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Nicholas. A. Basbanes
Basbanes in China conducting research for his book, On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History.
Born May 25, 1943(1943-05-25) (age 78)
Lowell, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Alma mater Bates College (BA), Pennsylvania State University (MA)
Occupation Author, journalist and lecturer
Spouse(s) 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]


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

Selected journalism and op-ed essays[]

C-SPAN appearances[]

NPR appearances[]


  • January 31, 2006, Library of Congress, "The Power of the Printed Word,"[15]
  • 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," [16]
  • 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


  1. 1.0 1.1 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.[1]
  3. André Bernard, “Fear of Book Assasination [sic] Haunts Bibliophile’s Musings,” The New York Observer, December 15, 2003. [2]
  4. Brigitte Weeks, “The Manifold Beauties of Books,” Washington Post, January 5, 2006. [3]
  5. 5.0 5.1 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]
  6. 6.0 6.1 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. [5]
  7. William A. Davis, “Bible for Bibliophiles: Basbanes' ‘A Gentle Madness’ Confounds the Naysayers, ” Boston Globe, June 26, 1996, reprinted Bates Magazine, Spring 1997. [6] and John Baker, “A Mania for Books,” Publishers Weekly, vol. 252, issue 45, November 11, 2005. [7]
  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. [8]
  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. [9]
  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.[10],
  19. Stephen L. Carter,"Best Books of 2013: Slavery and Bibliophilia," Bloomberg The Ticker, December 3, 2013.[11]
  20. National Post,"Open Book: Philip Marchand’s favourite books of 2013," Arts, Afterword, December 27, 2013.[12]
  21., Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, Awards Finalists, April 7, 2014.[13]
  22. Ron Charles, "Uncle Sam Wants YOU to Read 'Popular' Scholarly Books," Washington Post, The Style Blog, July 28, 2015.[14]
  23. "Basbanes Collection Added to Cushing Library". Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M University. 2015-12-07. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 

External links[]

  • Nicholas Basbanes Website
  • Works by or about Nicholas Basbanes in libraries (WorldCat Identities)
  • A World of Letters: Yale University Press, 1908—2008
  • Boston Athenæum Author Profile
  • "Leading Authority on Books to Speak at Library Society Dinner," Library Connections,University of Missouri, Winter 2012.
  • American Writers Museum Advisory Council
  • "Nicholas Basbanes: A Love Affair with Books",, Rare Book Room
  • Pradeep Sebastian, "Endpaper: Beyond Book Collection", The Hindu, July 1, 2012
  • Pradeep Sebastian,"Endpaper: Scroll Down Memory Lane", The Hindu, August 31, 2013
  • Library Thing Profile
  • 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.[17]
  • William F.Meehan III,"First Impression: An Interview with Author and Bibliophile Nicholas A. Basbanes", Indiana Libraries, volume 25, number 3, 2006.[18]
  • Michael M. Jones,"Reamed Out: PW Talks with Nicholas A. Basbanes," Publishers Weekly, August 23, 2013.[19]
  • Bob Minzesheimer,"Five Great Books about Libraries", USA Today, May 8, 2013.[20]
  • "On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand -Year History,"Publishers Weekly, August 5, 2013.[21]
  • "On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History,"Kirkus Reviews, Volume LXXXI, No 19, September 1, 2013, Posted Online August 18, 2013.[22]
  • Helen Gallagher, "On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History," New York Journal of Books, October 15, 2013.[23]
  • Nicholas A. Basbanes,"10 Most Bizarre Uses of Paper in History," Huffington Post, HuffPost Books, The Blog, October 21, 2013.[24]
  • Ron Charles, "Nicholas Basbanes on the Enduring Importance of Paper," The Washington Post, The Style Blog, October 28, 2013. [25]
  • "On Paper," The New Yorker, Briefly Noted, p. 83, November 11, 2013.[26]
  • Peter Lewis, "On Paper," Barnes and Noble Review, Reviews & Essays, Cultural History, November 15, 2013. [27]
  • Philip Marchand, "Open Book: On Paper, by Nicholas A. Basbanes," National Post, November 22, 2013. [28]
  • David Walton, "Book Review: ‘On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History,’ by Nicholas Basbanes," The Dallas Morning News, GuideLIVE Books, November 30, 2013. [29]
  • Christine Rosen, "Sheet by Sheet 'On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History,'" The Wilson Quarterly, Book Reviews, Autumn 2013. [30]
  • William F. Meehan III, Book Review, "On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History," Information & Culture: A Journal of History, University of Texas Press, University of Texas at Austin, January 21, 2014. [31]
  • Donna Seaman, Booklist Online, Booklist Review, "On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History," February 5, 2014. [32]
  • Glenn C. Altschuler, Tulsa World, "Book Review: History of paper a ripping read," February 9, 2014. [33]
  • Carlin Romano, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Chronicle Review, "Whither Paper? Enough with simplistic predictions of its demise," February 10, 2014. [34]
  • Lois Carr, The Wichita Eagle, "Nicholas Basbanes Celebrates the Ingenuity Behind One of Our Most Common Products," March 2, 2014. [35]
  • Booklist Online, Notable Books 2014, March 15, 2014. [36]
  • Leah Price, The Times Literary Supplement, "Hold or Fold," March 19, 2014.[37]
  • Lewis Fried,The Key Reporter, Phi Beta Kappa's Publication for News and Alumni Relations, "Life of the Mind: 'On Paper'," April 1, 2014. [38]
  • James McGrath Morris, Santa Fe New Mexican, Pasatiempo, The Sante Fe New Mexican’s Weekly Magazine of Arts, Entertainment & Culture, "Book Review: 'On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History' by Nicholas A. Basbanes," April 11, 2014. [39]
  • Imprints and Impressions: Milestones in Human Progress, Exhibition of the Rarest Books in the World at the University of Dayton, October 2, 2014.[40]
  • Stephanie McFeeters,The Boston Globe, Names, "Local Writers Will Share National Endowment for the Humanities Grant," July 29, 2015.[41]
  • Michael Schaub, Los Angeles Times, Jacket Copy, "Academic Nonfiction for the Masses? NEH Awards $1.7 million in Public Scholar grants," July 29, 2015.[42]
  • Michael S. Rosenwald, Washington Post, Local, "Take note: The Paper Industry is Planning a Big Comeback," July 29, 2015.[43]
  • Texas A&M University, University Libraries, News and Events, "Basbanes Collection Added to Cushing Library," December 7, 2015. [44]
  • "Nicholas A. Basbanes,"Quotes,"[45]
  • 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.
  • Foreword to The Library: An Illustrated History, by Stuart A. P. Murray (New York: Skyhorse Publishing Co., and Chicago: American Library Association, 2009)
  • 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.[46]
  • Nicholas A. Basbanes,"Heritage 70 [cruisebook] USS Oriskany CVA 34"[47]
  • Nicholas A. Basbanes, Fine Books and Collections,[48]

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