Shakespeare's Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature (Paperback)
A tantalizing true story of one of literature’s most enduring enigmas is at the heart of this “lively, even sprightly book” (Michael Dirda, The Washington Post)—the quest to find the personal library of the world’s greatest writer.
Millions of words of scholarship have been expended on the world’s most famous author and his work. And yet a critical part of the puzzle, Shakespeare’s library, is a mystery. For four centuries people have searched for it: in mansions, palaces and libraries; in riverbeds, sheep pens and partridge coops; and in the corridors of the mind. Yet no trace of the bard’s manuscripts, books or letters has ever been found.
The search for Shakespeare’s library is much more than a treasure hunt. Knowing what the Bard read informs our reading of his work, and it offers insight into the mythos of Shakespeare and the debate around authorship. The library’s fate has profound implications for literature, for national and cultural identity, and for the global Shakespeare industry. It bears on fundamental principles of art, identity, history, meaning and truth.
Unfolding the search like the mystery story that it is, acclaimed author Stuart Kells follows the trail of the hunters, taking us through different conceptions of the library and of the man himself. Entertaining and enlightening, Shakespeare’s Library is a captivating exploration of one of literature’s most enduring enigmas.
"An engaging and provocative contribution to the unending world of Shakespeariana . . . An enchanting work that bibliophiles will savor and Shakespeare fans adore." ―Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Stuart Kells is an author and book–trade historian. His 2015 history of Penguin Books, Penguin and the Lane Brothers, won the prestigious Ashurst Business Literature Prize. Rare, his critically acclaimed biography of Kay Craddock—the first female president of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers—was published in 2011. An authority on rare books, Kells has written and published on many aspects of print culture and the book world.
Praise for Shakespeare's Library
"Shakespeare’s Library is unquestionably a lively, even sprightly book." —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"Riveting . . . To read, or not to read? Here, there’s no question!" —Booklist (starred review)
"Historian Kells (The Library) delivers a fascinating examination of a persistent literary mystery . . . Shakespeare fans will surely be riveted by the new information brought to light in Kells’s rich literary survey." —Publishers Weekly
"It's an engaging and provocative contribution to the unending world of Shakespeariana . . . An enchanting work that bibliophiles will savor and Shakespeare fans adore." —Kirkus Reviews
"In his fascinating new book, Shakespeare’s Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature, Kells narrows his focus from all the libraries in the world to one library in particular. It’s perhaps the most important library that nobody’s ever seen: the personal library of William Shakespeare . . . Invigorating . . . Wonderful reading." —Steve Donoghue, The Christian Science Monitor
"Sharp and enjoyable." —Fine Books & Collections
“An excellent reevaluation of Shakespeare. Well worth reading.” —William Sutton, iloveshakespeare.com
"An entertaining and informative read that every Shakespeare scholar should make sure to have in their own library." —Ripe Good Scholar
“Fascinating . . . Libraries can save us all.” —Ben Crystal, author of Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary
Praise for The Library
"Library holdings have helped reassure me that values associated with reason, intellect and art really do tend to survive dark ages of various kinds . . . It was therefore a pleasure to sit down among the stacks and read a new book about the history of this very subject . . . The Library lends itself to browsing, but a sequential reading reveals a larger theme . . . Abounds in fascinating tales." —The New York Times Book Review
"Excellent . . . Tracks the history of that greatest of all cultural institutions." ―The Washington Post
"A thread of wonder runs throughout these pages, weaving in and out of the subject of libraries in general—the strangeness of the idea, the intrinsic appeal of the idea."—The National
“Kells’ fervor is visible from the outset . . . Will delight and educate.” —Chicago Review of Books
“In this free–roaming history of libraries, Kells, well read, well traveled, ebullient, and erudite, relishes tales of innovation, obsession, and criminality . . . Kells’ revelatory romp through the centuries cues us to the fact that, as has so often been the case, libraries need our passionate attention and support, our advocacy, gratitude, and (given Kells’ tales of book–kissing, including Coleridge pressing his lips to his copy of Spinoza) love.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Bibliophiles will be unable to resist a book so in line with their adoration of these sacred spaces.” —Fine Books & Collections
“Brimming with strange anecdotes about a small handful of books owned by a small handful of people; lost books yielding strange surprises, from discarded condoms to misplaced dental appointment slips . . . Kells’s The Library is at its best when it recounts the stories of . . . ancient libraries, charting the accidental trails of books, and therefore ideas, through processes of translating, pirating and appropriation.” —The Conversation
“A bright, idiosyncratic tour of a book historian’s collected knowledge about libraries and bibliophilia . . . The book assembles snippets from a wide variety of disciplines into an eclectic history of libraries as cultural, political, aesthetic, literary, mnemonic, and, above all, personal phenomena dedicated to collecting and preserving the written word.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Book–trade historian Kells (Penguin and the Lane Brothers) blends scholarly expertise with sharp wit in this enjoyable history of libraries . . . Kells’s passion for this subject suffuses this pleasurable book, calling readers to understand the importance of the library’s role preserving humanity’s history and why libraries are still relevant today.” —Publishers Weekly
“This work takes readers on what can only be described as a labyrinth of traditions, facts, and vignettes that will whet the appetite of any bibliophile or lectiophile. It will appeal mostly to those who are attracted to the minutiae of libraries (although this is not an exhaustive history).” —Maria Bagshaw, Publishers Weekly
“Kells’s tale is an homage to libraries everywhere. It will delight all bibliomaniacs and those who still appreciate the tactile connection with the book, its smell, watermarks, and imperfections, and who relish in walking through stacks and library halls where many minds, illustrious or not, have wandered before them.” —EuropeNow
“If you think you know what a library is, this marvelously idiosyncratic book will make you think again. After visiting hundreds of libraries around the world and in the realm of the imagination, bibliophile and rare–book collector Stuart Kells has compiled an enchanting compendium of well–told tales and musings both on the physical and metaphysical dimensions of these multi–storied places. He takes us to Jorge Luis Borges’ fictional ‘infinite library’ and the oral libraries of Indigenous Australians, the oldest of their kind on earth, exploring how European attempts to explain the songlines of the Arrente people became ‘a hub of concentric scandals.’ As in a game of Cluedo, deaths, births, crimes and passions all take place in the library. Perhaps in an attempt to avoid such scandal, a 19th–century book of etiquette advised that the works of male and female authors should be segregated ‘unless they happen to be married.’” —Fiona Capp, The Sydney Morning Herald
“The Library is ultimately an engaging and well–written volume by a knowledgeable expert and passionate fan of the subject matter. The result is almost like poetry, a rich ode to all things books and everything we love about them. The enjoyment and engagement is so palpable you can almost taste it and Kells proves to be the perfect guide through the subject matter and history, which ironically could have been lost were it not recorded in this faithful tome. You could consider The Library the good book, except that that one was already taken . . . ” —The Australian Review
“There’s no doubt we can all learn a lot from the magnificently obsessive and eloquent Kells.” —The Australian
"The Library charts the transition between formats such as papyrus scrolls, parchment codices, moveable type, and ebooks. There are many whimsical detours along the way, and Kells even devotes a chapter to fantasy libraries . . . Kells translates his stunning depth of research into breezy digestibility." —Big Issue
"There is so much to learn and enjoy in this book, with the impressive amount of research never weighing down the accessible writing . . . Kells makes an elegant plea for the future library—one that will resonate with most book lovers." —Good Reading
"The Library is a treasure trove and reaching the last page simply prompts an impassioned cry for more of the same." —Otago Daily Times
“In his new book, The Library, Stuart Kells compiles a number of fascinating tales about libraries—both ancient and modern, public and personal, real and fictional.” —The Woven Tale Press