If you’re reading this, you probably also struggle with getting rid of books. What kind of degenerate, in the words of Summer Brennan, “only wants to own 30 books (or fewer) at a time on purpose?”No one that I know. But it seems that you can be considered a book hoarder with just 1,000 books. Which, to be honest, seems a little low—unless we’re talking about a thousand volumes in a one-bedroom in New York City, in which case, yes.
I’m generally curious about book collections of other individuals. How many books are there, which ones, how and where are they stored? I therefore started looking through the book collections of notable persons one rainy afternoon to discover which ones
N.B. Of course, this list is neither scientific nor exhaustive; there are undoubtedly many famous people with sizable libraries (disposable income and a lot of space tend to make that possible), but the actual numbers are either unrecorded or I was unable to (or didn’t attempt to) find them. Marilyn Monroe (400 books), George Washington (1,200 books), Charles Darwin (1,480 books), Oprah (1,500 books), Frederick Douglass (2,000+ books), and David Markson (2,500 books) are among notables with significant numbers who didn’t make the top ten. Please add to the list in the comments if you have any additional information on this score.
Karl Lagerfeld: 300,000 books
Likely no one has more books than Karl Lagerfeld. The 2015 International Festival of Fashion and Photography’s “master class” included Karl Lagerfeld, who said, “Today, I only collect books; there is no place left for anything else. I’ll make you browse the books if you come to my house. I eventually had a 300,000 volume library. Really, it’s a lot for one person. He lays his books laterally, that is, horizontally rather than vertically, to make more room in his home for all the volumes in his collection, which includes works in French, English, and German. Oh, and to get to the higher levels, there is a catwalk. Remember, this is Lagerfeld.
George Lucas: 27,000 books+
The Lucasfilm Research Library was founded in 1978 by George Lucas, who initially gathered books at his Los Angeles office before eventually relocating the collection to the main house at Skywalker Ranch. The collection contains approximately 27,000 books in addition to over 17,000 videos, photos, journals, newspaper clippings, and other items. Lucas’s library isn’t accessible to the general public, although his staff members can use it, as well as notable visitors like Cecil B. DeMille, Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Clint Eastwood, Steve Martin, Edith Head, and Charlton Heston.
Jay Walker: 20,000 books
So, I suppose, Jay Walker is only well-known to nerds. He is an entrepreneur and the creator of Priceline.com, but to me, at least, his claim to fame is his personal library, which he calls “the Library of the History of Human Imagination” in a part of his Ridgefield, Connecticut house. I know, it’s incredibly pretentious, but look at it. A glass bridge, floating platforms, three storeys, and, yes, a ton of books are all part of it.
Michael Jackson: 10,000 books+
King of Pop also held the title of King of Books. Michael Jackson frequented several independent bookstores in Los Angeles during his lifetime, including Book Soup and Skylight. According to Dave Dutton of Dutton’s Books in Brentwood, “He loved the poetry section.” Times. His favorite author was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Bob Sanger, Jackson’s lawyer, told L.A. The pop star kept 10,000 books at the Neverland Ranch, according to Weekly, “[and] there were spots where he liked to sit, and you could see the books with his bookmarks in it, with notes and everything in it. And after speaking with him, I can tell you that he was quite intelligent, especially considering that he was self-taught.
Ernest Hemingway: 9,000 books+
According to Debra A. Moddelmog and Suzanne del Gizzo’s Hemingway in Context, the writer carried a library with him wherever he went, and was continually acquiring new books, as many as 150-200 a year. By the time of his death, his Finca Vigía library had some 9,000 volumes—which does not even include the books he left behind in Key West (he moved with about 800 of his books and built from there). Not surprising, perhaps, but still impressive.
William Randolph Hearst: 7,000 books+
In his castle/Ken Dream House, Hearst had two libraries: the main library, which held 4,000 volumes, and the Gothic study, which held 3,000. However, it appears that even those two libraries were insufficient to hold all of Hearst’s books, and he tucked them pretty much wherever he could find room.
Thomas Jefferson: 6,487 books
Thomas Jefferson once observed, “I cannot live without books.” The collection of Congress claims that when the British set fire to the nation’s capitol in 1814, Thomas Jefferson had already built the largest personal collection in the country, which he later sold to Congress for $23,950. After that, he started buying books again right away (and later sold this fresh collection to settle his debts in 1829).
Nigella Lawson: 6,000 books
Nigella Lawson, a food critic, television personality, and self-described “domestic goddess,” is pictured above standing in front of her residence in Belgravia, London, which has floor to ceiling bookcases stacked with hundreds of cookbooks. She has a literary bent, so her reading lists include more than simply cookbooks. David Copperfield is one of her favorite books.
Harry Houdini: 5,000 books+
[Insert joke about not being able to escape from stacks of books here.] After Houdini passed away, he donated his personal library, which included books on spiritualism, magic, and theater, to the Library of Congress. According to some sources, he held the world’s greatest collection of magic books at the time. Here, you can browse about 4,000 of them.
Hannah Arendt: 4,000 books
Over 4,000 books, ephemera, and pamphlets from Hannah Arendt’s New York City apartment, including over 900 with her annotations, are part of the Hannah Arendt collection at Bard College. She lived there until her death in 1975. I wish it had more space than a one-bedroom. (For some reason, 4,000 appears to be a lucky number for libraries of literary types; Virginia Woolf and Katherine Anne Porter are two other authors who had roughly that many books in their private collections.)
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