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The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio (Paperback)
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The miraculous and romantic story of Shakespeare’s First Folio, and of the American industrialist whose thrilling pursuit of the book became a lifelong obsession: “Mays’s narrative is so fast-moving, and peppered with such fascinating detail, it almost reads like a thriller” (Entertainment Weekly, Grade: A).
When Shakespeare died in 1616, half of his plays died with him. No one—not even their author—believed that his writings would last. In 1623, seven years after his death, Shakespeare’s business partners, companions, and fellow actors gathered copies of his plays and manuscripts and published thirty-six of them. This massive book, the First Folio, was intended as a memorial to their deceased friend. They could not have known that it would become one of the most important books ever published in the English language.
Over two and a half centuries later, a young man fresh out of law school, Henry Folger, bought a book at auction—a later, 1685 edition Fourth Folio, for $107.50. It was the beginning of an obsession that would consume the rest of his life. Folger rose to be president of Standard Oil, and he used his fortune to create the greatest Shakespeare collection in the world. By the time he died, Folger owned more First Folios than anyone and had founded the Folger Shakespeare Library, where his collection still resides.
In The Millionaire and the Bard, Andrea Mays spins the tale of Shakespeare and of his collector, of the genius whose work we nearly lost, the men who had the foresight to preserve it, and the millionaire who, centuries later, was consumed by his obsession with it. “Effortless in its unadorned storytelling and exacting in its research, this is a page-turning detective story” (Publishers Weekly).
About the Author
Andrea E. Mays has degrees in economics from the State University of New York at Binghamton and from UCLA, and teaches economics at California State University at Long Beach. Like Henry Folger, she is a native New Yorker and has had a lifelong Shakespeare obsession. She spent much of her Manhattan girlhood in the New York Public Library listening to vinyl LP recordings of performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Millionaire and the Bard is her first book.
“The Millionaire and the Bard weaves a thrilling tale of literary detective work, high financial stakes, and the vision of one man, Henry Folger, to preserve one of the great written treasures of civilization. A splendid debut by Andrea Mays.”
—Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana and A World on Fire
“The Millionaire and the Bard is a riveting narrative history about Shakespeare taking root in America. Every page sparkles with crisp prose and smart insights. I find myself cheering for Henry Folger to procure the treasured First Folios. Highly recommended!”
—Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite
“A fascinating account of Henry Clay Folger’s obsession with the Shakespeare First Folio. Folger amassed the collection he had dreamed out, and it is now one of the greater glories of the library in Washington, D.C., that bears his name. The achievement is all the more extraordinary in that Folger was not born into a wealthy family or privileged class. Now the full story has been told in splendid detail by Andrea Mays.”
—David Bevington, author Shakespeare and Biography and editor of The Complete Works of Shakespeare
“[Mays] honorably resurrects this affluent, rapacious eccentric who became wholly consumed with the acquisition of a priceless bonanza of Shakespeariana. A methodical opuscomprising intensive memoir and inquisitive investigation.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Effortless in its unadorned storytelling and exacting in its research. … The book is evocative in its characterizations of both the deified bard and dedicated bibliophile, finding its structure in the parallels between these two ambitious yet mysterious men. … “[A] page–turning detective story [that] speaks to anyone with a love of literary history.” —Publishers Weekly
“Mays’ first book is utterly enthralling thanks to her deep sympathy with the Folgers and her fascinated, unstuffy prose.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Fascinating … illuminating … poignant. … Recommended for all book lovers, Shakespeare fans, and anyone interested in America's Gilded Age.” —Library Journal
“A love story . . . Fun and even suspenseful . . . Awell-researched and surprisingly engrossing account.” —The Wall StreetJournal
“Riveting . . . Engaging . . . An American love story.”—Stephen Greenblatt, The New York Times Book Review
“[Mays] book does a fine job of discussing how Folger went about acquiring his treasures and what those treasures were and why they are important in literary history . . . a really interesting book.” —The Chicago Tribune
“The Millionaire and the Bard, Andrea Mays’ labor-of-love history of the Shakespeare’s First Folio and of Standard Oil executive Henry Folger’s obsession to acquire every possible copy . . . gives an exacting and very readable account of how the folio came to be — and how easily it might not have been.” —Dallas Morning News
“Captivating [and] fascinating. … A great story, wonderfully told, that book lovers, readers and collectors will savor.” —Shelf Awareness
“Snappy [and] enjoyable” —NPR