Nicholas A. Basbanes

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

Nicholas A. Basbanes
Basbanes in China conducting research for his book, On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History.
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 (age 79)
Lowell, Massachusetts
OccupationAuthor, journalist and lecturer
Alma materBates College (BA)
Pennsylvania State University (MA)
GenreNonfiction, journalism
SubjectAuthors, books and book culture
SpouseConstance Valentzas Basbanes
ChildrenBarbara Basbanes Richter Nicole Basbanes Claire
RelativesGeorgia Koumoutseas Basbanes, mother John G. Basbanes, father
Nicholas A. Basbanes (National Archives)

Early life and educationEdit

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.[6] 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 earned 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.[7]


Early journalismEdit

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.[6] 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 interviewed more than a thousand authors over the next twenty-one years.

Due to cost cutting measures, the Telegram, then known as the Telegram & Gazette, removed its book section in 1990.[6] When Basbanes left the newspaper later in 1991 to complete his first book, he continued writing the column and distributed it through Literary Features Syndicate, an agency he formed that placed it in more than thirty publications nationwide.[7]

He writes the "Gently Mad" column for Fine Books & Collections magazine and lectures on book-related subjects.[8]


Basbanes' first book, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, was published in 1995. The topic was originally dismissed as too arcane for a general readership by many New York editors who had passed on the opportunity to publish it, but the book later found sizable success with multiple printings.[9] Michael Dirda of The Washington Post called it an "ingratiating and altogether enjoyable book", praising the book's "wonderful gallery of modern eccentrics" despite its occasional lapses in literary history.[10] A Gentle Madness was named a New York Times notable book of the year[11] and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction for 1995.[12] In 2010, Allison Hoover Bartlett writing for the Wall Street Journal named it one of the most influential works about book collecting published in the twentieth century.[13]

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,"[14] 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.[15]

Basbanes' ninth book, On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History, 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.[4] 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.[16] It was named a notable book by the American Library Association,[17] and was one of three finalists for the 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.[18]

In July 2015, Basbanes received one of the inaugural grants from the Public Scholar program of the National Endowment for the Humanities in support of his tenth book, Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published in 2020. The Public Scholar program is designed to promote the publication of scholarly nonfiction books for general audiences.[19] Cross of Snow was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2020 by the Christian Science Monitor,[20] one of the Books of the Year 2020 by TLS [21] and was selected as an Honors Book in the non-fiction category by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.[22]


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]

Two selections of his literary journalism were collected in Editions & Impressions (2007) and About the Author (2010).[7]

His collection of books resides in North Grafton, Massachusetts.[6]


  • A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1995. (ISBN 9780805061765); Durham, NC: Fine Books Press, 2012 (updated print edition, and first electronic edition) (ISBN 9780979949166)
  • Patience & Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture, New York: HarperCollins, 2001 (ISBN 9780060196950
  • Among the Gently Mad: Perspectives and Strategies for the Book-Hunter in the 21st Century, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2002 (ISBN 9780805051599
  • A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World, New York: HarperCollins, 2003 (ISBN 9780060082871)
  • Every Book its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World, New York: HarperCollins, 2005 (ISBN 9780060593247)
  • Editions & Impressions: Twenty Years on the Book Beat, Durham, N.C.: Fine Books Press, 2007 (ISBN 9780979949104)
  • A World of Letters: Yale University Press, 1908-2008, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008 (ISBN 9780300115987)
  • About the Author: Inside the Creative Process, Durham, NC: Fine Books Press, 2010 (ISBN 9780979949135)
  • On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013 (ISBN 9780307266422)
  • Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020 (ISBN 9781101875148)

Selected journalism and op-ed essaysEdit


  1. ^ Merle Rubin, "Can you have too many books? Musings on Bibliophiles From Classical Alexandria to the Internet," Christian Science Monitor, December 27, 2001.[1]
  2. ^ André Bernard, "Fear of Book Assasination [sic] Haunts Bibliophile's Musings," The New York Observer, December 15, 2003. [2]
  3. ^ Brigitte Weeks, "The Manifold Beauties of Books," Washington Post, January 5, 2006. [3]
  4. ^ a b Martin A. Hubbe,"On Paper - A Celebration of Two Millennia of the Work and Craft of Papermakers," BioResources, 8(4), 4791-4792, November 2013 [4]
  5. ^ “Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,” Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2020, Posted Online March 29, 2020.[5]
  6. ^ a b c d Davis, William. "A Bible for Bibliophiles". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2020-05-18.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ a b c 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. [6]
  8. ^ Nicholas Basbanes, "Acute Bibliomania," Fine Books & Collections, Summer 2020. [7]
  9. ^ William A. Davis, "Bible for Bibliophiles: Basbanes' 'A Gentle Madness' Confounds the Naysayers, " Boston Globe, June 26, 1996, reprinted Bates Magazine, Spring 1997. [8] and John Baker, "A Mania for Books," Publishers Weekly, vol. 252, issue 45, November 11, 2005. [9]
  10. ^ Dirda, Michael (July 30, 1995). "Genuine Book Cases". The Washington Post.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ "Notable Books of the year 1995,"New York Times,December 3, 1995.
  12. ^ "NBCC Finalists". Archived from the original on 2019-04-27. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  13. ^ Bartlett, Allison Hoover (2010-10-09). "Extreme Book-Collecting". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2020-05-15.
  14. ^ Andre Bernard,"Fear of Book Assasination [sic] Haunts Bibliophile's Musings," The New York Observer, December 15, 2013. [10]
  15. ^ "Yale Press Centennial: A World of Letters by Nicolas A. Basbanes". Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  16. ^ NEH 2008 Grant Obligations Massachusetts
  17. ^ ALA News, "2014 Notable Books List," January 26,2014
  18. ^, Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, Awards Finalists, April 7, 2014.[11]
  19. ^ Ron Charles, "Uncle Sam Wants YOU to Read 'Popular' Scholarly Books," Washington Post, The Style Blog, July 28, 2015.[12]
  20. ^ The Christian Science Monitor "The Best Nonfiction Books of 2020 Offer Wisdom and Insight," December 9, 2020 [13]
  21. ^ TLS, "Books of the Year 2020, Sixty-five Writers Make Their Selections From Around the World," November 13, 2020.[14]
  22. ^ "Massachusetts Book Awards Announcement and Call for Submissions".
  23. ^ "Basbanes Collection Added to Cushing Library" (Press release). Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M University. 2015-12-07. Archived from the original on 2016-01-04. Retrieved 2016-01-05.

External linksEdit

  • Works by or about Nicholas Basbanes in libraries (WorldCat Identities)
  • Basbanes profile onC-SPAN
  • Boston Athenæum Author Profile
  • American Writers Museum Advisory Council
  • Library Thing Profile
  • Pradeep Sebastian,"Endpaper: Scroll Down Memory Lane", The Hindu, August 31, 2013
  • William A. Davis, "Bible for Bibliophiles: Basbanes' 'A Gentle Madness' Confounds the Naysayers". Boston Globe, June 26, 1996, reprinted Bates Magazine, Spring 1997.
  • John Baker, "A Mania for Books", Publishers Weekly, vol. 252, issue 45, November 11, 2005.[15]
  • William F.Meehan III,"First Impression: An Interview with Author and Bibliophile Nicholas A. Basbanes", Indiana Libraries, volume 25, number 3, 2006.[16]
  • Michael M. Jones,"Reamed Out: PW Talks with Nicholas A. Basbanes," Publishers Weekly, August 23, 2013.[17]
  • Bob Minzesheimer,"Five Great Books about Libraries", USA Today, May 8, 2013.[18]
  • Helen Gallagher, "On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History," New York Journal of Books, October 15, 2013.[19]
  • Ron Charles, "Nicholas Basbanes on the Enduring Importance of Paper," The Washington Post, The Style Blog, October 28, 2013. [20]
  • Imprints and Impressions: Milestones in Human Progress, Exhibition of the Rarest Books in the World at the University of Dayton, October 2, 2014.[21]
  • Sohn JiAe,, "Hanji Traditional Paper Beloved Around the World," December 22, 2014. [22]
  • Stephanie McFeeters,The Boston Globe, Names, "Local Writers Will Share National Endowment for the Humanities Grant," July 29, 2015.[23]
  • Michael Schaub, Los Angeles Times, Jacket Copy, "Academic Nonfiction for the Masses? NEH Awards $1.7 million in Public Scholar grants," July 29, 2015.[24]
  • Michael S. Rosenwald, Washington Post, Local, "Take note: The Paper Industry is Planning a Big Comeback," July 29, 2015.[25]
  • “Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,” Publishers Weekly, April 9, 2020.[26]
  • Christoph Irmscher, The Wall Street Journal, Books/Bookshelf, "‘Cross of Snow’ Review: Our Poet of Loneliness," May 22, 2020. [27]
  • Charles McGrath, The New York Times, Nonfiction, "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: America's No. 1 Literary Celebrity," June 4, 2020.[28]
  • Michael Dirda, The Washington Post, Books Review, "Beloved, patriotic, sentimental: A look at the life and poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow," June 3, 2020.[29]
  • James Marcus, The New Yorker, Books, "What is There to Love About Longfellow?," June 8 & 15, 2020 Issue. [30]
  • Herman Sutter, Library Journal, "Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow," June 2020. [31]
  • Publishers Weekly, "Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow," April 9, 2020. [32]
  • BBC Sounds, Free Thinking, "Paper: An Exploration of the Cultural and Social History of Paper," January 19, 2022. [33]
  • Boston Athenaeum, Nicholas Basbanes in conversation with Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen about their book "The Library: A Fragile History," January 21, 2022. [34]
  • Foreword to The Quotable Book Lover, edited by Ben Jacobs and Helena Hjalmarsson (New York: The Lyons Press, 1999). The quotations in Chapter 10, "Collecting Books: A Special Section by Nicholas A. Basbanes, " pp. 209–228, were compiled from A Gentle Madness.
  • Introduction to Robert A. Wilson, Modern Book Collecting, a new edition (New York: Skyhorse Publishing Co., 2010)
  • Nicholas A. Basbanes,"The Evening Star and the Bobby Baker Story: A Case Study," Thesis (M.A.), Pennsylvania State University.[35]


  • November 14, 2013, the Strand bookstore in New York City, "Nicholas Basbanes on the Strange and Fascinating History of People and Paper," Video on YouTube
  • October 12, 2015, Book Club of California, San Francisco, "Material Culture and the Writing of a Dual Biography,"Video on YouTube
  • August 30, 2017, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, "On Materiality: A Cultural Consideration of Paper," [36]
  • October 7, 2017, Longfellow House, Cambridge, Massachusetts, The 2017 James M. Shea Lecture presented in celebration of the 200th birthday of Fanny Appleton Longfellow,Video on YouTube
  • July 13, 2020, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, "A Conversation with Nicholas Basbanes on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow," Video on YouTube