Longreads

Thomas Lannon is the Acting Charles J. Liebman Curator of Manuscripts at the New York Public Library, which is the fancy way of saying he oversees boxes of secrets: the personal documents of people both famous and everyday. Anyone can read a book and learn facts, but archival materials — handwritten, casual, private — connect us to the secret soul of history. James Somers files his first and last Village Voice story on the treasure troves that are archives.

But the real gem of the library, in Lannon’s view, is the stuff that you can find only in boxes like the ones now strewn across the table. “You can get a book anywhere,” he said. “An archive exists in one location.” The room we’re standing in is the only place that you can read, say, the week’s worth of journal entries in which New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal contemplates…

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