Patience and Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Cultureby Nicholas A. Basbanes
In 1995 Nicholas Basbanes introduced a resonant phrase to describe the obsessive passion people have had over the past twenty-five hundred years to possess books, a condition more commonly known as bibliomania, one he christened in his book A Gentle Madness. Reviewing the work in the Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda/b>/b>/b>
In 1995 Nicholas Basbanes introduced a resonant phrase to describe the obsessive passion people have had over the past twenty-five hundred years to possess books, a condition more commonly known as bibliomania, one he christened in his book A Gentle Madness. Reviewing the work in the Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda judged it to be a gallery of wonderful characters, "each more appealing than the last."
Now, in Patience & Fortitude, Basbanes continues his discursive adventures among the gently mad, expanding his focus to probe the more comprehensive concept of book culture. Visiting many key "book places" around the world, he talks with a striking variety of kindred spirits, each one a living testament to the unending relevance of these essential artifacts in our lives.
Drawing its title from the unofficial names of the marble lions that guard the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Patience & Fortitude explores the changing form of the book over the centuries and describes the nature of the institutions that have evolved to contain them, including academic, public, private, and national repositories.
Using the same narrative technique that made A Gentle Madness a national bestseller, Basbanes employs a lively balance of scholarly research with investigative journalism to document many pertinent book stories that have not been told before, and offers unprecedented depth to others that have barely scratched the surface. Picking up seamlessly where its predecessor left off, Patience & Fortitude profiles the experiences and thoughts of all kinds of dedicated "book people," be they librarians, readers, writers, bookmakers, booksellers, preservationists, or collectors.
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Read an Excerpt
Almost without exception every great library, from the days of classical Athens to the Age of Reason, has been built on holy ground. The reason is plain. Of all the devices of magic by which a king maintains his sway over his subjects, the magic of the written word is the most potent.
--Raymond Irwin, The Origins of the English Library
While probing the murky bottom of Alexandria's Eastern Harbor for fragments of Queen Cleopatra's sunken palace, French divers came across an ancient stele that had been shielded from the sunlight for sixteen centuries. After making an underwater cast of the stone inscriptions with a silicone-rubber mold, archaeologists translated the hieroglyphics to mean "Eternal Life," a fitting tribute to a city that began as an idea from a book and perpetuates its legacy today through the wonder of literature.
Plutarch tells us that Alexander the Great carried his copy of the Iliad with him on his eleven-year campaign to conquer the world, and that he stored it in a richly wrought jeweled casket taken from the personal collection of King Darius III, by common consent the most exquisite trophy seized from the Persian royal treasury by the Greek forces. The story, as handed down from generation to generation, is that the blind poet Homer appeared to Alexander one night in a dream at a time when the Macedonian was considering where among his recent triumphs to build a new Greek colony. Here, in John Dryden's seventeenth-century translation of Plutarch'sLives, is the advice Alexander received from his favorite author:
An island lies, where loud the billows roar,
Pharos they call it, on the Egyptian shore.
Jolted awake by the vision, Alexander proceeded directly to the small island that Homer had described in the Odyssey as having a "snug harbor" with a "good landing beach where crews pull in, draw water from the dark wells, then push their vessels off for passage out," and determined straightaway that he had found exactly what he was looking for, a strategic outpost on the Mediterranean Sea through which Greek culture could pass to Africa and Asia. He then sketched out on the bare ground what he conceived as the basic layout for his glittering namesake, indicating precisely where temples, ornamental gardens, fountains, and public buildings should be erected. The architect Dinocrates, who had accompanied Alexander's army on its campaign eastward, set about creating a city of rectangular shape with broad streets intersecting at right angles and an efficient hydraulic system that would bring fresh water in from outlying areas to be stored in underground cisterns. In time the little island just offshore would be connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway called the Heptastadion, so called because it was seven stades, or furlongs, in length, creating the oval enclosure known today as the Eastern Harbor.
To guide sailors along the tricky coastline, a three-tiered lighthouse was erected on the outermost tip of the breakwater; called the Pharos in honor of the island, it cost eight hundred gold talents to build, according to Pliny the Elder. The 385-foot-tall beacon -- about 80 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor -- assisted mariners well into the fourteenth century, and was esteemed in its time as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the only ancient wonder that had a totally practical function. The lighthouse inspired such awe that likenesses were reproduced on Roman coins, and a brisk business was to be had in the sale of souvenir models to tourists, precursors to the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building replicas that are hawked about by street vendors in Paris and New York today. Examples of the popular ancient clay trinkets still turn up from time to time in various reaches of the region. The dimensions of the lighthouse are fairly well known, thanks in part to an Arab traveler, Abu el-Haggag el Andaloussi, who carefully measured them in 1166. At the summit stood the statue of a deity, thought by some to have been Poseidon, believed by others to have been Zeus. On the fa�ade was a formal inscription that is reported by Lucian of Samosata to have read, "Sostratus of Knidos, son of Dexiphanes, has dedicated this monument to the gods for the protection of sailors."
All of this bustling activity got under way in the winter of 331 B.C., when Alexander was twenty-four years old. The tempestuous monarch never saw the city he willed into being, although his mortal remains were brought there from the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis fifty years after he died at the age of thirty-two. Embalmed by skilled Egyptian and Chaldean morticians, his body was wrapped in sheets of gold leaf, immersed in honey, and placed in the heart of the royal quarter in an elaborate mausoleum known as the Brucheum, where it attracted throngs of tourists for seven hundred years.
Unlike Athens and Rome, where architectural ruins endure in glorious profusion, modern-day Alexandria offers little visible evidence of its noble heritage, and the original city exists only as a glittering memory. Whatever graceful edifice was not pillaged over the centuries was toppled by earthquakes or leveled in modern times by indifferent developers. A tidal wave that swamped the city in A.D. 365 also inflicted devastating damage, burying much of the waterfront beneath twenty feet of water. Two spectacular red-granite obelisks that had survived the tribulations intact were dismantled in the nineteenth century and sent abroad as gifts to England and the United States. Although called Cleopatra's Needles, the spires have no known connection with the famous queen; dating from 1500 B.C., they were erected at Heliopolis by King Thothmes III, and moved to Alexandria in 12 B.C. by the Romans. Centuries later, one was shipped to London in recognition of Admiral Horatio Nelson's victory over the French fleet...Patience & Fortitude. Copyright � by Nicholas Basbanes. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Nicholas A. Basbanes has worked as an award-winning investigative reporter, a literary editor, and a nationally syndicated columnist. The author of five books, he also writes a regular column for Fine Books & Collections magazine and lectures widely on book-related issues. He and his wife, Constance, live in Massachusetts.
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