Paul Collins writes in a convivial and breezy style, and is the kind of natural storyteller who brings history to life. Nevertheless, in The Book of William, his scholarship and authority are undeniable, and make this book an important entry point for those interested in learning more about Shakespeare.
This telling of the "life story" of what became known as the First Folio of Shakespeare (though the book's title, according to commonly accepted cataloging rules would be Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies) is, quite simply wonderfully done.
Written in five "Acts" subdivided into scenes, it takes the reader from the day in 1617 or 1618 that John Heminge and Henry Condell - two aging men who had actually worked with Shakespeare - approached the printer William Jaggard with the idea of publishing all the known works of the Bard, to 2006 in Meisei University in Tokyo, home of the largest university collection of First Folios in the world; 12 of them, "more than the British Library and the New York Public Library combined."
In between we are introduced to such well-known characters as Alexander Pope and Dr. Samuel Johnson, and a host of lesser-known but nevertheless interesting characters as: Dr. Anthony James West, who conducted a recent worldwide census of First Folios (locating a record 230 copies); Henry Clay Folger, collector extraordinaire and founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library (which owns an astounding 79 copies of the First Folio); Charlton Hinman, inventor of the Hinman collator; and Mitsuo Kodama, past president of Meisei University, and the only reason why Meisei University has so many First Folios.
Spanning three continents and nearly four centuries, this book is a delightful look at the one book that routinely sells for fifty-five times its weight in gold.
Link to the Shakespeare Folio Electronic Library at Meisei University.
Purchase a facsimile of the First Folio from Amazon, and benefit the Public Library Friends.