The Book of Lost Books
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The Book of Lost Books

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  343 ratings  ·  69 reviews
An account of books destroyed, misplaced, never finished, or never even begun - from ancient Greek and Arabic masters through Shakespeare, Dante and Hemingway right up to the present day.
Published (first published 2005)
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Greg
Jeez, I just checked on the pub date for this book. 2006. Opps. I didn't think it was that long ago.

Let me explain the opps. It relates to the book, so it's all good and relevant.

Sometime in 2006 this book showed up in the store. Maybe it sold a few copies, maybe it didn't. I don't know. But even if it sold a couple inevitably after a few months the people who sign my paychecks and Random House said, "Hey, we don't need to keep this book in the stores anymore, send them home."

Of course I said,...more
Howard Olsen
A fun breezy book about "lost" books; those being books that have been lost to us either through deathm destruction, or authorial neglect. Kelly starts with the ancients, such as Aeschelus, Sophocles, and Aristotle many of whose works were consigned to the pyre during the burning of the Library of Alexandria. He then moves into the modern world, with stops along the way for Confusious, Shakespere, Dickens, Jane Austen, and many more. The chapters are short, which makes this a fairly light read....more
Alan
Mar 12, 2010 Alan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Antiquarians and those interested in the lacunae of literary history
Recommended to Alan by: Its title on the shelf
Stuart Kelly's introduction makes it clear that he's, umm, One of Us—that is, a collector and a completist, a Dr. Who and Star Wars fan, and something of a cynic. So if not an Everyman, at least a man after my own heart in some significant ways. Kelly's teenaged interest in big-L Literature merged with that urge for completion to spark his collection of the stories that make up this book.

Kelly has done a creditable job of turning what could have been a mere annotated anti-bibliography into a chr...more
Nikki
You'd think this book would be right up my street. Lost books -- whether written and then lost, or curtailed by the author's death, or only ever imagined -- fascinate me. In the various books I've read where there are miraculous libraries -- Dream's library in The Sandman, Beast's library in Robin McKinley's retelling, Death's library in Michael Scott's work... -- they always enthrall me. And I love random facts. There are more tigers in private hands in the USA than anywhere else in the world.

B...more
Ensiform
A chronological survey of lost books and books that never were, from ideas for novels that never materialized on paper to valuable manuscripts burnt or censored or mislaid, from the anonymous ancients who assembled Gilgamesh and possible attributions to Homer to Sylvia Plath’s never-completed novel of adultery and the hecatomb of her manuscripts by Ted Hughes. Each chapter is a page or two, five at most, of musings on what this or that author might have accomplished, or how his or her reputatio...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Sure, it's "esoteric and demanding" (New York Times), but that quality seems to be The Book of Lost Books' charm. A regular literary critic for Scotland on Sunday, this is Stuart Kelly's first book, a work born from a lifelong fascination with the missing pieces of literary history. The breadth of Kelly's knowledge impressed critics as much as his ability to be both approachable and authoritative, even though his sense of "what counts as

MJ Nicholls
This exhausting and exuberant book acts as both a pocket-sized guide to literature from the Ancient Greeks to Georges Perec, AND compiles the books they never got around to writing.

It is billed as a "bibliophile's dream", which is perhaps a little niche for a book that can be enjoyed both by casual readers and bookworms with an interest in the curios/origins of literature.

Recommended.
Matt
An excellent book for people who want to know a little bit of everything. This book has been sitting next to my bed for the past few months. Each chapter is a fairly concise summary of a well known author, focused on a work, or works of that author that has been lost. Moving forward through time from the Ancient world to modern times, it provides a very interesting selection of western literature. While it is depressing to learn how much has been lost, it also makes one aware of how very much is...more
Guillermojimenezespneo
De pronto salta la liebre y te enteras de esos neuróticos que desde pequeños viven obsesionados por conseguir lo que sea que los tiene obsesionados. En este caso libros o autores o ambos. Mi amigo Stuart nos da un excelente repaso de los libros que si se escribieron se perdieron, de los que se quedaron en la etapa del deseo de escribirlos en la mente de sus autores, etc. Me recuerda a los eruditos que a falta de las obras de los autores clásicos, dedicaron su tiempo de vida a recopilar lo que lo...more
Wm
Not as interesting as I thought it would be and the tone is either not arch enough or too arch. And, yes, I felt that way even before I got to the Joseph Smith chapter, which my Mormon friends should know is basically warmed over Fawn Brodie and Mark Twain.

I think that the main issue is that in trying to have a clever take on each author, Kelly either understrives or overreaches or glosses over context. And in some places he's so clever that I'm still not sure entirely what the deal is. So on t...more
Stephen
Despite the brevity of the chapters (only a few more than four pages long)this was perhaps not a book to read while recovering from surgery and on a regimen of heavy duty painkillers due to the dense and, possibly deliberately, pretentious writing style of the author. A sample from the chapter on Goethe: "An investigation into the Europe-wide sociopathic hysteria that accomapnied his sentimentally melancholic, slightly overwrought novel The Sorrows of Young Werther does not simultaneously evoke...more
pierlapo  kirby
Un libro che parla dei libri che non potremo mai leggere, perché andati perduti nel corso dei secoli o magari distrutti dagli stessi autori.
Se vi incuriosiscono i retroscena che si celano dietro la decisione di Gogol di bruciare il manoscritto contenente il seguito delle Anime Morte o vi chiedete come mai Menandro venisse considerato, senza mezzi termini, il più grande commediografo dell'antichità, questo è il libro che fa per voi.
Pavandeep Singh
I loved this book. This guy has lots of charm and his insouciant honesty is fantastic, like when he talks about the Mormons. I enjoyed reading this book and it has spured me to read what I can, it's really the kind of book for people who feel they are losing out and this is like a glaring reminder of how much less you have to read and stop whining you c***!!!!
Douglas Summers-Stay
It's too bad Borges didn't write this book. I liked the idea of such a book but mostly didn't care about the particular books that he wrote about. He does mention the lost 113 pages, but just to make fun of it.
Rob
great idea, lousy execution.

the author's long-winded, vague, tiresome style torpedoes (and SINKS) a first-class idea.

one of those books where you read a paragraph & go "what?"
Keith Davis
This is a book to be savored. Anyone who loves literature, and especially anyone who collects books, will be fascinated by this look at so many works that are lost to the world. Some were lost over the centuries, such has Homer's epic comedy The Margites. Some were destroyed by their authors, such as parts II and III of Gogol's Dead Souls. Some were left unfinished due to the author's death, like Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Some could never be finished, such as Leibniz's Universal Encyc...more
Tina
This book slowed down my rushed zip through the 000s of the Dewey decimal system. It literally, literally hurt me to read this book. For example (and no I could not go back later to look up the exact title or author, because it hurt enough the first time) there’s the story of an ancient text which an Egyptian king wanted to add to his library. Since there was only one copy, he paid the owner of it fifteen dinar (which is a lot of money) to borrow the book and have a copy made. Then he decided it...more
Krystle
Some books—although I'm not likely to remember them for very long—are at least fun while reading them.

This, on the other hand, was neither memorable nor fun.

It was not engaging. It was not amusing. And the writing, at times, stank of the author trying way too hard to be sly.
Humanist authors assign to this bishop (or not) a singular work, to wit, his history of all things past and upcoming, which diachronously charts, from birth and youth to coffin and tomb, a living individual's span. An ambiti
...more
Ann
Jan 23, 2014 Ann rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: people with an interest in literary history
Shelves: language-books
Let me start by admitting that I didn't finish this book, so I may have missed some gems.

This book is supposed to be an attempt at an inventory of "lost books", books which were written but have not survived. As you might expect, a large part of the book refers to books from ancient times, which were mentioned in surviving works but have never been found. So far, so good. But later I began to realize that this also applies to books which were unfinished (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Dickens,...more
Wendy Jones
For those who, like me, love books and anything to do with books you will find this book really interesting. Many of the authors you will have heard of such as Homer, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Dante, Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, Flaubert etc, but many others were completely new to me. It amazes me how many books were burnt, not only by the writers themselves, but by their heirs as requested in their wills. Why would anyone spend their life writing and then want every scrap of it burnt. The b...more
Daniel
I suspect Jorge Luis Borges would have enjoyed this quirky collection of literary vignettes.

The author casts his net wide by using "lost" in a loose sense. Included are books which were projected but never actually written, incomplete works, and even extant books whose final published form differs significantly from the original conception (like part II of Don Quixote).

He also displays an acerbic wit and a healthy irreverence, going so far as insinuating that some of the lost works are better t...more
Charles
A survey of lost manuscripts, destroyed unique copies, death-interrupted masterpieces, rejected commissions, and otherwise unreadable titles, from unknown precursors of Gilgamesh to Georges Perec's unfinished 53 Days. I suppose the most horrifying chapter is on Carlyle's History of the French Revolution, whose manuscript was destroyed by John Stuart Mills's maid. Kelly almost puts you in the room when Mills makes his "ashen-faced and barely comprehensible" confession. Before then, you meet Dante...more
Roxanne
I got maybe a third of the way through this book before I gave up. A fascinating topic, but Kelly's going chronologically by author lifetime, and I barely got past ancient Greece. We will never read the lost works of Sappho, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Agathon, Aristophanes, Xenocles, Menander, or Callimachus, who have all blended together into one giant playwright in my head now (except for Sappho, who I loved previously, and Menander, because apparently they found one of his plays and it...more
Laurel
Very Eurocentric, lacks a great deal of female authors (I can remember only 3 discussed). Kelly admits it lacks non-Western and female authors, but primarily blames history rather than his lack of research/interest in these areas (I think it's an equal proportion). I found he discussed existing books almost as much as the lost ones, and in some cases couldn't understand why he had included an author other than to discuss his opinion of him.

I did, however, like the biographical and historical ba...more
Colin
A fascinating book I've been reading in chapters for almost 2 years now (I have the receipt - I got it 4/21/06, which also happens to be the anniverary of the founding of Rome, at Borders in Kingston, MA, not long before I moved back to RI). A book about many other books - books we know were written but have been lost, or books that authors planned and never wrote. My favorite chapters are the earlier ones - Homer, Sappho, Aeschylus, Euripides, etc. By the time one is halfway through the book on...more
Ashley
In a time of mass-produced paperbacks and digital sharing, it's easy to forget how easily literature can be lost. The Book of Lost Books chronicles a history of so much that stands in the way of the preservation of literature - time, nature, human interference... It's a heartbreaking history of so much that has disappeared over time.

Some of the chapters felt a bit like trudging through, but a few really shined. Kelly's introduction and conclusions are great work as well.

This is not a book I'd...more
Sarah
Chronicling the lost, unfinished, and unbegun works of dozens of authors over the past few millennia, this compendium makes the survival of any literature at all seem an absolute miracle. From famous losses (like Coleridge’s interrupted “Kubla Kahn”) to lesser incidents (as when Hemingway’s first wife lost the suitcase containing his entire oeuvre), Kelly dissects them all with wit to leaven the literary losses. Read too much at once, though, and even the scathing analyses of the authors’ person...more
Ashley
A great history lesson. Though it does tend to increase the sadness of all the great pieces of literature that I will never get to read or interact with. Forget lack of time - this is all about lost to time.
Overall though, the writing here is informative without draining and maintains interest while providing great back story and history of authors many sometimes forgot about after reading their "one big" title.

How I wish I could of been privy to a comedy by Homer!
Angel
Interesting premise, but an extremely dry book. I usually like reading books about books and reading, but this one did not really engage me. The idea of looking at "missing" books (i.e. books mentioned in other books but that did not survive) is an interesting one. However, this book mostly lists things, which after a while does get a bit tiresome. An ok book, but not one I would really recommend unless you are some hardcore bibliophile or history buff.
Laura Mathieson
A fascinating idea, and in parts very funny and educational, but overall a bit too densely packed with facts for this lightweight reader. Huge a mount of historical detail, liberally peopled with famous and obscure literati geniuses (genii?) The author assumes an encyclopeadic background such as his own, which meant I struggled sometimes - but I did finish it and for the most part enjoyed it.
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189036
Literary critic at The Scotsman on Sunday.
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