The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books is a wonderful book, not least in the literal sense of an epic unfolding in a nonstop procession of marvels, ordeals and apparitions ... The true measure of Wilson-Lee’s accomplishment, delivered in a simile-studded prose that is seldom less than elegant and often quite beautiful, is to make Hernando’s epic, measured in library shelves, not nautical miles, every bit as thrilling as his father’s story ... The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books is also a work that speaks to our own information-engorged time ... Hernando was a one-man receiving station for the plenitude of the world. The same could be said for Edward Wilson-Lee ... A list of Wilson-Lee’s lists would consume this review but many are revelatory ... But, the quality of writing aside (which in its strongest passages bears serious comparison with the sensuous descriptiveness of Marguerite Yourcenar), The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, is most compelling as a meditation on the response to an explosive expansion of knowledge.
...superb ... Mr. Wilson-Lee’s smartly written book takes in almost the whole of the Renaissance ... Mr. Wilson-Lee reminds us that a library is not merely an accumulation of books but the enlightened and often maddeningly complex systems that make the knowledge they preserve useful. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books affords an intriguing glimpse into the Renaissance mind and its rage for order, as well as a beguiling preview of the modern library and, very possibly, what lies beyond.
...rather like Hernando’s Life and Deeds of his father, Wilson-Lee’s book – the first modern biography of Hernando written in English – is far more than just a straight account of a life, albeit a rich one ... Wilson-Lee, however, manages to recapture something of the father through the son as he dissects Hernando’s accounts of their relationship and adventures ... Hernando’s was the first universal library, an attempt to collate and systemise all known knowledge, and Wilson-Lee revels in enumerating and sometimes getting lost in its contents ... not everything succeeds in this book ... What is particularly odd in a book that celebrates Hernando’s library is that its actual classification, organisation and display is only cursorily described in the penultimate chapter ... Nevertheless, Wilson-Lee does a fine job of capturing the intellectual excitement of a moment in European history when universal aspirations in the fields of learning and travel seemed boundless.