“A lively tale of historical innovation, the thrill of the bibliophile’s hunt, greed and betrayal.”
— The New York Times Book Review
“[E]ngrossing reading … Davis does a fine job telling a fascinating story that touches on the origin of books, the passion of collectors, the unseen world of rare-book dealers, and the lives of the super-rich, past and present. A great read for any book lover.”
— Kirkus [Starred Review]
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For rare-book collectors, an original copy of the Gutenberg Bible — there are only forty-eight in existence — represents the ultimate prize. When Estelle Doheny, the eccentric widow of oil tycoon Edward Doheny, finally obtained an original copy, it was the culmination of a forty-year pursuit. Estelle, the first woman and perhaps the most devout owner of the Bible, would be its last private owner as well. After her death, the unique Bible would go on to enable scientists — using the very machine that first isolated plutonium for the atomic bomb — to make the most important advance in understanding the first printed book.
London Book Dealer Ernest Maggs gazes at the pages of the Gutenberg Bible following the 1947 auction. The vellum thumb markers used to designate sections of the bible are visible along the book’s foredge.
“Bibliophiles love books, and none more than the book collector’s dream of dreams, a Gutenberg Bible. Margaret Leslie Davis tells the improbable, tri-continental odyssey of Gutenberg no. 45 with the skills of a practiced biographer, but the life of this book is also the lives of those who owned it and then lost it, and these lives—especially the life of Estelle Doheny of Los Angeles—Davis tells not just with skill but also with sympathy and even love. A richly informative but finally a deeply moving story.”
— Jack Miles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of God: A Biography
Telegram from American Dealer A.S.W. Rosenbach to Estelle Doheny informing her that the Gutenberg Bible she coveted had gone to another book dealer in March, 1947.
The Bill of Sale for the Gutenberg Bible dated October 2, 1950. Estelle Doheny had given up on ever owning the Bible when the copy she had lost suddenly became available. Thanks to an unusually strong dollar, she was able to claim one of civilization‘s great artifacts for a bargain price.
In The Lost Gutenberg, Margaret Leslie Davis richly recounts five centuries in the life of this copy of the Bible, from its very creation by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany; to its ownership by the British heir to the Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce empire; to its brush with one of the most notorious crimes of the twentieth century, the Teapot Dome scandal; to its ultimate resting place, in a steel vault in Tokyo.
The Lost Gutenberg draws readers into this incredible saga, inviting them into the colorful lives of each of its collectors along the way. Through vivid storytelling and unprecedented access into private records, Davis offers a unique and riveting history for bibliophiles and book lovers combined. Exploring books as objects of desire across centuries, Davis will leave readers not only with a broader understanding of the culture of rare book collectors, but with a deeper awareness of the importance of books in our world.
“This wonderful, elegant story, which reads like a thriller, will delight anyone who loves books, collecting, history, and biography. The Gutenberg Bible, its hero, travelled across several continents and reached Los Angeles more than half a century ago. It was the object of admiration, greed, and speculation, but also of brilliant scientific discoveries. Populated by remarkable and quirky individuals, their passions and tragedies, this superbly researched historical gem is a veritable page-turner.”
— Diana Kormos Buchwald, Director and General Editor, Einstein Papers Project,
The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Professor of History, Caltech
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“An addictive and engaging look at the ‘competitive, catty and slightly angst-ridden’ heart of the world of book collecting… The Lost Gutenberg reads like a comedy of manners starring the cast of an Ayn Rand novel… It’s improbable and riveting. The journey of one of the most important books in human history is daring and endearing, a fitting period on the sentence Gutenberg himself began with his world-changing invention.”
— Jef Rouner, Houston Chronicle
“What’s truly surprising about The Lost Gutenberg is that Davis makes the 500-year journey of this one book more exciting than any spy novel. For the imaginative Hollywood producer, this book’s life story could provide the basis for a richly enjoyable big-budget blockbuster. The action travels across centuries and moves from England to Los Angeles to Tokyo, bringing together the avaricious, duplicitous and deeply religious, all driven by the same desire: to own a copy of one of the most famous books in the world.”
— Catholic Herald
“A fluently told, well-executed history… This is, at heart, and with heart, an entertaining and insightful human story of obsession about books, and a telling examination of what inspires those who catch the collecting bug.”
— Daily Telegraph
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