In all eras there have been artists who have aspired to encyclopedic summation of the world, to find a form to accommodate the mess, as Samuel Beckett once put it. The Renaissance marked the juncture at which it became impossible for any one person to have read every book in existence (just as books became widely available for the first time, ironically); today it would be a feat even to count the number of toothpastes in your average grocery store. Andreas Gursky’s photographs are merciless in their vertiginous will to make every last tube of toothpaste count, to compel every constituent into legibility. His optical fanaticism is not an effect of specific consumerist critique so much as a desire to set before the eye what was deemed too much for the mind, pressing the extreme surfeit of the world’s contents against its limits. For this volume, Gursky has chosen more than 150 works from his fund of photographs, reaching back to his student days at the Folkwang Hochschule Essen and his studies with Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. The earliest exposures here include the Desk Attendants series and other unpublished photographs, and the most recent images were conceived especially for the book. Every single exposure in Gursky’s encyclopedic morphology is a vital piece in the puzzle, which, over the course of his 28-year career, has amounted to an encyclopedia of the unencompassable.