Sunday, May 18, 2008

Links & Reviews

- Over at Weekend Stubble, Paul Collins discovers an absolutely hilarious letter to the editor from 1922. Poor Mrs. Sackett.

- The Morgan Library has acquired Queen Claude of France's prayer book, 132-page manuscript volume containing illuminated religious scenes. The piece measures just 2.75 x 2 inches, and is one of a few surviving works illuminated by a master known only as the Master of Claude de France. The piece was donated by Elaine Rosenberg in memory of her husband Alexandre, a well-known New York art dealer who died in 1987.

- A brand-new book evaluation tool from Mutterings of a Mad Bookseller. Spend a little time with this one, it's worth it.

- Houghton Library's Modern Books & Manuscripts Collection has a new webpage, along with a blog to document new acquisitions.

- The Boston Globe's book blog, Off the Shelf, confirms a long-standing rumor: that historians Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore have collaborated to write a novel. Blindspot will be published in December by Random House's Spiegel & Grau imprint. "Set in Boston just before the War of Independence and purportedly penned by 'a Gentleman in Exile & a Lady in Disguise,' the story concerns the murder of a prominent revolutionary, a crime blamed on his slaves. A Scottish-born painter and an African-born physician set about finding the truth. We trust that they do." Oh boy.

- The Little Professor comments on the hazards of academic regalia. Fitting (no pun intended) advice for commencement season.

- From BibliOdyssey, images from an 1829 German surgical album.

- A rare Vinegar Bible with fascinating provenance is returning to Nova Scotia.

- In the NYTimes this week, Alberto Manguel had an essay on his library, housed in a retrofitted barn in the Loire valley. More correctly, the essay is about his libraries, as they have grown and evolved with him through time and space. Manguel is one of the world's finest writers about books and biblio-things, so this is not a piece to skip.

- Michael at Book Patrol points out The Book Bench, a new blog by the book-folks at the New Yorker. Link added.

- Over on the Guardian book blog, Mark SaFranko writes about reading Casanova's Memoirs. He calls the volumes "masterpieces of world literature, the paradigm for how an autobiography should be written, a match for Proust's great novel in breadth and scope, and, frankly, a book that was vastly more entertaining and readable."

- University of South Carolina library science professor Robert Williams and graduate student Mittie Kristina McLean have released "A Bibliographical Guide to a Chronological Record of Statistics of National Scope on Libraries in the United States, 1829-1900." Williams writes: "This guide begins with the first identified survey of libraries in 1829 and covers all known surveys or studies of national scope to 1899. It includes informaton on: survey date; compiler; purpose of the survey; library types included; list of all variables covered in the survey (e.g., number of volumes, name of librarian, place/city, volumes added annually, value of library, etc.); method of study or survey; completeness (when known); quality (when known) and where published (usually a US government agency but also in journals, etc. of the period). ... Library types covered in the surveys for this period include: social, private, subscription, public, academic, school, special, state/government, and others." A second part, for 1900-2000, is in process.

- Over at Britannica Blog, Robert McHenry comments on "Whig History and Whig Biography," writing "Narrative history is almost inevitably whiggish to some degree. It’s not a matter of triumphalism or partisanship so much as the unavoidable consequence of the fact that the historian, whenever he is writing, occupies the unique present moment and is highly apt to pick out from the nearly infinite number of incidents and accidents of the past those that appear to bear a particular relevance to that present."


- In the Telegraph, Tim Blanning reviews David Andress' 1789: The Threshold of the Modern Age. Blanning: "Andress writes with verve, never allowing the pace to slacken, moving swiftly from one character or episode to another. The result is exciting, exhilarating even. Not one chapter fails to deliver sharp insights, illuminating details and entertaining anecdotes. What is not supplied is coherence. Sudden thematic, geographical and chronological shifts lead to a narrative disjunction that bewilders and then irritates. Nor is there any compensating conceptual framework. .... So, after more than 400 pages of scintillating images, one is left asking: 'Where is the big picture?'"

- Heather Cox Richardson reviews Walter McDougall's Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era, 1829-1877 in the Washington Post. She writes "Rather than a definitive history, Throes of Democracy is a rollicking trip through historical events aimed at waking readers to America's past self-deceptions and prodding them to be more self-critical today." She criticizes the book for ignoring a decade's worth of recent historical scholarship, but declares McDougall's "laudable exploration of the American characters."

- J.L. Bell read Mark Puls' new biography of Henry Knox, and I'm glad he did because now I don't have to. John rightly skewers the book for just a few of what I'm sure are a multitude of problems (if Puls' last book was any indication). He concludes "It’s a shame that the early part of Henry Knox’s life is poorly documented. I’d love to know more about his growing up, when and how he got out of Boston during the war, and how he jumped from being an unranked volunteer to commanding the Continental Artillery. But we don’t have definite answers. Most of Knox’s biographers have been popular writers, not scholars, and have filled in the gaps in the record with legends and speculation. This new book is part of that tradition."