict or Bento de Spinoza—spent the most intense years of his short life writing. He also carried with him a sketchbook. After his sudden death, his friends rescued letters, manuscripts, notes—but no drawings.

For years, without knowing what its pages might hold, John Berger has imagined finding Bento’s sketchbook, wanting to see the drawings alongside his surviving words. When one day a friend gave him a beautiful virgin sketchbook, Berger said, “This is Bento’s!” and he began to draw, taking his inspiration from the philosopher’s vision.

In this illustrated color book John Berger uses the imaginative space he creates to explore the process of drawing, politics, storytelling and Spinoza’s life and times.


  • “The book coheres because Berger’s is a humane and uniquely confiding voice, and this voice is co–extensive with his skill as a draftsman. The two attributes act in concert with Spinoza’s enigmatic philosophical propositions. All three constitute a singular act of witness.”
  • “Inspiring, challenging and rewarding.”
  • “Electric with thought and energy ... Berger’s words and images, rendered serene by age and habit, provide an exhilarating and unflinching account of global devastation and ordinary life.”
  • “Characteristically sui generis.”
  • “Displays his trademark lyrical precision.”
  • “This beautifully produced book, illustrated with Berger&rsquo's drawings, is as much a meditation on the art of drawing as a commentary on philosophy ... Whether he is writing about art or about the oppressed, Berger is a dab hand at what might be called semi-mystical exegesis. His stories are often like fables, and his explication – colourfully grounded but picaresque – is admirably lucid.”


  • Postcard Chat: between John Berger and Yves Berger (Part II)

    Postcard Chat
    between John Berger and Yves Berger

    (Part II)

    A proposal. Let's take a walk along a border. The border I'm thinking about is hard to name or even to locate. Maybe it's not even a border, but never mind, I'll try to take you there.

    As I'm writing at the table of this “café”, I'm listening to music. With my headphones on my ears I can concentrate better – the music helps me to cut-off, to withdraw from this place and all its distractions. The music I'm listening to reminds me of Soufi music. Such as the singing of Nussat Fateh Ali Kahn. A kind of trance. A trip … Well, this trip would take us to the border we're aiming for.

    Are the stars visible these days in the night sky of Paris? If so, look-up at them tonight and start thinking - as we all know, but in a very abstract way - that they are mostly suns in other solar systems. But also keep in mind where you are, on this specific planet of this specific solar system. Now wonder about the scale of your life within the scale of life in general. Need a chair? Always better to lie down when looking at stars. Now you may be getting near the place I would like us to approach?

    Let's take another vehicle. Both of us have had the experience of drawing in a life-class, that's to say with a model, someone posing, naked. And in appearance, before we start really looking, it all seems pretty obvious. We all know what's a human body, male or female. Or do we? The more we look at it and try to draw it, to “represent” it on the paper, the more we doubt we know what we're looking at. To the point that we forget, must forget, what we thought of as our “knowledge”, in order to face this fascinating mystery. And from there try to learn again.

    Continue Reading

  • Art and Aesthetics Undergraduate Reading List: 50% off!

    All the books on this list are 50% off until Tuesday 8th September as part of our Back to University/Back to School sale. See all the books included in the sale here.

    Alas, summer is ending and you need to know your Brecht from your Benjamin quicksharp. Luckily, Verso is here to help - all books on our undergraduate reading list are 50% off, we have your back arts students!

    Continue Reading

  • Verso's Summer Reads 2015

    No matter which body of water you'll be sluicing your speedos in this summer, Verso's got your back.  From forty proud years of radical publishing, we've cherry-picked an eclectic mix of fiction, travel, politics, philosophy, feminism, art, graphic novels and more for your delectation this summer.

    Whether you're reacquainting yourself with an old classic or taking a chance with one of our latest titles, all books on this list will be 50% off on our website for this week (July 9-July 17), with free worldwide shipping, and free ebook where available.  Just be careful around the pool with your e-reader eh?

    A lovely picture of Theodor Adorno in his swimwear, with a copy Narcoland presumably tucked away out of shot.

    Continue Reading

Upcoming Events

  • Migration_event_-max_141

    November 12, 2015 - March 17, 2016

    London, United Kingdom

    Goldsmiths University of London

    Migrating Dreams And Nightmares: Materials And Movement

    Hsiao-Hung Pai and Daniel Trilling take part in the Migrating Dreams and Nightmares: Materials and Movement season at Goldsmiths, inspired by A Seventh Man

Other books by John Berger