Nicholas A. Basbanes

Nicholas. A. Basbanes

Basbanes in China conducting research for his book, On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History.
Born (1943-05-25) May 25, 1943
Lowell, Massachusetts
Occupation Author, journalist and lecturer
Language English
Nationality American
Alma mater Bates College (BA), Pennsylvania State University (MA)
Genre Nonfiction, journalism
Subject Books and book culture
Spouse Constance Valentzas Basbanes

Barbara Basbanes Richter

Nicole Basbanes Claire

Georgia Koumoutseas Basbanes, mother

John G. Basbanes, father

Nicholas Andrew Basbanes (born May 25, 1943, in Lowell, Massachusetts) is an American author who writes and lectures widely about books and book culture. His subjects have included the “eternal passion for books” (A Gentle Madness);[1] the history and future of libraries (Patience & Fortitude);[2] the “willful destruction of books” and the “determined effort to rescue them” (A Splendor of Letters);[3] “the power of the printed word to stir the world” (Every Book Its Reader)[4] and the invention of paper and its effect on civilization (On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History).[5]

Early life and education

Nicholas Basbanes is the son of two first-generation Greek-Americans. He graduated from Lowell High School in 1961, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, in 1965. Following a year of graduate study at Pennsylvania State University, he did research for his master’s thesis in Washington, D.C., then entered U. S. Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. He attended the Defense Information School in the spring of 1968 and received his master’s degree in journalism in 1969 while serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34) during the first of two combat deployments he made to Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of Vietnam.[6]

Early career

Discharged from active duty in 1971, Basbanes went to work as a general assignment reporter for The Evening Gazette in Worcester, Massachusetts, specializing in investigative journalism. In 1978, he was appointed books editor of a sister publication, the Worcester Sunday Telegram, a full-time position that included writing a weekly column for which he would interview more than a thousand authors over the next twenty-one years.

When Basbanes left the newspaper (by then known as the Telegram & Gazette) in 1991 to complete his first book, he continued writing the column and distributed it through Literary Features Syndicate, an agency that he formed that placed it in more than thirty publications nationwide. Two selections of his literary journalism were collected in Editions & Impressions (2007) and About the Author (2010).[6]


Basbanes' first book, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, was published in 1995. It has since appeared in eight hardcover editions and more than twenty paperback printings, surprising figures for a work of nonfiction whose topic was dismissed as too arcane for a general readership by many New York editors who had passed on the opportunity to publish it.[7]

Its topic is book collecting, but its focus is human nature – what Basbanes calls the “gentle madness” of bibliomania. Of the many people profiled in A Gentle Madness, none has created more interest than Stephen Blumberg, arguably the most accomplished book thief of the twentieth century, and to this day a subject of fascination for the bizarre methods he used to steal volumes from more than three hundred libraries in North America.[1]

A Gentle Madness was named a New York Times notable book of the year,[8] and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction for1995.[9] In 2010, the Wall Street Journal named it one of the most influential works about book collecting published in the twentieth century.[10] In 2012, an updated paperback edition and a new electronic version of the book were published.[11]

By 2003, with the publication of A Splendor of Letters, Basbanes was already acknowledged as a leading authority on books and book culture. One reviewer commented, “No other writer has traced the history of the book so thoroughly or so engagingly,”[12] and Yale University Press chose him to write its 2008 centennial history, A World of Letters, which chronicled the inside stories of its classic books from conception to production.[13]

Basbanes' ninth book, On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History,[14] is not only a consideration of paper as a principal medium for the transmission of text over the past ten centuries, but also a wider examination of the ubiquitous material itself.[5] The eight-year project, which was released in October 2013, was supported in part by the award of a National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship in 2008.[15] It was named a notable book by the American Library Association;[16] one of the best books of the year by Kirkus Reviews,[17]Mother Jones[18] and Bloomberg;[19] a "favourite" book of the year by the National Post (Canada)[20] and was a finalist for the 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.[21]

In addition to his books, Basbanes writes for numerous newspapers, magazines, and journals. He writes the “Gently Mad” column for Fine Books & Collections magazine, and lectures widely on book-related subjects.

In July 2015, Basbanes received one of the inaugural grants from the Public Scholar program, a major new initiative from the National Endowment for the Humanities, for his work-in-progress, Cross of Snow: The Love Story and Lasting Legacy of American Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).[22] The Public Scholar program is designed to promote the publication of scholarly nonfiction books for general audiences.

The Cushing Memorial Library and Archives of Texas A&M University acquired Basbanes' papers as the Nicholas A. Basbanes Collection in December 2015. The collection includes archives of Basbanes’ professional career as an author and literary journalist, as well as a significant portion of his personal library. Highlights of the collection include research materials related to the writing of his nine books and approximately eight hundred books inscribed to him over the course of his career.[23]


Selected journalism and op-ed essays

C-SPAN appearances

NPR appearances



  1. 1 2 Michael Dirda, “Genuine Book Cases,” Washington Post, July 30, 1995.
  2. Merle Rubin, “Can you have too many books? Musings on Bibliophiles From Classical Alexandria to the Internet,” Christian Science Monitor, December 27, 2001.
  3. André Bernard, “Fear of Book Assasination [sic] Haunts Bibliophile’s Musings,” The New York Observer, December 15, 2003.
  4. Brigitte Weeks, “The Manifold Beauties of Books,” Washington Post, January 5, 2006.
  5. 1 2 Martin A. Hubbe,"On Paper - A Celebration of Two Millennia of the Work and Craft of Papermakers," BioResources, 8(4), 4791-4792, November 2013.
  6. 1 2 Chauncey Mabe, “The Book On Books: Nicholas Basbanes Brings a Journalist's Training and Sensibility to Writing About, well, Writing, and Books,” South Florida Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), March 14, 2004.
  7. William A. Davis, “Bible for Bibliophiles: Basbanes' ‘A Gentle Madness’ Confounds the Naysayers, ” Boston Globe, June 26, 1996, reprinted Bates Magazine, Spring 1997. and John Baker, “A Mania for Books,” Publishers Weekly, vol. 252, issue 45, November 11, 2005.
  8. "Notable Books of the year 1995,"New York Times,December 3, 1995.
  9. NBCC Finalists
  10. Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2010
  11. "A Gentle Madness - A New Edition!". Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  12. Andre Bernard,"Fear of Book Assasination [sic] Haunts Bibliophile’s Musings," The New York Observer, December 15, 2013.
  13. "Yale Press Centennial: A World of Letters by Nicolas A. Basbanes". Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  14. Barbara Hoffert, “Barbara’s Picks, October 2013, Pt. 3: Basbanes, Boyle, Cahill, Drabble, Goleman, Holmes, Lepore, MacGregor, Venter, & Winterson,” Library Journal, April 15, 2013.
  15. NEH 2008 Grant Obligations Massachusetts
  16. ALA News, "2014 Notable Books List," January 26,2014
  17. Kirkus, "Best Books of 2013," Best Non-Fiction Books of 2013
  18. Mother Jones,"MoJo Staff Picks: The Best Books of 2013," Culture, December 17, 2013.,
  19. Stephen L. Carter,"Best Books of 2013: Slavery and Bibliophilia," Bloomberg The Ticker, December 3, 2013.
  20. National Post,"Open Book: Philip Marchand’s favourite books of 2013," Arts, Afterword, December 27, 2013.
  21. ALA,org, Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, Awards Finalists, April 7, 2014.
  22. Ron Charles, "Uncle Sam Wants YOU to Read 'Popular' Scholarly Books," Washington Post, The Style Blog, July 28, 2015.
  23. "Basbanes Collection Added to Cushing Library" (Press release). Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M University. 2015-12-07. Retrieved 2016-01-05.

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/12/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.