Since we discovered an ongoing crowdsource project called Legacy Libraries, we haven’t been able to tear our eyes away from it. The organization gathers information about the libraries of historical people — authors, artists, scientists, and more. By compiling data from bibliographies, auction catalogs, library holdings, manuscript lists, wills and probate inventories, and from the personal verification of extant copies, Legacy Libraries is able to conjure a snapshot of the titles resting on famous bookshelves.
The group started out reconstructing the library of Thomas Jefferson in 2007, which has since been handed over to librarians at his Monticello estate. Since then, the database has expanded to include everyone imaginable, like Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe (at one point she was reading How to Eat Your Way to Glowing Health, Why I Am Not a Christian, and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment) and Tupac (who had a thing for books about psychics and enjoyed Henry Miller and Anais Nin).
We imagined the bookshelves of well-known authors also contained some fascinating reads, and we were right. Click through to see what books your favorite writers curled up with, in many cases offering an interesting view into their personal lives and mindset. Head to Legacy Libraries where you can create an account to see if your own library matches that of any famous faces.
Always an outspoken eccentric, The Picture of Dorian Gray author Oscar Wilde enjoyed reading about those who also marched to the beat of their own drummer. His 1893 copy of Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People and a 1927 edition of The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects proves it. His time at Trinity College studying Greek literature is evident from the number of Grecian and classic works on his shelf. Wilde’s navigation — personal and artistic — through Victorian values may have something to do with Psychopathia Sexualis and a title about “sexual inversion.”
The “Great American Novelist” had multiple biblical texts in his possession, which makes sense given the number of essays he’s written on religion and his frank views on the subject. Although Twain has stated that his favorite book he ever wrote was his tome on Joan of Arc, we didn’t spot any historical texts about the French heroine. Knowing Twain’s penchant for witticisms, we can understand why he’d own an 1882 copy of Short Sayings of Great Men. The writer also seemed to adore reading poetry, various fables (including Aesop’s), classic works like The Scarlet Letter, and books of letters ¬— like the one German nationalist hero Otto Fürst von Bismarck wrote to his wife between 1846 and 1889.
The expatriate poet’s political views and interests start to reveal themselves with titles like State and Revolution: Marxist Teaching About the Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution and a 1937 copy of The Folklore of Capitalism — which recalls Pound’s move to Italy after blaming the First World War largely on England’s economic system. Reads that explored The Truth about Money and ask What Is Money For also populated his shelves. Pound kept a stack of his own works on hand and enjoyed all types of poets, including Langston Hughes and Pablo Neruda.
Dark drama texts, plays, and poetry filled the shelves of Sylvia Plath. When the author moved into William Butler Yeats’ former home in the beginning of the 1960s, it appears that she did her homework as multiple books about the poet and playwright lived in her bookcase. Plath painted as a teenager and kept informed about the works of famous artists like Picasso, Paul Klee, and Paul Gauguin — whose life seemed to fascinate her since she also owned Paul Gauguin’s Intimate Journals, Noble Savage: Paul Gauguin, and Noa Noa a Journal of the South Seas written by Gauguin. We also spotted a copy of Gone with the Wind and a text about English eccentric Edith Sitwell.
Sontag’s written about unconventional French writers and intellectuals like Antonin Artaud and Georges Bataille before, and her bookshelf further reveals a love for them and other European scribes. Bataille’s The Story of the Eye and Artaud’s selected writings are just a few titles in her collection. It’s also good to know that between all the Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault Sontag read, she made time to settle in with Ian Fleming’s Dr. No.
Orwell kept busy studying The Paradox of Oscar Wilde and Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism. The Anglican writer’s ambivalent feelings about religion show with works like The Inquisition: A Critical and Historical Study of the Coercive Power of the Church. Orwell’s connection to Saki’s The Chronicles of Clovis is interesting considering both used symbolic, anthropomorphic animals in their works.
Religious and theological texts (O’Connor was Roman Catholic) — including offbeat titles like Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology — Tolstoy, various fiction works, and philosophical texts interested southern gothic scribe Flannery O’Connor. The author also made plenty of time to read multiple Virginia Woolf titles, including Mrs. Dalloway.
A philosopher at heart, the Moby-Dick author’s bookshelf reminds us that 19th century books had awesomely long and poetic titles like A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Melville loved being at sea and set out on many whaling voyages, which accounts for titles like An Account of the Arctic Regions with a History and Description of the Northern Whale-Fishery, from 1820.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Everyone’s favorite Jazz Age gentleman was looking for The Paris That’s Not in the Guide Books and The Witch-Cult in Western Europe during his lifetime. Fitzy also embraced the role of newb when it came to certain subjects like geography, French, and philosophy. The writer researched Favorite Recipes of Famous Women and his love affair with the “City of Light” and fine cuisine is obvious with reads like Where Paris Dines: With Information About Restaurants of All Kinds, Costly and Cheap, Dignified and Gay, Known and Litt hanging about.
Fleming was thorough when it came to the authors he liked. Self-described poet and “hack” John Betjeman filled the James Bond scribe’s shelves, including several architectural guides like a 1933 copy of Ghastly Good Taste, or, A depressing story of the Rise and Fall of English Architecture. Fleming’s copy of Theosophist Helena Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled : A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology may have some connection to rumors about Fleming’s involvement in the occult. Most likely, it was just research for a spy thriller tale.
The works of Marcel Proust were an influence on Hemingway whose collection of the French writer includes multiple titles like Remembrance of Things Past. Hemingway loved fishing and being at sea, an experience that informed several of his works. We like the idea of the burly author snuggled up at night with The Fisherman’s Bedside Book and Of Whales and Men, from 1954. Travel books and stories about bullfighting — something Hemingway fell in love with after a visit to Spain in 1923 — like Patricia McCormick’s Lady Bullfighter: The Autobiography of the North American Matador and Juan Belmonte, Killer of Bulls: The Autobiography of a Matador as Told to Manuel Chaves Nogales relate Hemingway’s adventurous spirit.
It probably goes without saying that the Ulysses author owned multiple copies of Homer’s works, including perhaps the most influential to him, The Odyssey. The Irish novelist made ends meet by teaching, which is probably why History of Ireland for Schools appeared on his shelves. Errors in the Use of English remind us that Joyce was a master wordsmith.