A couple of years ago, I read one of the most delightful nonfiction books I can remember: A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes. So it was with enormous pleasure that I began his second major volume.
Patience and Fortitude, as most people are aware, are the names of the two marble lions that guard the entrance to the New York Public Library, which makes the title of this book particularly apt for what turned out to be (I intentionally avoided reading any synopsis) a history of the evolution of the library in the Western world, told in Basbanes chatty, anecdote-sprinkled style.
As with the first Basbanes book, I found this one engrossing. It has the advantage that it deals with a subject that has a much wider appeal than insane book collectors but, at the same time, loses a little bit of the charm that the quirkier topic brought with it.
Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful volume which, in a mere 550 pages, gives you an overview of how ancient knowledge was stored and replicated and reached us, as well as telling us what a modern library looks like, and the issues facing it in the future (as seen in 2001, when the book was published).
It’s a good one, and it’s portable size allows one to read it anywhere but, for my money, the best book about libraries I’ve ever read is still this one. Kinda hard to lug around on the subway, though.
I’d say the Basbanes is the right volume for those who’s like to read character-driven history of libraries. The Campbell – Price for those who are a bit more visually oriented. Both are wonderful, so don’t chose one or the other, buy them both and enjoy them.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. The plot of his thriller Timeless centers around a book and an ancient monastery, but it still manages to avoid resembling The Name of the Rose in any way. You can check it out here.