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

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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.
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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 (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,503,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful 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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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Debra Richardson on February 9, 2000
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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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 28, 1999
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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bookgoddess on December 3, 2005
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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Duncan on January 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
It is possible to love books without necessarily loving or caring for what is inside them. It is also possible to love books because one wishes to possess the knowledge, understanding, beauty, that is within them. In this truly epic history of book- collecting and its most passionate and eccentric collectors Basbanes uses his considerable journalistic skill to tell a story which no lover of books, inside or out, will want to miss. Incredible collectors who were more the slaves of their books( The bibliomaniacs) and who were more their masters ( The bibliophiles) have their histories told here. In the background is the long story of the thing - itself, its making and its transformations in time.
Basbanes also emphasizes the fact that the collectors have been great benefactors of human culture and learning. Their collections , as that of John Harvard have been the basis of great institutions of learning.
While some were so obsessed by possessing the books for themselves ( The world's greatest bibliokleptomaniac Stephen Blumberg whose story is featured when asked why he did not sell the books and make himself rich said " I want them all for myself") others deliberately collected for the benefit of Mankind ( The story of Aaron Lansky's singlehandedly saving a considerable share of the Yiddish books which otherwise would have bee lost, is an extremely moving one) .The nineteenth century French collector Xavier Marmier willed his own large collection to his provincial town library. But he also expressed gratitude to the booksellers whose shops he would visit each day. And above all he expressed his love of collecting, and how much pleasure he had derived from searching through and finding the treasures of his collection.
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