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A GENTLE MADNESS by Nicholas A. Basbanes

A GENTLE MADNESS

Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books

By Nicholas A. Basbanes

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8050-3653-9
Publisher: Henry Holt

 This absorbing volume traces ``the cycle of books among collectors, libraries, and dealers,'' seeking to shed new light on that ``gentlest of infirmities,'' bibliomania. With great aplomb, syndicated book columnist Basbanes tours his reader through an intriguing gallery of case studies. In a medieval poem, Basbanes notes, bibliophiles were assigned a place of honor on the ship of fools. Yet the book lovers seem to have known where they were going. A fascinating account of the great 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys's collection establishes a predominant motive: creating memorials to the life of the mind. Describing collections now housed in great American research libraries, Basbanes tells the moving tale of the grieving mother who endowed Harvard's Widener Library in memory of a son who went down on the Titanic with a rare edition of Francis Bacon's essays in his pocket. Other ``obsessed amateurs'' include Ruth Baldwin, who fiercely guarded access to her superb collection of children's books at the University of Florida; Aaron Lansky, who has tried to save a lost culture in founding of the National Yiddish Book Center; and Arthur Schomburg, the perspicacious documenter of black history. Basbanes might have sketched more of the book collecting scene outside of Britain and North America. Moreover, he never really gets to the bottom of bibliomania, even in the effective meditation on prolific book thief Stephen Blumberg that frames his tome. Still, the joy Basbanes takes in his abundance of anecdotes captures the spirit that truly links the collectors whom he treatsthe spirit that prizes and passes on its heritage not just of using books, but also of acquiring them. Must reading for any book collector, and a nice addition to even modest personal libraries. (16 pages b&w photos, line art, engravings, not seen)