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The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World
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The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  317 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
Shakespeare's First Folio, the first complete collection of his plays, was almost never printed. Its eventual publication went practically unnoticed, and many of the original 750 copies were gone before the turn of the eighteenth century. But a hundred years later the plays were rediscovered, beginning the long, surprising process that secured Shakespeare's legacy. Paul Co ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 10th 2010 by Bloomsbury USA (first published July 1st 2009)
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brian tanabe
Nov 05, 2009 brian tanabe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yet another nice little book treat from Mr Collins. I must caution you, however, or perhaps entice you, by saying the book is almost peripherally about Shakespeare biographically, and more about his first collection of works. From a book collecting/book history point of view, I cannot think of a more intriguing and more storied topic than that of Shakespeare's First Folio.

Collins touches upon the printing of the First Folio and basically the history surrounding these exceedingly rare, singularly
Nov 25, 2009 mwbham rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
3.5 to 4.0 stars.
History of how Shakespeare's work became published, revised, republished from 1623 (the First Folio) to the late 18th century. Collins also follows the different Folio versions through the years including the identity of the various owners and the prices paid at various times. I thought it was very interesting, but would have liked some images of the title pages and the actual printing (and margin notes) of the different versions. Since he used thumbprint images on the cover, I
Jul 31, 2009 Jennie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Man, I love Paul Collins. He can turn books about old books into page-turners.
Apr 24, 2010 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A few years before Shakespeare's First Folio was first pressed on paper, a gifted writer graced the world with a brilliant horse-care manual, proffering advice for gaining your horse's loyalty by fasting him for days and then smearing honey and oatmeal all over your chest. Why is one of these books the most valuable book in existence, while the other is mostly forgotten? The Book of William tries to answer this and many other questions (in this case, the horse-book's publisher made the author ta ...more
Jul 06, 2009 Kipi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: The Bard's besties
Ben Johnson said of his fellow playwright and friend, "He is not of an age, but for all time," but if it weren't for two of his business partners and fellow actors, the world might not know William Shakespeare at all.

If you have ever been in an English lit class, you've read Shakespeare. You may have read him more than once. I've read and appreciated his work many times, seen several stage productions, even a couple of movies. Never have I given a thought of how the most important literary works
Rebekah Scott
May 01, 2012 Rebekah Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
In 2006, an auction at Sotheby’s saw one of the few complete copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio go under the hammer, and at the end of the day, an anonymous bidder was poorer by $5.8 million, but in exchange for this astronomical sum, they now possessed one of the most important works in the history of English literature.

It is here at Sotheby’s that “The Book of William” begins, with a book that was once considered to be worth less than the paper on which it was printed. Paul Collins takes us f
Feb 12, 2016 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a text that is essentially about historical publishing and modern book collecting "The Book of William" reads like a mystery. Mr. Collins repeatedly ends his chapters with cliffhanger lines that transition into his next point. It works well, and makes for exciting reading. Collins deftly traces printed Shakespeare through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the gusto and depth of a literary detective. You almost feel like you are reading investigative reporting at times. An unusual ...more
Jan 07, 2010 Randy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the book’s title somewhat misleading. I was expecting much of The Book of William to be about how, during the past four centuries, the First Folio greatly affected generation after generation, and changed the way we see the world as well as the way we read literature. After all, the rest of the book’s title read: How Shakespeare’s First Folio Conquered the World.

Instead the first half of this book is an easy-to-read history about the publishing of different editions of Shakespeare’s play
Feb 20, 2015 robyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
This book is so enjoyable. It traces the very first printed folio, the second, third and fourth, and ends by tracking the still-extant copies down to their current addresses - those that haven't simply disappeared.

Which doesn't sound thrilling, I know, but the author has a winning style, and makes this story into something between a detective story and a documentary. The personalities involved are sometimes larger than life, like Samuel Johnson, sometimes eccentric scholars you've never heard of
Jul 06, 2012 Kyle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who knew that following in the footsteps of a world-conquering first edition would be such an emotional experience. Starting at one and the same time at an auction house and the original printing house, Collins does an impressive job chronicling where the extremely limited edition came from, and whose grubby hands were lucky enough to hold on to them - turns out that Samuel Johnston, the creator of the first English dictionary, wins the messiest reader sweepstakes whereas another Johnson, the 16 ...more
Jan 14, 2010 Cindy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Themes: bibliomania, literary criticism, book collecting and preservation, Shakespeare, English history

Setting: starting with early 1700s to present day, England, US, and Japan

All about Shakespeare and how he went from a playwright known in London to the biggest literary figure England ever produced. It reads a little like a biography, a little like English history, like a manual on book collecting and book preservation, like a travelogue, and a lot like a fangirl squee.

It starts with the decisi
The subtitle misleads -- this book is less about the cultural influence of Shakespeare and more a book about the first folios and what became of them with a little thrown in of how they influence reception of Shakespeare. As a book about bibliophilia and Shakespeareana, though, it delights. Collins's prose is a delight and he uses his skills to frame and unveil various nuggets of miscellany both important and simply interesting. That the narrative ranges from the alleys of 17th and 18th century ...more
I'm proably going to be pillored by some for giving this book two stars, but it is a two star book.

Collins writes a history of Shakespeare's First Folio and how it gained popularlity as a collectible. If you like criticism of Shakespeare, this is a book you can skip. If you like history of Shakespeare, this is a book you should read.

Collins does an excellent job in describing the connection between the Folio and collectors in the first three sections of the book, the sections that take place in
Elizabeth K.
Aug 19, 2009 Elizabeth K. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Laurie AB
Shelves: 2009-new-reads
This was lovely, Collins reviews the history of Shakespeare's First Folio from the time of its publication up through its status today of the world's most collectible book (w/ price tag to match). I think booky people -- people who not only read, but love to literally get their hands on books -- would be especially interested in this, although in a way it was strangely UNsatisfying because it's not as if I'm ever going to own one. The chapter on Shakepeare in Japanese culture could be the basis ...more
Dec 29, 2009 Libby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating for book collectors or lovers of Shakespeare. The author tracks The First Folio of Shakespeare published shortly after Shakespeare's death through several editing or butchering jobs (the second notably by Alexander Pope) into subsequent editions. He shows how the First Folio fell then rose in price to be the most expensive book worldwise. We are taken through modern London with a comparison to London of the 17th and 18th century. Collins gets to see several versions of the First Foli ...more
Aug 14, 2009 Jon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Probably the worst title I've ever seen, but nevertheless a very entertaining, breezily written, and surprisingly detailed story of Shakespeare's First Folio, how it was produced, how people have tracked copies, who has owned them, and where they are now. Full of wonderful details--the fancy rag paper the printer used feels so soft that it would be impossible to get a paper cut from it, any more than you could from a dishcloth--another book listed on the Stationer's Register about the time of th ...more
Feb 12, 2014 Carol rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second Paul Collins' book that I've read and again I'm left with the feeling that there are interesting tidbits and possibilities here but overall
the book does not work on its terms. There's not enough connection between the discrete pieces and the title is again misleading. This is NOT about how Shakespeare's first folio conquered the world or about how Shakespeare conquered the world but is, rather, a collection of vignettes, interesting on their own, about some of those who compil
Sep 18, 2010 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Collins has a masterful way of leading us through history. From a contemporary London auction house we move back through time to the printers and booksellers around St. Pauls Cathedral of the 17th century. This was 7 years after Shakespeare's death when the First Folio of 1623 was printed. We track the Folios through libraries up to a contemporary visit to the Folger Library in Washington. This institution has a quarter (over 50 copies) of the remaing known Folios in the world. Finally, we trave ...more
Meredith Watts
Apr 27, 2013 Meredith Watts rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was capitivating, but I have to confess I am a Shakespeare lover, so I am sure that colored my experience of it. Part travelogue, part history, it relates how Shakespeare's First Folio came to be created, and then how it was treated over the centuries by new editors and new collectors. I loved following Mr. Collins around the world as he visited and examined the extant First Folios, sometimes seeming to time-travel and offer us eyewitness accounts of historical events. There are many h ...more
This book claims to be a history of the First Folio, but the style is akin to a Michael Moore documentary without the hectoring tone. That is, a lot of the book is about the places where vaguely relevant things happened (you'll get lavish descriptions of auction houses, garrets, university libraries, etc., and about walking routes through London in various centuries) and an account of the author's own conversations with modern-day Folio experts, as much about Collins and his own process of writi ...more
Jun 17, 2010 Pat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You know how people ask about desert island books? For a few years my pat answer has been The Complete Works of Shakespeare and occasionally someone tries to tell me that I'm cheating for choosing a box-set. I owe Paul Collins thanks for providing this extremely readable history of the First Folio, which I can now use to stuff down the pie hole of haters who won't let me take the Bard to a desert island with me.

Seriously, if publishing is your thing, then this is like an episode of CSI but for
Brandi Thompson
Feb 01, 2017 Brandi Thompson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read multiple books on Shakespeare, as well as visited his home and exhibits in London. But, this book had a lot of information I have never read before. Study of the First Folio in particular is far reaching, and this is a quick and entertaining read that will whet your appetite and make you wish you were a book scholar instead of whatever your current occupation is. I really enjoyed this book, and even found my heart racing in areas, because the author was able to share his own excitement ...more
This book is so typical of Paul Collins' writing. He pulls you into the creation of Shakespeare's Folios by blending modern day London and London of the past. Collins takes the reader on a walking tour of the great publishing eras of 17th, 18th and 19th century London. His side trips into the lives and personalities of the owners, editors and publishers of these folios illustrate the impact of Shakespeare's works. With his tongue-in-cheek style, Collins brings the reader into a world of high-pri ...more
Jul 31, 2012 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Highly enjoyable -- I love Collins's books, and this one did not disappoint. I learned that the printer of the First Folio is the one man who we have documentary evidence of Shakespeare disliking (who knew?) and enjoyed wandering through the stories of Dr. Johnson (I didn't know it was an honorary doctorate!), the birth of both the Shakespeare cult and the Folger Shakespeare library, manuscript-comparison technology, Shakespeare in Japan, and many other topics.
Fascinating -- though not as brill
Aug 25, 2013 Joan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I appreciate the author's use of memoir to tell the story of searching for the First Folios. It brought me into the study through story, rather than through scholarship. In hindsight, I'm blinded by the scholarship that is listed at the end.

I recommend this book highly to all who love Shakespeare. But, I also recommend it to people who just kinda like Shakespeare. It's not a story about Shakespeare, it's a story of what happened to the first copies of the book that Heminge and Condell set down
Dec 27, 2010 Megan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2010
An often well-written and concise history of the world's most obsessively-chronicled edition, from its beginnings in the minds of former King's Men Heminges and Condell to its modern übercollectibility. Unfortunately, Collins is kind of irritating. His attempts to weave in his wanderings around London were either clumsy or half-hearted, and his mysterious, clever little twists interrupted the flow of the narrative. And the Japanese Shakespeare culture sort of overwhelmed the last part of the boo ...more
Ayne Ray
Sep 23, 2009 Ayne Ray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A highly entertaining and educational exploration of the history behind Shakespeare's first folios, now considered the most important secular books in the world. A tremendous amount of fun and a model of engaging academic writing, the book begins with their original printing, then follows various copies through the winding roads of time (with copious interesting, and sometimes bizarre, stories along the way) to the present day, when only 228 are known to have survived. A delightful read.
Highly recommended if you have any interest in Shakespeare and the history of books; I guarantee fascinating details that you haven't read before. Did you know the First Folio had blurbs from other poets? Collins is a delightful, insightful author and The Book of William did not disappoint. I was particularly impressed by the way he brings us along on his research journey, but always keeps the research, not himself, at the forefront, so we are exploring the archives with him.
Feb 29, 2016 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since I've learned enough about the printing of the folios from other sources, I wasn't sure I would enjoy this book. Once I got past that part though, it did hold my interest. The last section is about Japan, Shakespeare and the popularity of the folios during the boom years of the recent past. Part of the fun is the description of Collins' visit to Japan that allow the reader the pleasure of armchair travel.
Mar 01, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This was a very well written and researched book. You definitely need to know a bit about Shakespeare to follow the storyline. I feel like I need to read this again to capture all the details, because it is incredibly detailed, yet easy to read. I found it a bit hard to follow all the names and places without writing them down! Overall, a very interesting and great non-fiction read.
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Paul Collins is a writer specializing in history, memoir, and unusual antiquarian literature. His nine books have been translated into eleven languages, and include Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books (2003) and The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars (2011).

A frequent contributor to the "Histories" column of New Scientist magazine,
More about Paul Collins...

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