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Library Journal Review
For serious book collectors, ownership of a Gutenberg Bible is a dream goal. This fascinating account from Davis (Rivers in the Desert) traces the history of one particular copy (no. 45) from its printing in Mainz, Germany, in the 1450s to its current home in a vault in Keio University, Japan. He deftly describes the lives and motives of the five identified modern owners, paying particular attention to Estelle Doheny, who had made it her life's goal to obtain a copy and, as a devout Catholic, appreciated it for its religious significance. She bequeathed her collection to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which allowed no. 45 to be studied scientifically, giving the world a glimpse into its production. The Archdiocese later sold the collection to raise money for the education of future priests. VERDICT Davis offers a gripping, well-researched account of the importance of books as cultural artifacts and of one particular work that transformed the world, as well as the lives of those who owned a copy, that will appeal especially to bibliophiles.-Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Davis (Mona Lisa in Camelot) follows a single copy of the Gutenberg Bible through a series of different book collectors and institutions in this enjoyable but unsatisfying history. After a brief account of the Bible's creation sometime around 1456 by Johann Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany, Davis skips ahead to 1836, when the 3rd Earl of Gosford, a shy and scholarly Irish aristocrat, acquired Gutenberg Bible Number 45. Later owners included a "lord, a sauce tycoon, a papal countess, and a nuclear physicist." Davis places the primary focus on Estelle Doheny, oil tycoon Edward Doheny's widow. One of the only female American book collectors of the early 20th century, Estelle secured the book in 1950 after a four-decade-long search. In addition to character sketches, Davis also traces changes in the study of books, from in-person inspection via magnifying glasses, to chemical analysis using a cyclotron's proton beam, then software comparisons of digitized editions. Despite these intriguing facts and characters, Davis's overall thesis-that "each owner and his or her circle left a mark" on the book-doesn't leave the reader with any meaningful insights by the end of her book. Agent: Betsy Amster, Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Quite certainly the most renowned of all early printed books, a Gutenberg Bible (or even a part of it) crowns any rare-book collection. Davis has traced the remarkable history of one incomplete exemplar, Hubay Number 45, shaken loose in the Napoleonic Wars' upheavals. This particular volume came to rest for a spell in Northern Ireland in a British bibliophile's library. Bouncing around Britain, it eventually ended up in the hands of an American widow. Book collecting might seem a preoccupation of a limited cadre of obsessive, pedantic academic wannabes, but Davis makes bibliographic history utterly page-turning and absorbing, with intrigues, devastating tragedies, vast fortunes, embezzlement, a seductively voiced telephone operator, the Teapot Dome scandal, murder-suicide, earthquake, and even Worcestershire sauce. Davis' brilliantly told story features outsize characters but focuses primarily on Estelle Doheny, the Los Angeles purchaser of Number 45, who, in one further irony, held in her hands this long-sought volume only after she had turned nearly blind.--Mark Knoblauch Copyright 2010 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
The surprising journey of a special book.Davis (Mona Lisa in Camelot: How Jacqueline Kennedy and Da Vinci's Masterpiece Charmed and Captivated a Nation, 2008, etc.) follows the remarkable tale of "Number 45," one of the finest copies of the Gutenberg Bible in existence. The author focuses the narrative on the life of book collector Estelle Doheny, whose oil-tycoon husband was at the center of the infamous Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s. In 1950, she purchased the Gutenberg as the crowning achievement of her life as a collector and as a devout Catholic. Doheny's various attempts to purchase a Gutenberg, and the dealers, scholars, and members of her household who took part in the quest, make for engrossing reading. However, the story of Number 45 is far deeper and richer, beginning with the unsurpassed skill and ingenuity of Gutenberg himself. This particular copy went on to be owned by three intriguing modern owners before Doheny. Through the stories of these three wealthy men, the author explores the significance of rare book collecting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The collectors themselves all have interesting backgrounds, as welle.g., Charles William Dyson Perrins, heir to the Lea Perrins worcestershire sauce fortune as well as a once-famed porcelain dynasty. After Doheny's death, Number 45 was used in scientific experiments to determine the components of Gutenberg's inks. She had left the Bibleand the entirety of her rare-book and art collectionin the care of a Catholic seminary, but church authorities decided to sell everything in the late 1980s, and Number 45 changed hands yet again, landing at a Japanese firm for a record $5.4 million. 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. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.