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A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World Paperback – November 2, 2004


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A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World + Patience and Fortitude: Wherein a Colorful Cast of Determined Book Collectors, Dealers, and Librarians Go About the Quixotic Task of Preserving a Legacy + A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (November 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060580801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060580803
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #179,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The final volume in an acclaimed trilogy for bibliophiles (after A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude) focuses on efforts to preserve books and other printed matter from the ravages of deterioration, destruction and obsolescence. The historical range here is expansive, encompassing texts by classical authors known today only through secondhand descriptions, William Blake's self-published illustrated volumes and used book sales at modern libraries. Even the most ancillary data have the power to fascinate: who knew, for example, that the Roman emperor Claudius was also probably the last scholar fluent in the language of the ancient Etruscans? But the research skills Basbanes displays are matched by the lively quality of his interviews, like an extended conversation with a Sarajevo librarian who saved thousands of Croatian volumes from the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign. Other chapters, which describe how American libraries are regularly pruned of old books by less violent means, owe a heavy (and acknowledged) debt to Nicholson Baker's Double Fold, with minor updates to recap new trends in preservation. A final section elaborates on the potential threat of the e-book, but remains optimistic that love of the physical act of reading will enable the printed page to prevail. Even those who find the evidence unconvincing should find themselves compelled by story after story on the salvation of books. Basbanes's longtime fans will rejoice at more of the same, while new readers will no doubt be swiftly caught up in the book-loving spirit.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Basbanes' trilogy about the book world, whose earlier titles were A Gentle Madness (1995), concerning book collectors, and Patience and Fortitude (2001), about libraries, culminates in this eclectic ramble through the perpetual problem of preservation. Fiscal and physical limitations exacerbate the problem of determining which materials to save for posterity, while the malicious destruction of books and documents continues, as Basbanes lamentably recounts in the Khmer Rouge's obliteration of Cambodia's libraries, to be as hazardous to cultural heritage as it was when Rome razed Carthage. Against the threats of time and vandalism labor the preservationists, who are Basbanes' heroes. Their particular projects, for example, collecting and making durable copies of Tibetan literature, dot his narrative. Basbanes takes multiple directions in this work, from accounts about how the writings of antiquity have been precariously transmitted to the present to interviews with figures in the computer, publishing, and library professions. Yet, throughout, focus is maintained on the preservation issue through Basbanes' unabashed bibliophilism. Preservationists will be the best audience for this work. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter.com on December 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Nicholas A. Basbanes has a love affair going with the printed word. Not just the book --- the printed word, be it chiseled on stone 2,000 years ago, scrawled on wallpaper, palm leaves or cloth, or even imprinted on a computer screen the day before yesterday.
That is the main message delivered in this, the third of a trio of books he has written celebrating the triumphs, tragedies, perils and potentialities of print. A SPLENDOR OF LETTERS, a kind of miscellaneous grab bag of print-talk, was preceded by A GENTLE MADNESS (1995) and PATIENCE & FORTITUDE (2001). Truly, a man obsessed with his subject.
A SPLENDOR OF LETTERS is a book full of fascinating bits of information on all sorts of subjects relating to the printed word. This is at once its main attraction and its principal drawback. Much of the information packed into these pages is interesting in itself, but the book has no single overarching theme, seemingly no real purpose except to display the author's enthusiasm and interest for his subject.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nicholas Basbanes has enriched the lives of bibliophiles with his A Gentle Madness and Patience and Fortitude, the first two volumes in this trilogy devoted to books and the people who love them. He has now brought the trilogy to a close with A Splendor of Letters, which is just as fascinating as either of the first two volumes.
A Splendor of Letters is a wide ranging look at many aspects of the book world. History is served through an examination of several attempts to destroy the written word, from Nazi Germany to Pol Pot's Cambodia; and with happier stories of archaeologists' rediscoveries of ancient libraries. More stories of book collectors of the sort that made A Gentle Madness so interesting are also provided, as is more material on the problems libraries and collections have when they run out of space and must determine what to do with the overflow, which was a major topic in Patience and Fortitude. The main thrust of A Splendor of Letters, however, is a defense of the book in its traditional form against those who would proclaim its death at the hands of technology.
As with all of Mr. Basbanes' works (which also include Among the Gently Mad, A Primer for Book Collectors), the fascinating material is enhanced by the beauty of the writing. No book lover should pass this by.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By S. Roggendorf on December 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I've truly enjoyed Mr. Basbanes books and this one is no exception. Mr. Basbanes is clearly in love with the written word, even as it happens to be found in between the covers of the book we've come to recognize. As Bookreporter.com remarked, this book can be somewhat disjointed, but it's one of the reasons I fell into reading it with such joy.
This book isn't a scholarly work in the sense that it will bore the eyebrows off of you. To those persons I read sections, they found the material intriguing and interesting. Two of those persons are now on a waiting list at the local library to read it. (Which is quite astonishing when one considers that these persons aren't regular book readers, let alone a bibliophile as I am...)
I certainly cannot bring any additional information to the excellent review by Bookreporter.com. As someone who loves reading, books, words, etc. I feel that those persons that own Basbanes' first books in the trilogy, this final book wouldn't be a waste of your time and money to add it to your collection.
"A Splendor of Letters" is entertaining, informative and enlightening. I'm quite pleased it resides in my personal library.
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