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Patience and Fortitude

A grand, rambling, serendipitous treasure-house of material about books and the people who have loved them.

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[The Monitor occasionally reprints book reviews from its archives. This review originally ran on Dec. 27, 2001.] Dismissed from high office, stripped of all his honors, and forced to leave his beloved city of Florence for the primitive countryside, the Italian humanist Niccolo Machiavelli found solace in his books: "When evening comes, I return home and enter my study; on the threshold I take off my workday clothes, covered with mud and dirt, and put on the garments of court and palace.

"Fitted out appropriately, I step inside the venerable courts of the ancients, where ... I am unashamed to converse with them and to question them about the motives for their actions, and they, out of human kindness, answer me.

"And for four hours at a time I feel no boredom, I forget all my troubles, I do not dread poverty, and I am not terrified by death. I absorb myself unto them completely."

This poignant glimpse into the life of the exiled Machiavelli is but one of the many fascinating stories told by Nicholas Basbanes in Patience & Fortitude, a grand, rambling, serendipitous treasure-house of material about books and the people who have loved them.

The title comes from the words with which New York's dynamic, much-loved mayor Fiorello LaGuardia used to conclude his Depression-era radio broadcasts, words meant to give heart to his listeners while acknowledging the hardships and setbacks that they faced."Patience & Fortitude" looks at everything from the ancient classical library at Alexandria to a recent and controversial state-of-the-art information nexus in San Francisco.

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