Whitmore Rare Books has published their Catalogue 5. The Altadena, California, bookseller specializes in “literary first editions and other books of merit.” To that, we will add that most of these are 20th century literary works. Not all, as a 1551 edition of Horapollo's text on Egyptian hieroglyphics will attest, but most are. One more observation we can make about these works is that Whitmore focuses on condition. These are books that are in as excellent a condition as you are likely to find for such titles. Here are a few of the books we found within this fifth Whitmore catalogue.
Before he set off on his famous road trip, Jack Kerouac was busy writing his first novel. It compares life in the early “Beat Generation” city versus small town life. The title is, appropriately enough, The Town and the City. After much searching, he finally managed to find a publisher in 1950. By this time, he had actually completed the journey that would be memorialized in On The Road, but it would take six years after its writing was finished before On The Road would find a publisher. The lack of success of this first novel explains the years of long searching to find a publisher for his second book. On this first, the author's name is given as “John Kerouac.” Item 27. Priced at $1,500.
Item 1 is a signed first edition of the second, and perhaps most significant work from Isaac Asimov, published the same year as his first book (1950): I, Robot. It is really a collection of nine short stories Asimov had written for science fiction magazines during the 1940s. It introduces what would be the common theme of his robot books, the “three laws of robotics.” Asimov grappled with what rules robots would have to unerringly follow if they were not at some point to become a threat to the humans who created them. What he came up with was (1) they could not harm humans, and must always protect humans from harm, (2) they must obey all human commands, unless those commands conflicted with number 1, and (3) they must protect their own existence, provided that did not conflict with numbers 1 and 2. Later, he would realize that there needed to be a rule superior to all of these – protecting mankind, lest a robot be used in some diabolical human's scheme to harm others. $6,500.
Item 59 is an unusual book for an author noted for his humor – Mark Twain. The title is What Is Man, and it is a philosophical look at mankind by the great humorist. The inherent seriousness of the subject does not stop Twain from injecting his usual wit, even as he contends with the serious question of just what is man. The book takes the form of a dialogue, between a rather jaded old man and a young scholar. The older man has concluded that man is nothing more than a machine, predetermined in his actions, seeking nothing deeper than self-satisfaction. For Twain this was a difficult debate, as he found himself believing, for the most part, the older man's arguments, even if they weren't what he might have wished. The book was published by the De Vinne Press in 1906, one of 250 copies. $5,750.
Item 33 is a book that was not terribly popular among evangelical circles in 1927 when it was published. This is Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry, the story of a con-artist who builds a livelihood preaching fire and brimstone. It's a tale hard to forget when one sees some preacher preaching hellfire and contributions. Get thee behind me, Elmer. $1,750.