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A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books Paperback – Bargain Price, February 28, 1999

4.5 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A massive, comprehensive, and wonderfully readable history of book collecting and collectors." --David Walton, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Nicholas A. Basbanes has compiled a wonderful gallery of eccentrics, isolatos, charmers and visionaries . . . an ingratiating and altogether enjoyable book." --Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World

"A Gentle Madness is an impressive achievement in its compilation of vast information, as well as being instructive and interesting. It is compulsory for anyone seriously interested in books or curious about the manic nature of collecting." --Philip Kopper, The New York Times Book Review
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About the Author

Nicholas A. Basbanes, former literary editor for the Worcester Sunday Telegram, is now a nationally syndicated book columnist. He lives in North Grafton, Massachusetts, with his wife and two daughters.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt (February 28, 1999)
  • ISBN-10: 0805061762
  • ASIN: B0001FZGCG
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,863,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ian Mccullough on August 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
First, to enjoy this book, you really have to love books. Now, I'm not saying love *reading*, I mean the actual book. That graceful innovation that allows us to transmit our thoughts and feelings to others and through time. Basbanes has the love and speaks to others who share the affliction of bibliophilia.

In his chapter "The Blumberg Collection", Basbanes writes about the extreme of book mania, and I wrote this review to at least point the reader to this chapter. Get it from the library if you don't want to purchase the book, it's only 50 pages. It is best to discover this chapter on your own, but the outer fringe of book loving is pretty ugly, but great reading.

I really, really love books. I am a book dealer and gain deep pleasure from just knowing that I have a Great Books set (which I will probably never read) just in case I *need* to read Kant at some point. If you have more books than you could possibly ever read and love the feel, the look and the presence of your library, then take it from a kindred spirit that one of our kind has written a book for us.
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Format: Paperback
For anyone who has felt the joy of holding a beautiful volume or the compulsive tug to have it for one's own, this book is a must read. From Alexandria to the present, it chronicles the human passion for books and collecting through stories that are lively enough for the novice and scholarly enough for the serious collector.
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Format: Paperback
It always seemed to me that my passion for books and the lenghts to which I would often go to satisfy it was not very distant from a mild form of madness. This wonderful book has showed me that, madness though it may be, it has been shared by many illustrious persons and is no reason for shame. My only quibble is a certain degree of envy thar rises up after reading about rich individuals who were able to indulge their preference much more munificently than I!
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Format: Paperback
Yes, dear friends, there are other bibliophiles out there and this book takes you to their libraries. A great volume for your "books on books" shelf (those of you who've read Ex Libris whill know what I'm talking about), a great book for reading and rereading. Its witty, charming, humourous and outright fun. I can't recommend it more, go get it as fast as you can!
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This volume is indispensible, it is a gem, it is a work of profound scholarship assuring the bibliomaniac that he/she is not alone. Basbanes gives the reader a volume jam-packed with investigative work, insight and compassion towards the mind of the bibliophile.

Providing a historical account of the formation of the great libraries, in particular those of the US, he analyses the motives of the "collector"; what it is that drives the desire to possess a book that knowingly will not be read. The chapters are case-histories of individuals (like me and probably like you) with the obsessive need to possess printed books, pamphlets and ephemera.

Rather than us being simply mad, Basbanes stresses the importance of the bibliophile collector to the development of national libraries and collections and for saving valuable material that would otherwise, in another context, have been regarded as worthless.

Inevitably money increasingly appears as the dominant factor that allowed an individual to amass a "great" collection; the need for the "gentle madness" of obsession playing second fiddle to the need for a very big bank check. But this emphasis on wealth is balanced by a rivetting chapter on the convicted bibliokleptomaniac, Blumenthal. In this final case history Basbanes takes a man convicted as the "greatest" book thief of the 21st century and provides a compassionate analysis that leads the reader (or at least it lead me) to question whether the jury were correct to convict him as being someone of sound mind. The dividing line between this "gentle madness" and insanity is a very fine one indeed.

The book is brilliant.
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For quite some time now (more than 20 years) I have classified myself as a bibliophile. In my mind that means I love books...everything about them from reading them to collecting them and in my dreams I like to write them. So it was with great anticipation that I began to read "A Gentle Madness" by Nicholas A. Basbanes.

The title alone is fantastic. I can think of no better way to describe the often illogical mania people like me have for books. We are, I think mad in many ways and yet it is a non-threatening sort of madness. I have been crazy about books since I was a little boy and used to gaze up at my parents crowded book shelves in the living room. And to this day, when I have a couple of minutes to spare, I love to glance over the titles in my own library at home, reminiscing about past reads and anticipating future adventures. A gentle madness indeed.

Mr Basbanes does a fantastic job of cataloguing most of the famous and infamous bibliomaniacs in history. He describes the famous historical collectors as well as modern examples. He discusses what they do and how they do it and somehow is able to get into their psyches and examine why they do it. Of course not all are the same but they all do seem to share the same indescribable love for books. Some collect for the benefit of mankind while others do it for their own bragging rights. I enjoyed reading about the collections that 19th and 20th century collectors put together, fantasizing about what it would be like to be rich enough to build the kind of library they could. But I think I preferred reading about the more common person who put aside other pleasures of life in order to pursue their passion on a more modest basis. I guess I identify more with them.
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