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

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  2,122 ratings  ·  167 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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Average rating 4.04  · 
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 ·  2,122 ratings  ·  167 reviews

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Start your review of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books
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!

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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
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
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! ...more
Nov 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Summary: An entertaining journey through the history and contemporary world of book collecting, and the “bibliomanes” whose passion for books formed amazing collections.

I think it is obvious that I love books. More precisely, I love reading books and talking about them. I do have a number of books in my home (and have donated or sold large numbers). I am a bibliophile, but not a bibliomane. This is the “gentle madness” Nicholas Basbanes writes about in this thick, delightful book you just don’t
Jane Cairns
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
A history of book collecting over the centuries, at 525+ pages (600+ pages including the bibliography and endnotes), this book is not for the faint of heart. I found it enlightening, but then I'm a book nerd who has become interested in book collecting in recent months. I guess I still love printed books better than digital copies. I started this book on my Nook, but couldn't get into it. I eventually bought a paperback copy and did make it all the way through. Actually glad I did. ...more
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 life, I
Dec 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Encyclopedic in scope. I doggedly read 240 pages out of 533 (638 if you want to include footnotes, bibliography and index). Every major book collector since the beginning of time is probably listed and discussed. The ones who had the forsight to gather contempory material were interesting. The ones who purchased books for their rarity and then locked them in bank vaults were strange and boring after the first couple. There were interesting bits on the history of books and libraries beginning wit ...more
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
James Murphy
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book about what we share here at Goodreads, a passion for books. Mostly we read them, but Basbanes's book shows many just like to possess them. In some ways it's a catalog of well-known, important book collectors. They're written about here in such respectful tones that I'm reminded of the quiet, reverential tones Stevens in The Remains of the Day remembers distinguished butlers who were his predecessors or contemporaries. Some of these guys are outrageous in their insatiable need to possess b ...more
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! ...more
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. ...more
May 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
See my review on my book blog: ...more
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. ...more
3.5 stars.
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, book-related
This was a fascinating look at Bibliomania through the ages. It is rather detailed and slow at times but appears to be meticulously researched and was well worth the read.
Apr 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
I thought this was enjoyable to skim through and read various sketches- a bit lengthy and repetitive for me to read every page
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
Shiela Rozich
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended. Very well researched, well presented, full of information and very entertaining as well. Would make a good reference book, also.
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
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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.

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  As the summer comes to a close and the days grow shorter, it's natural that we're drawn to what hides in the shadows. Mystery stories are...
52 likes · 18 comments
“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. ” 20 likes
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