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Beyond the Book: An Exhibition of the Brian Lamb Booknotes Collection


This digital exhibit serves as a companion to the larger physical exhibit on display in George Mason University Libraries' Fenwick Library on the Fairfax Campus.

The exhibit highlights both the Brian P. Lamb Booknotes Collection, which was donated to the University Libraries by Mr. Lamb in April 2011, and interviews Lamb conducted with the authors of each of the books. The collection comprises 801 books which were read by Lamb for research and to prepare for interviews with their respective authors. Many of the titles in the collection have extensive marginalia and other notes made by Lamb during the research process.

Brian Lamb is the founder and chief executive officer of C-SPAN a cable/satellite-based television network dedicated to delivering government activities and events and other public affairs content to the American television viewer. Lamb has served as the company’s CEO since its beginning in 1979. After his graduating from
Purdue University, Lamb joined the Navy where he spent nearly two years at sea, served as an aide to President Lyndon Johnson, and was later stationed in the audiovisual office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

In the late 1970s, with a group of key cable industry executives, Lamb worked to create a television network that would deliver gavel-to-gavel coverage of the proceedings of the United States Congress. Creating C-SPAN as a non-profit entity, this group built one of the Washington area’s first satellite uplinks.  On March 19, 1979 C-SPAN presented the first televised session of the U.S. House of Representatives to millions of cable television viewers nationwide.

An accomplished interviewer, Lamb conducted one of his first interviews with the members of the musical group, The Kingston Trio at age 17. As an employee of a radio station he interviewed other musicians including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, and Count Basie. In April 1989, Lamb and C-SPAN began to air a program called Booknotes.  Its format was described by Lamb as "one author, one book, one hour." The weekly program, which concentrated on non-fiction books was hosted by Lamb, himself, who spent an average of 20 hours reading and preparing for each interview. 

The program began officially on April 2, 1989 as Booknotes with an interview of Zbigniew Brzezinski about his book, The Grand Failure, but its roots were in a series of interviews conducted by Lamb and shown on C-SPAN in September and October 1988.  With the release of Neil Sheehan’s landmark book on the Vietnam War, A Bright and Shining Lie during that year, C-SPAN wished to feature the author and his work in a series of interviews. Over two and one-half hours were recorded for C-SPAN to televise in five parts that fall. The show format was quite simple. Lamb and his interview subject were seated on a dark empty set with sparse lighting. The cameras focused primarily on the subject, and only rarely did we see the interviewer. The author being interviewed did most of the talking as Lamb would only ask brief questions and  follow up periodically. The website features an insightful 40-minute documentary on the program at the bottom of the following page:

In total Booknotes comprised 801 interviews and ran from 1989 to 2004. It focused primarily on contemporary nonfiction books, though one title, Say Cheese, by Vasily Aksyanov was actually a fiction novel. With Booknotes C-SPAN established a popular television forum for writers of history, biography, politics, and public affairs. Lamb is currently host of a new interview series on C-SPAN entitled Q&A.    

This exhibit features a selection from the Brian Lamb Booknotes Collection.  Many of the titles in the collection feature annotations made by Mr. Lamb while reading and preparing for the interview.

His notes follow a clear pattern. People and ideas noted in the margins and underscored in the text reappear in what are often copious notes on the end papers and fly leaves of the books.  The earliest volumes in the Brian Lamb Booknotes Collection contain very few notes, while later volumes include up to six pages of notes.  Chronologies include an author or subject's education, jobs and or pivotal events.  Questions, quotations and philosophical, political, historical and scientific ideas appear along with the names of people central or in contrast to the subject. 

To view the catalog records for the books from the Brian Lamb Booknotes Collection please visit this link:

Brian Lamb Booknotes Collection


Special Collections & Archives Staff


Exhibit Sections I, II, and III

The sections to follow each contain Booknotes interview quotes and images from select titles in the Briam Lamb Booknotes Collection

Section I features: Why Read? by Mark Edmundson, Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain by Michael Paterniti, Boundaries, by Maya Lin, Carry A. Nation: Retelling the Life by Fran Grace, and Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town by Paul Theroux.

Section II features: The Cornel West Reader by Cornel West, This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer by Kay Mills, How to Overthrow the Government by Arianna Huffington, The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca Cola Company, by Constance Hays, Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation by Richard Norton Smith, and First Mothers: The Women who Shaped the Presidents by Bonnie Angelo.

Section III features: The Fiftiesby David Halberstam, Tell Me a Story: Fifty years and Sixty Minutes in Television by Don Hewitt, From the President: Richard Nixon's Secret Files by Bruce Oudes, Inside the Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation’s Capital by John McCaslin, Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson, and Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator by Arthur Herman.