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A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,933 Ratings  ·  151 Reviews
When it was first published, A Gentle Madness astounded and delighted readers with stories about the lengths of passion, expense, and more that collectors will go in pursuit of the book. Written before the emergence of the Internet but newly updated for the twenty-first century reader, A Gentle Madness captures that last moment in time when collectors frequented dusty book ...more
Paperback, 638 pages
Published March 15th 1999 by Holt McDougal (first published 1995)
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i just found out that this book is out of print. what gives? if you are reading this review, you probably like books. so do yourself a favor and go to or bookfinder and get a copy. now. this is the most loving book about book lovers i have ever read. collectors, sellers, hunters, owners, thieves, protectors, the obsessed and the absolutely insane. it's a nice fat book, but if you really are interested in books then it will be way too short for you. he is a great writer, and it's a shame ...more
Dec 14, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jason by: karen
As it turns out, I’m a fraud.

Compared to the stories told in this book, and the stories that surely countless others could tell of their own obsessions with the printed work, I’m like the guy in the back of a Star Wars convention who says, “Oh, I’ve seen Return of the Jedi once or twice, I think!” Because the fact is, you people are out of my league.

And that just might be the difference between liking this book—appreciating it for its humorous accounts of bibliomania and its interesting history
Richard Derus
May 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been revised (there is a new edition of the book) and can now be found at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Jun 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A work of nonfiction that provides a steady stream of facts, and still manages to be engaging and enjoyable throughout, earns a five-star rating from me. Nicholas Basbanes spins many tales about the origins of famous libraries, and the migration patterns of some of the oldest books in existence. Reading this added to my must-see bucket list.

Toward the end of this tome, there is a very long section on Stephen Blumberg, the man known as the most successful bibliokleptomaniac in history. It is a s
Mike (the Paladin)
I don't know...I see all the 5 star ratings and, I guess some people were looking for or expecting something different from this book than I was. I found a great deal of it extremely interesting. The parts that seemed to be giving insight into bibliomania grabbed and held me. Too often however I found the book devolving into lists of books from given collections (and he opened the next wood box to reveal a vintage volume of Shakespeare) and/or what these books went for at auction. There were pag ...more
Jul 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-on-books
I first started reading this book soon after it was released. At that time I found it interesting, but got bored and put it down. I kept thinking, "It's more fun to collect books than it is to read about collecting books!" Recently I picked up this volume again, gave it a second chance, and couldn't stop reading! Don't know what made the difference. But the second time around I was spellbound. Maybe it's that I'm a lot like Basbanes, actually. Not to mention the fact that I see myself in many of ...more
May 24, 2008 rated it liked it

I'm not sure that i actually fall into the category of bibliophile or bibliomaniac, although i've often called myself one. I do have a collection of over 3,000 books (there are still so many in boxes that i haven't catalogued them all) but many of them i just bought because i wanted to read them and was afraid they might go out of print before i got a chance more than because i wanted to own a valuable possession. There are a few i own because i want to OWN, or read again, and again, but i am no
Sep 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
A teetering tower of books with a filmy clothed girl of perhaps 14 sitting on top. A few choice beasts winding their way around the stacks. Description of...what? Well, only a picture I wish I could draw. But when I think of bibliophilia, I think of that. This not me coming out as a closeted book pervert. Quite the opposite. These children, in history and literature, were supposed to represent the innocent and quiet nature of learning, or knowledge. At least, that is how I have seen it widely i ...more
David Sumner
Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
If you're a reader, a collector. If you love libraries, if you're fascinated by the intrigue of the business of "collecting," then you should more than enjoy this book. Books are big business, people sometimes literally die for books. Collectors are ruthless. Auctions are outrageous. Collections are made and destroyed. Books fuel an underground economy most of us are totally unaware of.

A Gentle Madness is a wonderful history of the book and some of the greatest book lovers of the world. At times
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
One of my very favorites. I own two copies and have given others to fellow bibliophiles. I'd say I too suffer from this Gentle Madness, but "suffer" is such the wrong word. There is so much pleasure in being mad for books. I'm also mad for book-lovers, what wonderfully interesting folk we are!
If one can subject him-or herself to the attacks of sickening envy that will inevitably strike those of us who don't have 75,000 dollars to blow on that extra-special tome, this book will prove to be a delight indeed. For those with weaker natures and thinner bank accounts, however, this book is an array of special tortures calculated to drive one mad with covetousness. An inspiration to bulk up my paltry collection, as well as a glimpse of high-rolling bibliomania that I can never hope to achie ...more
a definite must read for anyone who truly loves me...I got in touch with the author and he very kindly let me mail him my copy, inscribed and signed it for me and mailed it back to me
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book. It's one of those books I would not want to read at 1 sitting (a rare opinion for me) but like to use as a vacation from other books or after reading a particularly intense or long book.
Basbanes writes lovingly & with obvious fascination (maybe even admiration) of book lovers and their obsessions. His writing is itself gentle and his interest in the subject communicates itself to the reader. Although reading is my greatest passion, maybe in a sense my most real lif
Dec 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: bibliophiles
This is the book to pick up if you feel guilty about having too many books: Basbanes tells of book collectors and their passion, describing the need to have many books and to keep them (and, occasionally, read them) as a psychological condition its sufferers have no need or desire to be cured of.

More at my blog.
This is a favorite of mine. Basbanes has a wonderful and inviting way of describing the 'bibliophile' condition. All hardcore readers should read Basbanes' work. You'll learn so much!
Robin Friedman
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A Passion For Books

Reading Nicholas Basbanes' lengthy and meandering work, "A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books" is much like one of the activities the book celebrates: browsing slowly through a large, packed used book store or a large library and becoming both enthused and overwhelmed. Basbanes' celebrates books, reading, and collecting and their eternal appeal. First published in 1995 by a different publisher, Fine Books Press reissued the book in 201
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This could be called All You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Book-Collecting. It's a truly extensive/exhaustive tome of facts and details about book collecting and selling (occasionally stealing), both historic and contemporary. There were a few moments I was tempted to call it good and return the book to the library unfinished, but I didn't because frankly all of it—or at least most of it—was utterly fascinating.
3.5 stars.
Adrian Stumpp
Jan 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
While writing his memoirs, the grandson of the seventeenth century bibliomaniac Isaiah Thomas euphemized that his grandfather suffered from “the gentlest of infirmities.” Taking this quotation as inspiration for the title is somewhat of a misnomer, however, as Basbane’s book only partly concerns itself with bibliomania. Primarily, it is a fascinating survey of the history of book collecting. Basbane stylistically blends the erudition, research and paranoid self-qualification of historical schola ...more
Vicky P
Sep 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
This book was quite the behemoth not only for page count but also for the sheer number of stories told. This book is comprised of a long succession of stories about famous and influential book collectors and bibliophiles throughout (Western - European and American) history. There was not much rhyme or reason to how the stories were told, they were all just laid out for one to read in quick (or maybe laborious) succession. It was definitely a slog at times, but the stories told are for the most p ...more
Chris Lott
Mar 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
No one, on the evidence of this book at least, will accuse Nicholas Basbanes of being a compelling prose stylist. Fortunately, the people, the history and the very milieu documented in A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books make up for aesthetic deficiencies. From Cicero to the infamous book thief Stephen Blumberg, Basbanes’ book explores book collectors of every kind and stripe, from the ego-driven corporate-raider style library builders to the equally eg ...more
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-reads
In his first book, Nicholas Basbanes (author of On Paper: the Everything of Its Two Thousand Year History) sets out to chronicle the history of a very particular obsession: that of book collecting, the only hobby to have a disease named after it. A Gentle Madness, finalist for the 1995 National Book Critics Circle award and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, traces bibliophiles, bibliomanes, and the occasional biblioklept through the ages, and presents its tale in a series of thoroughly- ...more
Iona  Stewart
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Unfortunately, I didn't manage to finish this whopper of a book before I had to return it to the library. But one doesn't have to read the whole book in order to feel and enjoy its absolute readability. Though please note that the five star rating I have awarded the book is not based on the reading of the complete book.

It is a book about bibliophiles and bibliomanes and in itself is a book one could become addicted to.

To my mind it would be an absolute luxury to have had the time to indulge myse
Jonas Skoglund
Aug 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a very thorough account of book collecting filled with interesting stories of people throughout the ages that carry/ied an enormous passion for books.
There is two things that the book covered too extensively for my taste, money,and american collecting together with the collecting of americana/s.

The former is indeed an essential part of bookcollecting, but the figures could as well relate to the price of Angeldust (for those of us of more modest means). This rendered the detailing, well..
I liked what I read of this book. I feel an affinity with people who want to possess books. I don't quite understand those who want them just for the rarity and the beauty, because I want to read my books, not just look at them.
The author writes well. The stories are entertaining, if a bit on the long side. If I owned the book, I'm sure I'd finish it, slowly, treating each chapter as a short story.
However, this book belongs to my library, and I skimmed a great deal of it, in order to return it
Alexander Kot
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Really interesting book about book lovers and the lengths people will go for them. If you're looking for a light read this isn't it as the author has rigorous examples of the bibliophile both in healthy interest to illegal obsession.
Dillon Peck
Aug 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
I liked this book, but it felt like a 500 page introduction. Vignette after vignette with no connections or flow, it felt more like reading a genealogy than a non-fiction subject book. Couldn't make myself get through it, and I'm one of the bibliophiles he's talking about.
Feb 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Everyone who loves reading should pick up this book. It's a fascinating trip through the history of literature and those that love it.
Feb 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Literary porn for those who get off on all things bookish.
Maria Elmvang
Aug 01, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: unfinished
I reserve the right not to finish any book that fails to grab my attention. After 74 pages I was still fighting my way through every one. Life's too short for books like that.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • A Passion for Books: A Book Lover's Treasury of Stories, Essays, Humor, Love and Lists on Collecting, Reading, Borrowing, Lending, Caring for, and Appreciating Books
  • ABC for Book Collectors
  • At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries
  • The Book on the Bookshelf
  • Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore
  • The Anatomy of Bibliomania
  • A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict
  • The Smithsonian Book of Books
  • The Library at Night
  • Biblioholism: The Literary Addiction
  • Bibliotopia Or, Mr. Gilbar's Book of Books & Catch-all of Literary Facts And Curiosities
  • So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance
  • Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love
  • Libraries
  • The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read
  • Library: An Unquiet History
  • The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World
  • The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classic Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded
Nicholas A. Basbanes is an award-winning investigative journalist and was literary editor of the Worcester Sunday Telegram. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and Smithsonian, and he is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. Basbanes lives in North Grafton, Massachusetts.
More about Nicholas A. Basbanes

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“For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner,
Let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him.
Let him be struck with palsy and all his members blasted.
Let him languish in pain crying out for mercy,
Let there be no surcease to his agony till he sink in dissolution.
Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the worm that dieth not.
When at last he goeth to his final punishment,
Let the flames of Hell consume him forever.
[attributed to the Monastery of San Pedro in Barcelona, Spain]”
“With thought, patience, and discrimination, book passion becomes the signature of a person's character. ” 17 likes
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