Book Madness | A Story of Book Collectors in America
The fascinating history of American bookishness as told through the sale of Charles Lamb’s library in 1848
Charles Lamb’s library—a heap of sixty scruffy old books singed with smoke, soaked with gin, sprinkled with crumbs, stripped of illustrations, and bescribbled by the essayist and his literary friends—caused a sensation when it was sold in New York in 1848. The transatlantic book world watched as the relics of a man revered as the patron saint of book collectors were dispersed. Following those books through the stories of the bibliophiles who shaped intellectual life in America—booksellers, publishers, journalists, editors, bibliographers, librarians, actors, antiquarians, philanthropists, politicians, poets, clergymen—Denise Gigante brings to life a lost world of letters at a time when Americans were busy assembling the country’s major public, university, and society libraries. A human tale of loss, obsession, and spiritual survival, this book reveals the magical power books can have to bring people together and will be an absorbing read for anyone interested in what makes a book special.
About the Author
Denise Gigante teaches British Romantic literature, and poetry over a longer tradition. Her interests include poetic form and aesthetics, bibliomania and literary antiquarianism, gastronomy, the history and form of the essay, material print culture, and the mixed-media work of William Blake.
She is currently completing work on The Cambridge History of the British Essay, a monumental history the development of the essay genre by a global network of authors that includes her own chapter, “On Books: The Bibliographical Essay” She is also working to complete The Mental Traveller: William Blake, a study of Blake’s illuminated poetry in relation late Medieval and Renaissance Christian iconography and the literary tradition of Pilgrimage, in a heavily illustrated volume to be published as part of the Clarendon Lecture Series by Oxford University Press.
Her most recently published book is Book Madness: A Story of Book Collectors in America (Yale University Press, 2023), a narrative experiment in literary history that explores different pockets of book collecting in mid-nineteenth-century America. The story is based on the sale of Charles Lamb’s antiquarian books—a quintessential book lover’s library—in New York in 1848.
She is also the author of The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George, (Harvard UP, 2011), Life: Organic Form and Romanticism (Yale UP, 2009), Taste: A Literary History (Yale UP, 2005), and two anthologies: The Great Age of the English Essay (Yale UP, 2008) and Gusto: Essential Writings in Nineteenth-Century Gastronomy (Routledge, 2005) as well as numerous articles and book chapters on topics of interest from taste and gastronomy to book collecting and poetic form