Cambridge NRSV Standard Text Bible with Apocrypha in Black French Morocco

The life of a Bible reviewer isn't all goatskin and glamor. Sometimes there are difficult tasks to undertake, requiring his utmost resolve. If he lacks backbone — and in this case, he does — procrastination intervenes. The Bible he doesn't want to review sits and sits until finally, he shames himself into action. 
If you're hunting for a quality NRSV, you probably know the pickings are slim. Harper Collins has come out with some interesting options, but if you're in the market for a sewn binding and leather cover, expect some frustration. The Cambridge NRSV Standard Text Bible with Apocrypha, shown here in black French Morocco, isn't going to help any. 

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It's a Frankenbible. I don't know how else to say it. The page layout is quite nice, and the paper quality — at least in terms of whiteness and bleed-though — is not bad. But something went wrong in the production of this thing. An Amazon reviewer says it was printed in Belarus, and perhaps that's the problem. All I know is, something ain't right. Let's take a closer look.

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It opens, but I had a hard time keeping it flat. If you remember Cambridge's French Morocco of a few years back, it was thin and flexible. This is thin. It isn't flexible. It has that stiff, pseudo-bonded feel. The spine won't relax, either. It holds the text block in a perpetual arc, like it wants more than anything for you to close the book.

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The close-up (above) might help to illustrate. That's as open as this thing gets. I suppose you could live with that if the cover felt nice, but it doesn't. There's something crude about the production quality, something decidedly un-Cambridgelike. If you've been around the site long, you know I have a deep affection for Cambridge. I like the NRSV, too, and wanted more than anything to like this edition. But it's like a lover who, the moment you overcome your aversion to the last unseemly revelation, hits you with another shocking revelation.

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The photo above says it all. REAL LEATHER. Like they knew, given its feel, that you were bound to have doubts. Printed in big letters, too. Emphatic and (again) un-Cambridgelike. 

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And yet. If you can get past the production quality, the layout itself is quite attractive. A clean, crisp double-column setting. The font is 8.25/9 pt. Photina. Readable, nicely proportioned, an utter contrast with the cover. 
The photo below illustrates another problem. In addition to the bowing cover, there's a curious cross-hatch effect on the gilt edges. 

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You can see it below, too. Art-gilt edges are often called "red under gold." I've started to think of this treatment as "white under gold." Even when the Bible's closed, the odd layer of white is visible here and there. I've never seen anything quite like it, certainly not from Cambridge.

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Want to know what it looks like when a Bible fails the Bible yoga test? Here you go. First the lotus position:

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And then the aftermath:

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This cover is like a sedentary old guy who didn't realize he needed to stretch before exercise, and ended up blowing his knee. The board under the cover doesn't flex well, needless to say.

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There are better NRSVs, needless to say. I have a beautiful vintage Cambridge NRSV in Cabra bonded leather that puts this one to shame. But the contrast I want to leave you with is between the two areas this blog concerns itself with: design and binding. In terms of design, there's a lot to appreciate about the Standard Text Bible. Unfortunately, the binding masks those virtues almost entirely. 
Did I get a dud? It's possible. But based on what I've heard from others, I don't think so. In this instance, my advice is either to look elsewhere, or pick up the hardback edition, which should give you the benefit of the nice design without the hindrance of the awkward binding. 
In closing, two things. First, it pains me to write a review like this. I typically avoid writing about editions that appall me, as opposed to holding them up to potential ridicule. In this case, I think I've given Cambridge enough love that you know how I feel about them in general. This edition is a fluke, and it's best avoided.
Fortunately, Cambridge offers other editions of the NRSV. I hope to bring you coverage of the alternatives in the future.


26 Comments on “Cambridge NRSV Standard Text Bible with Apocrypha in Black French Morocco

  1. Fascinating. And not in a good way. I suspect the photos only convey part of the disappointment.
    A year ago I tracked down the now out-of-print calfskin edition of this Bible through a used book website. I’m glad I did. The calfskin lacks the unpleasant aspects of this French Morocco edition. It doesn’t have issues with art-gilt edges. It doesn’t need an all-caps shout to declare that the cover is leather. And it can do yoga.
    The one feature of the calfskin edition that must be true of this edition is size and proportion. It feels cumbersome to me and it’s hard to hold for very long. So its regular home is on top of a pulpit.
    And Mark, don’t feel too pained about the bad review. As someone whose prevailing piety is “devout cowardice,” I appreciate anyone’s ability to speak the truth in love.

  2. Perhaps the politically correct translation simply does not work with a truly refined binding?

  3. Mark:
    I had a similar experience to you with this same edition. About 6-8 months ago I ordered one and thought it was terrible. Considering what I had heard about Cambridge before that, I was appaled. Thinking it might have been a lemon, I returned it and requested another from the same vendor. The result was the same – overall probably the worst Bible I had ever bought. I returned the second one and chose to look elsewhere in my quest for a quality NRSV. My quest reached the ultimate with the Allan NRSV my wife gave me. It is LIGHT YEARS ahead of this Cambridge offering. Since then, I have purchased other Cambridge Bibles and their reputation has indeed been restored in my mind. It is really odd that they would choose to release such a horrible quality Bible considering all the other excellent editions they offer.

  4. Woops! That should be “appalled”.
    BTW – Politically correct or not – profit can be gained from all translations. This should not be a forum for translation bashing.

  5. Mark,
    A good review of the Bible. Is the binding sewn? Could a glued text be the reason the Bible seems to say, “Close me”? If it is sewn, any ideas why it won’t stay open? Maybe the leather has been stamped with a grain and that what made the cover so stiff.
    Next time could you take a close-up picture of the inside of the cover corners so we can see the gluing or stitching? That way one can also see how thick the leather is.
    It is good for you to review a mediocre or even poorly bound Bible for the sake of comparison. Even though it is what is on the inside that’s important I’ll be it feels good to get this one behind you.

  6. I appreciate the heads-up on this. I had looked closely at the NRSV reference Bible, and was favorably impressed. When looking at the Cambridge NRSV text version in basic hardcover, the paper seemed lower quality.
    The Collins and Oxford compacts are okay, but I look forward to Cambridge someday releasing a fine compact edition of the NRSV.

  7. It’s a sad Bible, true. But even if it had turned out to be a truly fine Bible, I still wouldn’t be ordering it, because they still insist the NRSV can’t be had in a truly “large print” version. What would be so hard about putting out an NRSV in 10 or 11 pt. when everybody else can do it?

  8. I owned this one in the Black Calfskin and while no Allans it was not too bad at all. The cover was a little stiff but overall I liked it far better than the Standard Text Version without the Apocrypha that my wife enjoys reading.
    It looks as if each generation of these gets lessened to some degree. The Calfskin is nice, a Cambridge French Morocco is usually not too bad but it is odd to see this labeled as Real Leather only. Many makers now call Bonded Leather “real” as it is made from leather (or what used to be leather).

  9. When a printer with the history and reputation of Cambridge begins to offer material this shoddy, there can be little doubt that Bible making has entered it’s own Dark Ages.
    I have a Cambridge Concord Reference Bible in the Authorized Version that I purchased in 2005, it is bound in calfskin leather. I bought it with the idea that Cambridge was the best made Bible you could buy. It was used as my “everyday” Bible for less than two years before it began to fall apart and I should add that I took pretty good care of it. The leather endpapers are split at the fold, and coming loose at the corners and even more troubling, there are sections that appear to be working loose from the text block.
    I guess the days are gone when you could buy a Bible off the shelf at your local Christian bookshop and expect to have a lifelong relationship with it. Et tu Cambridge?

  10. I think it’s clear that Cambridge doesn’t really care about their bindings any more, at least not enough to be sure they offer a product that’s consistently good (and worth the prices of their Bibles).
    I have a Cambridge Concord, also from about 2005, in burgundy “calfskin”. It’s not bad, but the front and rear linings are a funny plasticized paper. One day I was driving home from church and it was hot in the car, and just from the heat on the way home the linings shrunk . . . actually pulled away from the leather about 1/16 of an inch. I put it back in its box and leave it on the shelf . . .
    I’m also dealing with a Presentation Reference edition. I had to return my copy bound in calfskin because the front and rear linings were splitting. They replaced it with a copy in black “French Morocco”, but it’s awful. Just as bad as this edition that Mark’s reviewing. It’s stiff, unpleasant to handle, and turning up at the 4 corners. I wrote to the US distributor and complained, and the only solution they’ll offer is to upgrade to goatskin for an additional $48. I’m considering that, but also said I want name and contact information for the production manager at Cambridge Bibles–I want to be able to express my dissatisfaction directly, particularly if they’re going to stick me for an additional payment.
    It’s sad. Very sad.
    Lee

  11. I have this one, too, sans the Apocrypha and it has the most disappointing cover I’ve ever held. I have a French Morocco RSV from Cambridge that’s a little bit larger than my Pitt Minion ESV and the leather on that one is fantastic. I figured I couldn’t go wrong with another Cambridge French Morocco but I was sadly mistaken.

  12. Mark,
    Any chance you could obtain an advance copy of the NRSV “Notetaker’s Bible” for review? The upscale cloth-bound version sounds quite attractive. Just a thought. Thanks!

  13. Just to whet the appetite, the Assistant Bibles Editor at O.U.P. confirms the NRSV Notetaker’s Bible will have a sewn binding…

  14. does the reference edition released around the same time have the same problems?

  15. My NRSV Notetaker’s cloth bound edition arrived today and it is great! The blue cloth is a soft silky material. The Bible is a great size, not nearly as bulky as I thought it would be. The paper, as expected, is very nice and thick and clean white. The paper feels twice as thick as the average Bible paper. The ribbon marker is skinny, but it is long. The layout is great. The 8 pt. font is on the small side, but it is a good looking single column text. Overall, money well spent!

  16. I took a chance and ordered the Cambridge NRSV Reference Edition with Apocrypha bound in Black French Morocco, which I believe is the essentially the same as the Standard Text version, except with center margin cross references added. The one I have I think is quite nice, without most of the problems described here.
    The cover is quite flexible, and is cleanly and sharply done; there’s none of the bowing described. The binding was a bit tight out of the box, but with just a bit of breaking in, it happily lies flat, and stays open in Genesis and Revelations. The gilding looks fine. I quite like how it feels in the hand. It flexes and curves gracefully, with a bit of a spring to it. It does yoga. It has two ribbons rather than one. The only flaw I can see is the gold text on the spine, which is a bit of a blobby mess, and I could do without the logo on the cover.
    For an NRSV, or Bible with Apocrypha in a decent binding, I think this is worth considering (though as Mark said, there aren’t many options). I’m sorely tempted by the Allan NRSV, but without the Apocrypha, I opted for the Cambridge instead (I own two other Allans, but I need something with the Apocrypha). Can I possibly justify getting the Allan too? I’d be interested to hear Mark’s opinion of the Cambridge Reference, especially as compared to the Allan (hint, hint). I took a chance and ordered the Cambridge NRSV Reference Edition with Apocrypha bound in Black French Morocco, which I believe is the essentially the same as the Standard Text version, except with center margin cross references added. The one I have I think is quite nice, without most of the problems described here.
    The cover is quite flexible, and is cleanly and sharply done; there’s none of the bowing described. The binding was a bit tight out of the box, but with just a bit of breaking in, it happily lies flat, and stays open in Genesis and Revelations. The gilding looks fine. I quite like how it feels in the hand. It flexes and curves gracefully, with a bit of a spring to it. It does yoga. It has two ribbons rather than one. The only flaw I can see is the gold text on the spine, which is a bit of a blobby mess, and I could do without the logo on the cover.
    For an NRSV, or Bible with Apocrypha in a decent binding, I think this is worth considering (though as Mark said, there aren’t many options). I’m sorely tempted by the Allan NRSV, but without the Apocrypha, I opted for the Cambridge instead (I own two other Allans, but I need something with the Apocrypha, as my church reads from it liturgically). Can I possibly justify getting the Allan too? I’d be interested to hear Mark’s opinion of the Cambridge Reference, especially as compared to the Allan (hint, hint). It’d also be nice to see Allan do an edition with Apocrypha, though I’m not counting on it, and I don’t know if they have some theological objection to such a thing.

  17. I have the Cambridge text only in French Morocco with a binding that, concerning its ‘will’ to close: ditto. Plus, the durability is suspect where the binding is cracking at the end signatures, resulting in them possibly falling out one day. Good thing this is just one I reference from time to time.
    But the smell of this cover is really quite nice compared to nearly every other Bible. Weird.

  18. I just received a Cambridge KJV Standard Text edition in French Morocco; I was quite dissapointed with it. I have a 2002 Cambridge NRSV Standard Text in French Morocco –the ’02 NRSV is WAY better quality. It, however, was constructed in England. This KJV is Belarusan. Live and learn — I should have taken your review of the Cambridge Standard Text edition more to heart.

  19. Current interpretations of astronomical observations indicate that the age of the Universe is 13.75 billion years, and that the diameter of the observable universe is at least 93 billion light years. According to general relativity, space can expand faster than the speed of light, although we can view only a small portion of the universe due to the limitation imposed by light speed.

  20. I have the reference edition of this bible, which costs around £65, and quite frankly I think the quality of finish is dreadful! Resultantly, I can concur wholeheartedly with the concerns Mark raises.
    I want my bibles to reflect honour to the Word of God, and thus I am prepared to pay for something a little bit special.
    Cambridge, sadly, have let me down with this edition and I can’t afford to spend money on a company’s products that I have now lost confidence in. Allan’s, on the other hand, consistently produce high quality bibles, so this is where I shall continue to take my business. Well done to Nicholas and all his team. I look forward to receiving my Highland Goatskin NRSV, in brown, this October.

  21. I had read other reviews saying that the newer versions of this Bible were a noticeable improvement over the one reviewed here, so I decided to try one. Mine says “French Morocco Leather” on the inside of the front cover and also says “Printed in the UK by CPI, William Clowes” (no mention of where it is bound, but I assume it’s the same as the printer after looking at their website). While it may be a bit better than the older version, this is still not up to par with Cambridge’s other Bibles. Mine lays a bit flatter than the one in the pictures above, but I had to spend some time breaking it in. The cover is very stiff and despite several nights of calisthenics it doesn’t seem that it will ever loosen up. I have a recent Cambridge Concord KJV in French Morocco which is much nicer than this NRSV, both in flex and overall feel. The NRSV was only $65 though, so I guess you get what you pay for.

  22. I have the Oxford (model 9814) version of this and although it appears the quality is higher than the Cambridge, it’s far from a classy Bible. The spine of mine has “Holy Bible” at the top and “Oxford” at the bottom in gold leaf, matching the gilded page edges, but the lettering in the middle of the spine saying “New Revised Standard Version” is in silver! Is mine a “second”, or is that standard for this edition?
    But it does have a nice leather cover! I love the Collins XL setting of the NRSV, but the bonded leather on those is particularly undesirable to me.

  23. I just received the reference edition and was pleasantly surprised. I actually like the slight stiffness of the moroccan leather as it is easier to hold. It seems to be a little more readable than my allan, and I love having the apocrypha. There isn’t a lot of room for note-taking but I got this one for reading at home and aloud. It lies flat as well and the gilded edges were flawless.

    I guess I got a good one. I am thinking of ordering a second for a gift for a friend I like it so much!

  24. Just got a faux leather version of this Bible (w/o apocrypha). It is now printed in Belgium. Quality is way up. I don’t like Cambridge French Morocco which is too rough and stiff. But this Bible in calfskin like Cambridge uses in other Bibles would be nice. A further improvement would be an up size to 10 pt. semi bold text. NRSV should have more options (perhaps a Clarion ?).

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