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Book Review

Nicholas A. Basbanes. Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World. 1st ed.; New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005

If you’ve ever hankered to take the afternoon off and sit in the office of a bibliophile – especially a master librarian or collector of books – this book is for you.

In Every Book Its Reader, acclaimed scholar and former President of Friends of the Robert H. Goddard Library of Clark University, Nicholas A. Basbanes, has opened the door – not only to the history of books, but also to the readers who have owned the books.

For example, Basbanes treats us to a fascinating account of books belonging to Adolph Hitler, confiscated by American soldiers (including the 101st Airborne Division, which discovered Hitler’s books in a salt mine near Berchtesgaden) and turned over to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

Not that Basbanes has neglected the writers in any way. In fact, as Book Editor for Sunday newspapers and literary writer for many publications, he praises his opportunities to interview thousands of writers.

But this book combines both – readers and writers - partly as an effort to satisfy highest standards in historiography. Basbanes quotes David McCullough to this effect as saying "We can’t understand the people of that distant time [in this case, the American revolution] without understanding the culture. You have to read what they read, not just what they wrote." (p. 133)

While the book is not a tightly organized exposition, as for example outlining ten different aspects of bibliotherapy for historians, it is a thoughtful analysis that goes far beyond the surface. While one could wish Basbanes could apply his well-balanced literary pincers to every well-known writer and reader, this is of course impossible, and we must be so happy to have the rich documentation Basbanes has to offer in this book.

Every Book Its Reade extols the fascinating intersection between writers and readers, and does so in literary and historical context. This is no small accomplishment, and is well worth hours of study.

- Bruce Cook, Ph.D.

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