Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: "America's Other Audubon"

Joy Kiser's America's Other Audubon (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012) reprints the sixty-eight lithographs which originally appeared in Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of the Birds of Ohio, a remarkable work created by the Jones family of Circleville, Ohio. After seeing Audubon's Birds of America on display at Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, amateur naturalist Genevieve Jones undertook to create a companion work that would display the nests and eggs of all birds which nested in Ohio. Her father funded the publication (partly by selling subscriptions), her brother collected the nests and wrote descriptions of them, while Genevieve and a friend drew the images and colored the lithographs.

Genevieve died after she'd completed just five of the projected 130 illustrations, leaving the project very much in doubt. But her family threw themselves into the work and completed the book: her mother even taught herself to draw the detailed nests! The original publication is quite rare today, which makes this volume even more useful. Kiser provides an introduction giving background on the Jones family and the project, and then reprints all sixty-eight lithographic plates as well as excerpts from the textual captions and the field notes provided.

The reproductions are quite well done, and the volume is beautifully designed. I know it's a bit greedy to want more from a lovely book, but I did wish there was more information on the subscribers, and I wouldn't have minded longer excerpts from the original text, either. But those are tiny quibbles. I'm glad this book was published: it tells a great story of a family's very impressive work, and will, I hope bring these rare illustrations to the attention of a much wider audience.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Book Review: "This Very Tree"

Back in 2007 when I read and loved her At Midnight on the Thirty-First of March (my review here) I hunted around online and bought up copies of the rest of Josephine Young Case's books (Freedom's Farm, Written in Sand, and This Very Tree). I stumbled across them on my shelves yesterday and pulled This Very Tree (Houghton Mifflin, 1969) off and started reading. It's a short book (just 118 pages), but proved a really nice way to spend an hour or so on the porch.

Our narrator is the wife of the president of a small liberal arts college in rural upstate New York. Looking for something to do in her spare time, she volunteers to help a retired professor who's working on a history of "the College" from its orgins to the present. At the same time, she's helping her husband cope with a famous alumnus of the College, who wants to give a very large gift ... but to build a "Tower of Trade, housing the G. Tuckerman Butterweck School of Commerce," not the desperately-needed new library. It's a timeless meditation on the difficult dilemmas faced by all similar institutions: donor desires versus the actual needs and priorities of the place.

I won't spoil the plot, since you ought to read the book yourself (Case's books, while out of print, can be obtained quite afforably online); in fact for this one I'd go so far as to say that it ought to be required reading for the trustees and administrators of all small liberal arts colleges and non-profit institutions. A bit saccharine though it may be, it's also a really poignant story, with moments of real humor and insight.

Case knew of what she spoke. Her husband was president of Colgate, and Case herself was Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Skidmore for many years. Her descriptions of small colleges and the characters who populate them ring true: I found myself nodding along so many times. She examines the internal musings of alumni, back for Homecoming: "I understand that what they want to say and cannot is: We deeply cherish this place, these lawns, these trees, these very stones, because of what went on here, without and within. With this ground we are more nearly one than elsewhere, it is forever part of us, from mornings when the first warmth of spring touched the snowbanks, from nights when the moon glittered on the river, from October days like this one: for here, then, voices spoke to us, from books, from men, from the trees and stones themselves, perhaps once only, or again" (p. 11).

A troubled student who comes to her for advice is described as "badly afflicted with Wanderlust and Weltschmerz and all the things with German names that torture the young" (p. 35). The retired professor describes a predecessor this way: "He looked like a woodchuck in his study; his papers and books made a burrow around him. I think he liked the physical presence of books more than reading them; they were good to build burrows with" (p. 9). (That particular line brought to mind a couple of my favorite professors).

A lovely little book, and really well produced by Houghton Mifflin.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Links & Reviews

- The London International Antiquarian Bookfair (the "Olympia" fair) was held this weekend. On the Economist's Prospero blog, it was hailed as "An antiquarian obsession."

- On bookfairs: don't miss Garrett Scott's "A hasty and discursive meditation on the care and feeding of a book fair," or Lorne Blair's post on the recent inaugural Library of Virginia Book Fair. And definitely don't miss the first part of Lorne's new series on the importance of regional book fairs: "Six Days On the Road & I'm Gonna Make it Home Tonight." At the end of this post he asks some key questions, questions I think all of us concerned with these matters should be thinking about.

- A panel discussion was held at the NYPL this week on the much-debated renovations plan. Caleb Crain has a full rundown, with links to audio/video of the event as well. Robin Pogrebin covered the discussion for the NYT, including in a followup piece the little nugget that former employees of the library believe they've been silenced by "nondisparagement agreements."

- For the culinary codicologist: historiated initial cookies!

- Mt. Vernon's efforts to recreate George Washington's library got a writeup in the Washington Post this weekend. Unfortunately it opens with the line "Gently, gently, the librarian opens the first of the five books displayed on the large wooden table, and age seems to rise up from the pages like a wavy distortion above heated pavement." While I think the recreation is a neat idea (virtual is handy, but real is cooler), I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of Washington's books being "replicated with pages scanned from the Athenaeum's collection and put into an 18th-century-style binding with endpaper and leather and gold tooling." I certainly hope that means that the scans would be made available to all (as with the John Adams library); it just doesn't make much sense, today, to create scanned physical surrogates in bespoke bindings just for the sake of doing so. But, overall, I'm really glad to see the project going forward, and wish them great luck!

- Over at The Collation, Erin Blake examines the difference(s) between a colored print and a color print, and Heather Wolfe explores Shelton's tachygraphy, a common form of early modern shorthand.

- More on the Girolamini library thefts I mentioned last week: the former director, Mario Massimo de Caro, and four others have been arrested.

- Mike Widener notes a book in the Yale Law library's collections with the bookplate and signature of Johann Peter von Ludewig.

- Mary Norris of The New Yorker has a very amusing post about the printing of a thorn (þ) in a recent issue of the magazine.

- Dan Cohen muses on the "blessay." Make sure to read the updates, too.

- Glenn Fleishman posted this week on a recent visit to the Folger Shakespeare Library, where he talked to Sarah Werner about the physicality of books.

- Mark Anderson talked to the CSM about his new book on the Transit of Venus.

- The Russian State Polytechnical Museum Library in Moscow recently discovered some 30,000 pre-Revolutionary books hidden behind a false wall.

- Booksellers Adrian Harrington and Jonathan Kearnes star in a 15-minute video, "The Story of the Book." It's beautifully done. [h/t Book Patrol]

- At Boston 1775, J.L. Bell asks "How did people pronounce 'Faneuil Hall'?"

- A great new acquisition is highlighted on the Houghton Library blog: a 1741 book with a nifty five-ribbon bookmark.

- Queen Victoria's journals have been mounted online, free to the world through the end of June (and in the UK thereafter).


- Wesley Stace's Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer; review by Miriam Burstein at The Little Professor.

- Peter Carey's The Chemistry of Tears; reviews by Andrew Miller in the NYTimes and Ron Charles in the WaPo.

- Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies; reviews by Martin Rubin in the LATimes; Charles McGrath in the NYTimes.

- E.O. Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth; review by Thomas Maugh in the LATimes.

- Pretty much every major American birding field guide; review by Laura Jacobs in the WSJ.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Review: "The Lifespan of a Fact"

Warning: if you're anything at all like me, reading The Lifespan of a Fact by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal (Knopf, 2012) is very likely to cause a major spike in your blood pressure.

This slim book presents an essay by D'Agata (published in the January 2010 issue of The Believer as "What Happens There"), alongside a series of emails between D'Agata and Fingal, who was assigned to fact-check the article prior to publication. The article concerns the suicide of 16-year-old Levi Presley, who jumped from the tower of the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino on 13 July 2002.

From literally the very first clause, Fingal found difficulties. D'Agata's scene-setting first paragraph contained at least eight statements that either couldn't be proven or were factually inaccurate, so Fingal began emailing D'Agata to try and make corrections. And things quickly turned ugly. D'Agata's responses to Fingal's (entirely fair) questions ranged from the snide to the sarcastic to the downright nasty. The author repeatedly maintained that he was perfectly justified in changing facts to suit his purposes for any reason whatsoever: switching the name of a bar from the Boston Saloon to the Bucket of Blood because the latter "is more interesting"; switching another suicide by jumping on the day of Presley's death to one by hanging because "I wanted Levi's death to be the only one from falling that day. I wanted his death to be more unique." You get the idea. This goes on for 123 pages, with Fingal probing for the facts, and D'Agata arguing that he could, and did, change them whenever he felt like it.

One exchange, from the last section of the piece, should give the flavor. Fingal asks D'Agata where he got information on the specific parking space Presley used the night of his death:

D'Agata: "Your nitpicking is absurd and its ruining this essay. So, as I've said, I'm not participating. Good luck."

Fingal: "In other words, you're taking your ball and going home. Very mature. You know, confirming factual details so that a piece like this has some semblance of accuracy isn't 'nitpicking,' and I think most readers would agree with me. This process is actually meant to help enhance your writing. But I can't imagine you could appreciate anything that would require you to alter your precious words, which no doubt fell into the world from your pen fully formed and immaculate."

D'Agata: "Yeah, I'm the immature one."

One can hardly blame Fingal for getting a bit snarky; I'm amazed at how long he held back.

The main thrust of D'Agata's argument throughout is that he's writing an "essay," not "journalism." This, he maintains, gives him the right to pretty much do whatever he wants. I'm not buyin' it. If you want to write an essay and smooth out some rough spots by changing a few facts here and there, you ought to tell your reader that up front. That's no big deal; easily done, and it hurts no one. D'Agata would disagree, but who's surprised at that?

The book is not enjoyable to read: it's stressful, and unpleasant, to see the abuse DAgata flings at Fingal, and to see the ridiculous excuses he comes up with for the factual misstatements he includes in the piece. That said, it's also a really fascinating look inside the fact-checking process, and I know I certainly won't read certain pieces of writing the same way again. Being published as it was right around the whole Mike Daisey kerfuffle, the book has a certain timeliness to it; I hope that it's widely read.

There are, however, some real missed opportunities. The book doesn't include any contextualization of the situation at all: mentioned only in passing (on the back cover) was that D'Agata's essay had previously been rejected by the magazine (Harper's) that originally commissioned the piece. Just a few of Fingal's interactions with editors about his exchanges with D'Agata are included, so it's difficult to get an overall sense of the process. Most notably, though, the book concludes at the end of the original draft text of the essay ... we don't get a chance to see what happened next in order to get the piece through to publishable form (presumably a whole lot of back-and-forthing with editors, I imagine). The Lifespan of a Fact doesn't include the final text of the essay as published - for that I ordered up a copy of the magazine where it appeared, because I really wanted to see how the battle ended up playing out.

As it turns out, much to my happiness, many (but not all) of Fingal's substantive issues with various elements of the essay are clarified or corrected in the final version. A couple amusing (or not) exceptions I found are cases where both Fingal and D'Agata agree that D'Agata had made a mistake, but the errors remain in the article. And D'Agata's penchant for changing the names of businesses was allowed to stand, as were a few other liberties and several outright factual misstatements.

I certainly came away from this book with a great appreciation for the fact-checkers of the world ...

This Week's Acquisitions

- The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman (Viking, 2012). Publisher.

- Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News by Dan Rather (Grand Central, 2012). Publisher.

- The Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the Race to Track the Transit of Venus by Mark Anderson (Da Capo, 2012). Publisher.

- The Library of Edward Gibbon: A Catalogue by Sir Geoffrey Keynes (St. Paul's Bibliographies, 1980). Colophon Book Shop.

- Isaiah Thomas: Printer, Patriot and Philanthropist, 1749-1831 by Clifford Kenyon Shipton (Leo Hart, 1948). Colophon Book Shop.

- A Catalogue of Books and Pamphlets from the Library of Maurice Buxton Forman (Quaritch Catalogue No. 926, 1973). Colophon Book Shop.

- Books in Manuscript: A Short Introduction to their Study and Use by Falconer Madan (Haskell House, 1968). Colophon Book Shop.

- The Moving Market: Continuity and Change in the Book Trade; edited by Peter Isaac and Barry McKay (Oak Knoll Press, 2002). Colophon Book Shop.

- The Great EB: The Story of the Encyclopaedia Britannica by Herman Kogan (University of Chicago Press, 1958). Carlson & Turner.

- The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O'Brian (W.W. Norton, 1991). Carlson & Turner.

- The Truelove by Patrick O'Brian (W.W. Norton, 1993). Carlson & Turner.

- The Notebook of John Smibert (MA Historical Society, 1969). Carlson & Turner.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Auction Preview: Schimmel Sale

As promised, a closer look at a very neat sale coming up on at Bonhams London on Wednesday (23 May), when they'll be selling the Stuart B. Schimmel Forgery Collection & Other Properties, in 253 lots.

The first 143 of those lots are Schimmel's. Nicolas Barker provides an introduction, noting how Schimmel came to be interested in collecting literary fakes and forgeries and offering a brief overview of the collection's main focal points. He notes "There has not been a comparable quantity of Wiseian material on the market since the Buxton Forman sale in 1920 or the Pariser sale in 1967," and concludes with the following observation:

"There is a strange fascination about all this material. The motivation to forgery is always complex, whether done for gain or fame, to prove a point or in the belief that something should exist even if neglected by its purported author. It is often difficult to draw the line between pastiche and fake. There is no such difficulty with Stuart's collection. All his are genuine forgeries. He has had a lot of pleasure out of collecting them, and the books about them. It is now the turn of others to enjoy the same pleasure in their dispersal."

The catalog for this sale makes for a fascinating browse through the annals of fakery (I almost wish it had been organized chronologically rather than alphabetically, but no matter). The Wiseiana is all interesting, but a few of the particularly notable pieces include a copy of Wise's infamous 1847 "Reading" edition of Elizabeth Barrett Brownings Sonnets (£2,000-4,000) as well as many Shelley, Swinburne, and Tennyson forgeries. There are letters from Wise following the publication of Carter and Pollard's Enquiry (£1,000-1,500), and a collection of Wise's correspondence with C.W. Hatfield, with whom Wise worked on an edition of the works of the Brontes.

Thomas Chatterton and James Macpherson are represented, the latter by several letters and the printer's manuscript of Ewen Campbell's verse rendition of Fingal (£4,000-6,000), published in 1776. A letter from Hugh Blair regading the Ossian controversy could sell for £1,000-1,500. There's a 1706 letter by George Psalmanazar to Rev. Samuel Reynolds (father of Sir Joshua) of Balliol College, Oxford reporting on the activities of Daniel Defoe, as well as a first edition of Psalmanazar's Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa (£500-700), with all the plates (it's being sold along with copies of P's later Memoirs and related works).

Another major focus are the Ireland Shakespeare forgeries: the lots include a large-paper copy of the first edition of Samuel Ireland's Picturesque Views of the Upper, or Warwickshire, Avon (1795), which mentions the Shakespeare papers (£200-300); a W.H. Ireland letter to Mr. Beadnall offering him a collection of the forged documents (£400-600); and an album containing 25 leaves of Ireland's forgeries arranged by Ireland himself (£15,000-30,000). Several books containing forged Shakespeare annotations and signatures will be offered, including Johannes Carion's The Thre Bokes of Cronicles (£2,000-3,000); Lancelot Andrewes' A Sermon Preached before the Kings Majestie (£500-700); and John Camilton's A Discoverie of the Most Secret and Subtile Practices of the Jesuites (£800-1,200). An Ireland family bible is also up for grabs (£800-1,200). Various editions of the forgeries and copies of the related publications are included as well.

Schimmel's collection also includes four illuminated manuscript leaves by the Spanish Forger (beginning with Lot 86).

Lots 144-158 are described as "The Property of a Lady, including books from the library of the late Graham Pollard, one of the original 'enquirers'. They include Pollard's copies of some of the key Wise-related documents. Lots 161-253 are "The Property of John Collins, co-editor of the second edition of An Enquiry and author of The Two Forgers." Among the most notable lots: several auction catalogs from Wise's own library and a wide range of Forman-related material.

I suppose I'm glad I won't be in London on Wednesday since I'm much less tempted to bid from afar, but what a collection this is! I'll be sure to post a recap after the sale.

Links & Reviews

- The biggest splash in the biblioblogosphere this week was a joint effort by Brooke Palmieri of 8vo and Daryl Green of Echoes from the Vault): "Bloggers of the World Unite: Rare Book Bloggers and the Links They Build." It's as excellent a discussion on the topic as any of us are likely to see, and I'm absolutely thrilled to see that it circulated so widely! Rebecca Rosen used the post as a jumping-off point for an Atlantic piece, Jennifer Schaffner added additional thoughts at hangingtogether.org, and there was much good discussion on Twitter as well. Fantastic stuff.

- Rare Book School has posted some plans and images of their big renovation project, part of which will be ready for this summer's sessions!

- Mills Kelly's George Mason University Lying About the Past course finished up this week, and he revealed the two hoaxes unleashed by his students this time around. Yoni Applebaum wrote up the story for the Atlantic, and that led to some incredibly nasty comments (plus a remarkable discussion on Wikipedia's admin forums about the site's response). Kelly noted Applebaum's piece (and its comments) on 15 May, and responded to some of the comments he was receiving the following day. Frankly I think Kelly's class is a tremendously useful one for both his students and for the world at large, and I hope he's able to teach it again in the future. Mark Sample weighed in on this as well, in "Scholarly Lies and the Deformative Humanities."

- Robert Darnton penned a defense of the NYPL's renovation plans in the NYRB. Jennifer Maloney covered the controversy over the plans for the WSJ.

- Cullen Nutt writes on the Wilson Quarterly blog about the current Smithsonian exhibit highlighting "Jefferson's Bible."

- The Folger announced this week that its Folger Shakespeare Editions texts of Shakespeare's plays will be released for free ("minus glosses, notes and interpretive material").

- From Jen Howard at the Chronicle, updates on plans to create a "central clearinghouse" for archival collections. Such a beast would be terribly useful!

- A watercolor painting believed to be of the Bronte sisters will be up for auction this week, with an estimate of £20,000-30,000.

- A new Tumblr launched this week: "Really Long Titles of Really Old Books."

- AbeBooks UK has launched a blog of their own, Pages & Proofs. I've added a link on the sidebar.

- Jen also filed a story early this week on the GSU copyright case which I mentioned in last weekend's Links. Hers is an excellent overview of the ruling and its implications. She followed up later in the week as responses rolled in. The ARL released an "issue brief" [PDF] on the case on 15 May.

- The Sunday Sun reports today that investigators from the office of the Prison and Probation Ombudsman have asked the newspaper to hand over letters written to the paper by Raymond Scott from prison prior to his suicide on 14 March.

- Brewster Kahle and Rick Prelinger argue in Technology Review for a de-centralized digital library, created by "lots of publishers, booksellers, authors and readers - and lots of libraries." They write "If many actors work together, we can have a robust, distributed publishing and library system, possibly resembling the World Wide Web."

- There's quite a storm brewing around Naples' historic Girolamini Library. In March an art professor, Tomaso Montanari, charged in an Il Fatto op/ed that the library's manager, Mariano Massimo De Caro, wasn't academically fit for the job. A petition to the Minister of Culture, Lorenzo Ornaghi, asked how the government could entrust the management of the Girolamini to "a man bereft of even the minimum academic qualifications or professional competence to honour the role." It had been signed by more than 2,000 academics by mid-April, when De Caro suddenly showed up at a prosecutor's office to report more than 1,500 books "missing" from the library. Gian Antonio Stella's 17 April Corriere della Sera article takes us that far. By 20 April the library had been seized, De Caro suspended on suspicion of embezzlement, and a caretaker head appointed. This week reports indicated that some 240 books with Girolamini library stamps had been found at a storage facility in Verona, where De Caro lives, and that police believe many others had already been sold abroad.

De Caro is described as a "former partner" in the Buenos Aires bookshop Imago Mundi. That shop is owned by Daniel Guido Pastore, who was reportedly involved in the 2007 theft of maps from Spain's national library by César Gómez Rivero. Jennifer Lowe of the RBMS Security Committee has been doing a great job posting updates to this case on Ex-Libris, so keep an eye out there; I'm sure there are more shoes yet to drop.


- Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies; reviews by Catherine Taylor in the Telegraph and Martin Rubin in the LATimes.

- Richard Fortey's Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms; review by Constance Casey in the NYTimes.

- Katherine Frank's Crusoe; review by Joanna Scutts in the WaPo.

- Andrea Wulf's Chasing Venus; review by JoAnn C. Gutin in the NYTimes.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

This Week's Acquisitions

New this week:

- The Sovereignties of Invention by Matthew Battles (Red Lemonade, 2012). Amazon.

- McSweeney's Issue 40; edited by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's, 2012). Amazon.

- First Founders: American Puritans and Puritanism in an Atlantic World by Francis J. Bremer (University of New Hampshire Press, 2012). Publisher.

- Black Fridays by Michael Sears (Putnam, 2012). Publisher.

- City of Women by David R. Gillham (Amy Einhorn Books, 2012). Publisher.

- Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews (Riverhead, 2012). Publisher.

- 12.21 by Dustin Thomason (Dial Press, 2012). Publisher.

- Mission to Paris by Alan Furst (Random House, 2012). Publisher.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: "The Passage of Power"

When I looked back to see when I'd read Master of the Senate, Robert Caro's last volume on LBJ, I almost couldn't believe that it was a full decade ago. Back then I read the first three volumes, but the third was the one I enjoyed the most (being something of a political junkie myself, I appreciated the amazing level of Senate-minutiae Caro was able to pack in). At long last the next volume has arrived, and I'm pleased to say it was entirely worth the wait. The Passage of Power (Knopf, 2012) is yet another brick of a book, but it pulled me in completely (to such an extent that I literally dreamed one night that I was in a meeting with LBJ - not an entirely pleasant experience, to be sure, but a testament to Caro's ability to set a scene, I think).

This volume covers the 1960 campaign, LBJ's miserable (to put it mildly) three years as vice-president, and then "the transition," the seven-week period following JFK's assassination when Johnson took up the reins of power. Just how much happened during that brief period (even in just remainder of 1963, really) is absolutely astounding, and Caro deftly manages to convey just how quickly and urgently the wheels began to turn as Johnson assumed the presidency. Knowing that he had to both continue the program begun by Kennedy and also begin to put his own stamp on the administration if he wanted to have a record to run on in 1964, Johnson deployed his full arsenal of political weapons to the greatest possible effect. The results, truly, were nothing short of remarkable.

There are parts of this book which are terribly difficult to read. Johnson's treatment of subordinates often left something to be desired, and Caro's description of LBJ's vice-presidency (when he in turn was treated quite poorly by the Kennedy partisans) is cringe-inducing. I'd known about the level of hate (not too strong a word, as Caro notes) which characterized the relationship between LBJ and Robert Kennedy, but  Caro explores it to a level I hadn't read before. On the other hand, there are some sections here which highlight some really interesting aspects of Johnson's personality: the state visit of the West German chancellor to his Texas ranch, the surprising step he took to integrate an Austin social club, and the way(s) he managed to get Kennedy's tax and civil rights bills passed make for wonderful reading.

Some reviews have said that Caro repeats too much here from previous volumes; I didn't find this a problem, since it's been ten years. I appreciated the refreshers. I hope it won't be another decade before the next (and final) book makes its appearance, but no matter how long it takes, I'll be waiting. Mr. Caro, keep up the good work.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Links & Reviews

- Late on Friday night we learned that the judge had issued a ruling in the Georgia State University e-reserves copyright case. You can read the decision here (all 350 pages of it - PDF). Duke's Kevin Smith stayed up very late reading and digesting it as well: his post's title, "not an easy road for anyone," sums it up fairly well. On balance the decision is a fairly positive one for fair-use advocates, although some of the judge's holdings aren't necessarily what libraries might have wanted. And the case is certainly going to be appealed, so the saga is anything but over. I'm sure we'll hear much more about the decision this week, and I'll post more links &c. as I can.

- If you've been following the NYPL-renovation saga at all (or even if you haven't), you'll want to read Charles Petersen's n+1 two-parter, "Lions in Winter." Part One, Part Two.

- This week saw the 200th anniversary of the assassination of British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval. David C. Hanrahan wrote a good overview of the case for Public Domain Review.

- A new blog to add to your reading lists: Unique at Penn.

- In The Telegraph, Hilary Mantel talks to Thomas Penn about Bring Up the Bodies.

- From the Fine Books Blog, the "Bright Young Things" series continues with Amir Naghib of Captain Ahab's Rare Books.

- Leah Price discusses How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain with Craig Fehrman in the Boston Globe.

- A great "What manner o' thing is your crocodile?" challenge from Sarah Werner over at The Collation (with some very useful discussion in the comments as well).

- From PW, Judith Rosen writes on "Used-Book Stores in the Digital Age,"


- E.O. Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth; review by Paul Bloom in the NYTimes.

- Kate Summerscale's Mrs. Robinson's Diary; review by Mark Bostridge in the TLS.

- Peter Carey's The Chemistry of Tears; review by Sam Sacks in the WSJ.

- Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies; review by Ruth Scurr in the TLS.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review: "God's Jury"

I picked up Cullen Murphy's God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) before bed last night, intending to just read a bit and then set it aside this morning while I turned to the newly-arrived Robert Caro doorstop. That didn't work, and I spent most of the day with Murphy's book instead (I've waited ten years for the Caro, it can wait another day, I decided). Once I started reading this one I knew there was going to be no putting it down.

From the Cathars to Galileo to Graham Greene, Murphy explores the origins, methods, processes and legacies of the Inquisition in all its various incarnations over the centuries, and then uses a series of unnervingly apt comparisons to show how the ideas and techniques first deployed during the Inquisition have gone far beyond theological investigation.

I'm not entirely sure how readers who aren't in agreement with Murphy on such questions as whether waterboarding is torture will respond to this book, but I had no problem with it, and found the section where he compares description of Inquisition-era interrogation techniques with modern manuals fairly remarkable (I suppose they oughtn't have surprised me as much as they did).

Murphy doesn't just argue his case, though; he also does quite a good job of describing the different archival repositories he visited in researching the book, and explores at some depth the records themselves (and the various uses to which they've been put by scholars), which makes for very interesting reading indeed. He is able to inject a certain amount of whimsical digression and witty humor into the subject as well; given the topic, this is most welcome.

Recommended without reservation.

This Week's Acquisitions

A little bit of everything this week:

- The Worlds of Giordano Bruno by Alan W. Powers (Cortex Design, 2012). Author.

- James Madison: A Son of Virginia and a Founder of the Nation by Jeff Broadwater (UNC Press, 2012). Amazon.

- The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro (Knopf, 2012). Amazon.

- The Sufferings of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; translation by Stanley Corngold (W.W. Norton, 2012). Amazon.

- America's Other Audubon by Joy Kiser (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Publisher.

- Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens by Andrea Wulf (Knopf, 2012). Publisher.

- Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italy: Images from a Scientific Revolution by Domenico Laurenza (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012). Publisher.

- Caleb Williams (Broadview Literary Texts) by William Godwin (Broadview, 2000). Longfellow Books.

- John Paul Stevens: An Independent Life by Bill Barnhart and Gene Schlickman (Northern Illinois University Press, 2010). Longfellow Books.

- The Phone Book: The Curious History of the Book That Everyone Uses But No One Reads by Ammon Shea (Perigree, 2010). Green Hand.

- The Passage by Justin Cronin (Ballantine, 2010). Green Hand.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Book Review: "Bring Up the Bodies"

If you liked Wolf Hall, you won't want to miss the sequel. Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies (Henry Holt, 2012) hits shelves soon, and at least from my perspective, it's just as good a volume as its predecessor.

In the new book, Mantel gives us her fictional account of Thomas Cromwell's perspective on the period from September 1535 through the fall of Anne Boleyn in the middle of 1536. The short time-frame allows Mantel to really explore events deeply, from the death of Henry VIII's estranged first wife Katherine of Aragon, to Henry's growing disaffection for Anne Boleyn (and attraction to Jane Seymour). Cromwell was positioned perfectly to provide a view of all these goings-on, and Mantel puts him to good use. She's left out a few characters, &c. to make the story work better (see her Author's Note for details), and of course her version isn't meant to be the "real" story, but as a possible interpretation it certainly makes for an enjoyable read.

I wrote in my review of the previous book that having a search window open nearby as you read would be handy, but I feel like the characters have become a bit more familiar to us (or at least to me) in the meantime, and I didn't feel that need as I read this volume. That made it easier to just lose myself in Mantel's version of this, surely one of the most interesting few-month periods in English history!

[Update: The publisher's sent along a brief excerpt from the audiobook of Bring Up the Bodies, narrated by Simon Vince. Enjoy!] 

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Links & Reviews

- Everett Wilkie reported on ExLibris-L today that three of the "Transylvania Four": Charles Thomas Allen, Eric Borsuk, and Spencer Reinhard, were released from federal prison on Friday, 4 May. The fourth, Warren Lipka, is scheduled for release on 28 May.

- Former NARA curator Leslie Waffen was sentenced this week to 18 months in prison, followed by 2 years of supervised released. He was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. The AP's Jessica Gresko filed a piece this week recounting how Waffen's thefts came to be discovered.

- Neil Gaiman talked to the NYTimes about his reading habits; guaranteed to make you smile at one point or another.

- Analysts at the British Museum have determined that a John White map of the area around the Roanoke colony may include clues to the ultimate fate of the colony and its members. See the full report here [PDF].

- Draft pages of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "The Little Prince" will go on sale at Paris' Artcurial auction house on 16 May.

- Sid Lapidus' talk at the recent New York Book Fair on the nature of book collecting is now online.

- Some crazy and incredibly sad stuff going on in Canada, where Libraries and Archives Canada has been ordered to cut staff by 20% over three years (among other reductions). See an outline of the planned cuts here.

- Sarah Werner has posted the text of a talk she gave at the Geographies of Desire conference in late April, "Where Book Culture Meets Digital Humanities."

- From the AAS' Past is Present blog, Jackie Penny writes about finding Ansel Adams' name in the visitor logs.

- In Slate, E.O. Wilson talks to Liz Else about his new book The Social Conquest of Earth.

- Trinity College's Watkinson Library has acquired a Second Folio.

- It's been fascinating to watch the story about the discovery of a Paul Revere print at Brown make the rounds; this week it was featured in the New York Times.

- From The Millions, "Are eReaders Really Green?"

- A Voynich 100 conference will be held at Rome's Villa Mondragone on Friday, 11 May, to mark the 100th anniversary of the "discovery" of the Voynich Manuscript. Any readers going?

- J.L. Bell highlights a Ben Franklin letter which suggests Franklin may have been the American to write a description of tofu ("Tau-fu").

- A new crowd-sourcing project from the Bodleian Library, "What the score at the Bodleian?" aims to allow general users to assist with the cataloging of music scores.

- Also on crowd-sourcing, don't miss Jennifer Howard's Chronicle article, "Breaking Down Menus Digitally, Dish by Dish."

- Caleb Crain offers "A New Plan for the New York Public Library."

- A new issue of Common-place is up, with three feature essays on political history.

- May's AE Monthly is out.

- A report by NARA's inspector general on missing "top secret" materials at the Washington National Records Center is now available. It makes for fairly interesting reading, actually.

- William St Clair talked to The Browser about five books he considers key to the history of reading during the Romantic period.


- Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies; reviews by James Wood in The New Yorker, Janet Maslin in the NYTimes.

- Robert Caro's The Passage of Power; reviews by Bill Clinton in the NYTimes; Michiko Kakutani in the NYTimes;

- Ian Maclean's Scholarship, Commerce, Religion; review by Scott McLemee at Inside Higher Ed.

- G. Thomas Tanselle's Book-Jackets; review by James Ferguson in the TLS.

- Thomas Penn's Winter King; review by Nick Owchar in the LATimes.

- Peter Silverman's Leonardo's Lost Princess; review by T. Rees Shapiro in the WaPo.

- Charles Mann's 1491 and 1493; review by Jeremy Adelman in Foreign Affairs.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

This Week's Acquisitions


- The Gardiners of Massachusetts: Provincial Ambition and the British-American Career by T. A. Milford   (University of New Hampshire Press, 2005). Amazon (used).

- The Lifespan of a Fact by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal (W.W. Norton, 2012). Amazon.

- Essays of E.B. White (HarperPerennial, 1999). Amazon (used).

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Auction Report: Recent Sales and May Preview

Just in case we biblio-folk needed some perspective: last night's sale of "The Scream" for $119.9 million was more than the totals realized over all the book auctions in 2011 for both Christie's and Sotheby's combined.

Before we get to May, some April sale notes:

- Doyle New York sold Rare Books, Autographs, and Maps on 23 April. The surprise top seller was a group of manuscript leaves, which fetched $86,500 over estimates of $2,000-3,000. was The first octavo edition of Audubon's Birds of America sold for $56,250.

- At Christie's Travel, Science and Natural History on 25 April, the total realized was £1,031,500. The 1794 W. & S. Jones orrery fetched £32,450, while the ~1705/15 German pocket globe sold for £18,750. The top lot was an Augustin Brunias oil painting, which made £87,650.

- The top lot at PBA Galleries' 26 April sale of Fine Americana, Travel & Exploration, and Cartography was a copy of the very rare American Bond Detector (1869), which sold for $5,700.

- Results for Bloomsbury's 27 April Bibliophile Sale are here.

And now, May:

- Today at Bloomsbury, the Angling Collection of George Miskin, in 704 lots.

- At Sotheby's on 9 May, Travel, Atlases, Maps, & Natural History, in 212 lots. Top estimate goes to Linnaeus Tripe's Views of Burma, 120 albumen prints (£150,000-200,000).

- On 10 May, PBA Galleries will sell the Library of Michael Killigrew desTombe, in 233 lots. The top-estimated lot is John Dee's Monas hieroglyphica (1564), estimated at $50,000-80,000.

- Christie's Paris on 11 May has Importants Livres Anciens, Livres d'artiste et Manuscrits, in 227 lots. The top estimate goes to a ~1490 Tuscan Mahzor (est. 400,000-600,000 EUR).

- Bloomsbury sells Important Books and Manuscripts on 15 May, in 372 lots.

- At Swann on 15 May, Early Printed, Scientific, Medical, and Travel Books, in 400 lots. Lots include a Hebrew Bible signed by Increase Mather.

- Also on 15 May, Livres et Manuscrits at Sotheby's Paris, in 184 lots. A group of Guillaume Apollinaire letters rates the top estimate, at 150,000-250,000 EUR.

- At Christie's New York on 18 May, Important Printed Books and Americana from the Albert H. Small Collection, in 151 lots. Highlights include copies of the SecondThird, and Fourth Folios, a first edition of Audubon's Quadrupeds with great provenance, a first octavo of Audubon's Birds in the original wrappers, and a Kelmscott Chaucer, among other fantastic lots.

- Another angling library: Bonhams sells the Angling Library of Alan Jarvis on 22 May, in 489 lots.

- A neat one at Bonhams on 23 May: the Stuart B. Schimmel Forgery Collection, in 253 lots. They're all here: Chatterton, Ireland, Ossian, Forman, Wise ... I wish this one was in New York and not London, but I suppose it's probably a good thing I can't go! I'll have a more detailed rundown of this one as we get closer to the date.

- No previews yet for the following: PBA Galleries Fine Literature & Books in All Fields on 24 May; Music and Continental Books & Manuscripts at Sotheby's on 29 May.