- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

PARIS (AP) - George Whitman, the American bibliophile whose iconic English-language Paris bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, has been a haven for book lovers for more than half a century, died Wednesday, the store announced on its website. He was 98 years old.

Whitman “died peacefully at home in the apartment above his bookshop,” two months after having suffered a stroke, a posting on the store’s site said.

Whitman “showed incredible strength and determination up to the end” and read every day with his daughter, Sylvia, his friends and his cat and dog, it said.

“Nicknamed the Don Quixote of the Latin Quarter, George will be remembered for his free spirit, his eccentricity and his generosity _ all three summarized in the Yeats verses written on the walls of his open, much-visited library: ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers / Lest they be angels in disguise’,” it said.

Nestled on the left bank of the Seine River, Shakespeare & Company is a veritable warren of books, stacked with volumes from floor to ceiling. Since its founding in 1951, the shop has been a beacon for writers and would-be writers, whom Whitman allowed to crash in the store in exchange for help around the shop. Boarders, browsers and Whitman’s beloved pets could be seen snoozing among the stacks. Any visitor is welcome to curl up to read in the comfy chairs that dot the store.

In an interview this year with The Associated Press, Whitman’s daughter and the store’s manager, Sylvia Whitman, said “My father says it’s a Socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.”

Whitman was born on December 12, 1913, in East Orange, New Jersey. His twin loves of the written word and foreign travel were nurtured early on, when his father, a physics professor who authored several books on science, took the family along for a yearlong sabbatical at a university in China in 1925.

After a host of adventures abroad in his early 20s, Whitman enlisted in the U.S. Army. During World War II, he was trained as a Medical Warrant Officer and treated the wounded at hospitals across Europe, the posting said.

Whitman moved to Paris permanently under the GI Bill in 1948. Three years later, he founded his bookshop in a rickety old building directly across the Seine River from Notre Dame cathedral. Initially baptized “Le Mistral” after the blustering winds that blow in off the Mediterranean, the shop’s name was later changed.

Regarded as an institution of Paris’ cultural scene, Whitman was made an officer of arts and letters by the French Culture Ministry in 2006.

Whitman is to be buried in Paris’ venerable Pere Lachaise cemetery, where the remains of giants of literature including Oscar Wilde, Balzac and French poet Guillaume Apollinaire rest, the posting said. The date of the funeral has not yet been set.

Whitman is survived by his daughter, who will continue to run the bookstore.