Published in 1623, the 750 copies of the first edition of William Shakespeare's collected works, known as the First Folio, has been sought after relentlessly by kings, earls, and bibliophiles. In his effort to track down the extant 232 copies renowned Shakespeare scholar Eric Rasmussen and his team of First Folio hunters embarked on an incredible adventure around the world. This fast-paced narrative takes us from the court rooms of England to high-security vaults in the rare book rooms of Japan, encountering thieves, reclusive librarians, and eccentric billionaires along the way, all lusting for one of the world's most valuable books. This fascinating account explores how manuscript hunters identify a book's past through distinguishing marks: a bullet hole, desecrated pages, and splashes of red that resemble blood; and how a book's location and condition can reveal its story. Part literary detective story, part Shakespearean lore, The Shakespeare Thefts is a rare glimpse between the covers of one of the most coveted books in the world.
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Eric Rasmussen is department chair and professor of English at the University of Nevada. He is co-editor of the RSC Complete Works of William Shakespeare, the Norton Anthology of English Renaissance Drama, and of the works of Christopher Marlowe in the Oxford World's Classics series as well as individual plays in the Arden Shakespeare series, the Revels Plays series, and the Malone Society series. Since 1997, he has written the annual review of editions and textual studies for Shakespeare Survey. He lives in Reno, Nevada.Review:
“A Shakespeare authority recounts his attempts to identify and document all extant copies of Shakespeare's First Folio of 1623 . . . [Rasmussen] also provides a terrific appendix, which readers should not skip, that tells how Elizabethans printed books and how the First Folio came to be.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Every book comes with a story, and great books, like comets, often carry in their wake a tail of great stories. Eric Rasmussen, who with a team of fellow scholars is engaged in tracking and examining every known copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, has unearthed wonderful anecdotes of theft, fraud, and the peculiar mania of passionate bibliophiles.” ―Stephen Greenblatt, author of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
“Shakespeare's First Folio contains thirty-six plays of wit, passion, crime, and folly. In this brisk and amusing account, Eric Rasmussen tells us how the book itself has been the cause of wit, passion, crime, and folly in those who seek to own one of the surviving copies.” ―Peter Saccio, Leon D. Black Professor of Shakespearean Studies at Dartmouth College and author of Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama
“Eric Rasmussen's fascinating and hugely enjoyable collection of tales about the fate of individual copies and of his own experiences accumulating the data for a census of the surviving copies is a joy from first to last. Stories of thefts old and new, of copies mutilated or destroyed, and of the mania of book-collecting cover the centuries from its first purchasers to its most recent thieves. For anyone who thinks the work of scholarship is as dry as libraries, The Shakespeare Thefts will quickly convince them that it is actually a cross between CSI and big-game hunting.” ―Peter Holland, McMeel Family Professor in Shakespeare Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
“An irresistible true crime story revealing the long history of the desire to own one of the world's most valuable books. Amidst his captivating tales of unscrupulous scholars, wealthy industrialists, avaricious con men, and even a Pope who wanted to own the First Folio, Rasmussen makes clear his own love for and deep knowledge about the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, gently sneaking in a rich bibliographic history of the book itself as he unfolds his engaging accounts of those who were willing to steal to own it.” ―David Scott Kastan, George M. Bodman Professor of English, Yale University, and General Editor of the Arden Shakespeare.
“A page-turner, a series of detective stories and a work of scholarship all at once - Eric Rasmussen brings to life a truly Shakespearean cast of characters as he tracks the First Folio down the centuries and around the world” ―Jonathan Bate, author of Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare
“With irresistible intrigue like that of fine mystery novels, erudition and rigor characteristic of the most esteemed scholarship, and a delightful readability that only the best popular fiction boasts, this book will bring great joy to a remarkable range of people, from anyone who gives a hoot about Shakespeare to aficionados of literary history to simply lovers of good stories. It is no surprise that a team of researchers assisted Rasmussen, for it more often than otherwise takes a collaboration of brilliant minds to produce extraordinary work. And extraordinary this book is.” ―Bryan Reynolds, Professor of Drama at UC Irvine and author of Performing Transversally
“This is a travelogue, a thrilling detective story, an account of the world's most famous book -- and a compellingly good read.” ―Laurie Maguire, author of Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
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