Harry Karnac (1919-2014): “The prince of psychological bookselling”

Of all the places to find the above titled obituary for Harry Karnac by Professor Brett Kahr, the Karnacology blog is perhaps the least surprising, followed by the website of the British Psychoanalytic Council. Karnac’s great nephew, Daniel Schweimler, penned the obituary for The Guardian.

At the end of 1993, Joseph Gallivan had reported on Karnac Books for The Independent: “In 1984 Cesare Sacerdoti, an eccentric Italian, bought the store…”. Last year, The Bookseller noted that Karnac Books, “one of London’s oldest independent bookshops”, had moved to its fourth address since 1950, leaving 118, Finchley Road to relocate 200m away at New College Parade.

Back in 2006, Kahr wrote for American Imago, “I Suffer From Karnacitis”, mentioning that, just the year before, he had read the obituary of Susan Sontag, the American intellectual. He learned that at the time of her death she reputedly owned some 15 000 books in her Manhattan apartment. “I thought to myself, … “Hooray, I am not alone.”.

Professor Kahr’s obituary of Harry Karnac relates that he developed a warm acquaintanceship with many leading figures in the field of psychoanalysis, most especially with the paediatrician Donald Winnicott; the great man’s visits to the shop on Saturday mornings often resulted in hours of chatting and the purchase of several biographies:

“When Karnac asked Winnicott how he could plough through so many biographies so quickly, Winnicott laughed and confessed that he read only the first chapter of any biography – the one devoted to early childhood – explaining to Karnac that by the second chapter, he had lost interest!”.

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