The Private Book Collections of 10 Famous Readers


Earlier this month, we stumbled across Carolyn Kellogg’s great article about Bernie Madoff’s book collection, parts of which are being sold slowly on eBay by the person who won Madoff’s books in an auction. Sure, the books someone has may not be as great an indicator of their personality as, er, some other things we know about them, but, nerds that we are, we tend to consider our libraries extensions of ourselves. So of course, we did a little digging, pouring through the collections of famous (or infamous) cultural icons and see what they were made of. After the jump, browse through our excerpts of the private libraries of everyone from Darwin to Houdini to Oprah, and draw your conclusions where you may.

Bernie Madoff

Purple America, Rick Moody Billy Bathgate, E.L. Doctorow The Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood Riding the Rap, Elmore Leonard Black Money, Michael Thomas When Genius Failed, Roger Lowenstein Original Sin, P.D. James The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr Disclosure, Michael Crichton Self Defense, Jonathan Kellerman Nest of Vipers, Linda Davies The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe Without Remorse, Tom Clancy Deception, Philip Roth Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Plus: “There are big bestsellers by Leon Uris, Caleb Carr, David Baldacci and Sidney Sheldon, dictionaries and other reference books, and histories and biographies by David Halberstam, Walter Isaacson, David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin. Classics by Cervantes, Willa Cather and Mark Twain… Stacks of Philp Roth… Collections of poems by Emily Dickinson, Lord Byron and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Books by Norman Mailer and Elie Wiesel… The stories of Wallace Stegner.”

[via The LA Times ]

David Foster Wallace

Some highlights from the 300-odd volumes of Wallace’s personal library now held by the Harry Ransom Center:

Safety of Objects, A.M. Homes Darconville’s Cat, Alexander Theroux The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity, Amir D. Aczel Entertaining America: Jews, Movies, and Broadcasting, J. Hoberman And Jeffrey Shandler The Principles of Mathematics, Bertrand Russell The Problems of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell Writing Past Dark : Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life, Bonnie Friedman Myths to Live By, Joseph Campbell ; Foreword By Johnson E. Fairchild Desperate Characters: A Novel, Paula Fox ; With An Afterword By Irving Howe All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West, Cormac McCarthy Suttree, Cormac McCarthy The Puttermesser Papers: A Novel, Cynthia Ozick Nightwood, Djuna Barnes The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, Fritjof Capra Metalogic: An Introduction to the Metatheory of Standard First Order Logic, Geoffrey Hunter Insect Biology: A Textbook of Entomology, Howard E. Evans The Ultimate Rip-Off : A Taxing Tale, Iris Weil Collett Play It As It Lays: A Novel, Joan Didion Uses of Infinity, Leo Zippin Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form, Matthea Harvey Compassion and Self Hate: An Alternative to Despair, Theodore I. Rubin Change Your Mind: A practical guide to Buddhist meditation, Paramananda Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Translated, and with an introduction, by Burton Raffel ; afterword by Neil D. Isaacs Pretty much all of Don DeLillo

[Check out the complete (and searchable!) list here]


Oprah has something like 1,500 volumes in her personal library. A few of her favorites:

Tales of the South Pacific, James A. Michener The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (her favorite book of all time) Cup of Gold, John Steinbeck

Plus: “Now I have all of Langston Hughes, all of Paul Laurence Dunbar; Zora Neale Hurston—all of her writing.”

[via Oprah]

Mark Twain

A selection of more than 200 of the books Mark Twain donated to a small library in Redding, CT, from his own collection.

Departmental Ditties, Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses, Rudyard Kipling Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne The Club of Queer Trades, G.K. Chesterson Memoirs of Hans Hendrik, the Arctic Traveller Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, Jane Austen The Cats’ Convention, Eunice Gibbs Allyn Little Lord Fauntleroy, Frances Hodgson Burnett The Log of a Sea-Waif: Being Recollections of the First Four Years of my Sea Life, F.T Bullen Oriental Rambles, George W., Dr Caldwell Bird Homes. The Nests Eggs and Breeding Habits of the land Birds, Arthur R. Dugmore Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy A Boy I Knew, Four Dogs and Some More Dogs, Laurence Hutton The Water-Babies. A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby, Charles Kinglsey Letters of Edward Lear Author of “The Book of Nonsense, to Chichester Fortescue, Lord Carlingford and Frances, Countess Waldegrave. Edited by Constance, Lady Strachey, Edward Lear

Also: “Many of his books concern topics Twain explored in his own writing, like Hiram Chittenden’s history of steamboat navigation and Josiah Flynt Willard’s study of tramps, with its glossary of terms… He owned classics like Epictetus, the Koran and the Bible, and kept up with contemporaries like H. G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, Charles Darwin and Victor Hugo.”

[via The New York Times ]

Charles Darwin

Most of Darwin’s personal library is available to read, annotations and all, online. Here are a few highlights:

The American beaver and his works, Lewis H. Morgan The anatomy and philosophy of expression, Charles Bell The beginnings of life : being some account of the nature, modes of origin and transformations of lower organisms. Vol. I. , Henry Charlton Bastian Botany for young people: Part 2, How plants behave, Asa Gray Cattle: Their breeds, management, and diseases, William Youatt Conjectures concerning the cause, and observations upon the phaenomena of earthquakes, John Michell The dovecote and the aviary, Edmund Saul Dixon Flowers and their unbidden guests, Anton Kerner von Marilaun Inquiries concerning the intellectual powers and the investigation of truth, John Abercrombie The Italian alp-bee, H.C. Hermann The physiology or mechanism of blushing, Thomas Henry Burgess Seasons with the Sea-Horses : or, sporting adventures in the northern seas, James Lamont

[via BHL]

Marilyn Monroe

Some highlights:

Joan of Lorraine, a play in two acts, Maxwell Anderson Sexual impotence in the male, Leonard Paul Wershub From Hiroshima to the moon; chronicles of life in the atomic age, Daniel Lang Doctor Pygmalion : the autobiography of a plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz Out of my later years: Essays, Albert Einstein Common sense and nuclear warfare, Bertrand Russell The poems, prose, and plays of Alexander Pushkin Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky The portable Chekhov The Dead Sea scrolls, Millar Burrows What is a Jew?, Morris Norman Kertzer Flower arranging for fun, Hazel Peckinpaugh Dunlop The Wisdom of the Sands, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Complete Poems, Edgar Allan Poe The poetical works of John Milton Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the looking glass and The hunting of the snark, Lewis Carroll Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham The Mark of the Warrior, Paul Scott A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence Ulysses, James Joyce

[via LibraryThing]

Tupac Shakur

Some highlights:

The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli Serving Humanity: A Compilation, Alice A. Bailey The Wisdom of Insecurity, Alan Watts Teachings of the Buddha, Jack Kornfield The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis Black Sister: Poetry by Black American Women, 1746-1980 Blues People: Negro Music in White America, Imamu Amiri [LeRoi Jones] Baraka The Art of War, Sun Tzu Moby-Dick, Herman Melville The Life And Words Of Martin Luther King Jr., Ira Peck At the Bottom of the River, Jamaica Kincaid The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Dubois The Diary of Anais Nin, 1931-1934 The Visionary Poetics of Allen Ginsberg, Paul Portuges Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, Robert M. Pirsig Still I Rise, Maya Angelou The Tibetan Book of the Dead, W.Y. Evans-Wentz The Phenomenon of Man, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

[via LibraryThing]

Harry Houdini

Some highlights:

Evenings at home in spiritual séance : prefaced and welded together by a species of autobiography, Georgiana Houghton Modern American spiritualism : a twenty years’ record of the communion between earth and the world of spirits, Emma Hardinge Britten The fashionable science of parlour magic : being the newest tricks of deception, developed and illustrated : with an exposure of the practices made use of by professional card players, blacklegs, and gamblers : to which is added for the first time The magic of spirit rapping, writing mediums, and table turning, &c., &c., J. H. Anderson Ghost land, or, Researches into the mysteries of occultism : illustrated in a series of autobiographical sketches : in two parts, William Britten Trilby : a novel, George Du Maurier Émile Zola, novelist and reformer; an account of his life & work, Ernest Alfred Vizetelly The life of P. T. Barnum, written by himself Is spiritualism a humbug? : also some facts on misdirection, Adam Hull Shirk Hypnotism, magnetic healing, and mind reading made easy, C. O. Lorenz

[via LibraryThing]

Jeff Buckley

Some highlights:

The Plague, Albert Camus The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead, William S. Burroughs Death on Credit, Louis-Ferdinand Céline The Mushroom Man, Ethel Pochocki Selected Poems of Ezra Pound Laughable Loves, Milan Kundera Nightwood, Djuna Barnes Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson A Feast of Snakes, Harry Crews The Captain’s Verses, Pablo Neruda The Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial society and its future, F.C. A Season in Hell, Arthur Rimbaud The Blood of a Poet, Jean Cocteau Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman Crazy Cock, Henry Miller Green Shadows, White Whale, Ray Bradbury Selected Poems of Anne Sexton The dream dictionary : the key to your unconscious, Jo Jean Boushahla Hypnotism Made Easy, Marie Nimier Leon Trotsky : a biography, Ronald Segal Please kill me : the uncensored oral history of punk, Legs McNeil Never mind the bollocks : women rewrite rock, Amy Raphael The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir Rock stars in their underpants, Paula Yates Various positions : a life of Leonard Cohen, Ira Bruce Nadel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

[via LibraryThing]

Emily Dickinson

A selection:

The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot The Marble Faun, Nathaniel Hawthorne The Poetical Works of George Herbert Confessions of an English opium-eater : and, Suspiria de profundis, Thomas De Quincey The poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning The Professor, Charlotte Brontë The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth Walden, Henry David Thoreau The princess; a medley, Baron Alfred Tennyson The Poetical Works, Percy Bysshe Shelley The Comedies, Histories, Tragedies and Poems of William Shakespeare Paradise Lost, John Milton Life of George Washington, Washington Irving Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens The frugal housewife : dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy, Mrs. Child Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes Wuthering Heights, Ellis Bell (Emily Brontë) Prometheus Bound, and Other Poems, Elizabeth Barrett Browning

[via LibraryThing]