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Book Review: A Gentle Madness

a gentle madnessA Gentle Madness, Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books is the best book about books that I have ever read, with the possible exception of everything else Nicholas A. Basbanes has written. He writes about anything and everything to do with the printed word and I never get sick of him.

It is a treasure for anyone who loves to read, or anyone who collects these bundles of pages that people like me get so excited about. It’s a history lesson, it’s a glimpse of how something so innocent on the surface can overtake a person, and best of all, it is a book of stories.

And the characters in these stories!

My favorite one was the man who spent a good portion of his life stealing books from libraries just so he could possess them. We’re not talking about the latest Stephen King mass market paperback. This was big-time theft of some very valuable tomes. He didn’t want to sell them. He wasn’t trying to profit. He just wanted to own them. He pulled off operation that, while not quite on the scale of the Thomas Crown Affair, are still pretty wild for a man who just wants some books.

These tales of people who collect and “own at any cost” comprise a huge chunk of the book. Ready to shake your head, roll your eyes, or groan in jealousy at the man who pays $19,000 just to acquire a rare dust jacket? Read on. Want to read about the man who sold his incredibly expensive collection, only to be driven mad more or less instantly, and who spent the rest of his life trying to reacquire them? This is the place.

I also adored the descriptions and tours of some famous libraries, both personal and professional. A Gentle Madness was recommended to me by a second-hand bookseller who got annoyed that I always looked at the rare books and never bought anything. I think he hoped it would spur me on to the mania the book describes, by which he would profit greatly. He was interesting– a good man that sneered at “collectors” and couldn’t stand anyone who didn’t read just for the sake of reading. I can sympathize with that: I’ve never bought a book and not read it, although I have a ton of books I’ve never read that people have given to me. And yet, they did a fair amount of shucking and jiving to add to their rare collection.


Murders, plots, crazies, libraries, and the aforementioned thefts are just part of the glory that is this book. If you like to read you’re going to love this book. And if you’re anything like me, you might also start to recognize a slight madness in yourself, although I hope it’s more on the gentle side, and not the I’m-flirting-with-felony-here madness that knows no logic or reason.

Rated: 10 strait jackets


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