Book review: The Millionaire and the Bard by Andrea Mays

The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First FolioThe Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio by Andrea Mays
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Folger Shakespeare Library (located in Washington, DC) has the world’s largest collection of First Folios (the original compilation of Shakespeare’s plays). To explain how the largest collection of the world’s greatest English language author ended up in the United States, Andrea Mays sets out to explain how Henry and Emily Folger became interested in Shakespeare and his works. It’s a fascinating story of how Henry went from a student who went to college on scholarship to a wealthy and obsessive collector of all things Shakespeare.
The Folgers lived a frugal lifestyle, devoting every penny they could to their growing collection of Shakespeare First Folios and other Shakespeare-related items. Their wealth came from Henry Folger’s extremely successful career at Standard Oil. I thought the treatment of Standard Oil was very even-handed. The author is clearly well versed in economics and understands that Standard Oil’s ability to scale and take advantage of efficiencies resulting in low fuel prices for consumers. The fact that Rockefeller and Standard Oil were victims of a hatchet job skillfully performed by a journalist on a vendetta does not blind the author to the very real benefits gained by consumers thanks to Standard Oil (to the dismay of Standard Oil’s competitors).
Whatever your personal feelings about Standard Oil, there is no denying that Henry Folger’s professional success there enabled Henry and Emily Folger to assemble a stunning collection of First Folios and ultimately creating the Folger Shakespeare Library so that the collection could be shared and made accessible to the public. It was an extraordinary gesture of philanthropy and generosity. And the book gives an excellent portrayal of the two extraordinary people who made it possible.

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