Book Review

Book Review: The Last Bookaneer

The Last Bookaneer
By Matthew Pearl

My Edition:
ARC e-book, 400 pages (hardcover)
2015, Penguin Press
ISBN: 9781594204920 (hardcover)
Expected Publication Date: April 28, 2015

I received this book for free from Penguin’s First to Read program in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

From First to Read: book’a-neer’ (bŏŏk’kå-nēr’), n. a literary pirate; an individual capable of doing all that must be done in the universe of books that publishers, authors, and readers must not have a part in. London, 1890—Pen Davenport is the most infamous bookaneer in Europe. A master of disguise, he makes his living stalking harbors, coffeehouses, and print shops for the latest manuscript to steal. But this golden age of publishing is on the verge of collapse. For a hundred years, loose copyright laws and a hungry reading public created a unique opportunity: books could easily be published without an author’s permission. Authors gained fame but suffered financially—Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few—but publishers reaped enormous profits while readers bought books inexpensively. Yet on the eve of the twentieth century, a new international treaty is signed to grind this literary underground to a sharp halt. The bookaneers are on the verge of extinction.

I enjoyed the premise of this book. I mean, basically they’re book-pirates! Pen Davenport is an excellent name for someone who steals rare manuscripts and I pictured him as a dashing, more serious Jack Sparrow. In addition, Robert Louis Stevenson really did go live in Samoa, so the story felt like it could have taken place in real life.

Sadly, I don’t have much more to say about this book. It’s not that I disliked it,  but something kept me from being hooked. I’m not sure if it was the characters (Pen was a little flat and a lot less dashing than I’d hoped), the pacing, or just the events going on in my life. I really wasn’t invested after the first third of the book or so, and it got to the point where I was just waiting for it to be over. But I don’t think it’s a bad book, and I wouldn’t say I had an issue with Pearl’s writing that I could actually pinpoint. There wasn’t a lot of action until a small segment near the end, but I don’t necessarily need a lot of action to enjoy a book, so I don’t think that was it either. I hate to say something so stupid yet I’m totally going to say it anyway, but I just feel “meh” about this book.

Part of my lackluster response to this book could be because I read it in e-book format – I do find that I connect less to a story when I’m using my e-reader, versus when I can hold a physical copy in my hands. I realize this is a great medium for publishers and authors to get works to reviewers, but I’ll always prefer a physical book.

+ Vocabulary Alert +
animus – a strong feeling of dislike or hatred
garrulous – tending to talk a lot (me!)
raconteur – someone who is good at telling stories
aphorism – a short phrase that expresses a true or wise idea


In the end, this book was just too dry for my tastes – nothing really grabbed me and pulled me in. But I want to say again, I really don’t think it’s a bad book. If you find the premise interesting like I did, I think you should give it a chance – at least check it out from your local library when it’s published.

*cover image from Penguin

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