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3.24 of 5 stars 3.24  ·  rating details  ·  1,018 ratings  ·  119 reviews
Isaac Inchbold, the asthmatic proprietor of Nonsuch Books on London Bridge, is an unassuming hero, drawn into a dangerous game of duplicity and intrigue when he is asked to track down an elusive manuscript in the summer of 1660. The Labyrinth of the World, marked with the ex-libris of intrepid collector Sir Ambrose Plessington, may be a little-known Hermetic text, a map of ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published January 1st 2001 by Walker & Co (first published 1998)
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This is a rare example of a book that starts out well and gets more and more boring and confusing as it goes on. The author wrote non-fiction before this and it shows in Ex-Libris. He appears to have gotten carried away with his research and recounts the entire history of the world up until 1660. He drops names and events and years and I sat there scratching my head and saying, "Huh?" And I like history! The one bright spot in this book is the character, Isaac Inchbold. He is a feisty old man wh ...more
Apr 22, 2013 John rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one
Recommended to John by: The cover
The author of Brunelleschi's Dome might have done better. The comparison of this overwrought intellectual mystery to Eco's The Name of the Rose is sad misinformation for the reader. Anachronisms and the repetitive use of "rumours" and "gossip" to give information about far too complicated a plot are distracting, and the action drawing the, by now weary, reader on is not credible. Read this "Dome" and then reread Eco.
E.J. Stevens
Ex Libris opens in the year 1660 with the character of Isaac Inchbold, widower and proprietor of Nonesuch Books located upon London Bridge. Isaac Inchbold, an agoraphobic London bookseller, is happily going about his sheltered existence when he receives a mysterious letter from an even more mysterious Lady Marchamont. Upon his summons to Pontifex Hall Inchbold learns that Lady Marchamont wishes him to begin a search for the manuscript The Labyrinth of the World. Inchbold surprises himself by acc ...more
I know a couple of other people who tried to get through this and found it underwhelming, but I truly enjoyed it. I just came across it as I was cleaning off a shelf and recalled how intriguing I found it. I have not generally been one for the "detective" genre. However, this book is so cleverly written and weaves so much of the culture of the late Renaissance, with particular emphasis on the widespread development of printing and book-trading, into its story. There are a lot of off-the-wall Lat ...more
Karen Hartshorn
This was a kind of exciting story with a mystery--it had a lot of history in it but it was kind of a narrow history or specific history,I wouldn't know for sure if it was real and it left me too confused to look into it. But It kept me entertained with it's chases, mysterious books that the whole world is lookng for and collaping houses. Galilio makes an appearence too but it didn't have enough explanation of how he got there. The story was a bit disjointed and confusing at times but it had enou ...more
Fun historical novel about books and political intrigues set during the English Restoration. A bit confusing at times (but that was because I wasn't clear about the historical events) but engrossing, I read it in 2 days (it was also too humid to do anything else). Can't say too much without giving things away, but Mr. Inchbald, a book dealer, is hired by Althea Marchmont to find a very rare old book that was taken from her family, the Labyrinth of the World.
This review originally appeared at

Like most book lovers, I have a bit of a thing about books about anything remotely bookish: mysterious tomes, life in the stacks, binding and printing, the angsty authorial existence, and so forth. I’ll happily make a concerted effort to seek out such books, and have a rather impressive collection of these, erm, bookish books. In fact, my very favourite book of all time, Francesca Duranti’s The House on Moon Lake, is such a book, and
An intriguing tale in the realm of literary thrillers. King does an excellent job of bringing to life 17-century London and the world of the bookseller Inchbold, which is crucial to both caring about the story and understanding the implications raised during the course of events. Lovers of books as artifacts will delight in the minutiae of the various tomes names and the information about them that makes them special, the editions, the printers, the papers and bindings. The narrator cares about ...more
Jan 21, 2009 Rebecca rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one except the very patient and forgiving
This book was so mind-numbingly boring that I couldn't bring myself to get past page 56. The premise is that a bookseller/collector of rare books in 17th century London is asked by a once-wealthy heiress to restore her grand library to its former glory. There's a murder or two involved, and some arcane books, and some potential drama lurking around the corner. But that's just what I got from the back cover of the book. The only thing that actually happened in 56 pages of the book was some clumsy ...more
Jason Edwards
Jul 07, 2011 Jason Edwards rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: "book" lovers
Recommended to Jason by: critics who read The Shadow of the Wind
Boring. I'm sorry, but it was tough for me to get through this. Essentially a detective novel, which is why I managed to finish, as I wanted to see the mystery resolved. But it was just so thick with history, rife with the kind of esoteria that only a historian could enjoy. So some people will really enjoy this one. Whereas some folks read for plot, and some read for the clever language, Ex Libris is a novel full of stuff. That Ross King write mostly non-fiction is no surprise at all.

I only pick
I love historical fiction, particularly when, as in Ross King's case, a mystery is involved. Ex-Libris was a satisfying, and rewarding read for at least 300 of it's 392 pages (Paperback Edition). I have read many books involving English history, still, I feel Ex-Libris painted a picture more vividly of life in the mid-1600's.

Without giving anything away, or not much anyway, Ex-Libris is a story set in the disastrous years of and after English Reformation. There are two stories entwined together
I wanted to like this book more than I did, as it was steeped in 17th-century literary history. Alas, the plot was unwieldy, the obscure references didn't really pull together as a common thread, and my suspense-of-disbelief began to fray. King attempted to connect too many world issues into a mystery-thriller with chase scenes, and it kept the story from maintaining the tone and pace set in the beginning of the book. Also, and this may be purely personal preference, but I often find myself less ...more
J.L. Greger
I usually like historical mysteries, but it took me four months to read Ex-Libris. The author Ross King vividly recreates London just after the English Civil War as the protagonist, a bookseller, takes an assignment to find a lost manuscript for a rather secretive lady. The scenes are well written with all sorts of historically-correct details, and the characters have all sorts of interesting quirks. Maybe, that’s the problems. The plot I, or least my caring about the plot, was lost in all the t ...more
Pluses: 1) A very interesting setting. You don't read many novels set in this time period (mid 1600s), and giving the reader a sense of place was well done. 2) You'll like this very much if you're obsessed with old books (like, when first editions of classics came out, etc.) 3) The plot wasn't wholly without merit. 4) I learned a lot of new vocab words.
Negatives: 1) Okay, it was difficult in the extreme to follow this story amid all the book facts and other "tidbits" that the author had obviousl
Started out fabulously, brilliantly intriguing, great characters and premise into which I was immediately drawn only to have what could have been a fabulous story become more and more bogged down in the exceedingly heavy dragging weight of History - with a capital 'H'. The author, Ross King is a brilliant historian, I loved 'Bruneleschi's Dome' and I'm sure I'm going to love his new book 'Leonardo and the Last Supper' but Ex Libris floundered and eventually sank under the weight of a far too com ...more
I wanted to like this book more than I ultimately did. It's set in an interesting time period, and it makes good us of all kinds of cool 17th century stuff, from London Bridge to alchemy, to Galileo to the search for longitude to Elizabeth of Bohemia. The basic idea is that the narrator, Inchbold, is hired to find a missing rare book, and in doing so is plunged into an arcane political conspiracy.

And the intricate plot is very interesting, if you like that kind of thing (I do). The trouble is, t
Favorite Quotes

Quite amazing how determined kings and emperors have been to destroy books. But civilization is built on such desecrations, is it not? Justinian the Great burned all of the Greek scrolls in Constantinople after he codified the Roman law and drove the Ostrogoths from Italy. And Shih Huang Ti, the first Emperor of China, the man who unified the five kingdoms and built the Great Wall, decreed that every book written before he was born should be destroyed.

…Because every ruler celebrat
Maria Osorio
I very seldom leave a book halfway. I usually finish it, even if it's boring, annoying, slow, stupid or all of the above; and beside my greatest efforts I couldn't find myself finishing this one, everytime I wanted to continue reading, I doze off. It started so interesting and intriguing, with time, but with every new chapter it was evident that nothing exciting is happening or going to happen; and that I better just leave it. Life is too short to waste it on books that don't inspire me.
I really wanted to like this book. It had all the right pieces to be a great story. There's a book seller, Bookman's row, mystery, lost manuscripts, etc. But it just didn't grab me.

I realize there are a bazillion folks out there who love this book. But by the end, I was just ready for it to be over.

There are two stories moving forward in this book. With each chapter you're either in one or the other. Maybe it was King's way of flipping back and forth that turned me off. Or the way he waits so lo
Another book about books! Just can't get enough of these. This one by King is really interesting. It's set in the 17th Century, and King's descriptions of the city of London and the English country side are vivid and life like. For me, the book also has a very gothic feel to it. Rather Poe-like at times. I loved King's depictions of Lady Marchamont, Pontifex Hall, etc. Lots of descriptions of antique volumes, with extended lists of titles on library shelves. Wonderful! In some places it read mor ...more
I picked it up with high hopes - the intriguing title, the promise of a historical romp through rare books - but the author's unrelenting suspense... ugh. Not a single clue or piece of information can be passed without first jumping to a new scene, one of uninteresting drudgery, and then leading up to a long discussion of unrelated topics, which the principal characters engage in with great enthusiasm, butler-maiding their way through all the news of the day and recent history. It wouldn't be so ...more
Katy M
I'm not quite sure what to make of this book. There was some adventure going on it, but it all seemed to lead nowhere. And it all seemed so contrived. On the plus side, the main character was very likeable.
The book started well with interesting characters and plot movement. But towards the end, the plot twists got so convoluted that the characters lost credibility and became tedious.

Still, I am glad I read Ex-Libris for historical reasons. King does a great job making this period come to life. I took side trips to the web to brush up on the Cromwell period in England, the Habsburg dynasty and Galileo's discoveries.

It got me thinking about the vicious sectarian violence Europe and the Americas wen
Margaret Kerry
This was a promising book. Eventually I found the narration wordy and confusing. I think this was because of the prose used. The language was drawn out and heavy.
A byzantine adventure story set in England during the reign of Charles II. A bookseller is enlisted to find a rare manuscript which was lost during the 30 years war. Flashes back and forth between the early- and late-1600's. I had a hard time telling whether the narrator was supremely omniscient or the flashbacks were in the third-person. Touches on all the themes of the time: Protestants vs. Catholics, Spain vs. England, New World exploration, longitude, Galileo, etc. Not as "girly" as the his ...more
Great writing bogged down my unnecessarily details. Plot starts out strong and then goes nowhere.
This was a very confusing book! Isaac Inchbold, a bookseller near London Bridge in Elizabethan England, is called to the home of a wealthy widow who is trying to recreate her husband’s library, which has been looted, and also attacked by bugs and water. She is looking in particular for one book, and wants the original one that her husband had owned. Isaac takes on the assignment reluctantly, but hoping to be able to earn the huge sum of money she has promised him. Coincidences begin to pile on ...more
I was rather disappointed by this book. A historic mystery involving a library, a mysterious woman, a swashbuckling adventurer, espionage, and secret books—how could you go wrong? Ross King manages to, though. An unexpectedly somber ending seemed totally inappropriate for the amusing, sometimes comic, story that precedes. The convoluted resolution, including the destinies of some key characters, was abruptly and unsatisfyingly explained to us like a history lesson in the final few pages. By the ...more
In this edition PAGES 121-152 ARE MISSING!! And pages 153-184 are repeated. I ask other readers who have different editions to check ...perhaps your copy is similarly defective??

I quite enjoyed the first 120 pages. 17th-century northern Europe is not my favorite subject but I know it well and did not find the end of English Civil War period or the beginnings of the Thirty Year War in the Germanic states particularly "obscure."

I'm really curious how many editions are misprinted and if that has af
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LARGEST GROUP ON ...: King's Ex-Libris missing pages? 1 5 Feb 22, 2015 11:41AM  
Misprint Editions 1 1 Feb 22, 2015 11:17AM  
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Ross King (born July 16, 1962) is a Canadian novelist and non-fiction writer. He began his career by writing two works of historical fiction in the 1990s, later turning to non-fiction, and has since written several critically acclaimed and best-selling historical works.

More about Ross King...
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism Leonardo and the Last Supper Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power

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“And as I surveyed the clutter of his study I was pleased to see that he was a man after my own heart. All of his money appeared to have been spent on either books or shelves to hold them.” 13 likes
“There was nothing so dangerous to a king or an emperor as a book. Yes, a great library—a library as magnificent as this one—was a dangerous arsenal, one that kings and emperors feared more than the greatest army or magazine.” 5 likes
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