A Splendor of Letters
In vivid detail, Basbanes examines the many materials that have been used over the centuries to record information, among them clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, slabs of stone, palm leaves, animal skins, and hammered sheets of gold and copper. Also discussed are the various debates that continue to rage about preservation, which may mean saving and storing books on paper indefinitely, or as electronic data, which are by nature ephemeral.

“The final volume in an acclaimed trilogy for bibliophiles (after A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude) focuses on efforts to preserve books and other printed matter from the ravages of deterioration, destruction and obsolescence. The historical range here is expansive, encompassing texts by classical authors known today only through second-hand descriptions; William Blake’s self-published illustrated volumes and used book sales at modern libraries. Even the most ancillary data have the power to fascinate: who knew, for instance, that the Roman emperor Claudius was also probably the last scholar fluent in the language of the ancient Etruscans? But the research skills Basbanes displays are matched by the lively quality of his interviews, like an extended conversation with a Sarajevo librarian who saved thousands of Croatian volumes from the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign. Other chapters, which describe how American libraries are regularly pruned of old books by less violent means, owe a heavy (and acknowledged) debt to Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold, with minor updates to recap new trends in preservation. A final section elaborates on the potential threat of the e-book, but remains optimistic that love of the physical act of reading will enable the printed page to prevail. Even those who find the evidence unconvincing should find themselves compelled by story after story on the salvation of books. Basbanes’s longtime fans will rejoice at more of the same, while new readers will no doubt be swiftly caught up in the book-loving spirit.” —Publishers Weekly September 15, 2003

“In any good used bookstore there is always a shelf labeled 'books on books.' Here one finds guides to collecting, bibliographies of the famous and forgotten, essays on the joys of reading, and anything else pertinent to the gently mad world of bibliolatry. Since 1995—when he published A Gentle Madness—Nicholas Basbanes has become our leading chronicler of the printed word and book culture.

“This new collection of his graceful biographical essays and interviews follows upon Patience and Fortitude (2001) and completes a loose trilogy. In its pages Basbanes focuses on the transmission of texts, whether on clay tablets or compact discs, and ranges up and down history. He discusses University Microfilms, the Warburg Institute, the deacessioning of books from libraries, acidic paper, the need for new editions of classics, archival storage, e-books and much else.

“Throughout he enlivens his story with pen portraits of scholars, writers, conservators, librarians and myriad other book people, before ending with appropriately somber reflections on the destruction of the Baghdad library. In short, A Splendor of Letters is itself splendid and will appeal to any serious reader or book collector. ” —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

“Basbanes is a true champion of the book, and his intelligence and passion are inspiring.” —Susan Larson, New Orleans Times-Picayune

“If anyone has established his bona fides as a bibliophile, it is Nicholas A. Basbanes.” —Merle Rubin, The Los Angeles Times

“This book is a proud assertion that books, good or bad, have survived--and will survive.” —Joseph Losos, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“The is the final volume of Basbanes' trilogy on the culture, history and vulnerabilities of books—following the celebrated A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude. As before, it is anecdotal, wide-ranging, awesomely literate, readable. From ancient Europe to the impact of digital storage on libraries with great richness in between, Basbanes explores and reports on a grand variety of events, influences, trends and circumstances having to do with books, in the broadest sense of the subject.For anyone even remotely interested in the past, present and future of publishing and literature, this is a fascinating volume. For any professional involved—whether librarian, writer, scholar or editor—it is obligatory reading.” —Michael Pakenham, The Baltimore Sun

“As he has proved so ably before, Mr. Basbanes is an elegant, wry and humane writer, a lover of all things printed and bound. No other writer has traced the history of the book so thoroughly or so engagingly, with such a warm human touch.” —André Bernard, New York Observer

“It would be hard to imagine anyone who more genuinely grasps the infinite meaning of literature, which, like a message in a bottle tossed on the waves of time, continues a dialogue of hope between writers past, present and future.” —Patricia Conover, San Francisco Chronicle:

“…a seminal and impressive work which is most especially recommended to the attention of dedicated bibliophiles, cultural historians, and Library Science reference collections.” —Midwest Book Review

“…Basbanes’ efforts will stand as monuments, and love letters, to the glory of books, and the endless sustenance and real joy they have provided to countless millions throughout humanity’s brightest and darkest ages.”— Greg Stepanich, Cox News Service

“You can consider Basbanes a certified bibliomaniac, and he won’t object.” —Dan Cryer, Newsday