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Libraries in the Ancient World (2001)

by Lionel Casson

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I used this book heavily in writing my PhD thesis and its has the virtue of being the most recent comprehensive text on ancient libraries available. As an academic text it leaves a lot to be desired. Its casual style and lack of effective footnotes make it a frustrating read for anyone who's hoping to use it in their studies. However, as a book for the non-academic reader, its an excellent introduction to the subject of libraries in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Those who know little beyond the Library of Alexandria will be amazed by the sophistication of ancient libraries. Anyone who loves books and libraries, and anyone who's passionate about ancient history will find this enthralling ( )
  drmaf | Aug 15, 2013 |
Classics scholar Lionel Casson uses references in classical literature, archaeological remains, and ancient inscriptions to construct a history of the world's earliest libraries. Casson describes libraries in ancient Near Eastern kingdoms, in the Greek world, and in the Roman world. The earliest libraries seem to have been utilitarian, with collections consisting mainly of administrative records, along with a few religious texts.

For the most part, the text is interesting and readable. While the content is useful to subject specialists, it's written at a level that non-specialists can understand and appreciate. The black and white illustrations nicely complement the text. However, I struggled through the descriptions of the dimensions of the buildings based on the archaeological remains. I'm spatially challenged anyway, and it didn't help that the measurements were given in meters rather than yards. Comparisons to familiar buildings of approximately the same size would have been a help to me.

This seems to be the definitive work on ancient libraries, and it should be the starting point for readers with an interest in this topic. ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | Oct 16, 2011 |
Short and informative! Not riveting, but certainly not the desert-dry read that some library books can be. This book would be a great overview for those new to being interested in early libraries and the history of reading, writing and books. ( )
  flemmily | Sep 17, 2011 |
How much has changed and how little.
  mdstarr | Sep 11, 2011 |
An interesting, readable history of ancient libraries with references to archeological discoveries. ( )
  EdGoldberg | Aug 3, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
“Libraries in the Ancient World” offers an engaging and informative brief consideration of the development of the library and writing in the ancient world. Casson has written a short, light introduction to the culture and social history of the ancient world covering those periods when education led to a desire for a greater understanding of the world, and a desire to arrange the daily workings of the current world and its knowledge in such a way that the development of libraries as a store of knowledge appears to have been the only logical development.
added by Ludi_Ling | editLibrary Review, Lionel Casson (Nov 30, 2004)
 
[An] engaging book.
added by bgibbard | editNew York Times, Michiko Kakutani
 
[A] charming … narrative history of the birth (and deaths) of libraries in the ancient world.
added by bgibbard | editNew York Times Book Review, Robert Messenger
 
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0300097212, Paperback)

The Dewey decimal system of cataloguing and its modern successors are relatively new, and they sometimes seem inadequate as ways of organizing knowledge in ever-changing fields of study. But the idea of bringing order to collections of written material is an ancient one, as Lionel Casson writes in this lucid survey of bibliophilia in the ancient Mediterranean. Among the earliest examples of written material that we have are lists of library holdings, clay tablets from Mesopotamia that archive commercial inventories, scholarly texts, and a surprising number of works on witchcraft and remedies against it.

Ancient libraries grew, Casson writes, by many means: by peaceful trade, as when book-hungry Romans spent extravagant sums on Greek texts made in southern Italy; by conquest, as when the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal looted the libraries of his ancient rival Babylon, carting the contents to his capital of Nineveh; and by fiat, as when the Egyptian pharaohs appropriated private collections to round out their own. Those libraries nourished the great philosophers and writers of old, shaping world culture into our own time. But, as Casson ably shows, the enemies of books are many, among them floods, fires, insects, and intolerance. As it is today, so it was in the past, and contending empires and ideologies too often expressed themselves by sacking and burning the collections of their enemies--by reason of which we have only a few of the works that engaged readers in the distant past.

Casson's slender book enhances our understanding of the role of books and their collectors in the ancient world, and bibliophiles and historians alike will find much of value in its pages. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:35 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"This book tells the story of ancient libraries from their very beginnings, when "books" were clay tablets and writing was a new phenomenon. Renowned classicist Lionel Casson takes us on a lively tour, from the royal libraries of the most ancient Near East, through the private and public libraries of Greece and Rome, down to the first Christian monastic libraries. To the founders of the first public libraries of the Greek world goes the credit for creating the prototype of today's library buildings and the science of organizing books in them."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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Yale University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300097212, 0300088094

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