Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World

Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World

by Nicholas A. Basbanes
     
 

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In A Splendor of Letters, Nicholas A. Basbanes continues the lively, richly anecdotal exploration of book people, places, and culture he began in 1995 with A Gentle Madness (a finalist that year for the National Book Critics Circle Award) and expanded in 2001 with Patience & Fortitude, a companion work that prompted the two-time Pulitzer

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Overview

In A Splendor of Letters, Nicholas A. Basbanes continues the lively, richly anecdotal exploration of book people, places, and culture he began in 1995 with A Gentle Madness (a finalist that year for the National Book Critics Circle Award) and expanded in 2001 with Patience & Fortitude, a companion work that prompted the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and biographer David McCullough to proclaim him "the leading authority of books about books." In this beautifully packaged edition, Basbanes brings to a close his wonderful trilogy on the remarkable world of books and bibliophiles.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Throughout he enlivens his story with pen portraits of scholars, writers, conservators, librarians and myriad other book people, before ending with appropriately somber reflections on the destruction of the Baghdad library. In short, A Splendor of Letters is itself splendid and will appeal to any serious reader or book collector. — Michael Dirda
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. (Nov. 28) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Book lovers will relish this third and final volume of Basbanes's "bibliophilia" trilogy, preceded by A Gentle Madness (1995) and Patience & Fortitude (2001), which explored the world of books from the perspective of those who work with them (e.g., publishers, librarians) or read them. In this volume, Basbanes discusses the new challenges the book industry is facing in an increasingly digital age and recounts some horrific events in modern history, such as the destruction of the Sarajevo University Library by Serbian nationalists. Prepare to be shocked, however, by his bold revelation that some librarians withdraw books merely because they haven't left the shelf in 50 years. Likewise, hold on to your seats as you learn that some librarians are not on intimate terms with Crispijn van de Passe's Hortus Floridus (1614). But rest reassured: experts like Basbanes, referred to as "the authority on books about books," will save us from the rough beast of ignorance by refusing to compost any book. In his "Battle of the Books," Jonathan Swift recognized that most of what sees print is more tomb than tome, but even Swift didn't anticipate an era in which every proof produces a book and every teen sets up a web page. This highly literate paean to books so juices up this reviewer that it must be strongly recommended to any one and any library intent on valuing the book as an artistic object.-Peter Dollard, Alma Coll. Lib., Mt. Pleasant, MI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An erudite, often lively analysis of the disappearance of texts thanks to time, weather, worms, warriors, decay, poor judgment, and the computer. When does this author find time to read? As in his other work (Among the Gently Mad, 2002, etc.), Basbanes comprises records of his Marco Polo—esque travels, myriad quotations from his countless interviews, and a familiarity with ancient texts (and culture and history) that is at times daunting. Here, peripatetic bibliophile Basbanes examines several issues of enormous importance in BiblioLand. First, the silent thinning of collections by libraries looking for additional space and concerned with a book�s failure to circulate (or be consulted). The author is alarmed that unique and/or rare titles are disappearing in this fashion at a growing rate. Basbanes also tells the stories of some of the most famous fragments in literary history—e.g., Gilgamesh (about a third is missing) and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He examines how armies have assailed libraries with particular relish (the Romans sacked Carthage, the Serbs blasted the National Library in Sarajevo in the 1990s, Iraqi looters picked clean the National Library of Iraq earlier this year). Most touching is the story of a library in Belgium, burned in WWI, rebuilt, burned again in WWII, and once again rebuilt. The author discusses the odious practice of "book-breaking" (removing pages, usually illustrations, for separate sale) and explores the nettlesome issue of multiple versions of single texts (Leaves of Grass, for instance). But most distressing is the chapter about time�s ravages. That intoxicating odor of libraries, he reminds us, is the smell of decaying paper. The last third dealswith the complications of electronic storage and the controversies of e-books. Basbanes�s profound passion never falls into pedantry: readers will emerge with new knowledge, new worries, and enormous respect.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060580803
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
11/02/2004
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
494,357
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.05(d)

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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