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The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

The Library at Night (2006)

by Alberto Manguel

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,145594,401 (4.12)187
  1. 20
    Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles (Ludi_Ling)
  2. 00
    Resa i tysta rum : okända svenska slottsbibliotek by Per Wästberg (bonne1978)
  3. 00
    Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World by Lawrence Goldstone (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Bibliophiles meditate on the considerations of assembling a library
  4. 00
    On the Map: why the World Looks the Way it Does by Simon Garfield (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Does for Maps what Manguel's book does for libraries.
  5. 00
    Libraries in the Ancient World by Lionel Casson (Ludi_Ling)
  6. 00
    Sixpence House by Paul Collins (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: A bibliophile reflects on books, bookselling, writing and reading in the book-filled Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye
  7. 00
    The Library: An Illustrated History by Stuart A. P. Murray (Jannes)
    Jannes: Nice Coffee table-ish book that should be a treat for anyone with an interest in libraries and library history.
  8. 01
    The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (kristenn)

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» See also 187 mentions

English (47)  Swedish (3)  Dutch (3)  German (2)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
A collection of essays forming a meditation on the meaning of libraries throughout history. Most were totally delightful, I especially enjoyed the essay "The Library as Chance". It is easy to take libraries and the availability of books for granted. These essays really makes of appreciate the effort involved. "Immensely generous my books make no demand on me but offer all kinds of illuminations." ( )
  MM_Jones | Sep 7, 2017 |
Excellent book if you like to think about libraries! I read this at a very low time in my life, and it lifted me as I mused over the libraries Manguel helped me to visit. We worth having if you a bibliophile. ( )
  AmishTechie | Jul 6, 2017 |
“A house that has a library has a soul.”
– Plato

Just like A History Of Reading is an unabashed book about all things reading, The Library At Night is an unabashed book about the veritable signature sanctum for all readers throughout history: The Library.

Looking at libraries from fifteen different perspectives, Manguel shows us the The Library as myth, order, space, power, shadow, shape, chance, workshop, mind, island, survival, oblivion, imagination, identity and home.

In each of these respective chapters, the author keenly compares each topic to the library, and in a very refreshing, vivid, and thoughtful way shows us how the library fulfills each of those themes.

Since time immemorial, entering a library has always been seen as entering a different domain. It matters not whether one is merely a researcher, a reader, a student, or someone else. Everyone knows that the library is a place of adventure, place of learning, a place of rumination. The fact that one can hear pin drops in libraries [and most book stores for that matter] shows the respect everyone has for such an ancient intellectual sanctum. Throughout the book, the same level of respect is shown by Manguel as he takes us on a journey on all things libraries.

For avid learners, libraries have always been a private realm, a place of mental solitude and discernment. Any individual, at any time, in any place can keenly escape into the mental freedoms such a place affords.

In a sense, libraries are a page of human history – a well known locale in which one can hearken back in time, and even forward, to witness the totality of the human experience. Or at least what’s left of its memories.

Be that as it may, Libraries haven’t always been respected. Within this book, Manguel details a few of the most heinous human acts: the destruction of libraries.

Given that books impart great power, books have always been seen as dangerous by those in power. Libraries are symbols of what human nature can accomplish when totally free to explore and create, which is why time and time again there are those who have sought to destroy them, to keep people dumbed down and ignorant of the roots of civilization – the veritable pages of history.

As Manguel sobberingly notes:

“The libraries that have vanished or have never been allowed to exist greatly surpass in number those we can visit…”[1]

Of those that remain:

“Throughout history, the victor’s library stands as the emblem of power, repository of the official version [of history], but the version that haunts us is the other, the version of the library of ashes. The victim’s library, abandoned or destroyed, keeps on asking, “How were such acts possible?”[2]

What has humanity forgotten? What has gone by the wayside to the sands of time? It’s worth ruminating upon, especially since the cycles of history teach us that sooner or later, the war against books and libraries takes center stage.

And given that censorship of articles, books and blogs is beginning to run rampant as governments and institutions try to censor “fake news”, the modern version of book burning will merely be the censorship of the written word through the landscape of the Internet, and many are feeling the flames of this fierce fire, myself included. Again, what are they trying to prevent? What are they trying to hide? Each and every one of us should ponder these questions deeply.

Mostly though, Libraries conjure positive thoughts, and most of the book covers the positive aspects that libraries infuse into individuals.

Manguel elucidates on this:

“The existence of any library, even mine, allows readers a sense of what their craft is truly about, a craft that struggles against the stringencies of time by bringing fragments of the past into the present. It grants them a glimpse, however secret or distant, into the minds of other human beings, and allows them a certain knowledge of their own condition through the stories stored here for their perusal. Above all, it tells the reader that their craft consists of the power to remember, actively, through the prompt of the page, selected moments of the human experience.”[3]

Those reasons are exactly why libraries will confer power, because they allow individuals to become self sufficient in more ways than they can imagine, fine tuning their mental faculties in ways no other place does.

Libraries help us see the past, but even better, help us imagine a greater future.

In a time where countless issues abound, imagining a better future is certainly a prospect worthy of proper ponderance.

Whether you are a student, a researcher, a reporter, or merely a reader, the library will always provide a sanctum, a personal space, like a warm fire at night, to be used at any moment. In similar fashion, this book provides readers with comfort and all the amenities that libraries provide, but in book fashion. If that notion appeals to you, then you will undoubtedly enjoy this book.


[1] Alberto Manguel, The Library At Night, pg. 124.
[2] Ibid., pg. 247.
[3] Ibid., pg. 30. ( )
  ZyPhReX | May 30, 2017 |
Librarians are really good at telling each other about how wonderful and essential libraries are. I don't mean that as a statement of judgement. I think our affinity for libraries and what can be found in them is more than justified, but that of course is what brought me to the program and to this book. Manguel affirms through this beautiful exegesis just how very magical libraries are--as place, as identity, as mind, as shadow. I read it through saying yes, yes that's why libraries matter, that's what they've done, that's what they've been, this is what they are and this is what the humans that felt the desire for them are.

I want to sneak into Manguel's library in France and live there (would he mind? would I find a colony of migrant librarians already there? I can't be the first to have thought of this). I was sorry to have missed his talk at the Library and Archives Canada by just a few days. He draws from a vast array of knowledge, gives you the impression he's pulled it from his shelves, coming across strongly like an Argentinian Eco. The book is, of course, rich with reference to other books which means my reading list will bulk up exponentially, especially if another of his books appears on it. ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
Contemplation of his own library built from the ruins of a French barn leads Alberto Manguel to ponder the history and philosophy of libraries. Classification, architecture and design, selection and censorship, and many more aspects of libraries and the books they contain are illustrated by examples both personal and historical. Aby Warburg and the library that resembled a map of his mind, to Jorge Luis Borges, who was blind when he was appointed director of the Buenos Aires National Library, to the clandestine children's library in the Birkenau concentration camp – all have something to teach us about the nature and importance of books and libraries. This book could be used as a textbook for courses in the history and philosophy of libraries and librarianship, yet it will appeal to all readers with a love for books and libraries.

We pick our way down endless library shelves, choosing this or that volume for no discernible reason; because of a cover, a title, a name, because of something someone said or didn't say, because of a hunch, a whim, a mistake, because we think we may find in this book a particular tale or character or detail, because we believe it was written for us, because we believe it was written for everyone except us and we want to find out why we have been excluded, because we want to learn, or laugh, or lose ourselves in oblivion.


The fact is that a library, whatever its size, need not be read in its entirety to be useful; every reader profits from a fair balance between knowledge and ignorance, recall and oblivion. ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | Feb 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
The Library at Night, fortunately, is more than a tour of the microcosm contained in Manguel's converted barn. Its fondness for leathery bindings and its fussy annoyance about the 'evil white scabs' of price-stickers slimily glued to book jackets soon give way to a crusading defence of the library as a mental sanctuary, a repository of memory, the only kind of home that has any emotional value for Manguel the deracinated cosmopolitan.
added by Ludi_Ling | editThe Observer, Peter Conrad (Apr 22, 2008)
Manguel beschrijft de vele facetten en problemen van het verzamelen, zowel voor de particuliere verzamelaar als voor de professionele bibliothecaris.
Wie het boek van Alberto Manguel leest, maakt een boeiende en interessante reis door de boekenwereld van vele eeuwen. Boeiende beschrijvingen, doortrokken met anekdotes die in Manguels fabelachtige geheugen liggen opgeslagen. Ik raad iedereen die meer dan honderd boeken heeft aan dit boek te kopen en te lezen
De bibliotheek bij nacht is een boek over de manieren waarop de mens door de eeuwen heen boeken heeft verzameld en bibliotheken heeft vormgegeven. Manguel is niet alleen geïnteresseerd in geschiedenis en architectuur, maar ook in de psychologie van de bibliothecaris, waarbij hij volop ruimte biedt aan anekdotes die ergens in zijn fabelachtige geheugen lagen opgeslagen („Ik denk in citaten”).
added by sneuper | editNRC, Pieter Steinz (Dec 14, 2007)
Den spränglärde Alberto Manguel har skrivit en faktaspäckad bibliotekshistoria med poetiska och en del humoristiska och tragikomiska inslag. Om dock, som sagt, alltför välfylld
Manguels bok har den där sällsynta kombinationen av lätthet och tyngd, oväntade infall och uppfordrande eftertanke.

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Manguel, AlbertoAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eklöf, MargaretaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heuvelmans, TonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the sixteenth century, the Ottoman poet Adbullatif Celebi, better known as Latifi, called each of the books in his library "a true and loving friend who drives away all cares."
This book is for Craig.
First words
The library in which I have at long last collected my books began life as a barn sometime in the fifteenth century, perched on a small hill south of the Loire.
If a library is a mirror of the universe, then a catalogue is a mirror of that mirror.
Writing about the librarian's action [hiding the books], Borzykowski remarked that it was carried out "without any consideration as to whether anyone would ever need the saved books": it was an act of rescuing memory per se. The universe, the ancient cabbalists believed, is not contingent on our reading it; only on the possibility of our reading it.
In order for these nightly imaginations to flourish, I must allow my other senses to awaken—to see and touch the pages, to hear the crinkle and the rustle of the paper and the fearful crack of the spine, to smell the wood of the shelves, the musky perfume of the leather bindings, the acrid scent of my yellowing pocket books. Then I can sleep.
"...the Library of Congress's catalogues...include such curious categories as:
~ banana research
~ bat binding
~ boots and shoes in art
~ chickens in religion and folklore
~ sewage: collected works
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Contains: The library as myth -- The library as order -- The library as space -- The library as power -- The library as shadow -- The library as shape -- The library as chance -- The library as workshop -- The library as mind -- The library as island -- The library as survival -- The library as oblivion -- The library as imagination -- The library as identity -- The library as home.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300139144, Hardcover)

Inspired by the process of creating a library for his fifteenth-century home near the Loire, in France, Alberto Manguel, the acclaimed writer on books and reading, has taken up the subject of libraries. “Libraries,” he says, “have always seemed to me pleasantly mad places, and for as long as I can remember I’ve been seduced by their labyrinthine logic.” In this personal, deliberately unsystematic, and wide-ranging book, he offers a captivating meditation on the meaning of libraries.


Manguel, a guide of irrepressible enthusiasm, conducts a unique library tour that extends from his childhood bookshelves to the “complete” libraries of the Internet, from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Arab world, from China and Rome to Google. He ponders the doomed library of Alexandria as well as the personal libraries of Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. He recounts stories of people who have struggled against tyranny to preserve freedom of thought—the Polish librarian who smuggled books to safety as the Nazis began their destruction of Jewish libraries; the Afghani bookseller who kept his store open through decades of unrest. Oral “memory libraries” kept alive by prisoners, libraries of banned books, the imaginary library of Count Dracula, the library of books never written—Manguel illuminates the mysteries of libraries as no other writer could. With scores of wonderful images throughout, The Library at Night is a fascinating voyage through Manguel’s mind, memory, and vast knowledge of books and civilizations.

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

(see all 5 descriptions)

Inspired by the process of creating a library for his fifteenth century home near the Loire in France, Alberto Manguel, the acclaimed writer on books and reading, has taken up the subject of libraries. 'Libraries', he says, 'have always seemed to me pleasantly mad places, and for as long as I can remember I've been seduced by their labyrinthine logic'. In this personal, deliberately unsystematic, and wide ranging book, he offers a captivating meditation on the meaning of libraries. Manguel , a guide of irrepressible enthusiasm, conducts a unique library tour that extends from his childhood bookshelves to the 'complete' libraries of the Internet, from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Arab world, from China and Rome to Google.Libraries.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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Yale University Press

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

Editions: 0300139144, 0300151306

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