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A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World (2003)

by Nicholas A. Basbanes

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928615,804 (4.11)41
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." Basbanes now offers a consideration of the many pressing issues that surround the role of books in contemporary society, such as the willful destruction of books and libraries in Sarajevo, Tibet, and Cambodia, and the spirited efforts to restore them. The matter of "discards" at various libraries takes on an entirely new dimension as well, with fully researched stories about the kind of attitudes that may lead to the loss of "last copies" of important works. In vivid detail, Basbanes examines the many materials that have been used over the centuries to record information -- among them clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, slabs of stone, palm leaves, animal skins, and hammered sheets of gold and copper. Also discussed are the various debates that continue to rage about preservation, which may mean saving and storing books on paper indefinitely, or as electronic data, which are by nature ephemeral. In this beautifully packaged edition, Nicholas Basbanes brings to a close his wonderful trilogy on the remarkable world of books and bibliophiles.… (more)

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» See also 41 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Some really interesting history here. ( )
  gmillar | Dec 6, 2019 |
Amazing, exciting read, hours of pleasure and information. This author is someone who would be a delight to know and have over for dinner. ( )
  mcconchc | Dec 5, 2007 |
The third of Nicholas Basbanes' books, A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World (HarperCollins, 2003) completes the trilogy begun with A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude; in this volume, Basbanes discusses the important issues surrounding the preservation of the written word. As he writes early in the book, "the setting down of what Ralph Waldo Emerson ... called the 'splendor of letters' remains only half the task at hand; ensuring that what has been recorded is passed on properly to the next generation ... makes up the rest."

Like Basbanes' other books, this one takes an anecdotal and fairly idiosyncratic approach to its topic; also like the others, it works here. You find yourself bouncing from the perils of book thievery (p. 11-12) to the importance of the Rosetta Stone as surrogate (p. 23) to notes found trashed beneath the shadow of Hadrian's Wall (p. 56-7) to the bombing of the Sarajevo library to the potential impacts of digitization on third world countries - and you enjoy the ride.

Filled with jumping-off points (I've got about ten books and articles written down to find), good stories and incisive commentary, A Splendor of Letters is yet another Basbanes delight. Recommended.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2007/07/book-review-splendor-of-letters.html ( )
2 vote JBD1 | Jul 25, 2007 |
I'm devoted to books. ( )
  DaveFragments | Apr 19, 2007 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
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All just criticism will not only behold in literature the action of necessary laws, but must also oversee literature itself. The erect mind disparages all books. What are books? it saith: they can have no permanent value...[continues] -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Thoughts on Modern Literature"
For my wife, our daughters, and our parents, and to the unending wonder of the continuum.
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There is a wonderful flashback scene in the 1977 Woody Allen film Annie Hall in which nine-year-old Alvy Singer is brought by this concerned mother to the family physician to articulate his depression, the stated reason being that the big bang theory of celestial expansion and retraction--something the boy has just read about in a school book--assures ultimate annihilation for everyone and everything, thus rendering every mortal endeavor irrelevant and without purpose. [Preface]
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