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.”


Other books by John Berger