Joan Acocella at The New Yorker:
Normal as all this sounds, there are cases of hoarding that don’t fall within the boundaries of the normal, and these are the subject of “The Hoarders: Material Deviance in Modern American Culture” (University of Chicago), by Scott Herring, a professor of English at Indiana University. Probably the most famous American case—Herring leads with it—is that of Homer and Langley Collyer, two brothers who lived in an imposing four-story brownstone at Fifth Avenue and 128th Street, in Manhattan, in the first half of the twentieth century. The Collyers were the sons of a distinguished family. Their great-grandfather built one of the largest shipyards on the East River. Their father was a respected obstetrician. Both boys went to Columbia University, Homer receiving a degree in law, Langley in engineering. But the family had a long vein of eccentricity. The father, on days when his work called him to City Hospital, on Roosevelt Island, is said to have paddled there in his canoe and, at night, paddled back to Manhattan and carried the canoe home.
The brothers worked for a while, but gradually they stopped, and allowed their phone, gas, electricity, and water services to lapse. In time, they began ignoring their tax and mortgage bills as well. Homer eventually went blind, and developed a near-paralytic rheumatism. After that, he did not leave the house. Langley took care of him. He, too, then rarely went out except late at night, usually to find food.