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The Millionaire and the Bard

Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio

Andrea Mays


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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (4/5/2016)


Today it is the most valuable book in the world. Recently one sold for over five million dollars. It is the book that rescued the name of William Shakespeare and half of his plays from oblivion. The Millionaire and the Bard tells the miraculous and romantic story of the making of the First Folio, and of the American industrialist whose thrilling pursuit of the book became a lifelong obsession.

When Shakespeare died in 1616 half of his plays died with him. No one—not even their author—believed that his writings would last, that he was a genius, or that future generations would celebrate him as the greatest author in the history of the English language. By the time of his death his plays were rarely performed, eighteen of them had never been published, and the rest existed only in bastardized forms that did not stay true to his original language.

Seven years later, in 1623, Shakespeare’s business partners, companions, and fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, gathered copies of the plays and manuscripts, edited 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, nor that it would become a fetish object for collectors.

The Millionaire and the Bard is a literary detective story, the tale of two mysterious men—a brilliant author and his obsessive collector—separated by space and time. It is a tale of two cities—Elizabethan and Jacobean London and Gilded Age New York. It is a chronicle of two worlds—of art and commerce—that unfolded an ocean and three centuries apart. And it is the thrilling tale of the luminous book that saved the name of William Shakespeare “to the last syllable of recorded time.”

Praise For The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio

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

“The life of a pathological book collector may sound boring, but rest assured, it isn’t. Mays’ narrative is so fast-moving, and peppered with such fascinating detail, that The Millionaire and the Bard almost reads like a thriller.” Entertainment Weekly

Simon & Schuster, 9781439118238, 368pp.

Publication Date: May 12, 2015

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.

Coverage from NPR