Sunday, March 30, 2014

Links & Reviews

- Reminder: lots of big events coming up in New York this week during Rare Book Week, including the sale at Sotheby's on Tuesday of the Indiana Historical Society's copies of Audubon's Birds and Quadrupeds.

- More books from the Mendham Collection will be sold at Sotheby's on 20 May as part of their Music & Continental Books & Manuscripts sale. These will include the first edition of Wyclif's works (Worms, 1525), as well as a unique Venetian incunable. As Clive Field remarked in a listserv post this week, "This year is therefore likely to see the complete dismemberment by the Law Society of one of the country's most important religious libraries formed in the nineteenth century, the cataloguing of which the British Library funded."

- In The Guardian, Robin Stummer reports on new graffiti found on the pillars of St Mary's church at Lidgate, Suffolk, which may include the carved "signature" of John Lydgate.

- In the NYTimes this week, "Literary City, Bookstore Desert," on the high rents forcing bookstores out of Manhattan.

- Booksellers Brian Cassidy and Dan Dwyer talk books on an episode of "This Old Book," which you can stream here.

- From cataloger Amy Sims at AAS, a post on "Adventures in Cataloging: Some Sleuthing Required" (part one of a series).

- Also continuing a theme, Erin Blake at The Collation covers some tricky library transcription rules.

- Simon Beattie blogged this week about one of the books he'll bringing to the upcoming New York Book Fair: a copy of an 1843 book composed straight into type by the author.

- Trinity College, Cambridge, is posting digital scans of its medieval manuscripts. See the list here.

- In the TLS, Malyn Newitt argues for greater access to the National Trust's libraries.

- Ian Gadd discusses the recently-published History of Oxford University Press with Adam Smyth on the Centre for the Study the Book podcast.

- At medieval fragments, Ramona Venema writes on fingerprints, blood drops, and other "biological clues" found in manuscripts.


- The current New-York Historical Society exhibition, Audubon's Aviary: Parts Unknown; review by Henry Nicholls in The Guardian.

- Samuel Fleischaker's What is Enlightenment?; review by James Schmidt at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

- Jonathon Green's Odd Job Man and Language!; review by Nicholas Shakespeare in The Telegraph.

- Joyce Chaplin's Round About the Earth; review by Andrea Wulf in Literary Review.

- Simon Schama's The Story of the Jews; review by Judith Shulevitz in the NYTimes.

- David Brion Davis' The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation; review by Brenda Wineapple in the NYTimes.

- Louis Bayard's Roosevelt's Beast; review by Hector Tobar in the LATimes.

Book Review: "A Feathered River Across the Sky"

Joel Greenberg's A Feathered River Across the Sky (Bloomsbury, 2014) is not an easy book to read. There were times when I had to put it down for a little while in favor of something amusing, or just to go outside and listen to the birds sing. Greenberg's book is a heart-wrenching catalog of depredations committed by members of our own species against the passenger pigeon, ultimately resulting in the complete and utter extinction of a species once unrivaled in terms of visible presence on the landscape of much of what is now the United States.

This is not an easy book, but it is an excellent book. Greenberg has meticulously collected and collated accounts of passenger pigeon observations, both when the birds were plentiful and widespread, and when the species had been reduced to just a few individuals, eking out a miserable existence in zoo enclosures, being pelted with sand in an attempt to make them move about. He has brought together a vast array of information on the techniques used to collect, kill, and market these birds, and deploys it to great effect.

The scale and scope of the assault(s) on large nesting assemblages of passenger pigeons in the last third or so of the 19th century are outlined in painful detail, and if you can get through this book without tears welling up in your eyes at the wanton destruction, well, you've done something I couldn't manage. By the time anyone noticed and began to speak in favor of conservationist measures, it was too late, and then the dreadful cycle continued as collectors and scientists sought specimens of the species ... resulting in the hunting down of many remaining wild birds.

Greenberg has also worked diligently to recover accounts of the few captive passenger pigeons who lived slightly longer than their wild brethren, and his account of the life and death of Martha, the last living bird, who died in the Cincinnati Zoo on 1 September 1914, is a lovely tribute.

I'm afraid my notes on this book may make it seem maudlin, or overwrought, and it's not, in the slightest. Greenberg's done a great job of presenting the facts and telling the tales. But it is a sad book, and one that should be very widely read, as it provides a terribly important cautionary lesson. Nearly a hundred years have passed since Martha breathed her last, and while great strides in species protection have been made, there is a very long way to go. We are much the poorer, now, for the loss of this beautiful species that once darkened the continent's skies, as well as for the many others that share its fate. Would that no other book like Greenberg's ever has to be written, but alas that is not likely to be the case, and certainly won't be if we don't absorb its lessons.

Highly recommended, and very deserving of a broad audience.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Links & Reviews

- Over at The Collation, Sarah Werner shares a great case study of "how a tweet can grow into an amazing scholarly resource."

- The upcoming sale of the exploration library of Franklin Brooke-Hitching at Sotheby's is previewed in the WSJ and the Telegraph.

- From Molly Hardy at AAS, a look at the absolutely fantastic project they're working on to make the Mathew Carey account books available.

- Endrina Tay has a great essay on the Jefferson quote "I cannot live without books" on the Monticello store blog.

- The Catholicon Anglicum, a 1483 Middle English-Latin dictionary, has been purchased by the British Library for £92,500. The UK government had barred the manuscript's export following its sale to an overseas buyer at auction.

- Two photographs may have been identified as from the New York City funeral procession for Abraham Lincoln, the WaPo reports. Key words "may have been," but the case seems fairly good.

- Check this out, from Ben Pauley: Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker, a clearinghouse for information about digital facsimiles of 18th-century works.

- In the NYTimes, archaeologist Douglas Boin writes on provenance concerns raised about the recently-discovered new Sappho fragments.

- Nick Richardson blogs for the LRB on "Translating Lorem Ipsum."

- New at Princeton, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's mahogany writing desk and other objects, donated by alumnus Peter N. Heydon.


- Steven Moore's The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800; review by Roger Boylan in Boston Review.

- Peter Stark's Astoria; review by Dennis Drabelle in the WaPo.

- Ingrid Rowland's From Pompeii; review by Dan Hofstadter in the WSJ.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Links & Reviews

- Houghton Library is hiring a three-month Wikipedian-in-Residence.

- NARA announced this week that its facility in Anchorage, AK will be closed, and "storefront" facilities in Philadelphia and Fort Worth will be consolidated into larger facilities nearby, for a savings of $1.3 million per year.

- The NYPL has received a $6 million gift from a longtime patron.

- The Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge continues its appeal to donors for the £275,000 needed to acquire some 113 negatives of photographs taken by Scott during his 1911 expedition.

- The Junto is reprising last year's fun with a new Junto March Madness bracket, this time of books on early America written since 2000. Voting begins on Monday.

- Over at Notabilia, the book-label of Nicholson's Circulating Library of Cambridge.

- SAA president Danna Bell posts at Off the Record on what seems like a perennial question: "where do archivists belong?"

- Jasper Copping writes in The Telegraph about a new biography of detective Jerome Caminada, who may have been a (partial) inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

- Now online, Folger Digital Texts.


- Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction; review by Philip Hoare in The Telegraph.

- David Mikics' Slow Reading in a Digital Age; review by Leah Price in the TLS.

- Simon Schama's The Story of the Jews; reviews by Dwight Garner in the NYTimes, Jonathan Rosen in the WSJ, and Michael Dirda in the WaPo.

- Carol Berkin's Wondrous Beauty: The Life of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte; review by Ellen McCarthy in the WaPo.

- Peter Stark's Astoria; review by Gerard Helferich in the WSJ.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Links & Reviews

- Another week, another absolutely astounding book theft story. A report by Kim Ring in the Worcester Telegram highlights the wet noodle of a sentence handed down to Joseph G. Heath of Leicester, MA, who pleaded to "sufficient facts for a guilty finding" in relation to the theft of more than 100 rare books from Becker College's Samuel May, Jr. collection (see this ABAA security blog post for more on the missing items). Heath, a janitor at the college with access to the library, had sold several of the stolen books to a Worcester bookstore, which in turn had tried to sell them to the Leicester Historical Society (this led to the original alert that the books may have been stolen from Becker). Heath also sold 24 books to a Boston bookshop $850, which have since been recovered, and attempted to sell others via Craigslist. Heath was arrested and charged in November 2012. Approximately fifty of the stolen books, worth around $15,000, plus one inscribed to (not by, as indicated in the article) Abraham Lincoln, have not yet been recovered.

Prosecutors had requested that Heath be ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution, but last week a judge ordered Heath to pay a measly $3,000 and sentenced him to three years' probation, which term could be reduced to one year if the restitution is paid. Utterly ridiculous.

- From The Collation, Erin Blake on a 17th-century print that's been pricked for transfer.

- Coming up in early April (unfortunately during the New York Book Fair) at UCLA: "Futures of Book History," which looks like it's going to be a fantastic conference!

- Over at Manuscript Road Trip, Lisa Fagin Davis on "digital fragmentology" and its uses in recreating some of the manuscripts dismembered by Otto Ege in the 1940s.

- There's a Travel Channel clip about the Ireland Shakespeare forgeries, featuring Folger Library curator Heather Wolfe.

- A 15th-century Torah volume will be sold at Christie's Paris on 30 April, and is estimated at 1-1.5 million Euros.

- The University of Rochester has received a $360,000 grant to digitize portions of the Seward Family Archive (a collection near and dear to my heart, so I'm particularly delighted to see this).

- What is considered the world's largest privately-held Holocaust archive, containing more than 20,000 books and some 500,000 documents, has been acquired by the University of Colorado Boulder.

- In Fine Books & Collections, Joel Silver writes on "Collector and Bookseller: A Vanishing Relationship?"

- Over at Harper's, historian Mary Niall Mitchell writes on a particularly amazing copy of Solomon Northrup's Twelve Years a Slave.

- Eric Caren is planning to sell his collection of some 200,000 items en bloc in a private treaty sale.

- The British Library has acquired Philip the Good's manuscript of the Mystère de la Vengeance, one of the finest illuminated manuscripts of any medieval theatrical text. The manuscript was acquired by the British government in lieu of inheritance tax.


- Marwa Elshakry's Reading Darwin in Arabic; review by Robert Irwin in the TLS.

- Jessie Childs' God's Traitors; review by Virginia Roundling in the Telegraph.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Links & Reviews

- Rebecca Rego Barry writes on the Fine Books Blog about a few of the recent deaccessioning announcements, from the news that more books from the Mendham collection will be sold at Dreweatts on 20 March to the LA Law Library sale this week at Bonhams and the sale of the Indiana Historical Society's Audubons on 1 April.

- Sally McGrane writes over at the New Yorker blog about books looted by the Nazis.

- A collection of Titanic-related material, including the manuscript of a survivor's memoir and correspondence between his family and White Star Line owner J. Bruce Ismay, has been acquired by UPenn.

- An ABAA security alert on thirteen books apparently removed from a shipping case while in transit from California to Vermont.

- The Bibliographical Society has announced the recipients of its 2013-14 research grants.

- From the Bright Young Librarians series, Steven Galbraith from RIT.

- A rare Lord Nelson letter was withdrawn from auction this week, its current owners having decided not to sell for the time being.

- Samuel Beckett manuscripts and the working library of Beckett scholar Stanley Gontarski have been acquired by Trinity College, Dublin.

- In the TLS, Donald Nichol looks back at 300 years of The Rape of the Lock.

- Joanne Freeman's American Revolution course lectures are available on YouTube.

- Jerry Morris at My Sentimental Library highlights some of the books in his reference library.


- David Brion Davis' The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation; review by Drew Gilpin Faut in the NYRB.

- C. P. Snow's The Two Cultures; review by Alan Jacobs in Books & Culture.

- Lisa Gitelman's Paper Knowledge; review by Colin Higgins in THE.

- Marjorie Swann's edition of Walton's The Compleat Angler; review by Ruth Scurr in the TLS.