This collection contains five translated short stories (the same translations as those in Labyrinths):
- Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote
- Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
- The Lottery in Babylon
- The Garden of Forking Paths
- Death and the Compass
It also contains six translated essays, the first four of which are also in Labyrinths:
- The Wall and the Books (tr. James E. Irby)
- Kafka and His Precursors (tr. James E. Irby)
- Borges and I (tr. James E. Irby)
- Everything and Nothing (tr. James E. Irby)
- Nightmares (tr. Eliot Weinberger)
- Blindness (tr. Eliot Weinberger)
- Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius:
I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encylopedia. The mirror troubled the depths of a corridor in a country house on Gaona Street in Ramos Mejía; the encylopedia is fallaciously called The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia (New York, 1917) and is a literal but delinquent reprint of the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1902.
- Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote:
He did not want to compose another Quixote—which is easy—but the Quixote itself. Needless to say, he never contemplated a mechanical transcription of the original; he did not propose to copy it. His admirable intention was to produce a few pages which would coincide—word for word and line for line—with those of Miguel Cervantes.
- The Lottery in Babylon:
My father used to say that formerly—a matter of centuries, of years—the lottery in Babylon was a game of plebeian character. He recounted (I don’t know whether rightly) that barbers sold, in exchange for copper coins, squares of bone or of parchment adorned with symbols. In broad daylight a drawing took place. Those who won received silver coins without any other test of luck. The system was elementary, as you can see.
- The Garden of Forking Paths:
On page 252 of Liddell Hart’s History of World War I you will read that an attack against the Serre-Montauban line by thirteen British divisions (supported by 1,400 artillery pieces), planned for 24 July 1916, had to be postponed until the morning of the 29th. The torrential rains, Captain Liddell Hart comments, caused this delay, an insignificant one, to be sure.
The following statement, dictated, reread and signed by Dr Yu Tsun, former professor of English at the Hochschule at Tsingtao, throws an unsuspected light over the whole affair. The first two pages of the document are missing.
- Death and the Compass:
Of the many problems which exercised the reckless discernment of Lönnrot, none was so strange - so rigorously strange, shall we say - as the periodic series of bloody events which culminated at the villa of Triste-le-Roy, amid the ceaseless aroma of the eucalypti. It is true that Erik Lönnrot failed to prevent the last murder, but that he foresaw it is indisputable. Neither did he guess the identity of Yarmolinsky’s luckless assassin, but he did succeed in divining the secret morphology behind the fiendish series as well as the participation of Red Scharlach, whose other name is Scharlach the Dandy. That criminal (as countless others) had sworn on his honour to kill Lönnrot, but the latter could never be intimidated. Lönnrot believed himself a pure reasoner, an Auguste Dupin, but there was something of the adventurer in him, and even a little of the gambler.