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The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World Hardcover – July 7, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Undoubtedly, the Bard himself would be amused to learn all about the fate of the book compiled after his death by fellow actors and colleagues John Heminge and Henry Condell. It was, a collector said recently, the most important secular work of all time. Collins (Sixpence House), an English professor and NPR regular, is passionate, knowledgeable and sassy in bringing this story to glorious life. Collins divides his work into five acts, leading his reader on a whirlwind trip through the Four Folios eventually printed, into feuds between Alexander Pope and Lewis Theobald and to the opportunistic reach of a financially desperate Dr. Johnson. Over the next 200 years, there are the stories of Henry Clay Folger as well as an ingenious collating machine and related technologies for today's textual scholars. Collins's remarkable voyage through time and across the globe leads to Japan, where the most obsessive collectors of Sheikusupia reside. This is for anyone with an interest in how Shakespeare has come down to us, the nature of the book business, the art of editing and the evolution of
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“[A] lively and entertaining history of one of the most important books in English literature.” ―New York Times Book Review
“[The First Folio's] 386-year history is perfect for Collins' peripatetic narrative style... Collins is pleasant company on these journeys through musty and scholarly byways; fans of Bill Bryson... might find the style similar... This is great, informative fun.” ―Oregonian
“Collins' journey is that of a man stirred by ancient callings: Here is a tireless time traveler and researcher, focusing our attention on the beauty inherent in obscure and sacred objects.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“Paul Collins gives bookishness a good name... The Book of William...follows his obsession to the root of all bibliomania - Shakespeare's exceedingly rare, ultra-collectible First Folio... The author proves himself to be an amusing, if unlikely guide... Collins' purpose here [is] not to sing Shakespeare's praises (as if they still need to be sung), but to show, through the quintessential example, how much we humans can invest in the printed word.” ―Boston Globe
“Gleefully astonishing... Collins provides one of the most enjoyable examples of a most enjoyable genre, the book biography, as he tells the stories of individual Shakespeare first folios, their owners, their uses, and their travels. It's a supremely enlightening journey that Collins' convivial manner makes thoroughly gratifying.” ―Booklist
“[A] delightful literary ramble... Full of humor, history and travel, The Book of William is an excellent summer read.” ―Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Collins knows his way around a good literary mystery, and knows how to milk the bizarre and wonderful detail... The Book of William is filled with geeky delights...Collins pours all of the mountainous curiosity and good-hearted wit he showed in his last book, The Trouble with Tom, into The Book of William. Not only is he a first-rate storyteller, he has a keen eye for useful marginalia... It would be easy to say that this is a book for bibliophiles, or theater lovers, and it is. But as far as what some of us want out of our summer reading--to get lost, to learn something, to laugh--we'd make the case for this as the perfect beach read.” ―Time Out Chicago
“Exemplary scholar-adventurer writing.” ―Kirkus (starred)
“An entertaining consideration arranged in five acts of the serendipitous social life the [first folio] has experienced over the four centuries of its existence.” ―Los Angeles Times
“Smashing…[Collins] is an enthusiastic and amusing writer -- a good companion… an adept and committed bibliophile, and in the course of his journey into the history of the Folio's individual copies, he comes to a not-so-startling realization; books outlive even the greatest of us.” ―Palm Beach Post
“Collins has done it again. This history--spanning the globe and 400 years in the life and fortunes of one of the most famous books in the English language--is not the dry province of historians, bibliophiles, and antiquarians...Witty, detailed, and highly entertaining, it will be appreciated by fans of Shakespeare, history, or human folly.” ―Library Journal
Top customer reviews
The First Folio was produced in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, by men who had known and acted with him. Although Shakespeare was not to be universally recognized as "England's greatest playwright" until more than a century later, the First Folio sold well and was followed by later reprintings, with additions and subtractions, over the next few decades.
As with everything Paul Collins writes, he provides a somewhat discursive but extremely entertaining story. I enjoyed reading about the efforts being made to trace the original First Folios, and was amazed to discover that so many of them are still in existence with proven paper trails. (On a personal note, I was thrilled to see that one of my own ancestors, Sir Edward Dering, was one of the first purchasers of not one but two First Folios!) I also liked the many "subplots" in the story, particularly the chapters on Samuel Johnson and his edition of the plays. It was also fascinating to read about Shakespeare's role in helping Japan modernize during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and to learn that the Japanese still have high regard for the Bard. Finally, I was filled anew with admiration for the painstaking work of editors who have analyzed every line of the First Folios in the ongoing effort to present the plays as Shakespeare intended.
I will keep The Book of William in my "hard to classify but cherished" section of my library, and I'm sure most others who read it will do the same.
Instead, the first half of this book is an easy-to-read history about the publishing of different editions of Shakespeare's plays from 1623 to the late 18th Century.
The second half of the book is about the fate of some of the First Folios and how they were acquired. Finally, Mr. Collins describes his visits to the two libraries holding the largest number of Folios: the Folger Library in Washington D.C. and the Meisei Library in Japan. and describes the condition of several Folios, and how they were treated or mistreated over the years.
One of the things that makes this book so enjoyable is the way Mr. Collins brings many characters to life, two of whom are Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson.
In the pages of this book, we are often reminded that book publishing and collecting is, in the end, more about interesting people than about anything else.
And so I enjoyed learning about the world of antiquarian books.
The Book of William fueled my appetite to learn even more about the First Folio - how it was printed and what happened to many of the copies - so I was left with the feeling I wanted to known even more.
Therefore, I wonder: Did Mr. Collins leave a lot of the story out? I can't answer the question. I am, however, grateful I read this book, though I think illustrations and photographs would have improved it.
If you like Shakespeare and/or have an interest in book collecting you'll love this book.
When I ordered the book, I was writing a young adult novel about a young boy's time-travel back to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre during a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and I thought this would offer some needed background. Wow! It was so much more captivating than I expected it to be. The personalities involved in promoting the First Folio's rise to prominence are fascinating, from Jaggard to Heminge and Condell all the way down to Henry Clay Folger -- just wonderful stories. This book has made me add a visit to the Folger Library in Washington to my Bucket List.
A most enjoyable read. It was so much fun to read that I limited myself to 2 or 3 chapters per day so it would last longer. I am definitely exploring Paul Collins's other titles, as this is the first one I've read, having noticed a review in the New York Times. Bravo!
Finally, and surprisingly, this book is a real "page-turner". I am easily bored by books that are not well written: I could not put this one down. Buy it! You won't be sorry.