This volume brings together a selection of the biographical sketches and reviews that G. Thomas Tanselle has written since 1959. These two genres of writing focus on individuals; taken together they show how a biographical approach can serve to characterize a whole field–in this case, the world of books and bibliographical and textual scholarship. Because the pieces gathered here deal with major figures and landmark works, along with representative (if less famous) ones, covering the wide spectrum of bibliography, the collection provides a picture of what was going on in the scholarly book world of the past half-century.
The twenty-eight portraits comprise accounts of, or tributes to, collectors, booksellers, librarians, scholarly editors, publishers, bibliographical scholars, literary and historical scholars, and authors. Figures represented by substantial essays are Fredson Bowers, John Carter, Floyd Dell, Nancy Hale, Harrison Horblit, Vera Lawrence, Ruth Mortimer, and Gordon Ray; among the other people commented on are Harrison Hayford, Mary Hyde, Alfred Kazin, William Matheson, William Scheide, and Carl Woodring.
The “Reviews” section consists of forty-two pieces, mostly book reviews but also including some responses to essays, introductions to anthologies, and retrospective assessments. There are discussions of bibliographical classics by Fredson Bowers, Philip Gaskell, D. F. McKenzie, Paul Needham, Allan Stevenson, and David Vander Meulen, as well as of titles by other major scholars, such as Roger Chartier, Robert Darnton, Anthony Grafton, and David McKitterick. Also treated are books by William A. Jackson, Larry McMurtry, and Nicholson Baker, plus several bibliographies, bibliographical reference works, books on book collecting, and scholarly editions. Other items involve bookcloth, Blake’s printmaking, textual theory, book preservation, and the antiquarian book trade.
The pieces in both sections of the book sometimes have an autobiographical element, for the author has known many of the people whose lives and works are taken up here.