Inspired by a landmark exhibition mounted by the British Museum in 1963 to celebrate five eventful centuries of the printed word, Nicholas A. Basbanes offers a lively consideration of writings that have "made things happen" in the world, works that have both nudged the course of history and fired the imagination of countless influential people.
In his fifth work to examine a specific aspect of book culture, Basbanes also asks what we can know about such figures as John Milton, Edward Gibbon, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Adams, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Henry James, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller––even the notorious Marquis de Sade and Adolf Hitler––by knowing what they have read. He shows how books that many of these people have consulted, in some cases annotated with their marginal notes, can offer tantalizing clues to the evolution of their character and the development of their thought.
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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.From Publishers Weekly:
As in A Gentle Madness and other books, syndicated columnist Basbanes again proves his fascination with the minutiae of bibliophilia, relating with relish how many volumes were in various famous readers' collections, who wrote in their margins, who kept commonplace books, and other book-related ephemera before getting to the heart of this book: his discussions with well-known readers of today. These include Harold Bloom on Shakespeare and the politicizing of literature in the academy; Helen Vendler on her experience of poetry from adolescence on; and the impressive Robert Coles on his literary relationships with writers such as William Carlos Williams and Walker Percy, as well as his own call to action for children around the world. This volume is like a pot in an overenthusiastic cook's kitchen: a little bit of everything has been thrown in. As in cooking, however, too many notes spoil the palate. Basbanes writes fluidly and there are intriguing tidbits—the chapter on the development of religious texts is especially strong—but the book as a whole has no central argument or philosophy to make it cohere. Illus. not seen by PW.
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