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on 5 October 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The author of "The Shakespeare Thefts" is a member of a team who for ten years has been tracking down every extant copy of Shakespeare's first folio, meticulously recording the thousands of identifying marks which characterize each volume. This short book is a result of this project, a breezy tour through the first folios he has encountered (and those he hasn't) with interesting facts about their history and that of their owners.

There are some wonderful stories and characters, including the Walter Mitty type who was convicted of handling the stolen Durham copy, or the antiquarian J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps and his equally eccentric father-in-law. Sometimes, however, I felt that Rasmussen was straining a bit too hard to highlight an apparent coincidence, trying to see murder and mystery where there was none, or being over-romantic in yoking ownership of a folio to other aspects of the owner's life.

The most frustrating aspect of the book was its structure (or lack of one). The chapters could have been in any order and one was left with the impression of an author rambling from one fact to another with no overall coherence. This rambling, however, was often enjoyable and Rasmussen is a charming guide.
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VINE VOICEon 17 October 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you're one of those people and looking to steal a very rare book, whatever you do, never, and this should be underlined and repeated, never, steal a Shakespeare First Folio. Not because stealing a Shakespeare First Folio is necessarily that hard; if the heists detailed in Eric Rasmussen's The Shakespeare Thefts are an example, it's actually a relatively straightforward process to steal a Shakespeare First Folio. Not quite sticking a Harry Potter under your jumper in WH Smiths, but security in some places has been strangely loose and based on much trust between a reference library and the person purporting to be an academic.

No, the problem with stealing a Shakespeare First Folio is that you'll never be able to sell it on. Well, you might, on the black market, assuming you have the right contacts, but only for a fraction of what it's actually worth. The problem is, at least for a prospective thief is that not only do Rasmussen and a team of researchers have a record of the location for all the couple of hundred or so Shakespeare First Folios in existence, they've also tirelessly created a descriptive record of them all so that if a Folio is stolen and then another Folio appears on the market, they can tell relatively quickly if they're one and the same.

Soon this data will been published. It's in The Shakespeare First Folios: A Descriptive Index and although - based on the section quoted in this supplementary book - it's fairly dry read it also provides added security to those owners who've agreed to have their Folio recorded. You may have seen the documentary on television last year, the story of how Raymond Rickett Scott carried a Folio into the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington claiming to have bought it in Cuba, and although it was missing its covers and first pages, they were very quickly able to identify it as the copy stolen from Durham University ten years before.

The Shakespeare Thefts is a cautionary tale and there are numerous other examples of less educated thieves who've fallen into the same trap of assuming that stealing a Shakespeare First Folio is just like any other rare book. But Rasmussen seeks to underscore the point by revealing that it's not simply the description of each book which identifies it, but it's provenance. They've been able to identify who originally purchased each of these Folios and the book's journey through time, some simply sitting on a shelf in the intervening years, some having escaped war zones, some even having apparently saved lives, taking a bullet themselves.

All of which is very exciting, but the book itself is something of a curate's egg, not quite sure what it wants to be. On the one hand it is about the thefts of the folios and on the other it is about their history. Then there's a third hand about the actual processes of recording the folios and some anecdotes about that and the inevitable forth about those Folios out of reach, locked away in private vaults with orders for them not to be seen the frustration of which Rasmussen returns to on a number of occasions. He returns to a few subjects on a number of occasions even repeating the same information. This is a messy book.

Perhaps a more schematic approach would have helped. The Descriptive Index promises to have full provenance details and perhaps a better approach here would have been to simply pick the more interesting Folios and offered the story of those with an anecdote about its recording as this attempts to do in a few chapters. But that would also have a required a slightly more academic tone and the other slightly problem is Rasmussen (who amongst other things co-edited the RSC Complete Works with Jonathan Bate) is attempting to write for that market and the popular history section which in some cases makes it very readable but in others slightly insubstantial. I managed to finish the book in about two hours.

As it stands, what is here is never less than enthralling and the slightly random approach does give it the tone of an extended after dinner speech or spending an entertaining evening in the office of an academic after hours as they regale you with war stories or fishing tales, the Folio destroyed in fires or nibbled by rats. There's an excellent short chapter about the preparation of the text for the recent RSC Hamlet with David Tennant, the production we didn't see, and the appendix is as clear a description of the process of the original publication of the folios as I've ever read. Approach it in the right spirit and this is a thoroughly entertaining read.
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on 19 September 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Rasmussen, a renowned academic Shakespeare editor, offers us here a series of tales as he and his `Folio Hunters' try to trace the provenance of First Folios, and track down the ones which have disappeared from the historic record.

This isn't really one story, but a series of episodes, some shorter and less detailed than others. The case, for example, of the Pembroke Folios which are missing takes only a little over four pages, much of which isn't about the Pembroke copies at all. Some of the other episodes are more detailed and certainly provide us with a wealth of eccentrics, bibliophiles, fraudsters and book thieves.

Rasmussen's own passion comes over well, but sometimes his anxiety about speaking to a `popular' audience inhibits his voice and makes his tone overly simplistic. There are also points at which the narrative feels a tad disjointed as he inserts what feel like spontaneous comments on the protectionist policies of some university librarians, the charm of marginalia (something no book scholar would contest), and his own exhaustive database on Hamlet.

I guess I expected something closer to Shapiro's wonderful 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, a book which is as interesting for students and scholars as it is for the amateur enthusiast: this book is far more loosely strung together, a series of anecdotes rather than a story. It's a fun read with some charming tales, and is buoyantly told. As another reviewer has said, it would make a brilliant Xmas present as it is light and fun while still being informative.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 24 September 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The author and a handpicked team set about locating and cataloguing all known copies of the Shakespeare First Folio. The quest was to lead them all over the world on a sometimes fruitless search. They came across eccentric recluses, conmen and people rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

The book is well written and interesting if you like literary mysteries. There are plenty of notes which expand on the text and there will be an index in the published book. There will also be illustrations in the finished work. As I had a proof copy to review I cannot comment on the number or quality of the illustrations or the efficacy of the index.

Ownership of a Shakespeare First Folio is frequently attended by disadvantages. Many owners have met untimely deaths shortly after buying or inheriting First Folios. Some copies have been stolen and never returned. Some have been stolen and turned up years later - even centuries later. One copy stopped a bullet. Most First Folios are not completely original as they have had missing leaves replaced - some of which are carefully hand drawn and almost indistinguishable from the original.

The book includes descriptions of how the Folios were typeset and how they were printed and bound. It also contains fascinating snippets about many of the copies in existence. There is an extract from a description of one of the copies showing how carefully all the individual details of each copy have been recorded.

The comprehensive details recorded, which include marginalia, slight differences in printing, stains on the pages, tears and other blemishes, mean that it will be much more difficult for thieves to steal and resell known copies of the Shakespeare First Folio in future because each known copy is unique. This is a fascinating and well written book and it will be of interest to anyone who enjoys history or has a particular interest in Shakespeare.
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VINE VOICEon 2 October 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is an excellent book, a literary detective story, by Eric Rasmussen, an expert in the field, and I found it to be a page turner.

The First edition of Shakespeare's works, published in 1623, known as the First Folios, is one of the most valuable books in the world, and the author and over a decade his team have tracked every single one of the 232 surviving copies across the globe. They are revered, admired and highly sought after, but only very wealthy individuals or corporations can be in the market for one.

The book is hugely entertaining ranging from stories about eccentric bibliophiles to the production of fake copies and the fascinating detail as the folios travel through the centuries to present day.

The appeal of the book is that it is literary history at it's most engaging and compelling.

Eric Rasmussen has written a book which deserves a wide readership and is a 'must have' for all those interested in Shakespeare. Recommended.
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on 17 December 2014
I feel some of the earlier reviews of this book are rather unfair. It doesn't set out to be Great Literature and surely, to be heading up a venture as off the wall as this, the author could be expected to be a bit eccentric. He isn't a professional writer -- he's an academic. I didn't mind his aside about his own rather optimistic purchase of Shakespeariana; after all, he told the anecdote against himself.

It is a slight volume and I would judge that how much you like it depends on how interested you are in Shakespeare's First Folio. There was a time in my life (just before Finals) when I thought if I never heard another word on the subject, it would be no hardship at all -- but in fact I rather enjoyed this. Good for reading on a plane or a train, easy to pick up and put down. Not a literary prize winner, but fine for what it is.
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on 3 June 2016
Enthralling! I were expecting a detective story but instead it were a "Wait, but there's more...free steak knives" or is that ink quills type of story telling. Lots of promise but not much delivery. The writer believes he is informative and is delivering a cracking tale. But he delivers anecdotes better shared between fellow Shakespeare anoraks. It is a worthwhile topic tracking the history of ownership of the first folios but one Mr Rasmussen does not deliver on. Sadly, like the England cricket team Mr Rasmussen knows how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Oh look its the 7.29 from Carlisle, better get to the end of the platform as I believe the engine has not had much of a run outside of its shed.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 18 September 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
"Book collectors, as a class, are known for their eccentricities." So says the author of this quirky book, and then goes on to prove it in a way that had me smiling and chuckling throughout.

From every page of this book, it's obvious that Eric Rasmussen has not only an in-depth scholarly knowledge of his subject, but also a passionate enthusiasm for it - an enthusiasm he wants us to share. He and his team of researchers have spent the last decade cataloguing all the remaining copies of Shakespeare's First Folio that they could lay their hands on. Along the way, Rasmussen has collected a fund of stories about thefts and miraculous recoveries, family feuds, frauds and forgeries. For instance, did you know that the pope once "stole" a First Folio from actress Dorothy Tutin? If you want the rest of that story, you'll need to read the book!

Told in a light-hearted style, nonetheless the book is packed full of interesting information about Shakespeare and the actors he worked with, 17th century printing and publishing, and the obsession shown by book collectors over the centuries. Even the notes at the end are full of little anecdotes that add to the overall enjoyability of the book. This will be an ideal gift for anyone with an interest in Shakespeare or, indeed, in books generally. I know several of my family and friends will be receiving it this Christmas. Highly recommended.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 November 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a rather nice little book which doesn't easily fall into an obvious category. Essentially it is a collection of anecdotes of both the history of particular First Folio editions of Shakespeare and the concerted efforts of Rasmussen and his team to catalogue them.

The results are mixed - from the downright hilarious tale involving the Pope to the rather sleepier encounters the author had on his quest. And despite the slight feeling that Rasmussen found some of these episodes far more memorable than I did doesn't take away from the truth that enthusiasm is infectious and I shall certainly take the opportunity to have a look at one of the First Folios on public display.

What did strike me whilst skimming the (excessively long) excerpt from Rasmussen's catalogue that appears in the book - asides from the imagined horror of actually trying to read it - was photography. Surely it would have been easier and more thorough to digitise all the copies with a summary of the notable features rather than painstakingly noting every blemish and scribble. But at least the stories that surround these special books can then be told and Rasmussen's skills as raconteur make this a quick and entertaining read.
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VINE VOICEon 7 October 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This fantastic little book tells the stories gathered by Shakespeare scholar Eric Rasmussen and his colleagues as they attempt to catalogue each extant copy of Shakespeare's First Folio. They get stonewalled, they have horrible experiences travelling to out of the way places, they get locked in vaults next to radioactive material (Marie Curie's note books!) in order to examine copies of the First Folio. I'm really jealous of anyone who gets paid to go around looking at famous books.
There are some amazing, jaw-dropping stories in here: the story of the housewife from Cheshire who inherited a first folio from a second cousin once removed; the story of David Tennant and the Hamlet production (and why the author is not on speaking terms with Patrick Stewart); the story of Sir Thomas Phillips, the bibliomaniac, and why he cut down every tree on his 800 acre estate; the story of the first folio with a bullet hole in it; the story of the Pope who was offered a first folio by Dorothy Tutin to bless (he misunderstood, and kept the book); and many more.
Whether you are a Shakespeare geek or just someone who likes quirky stories, you will enjoy these tales of literary intrigue. I absolutely loved it. The author was given the idea to write the book by Jonathan Bate (whose book on Shakespeare I also like very much) and what a great idea it was.
This would make an ideal Christmas present for anyone who likes Shakespeare. The style is light and chatty and it's very enjoyable.
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