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Library: An Unquiet History (2003)

by Matthew Battles

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2,032447,015 (3.53)42
"From the clay-tablet collections of ancient Mesopotamia to the storied Alexandria libraries in Egypt, from the burned scrolls of China's Qing Dynasty to the book pyres of the Hitler Youth, from the great medieval library in Baghdad to the priceless volumes destroyed in the multi-cultural Bosnian National Library in Sarajevo, the library has been a battleground of competing notions of what books mean to us. Battles explores how, throughout its many changes, the library has served two contradictory impulses: on the one hand, the urge to exalt canons of literature, to secure and worship the best and most beautiful words; on the other, the desire to contain and control all forms of human knowledge."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
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English (42)  Italian (2)  All languages (44)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Not as dry as it sounds. Libraries have been built and destroyed throughout history. Libraries are centers of information and knowledge but concentrations of books seen as a threat to absolute power. Chinese Emperors to the Nazi burned books destroying great libraries because they were a threat. Thinking about it in abstract--paper and leather bindings and the words and ideas inside are viewed as such threats that they must be destroyed. Another riveting moment when during the siege of Sarajevo a professor was forced to burn his books to stay warm or cook food. What books would you burn first if you had to chose? He said some nights he went cold and hungry rather than burn a particular book.

Text does get a bit pedantic and cumbersome in parts. Good--not great.
( )
  kropferama | Jan 1, 2023 |
uneven historical survey with an emphasis on library destructions. thorough and clear discussion of the burning of Alexandria. Also strong on Panizzi's reign at the British Library. this copy has needless rec underlining at questionable interludes.
  SamMelfi | Dec 24, 2022 |
Good tidbits from history of libraries in the world. Stories of famous libraries and times and individuals involved with or affected by them, such as author Richard Wright (black) and Melville Dewey, et. al. Worthwhile. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
history; sort of, of libraries and library science, many sad tales of books lost
  ritaer | Jul 24, 2021 |
A necessarily idiosyncratic, but quite fun, short history of libraries. A couple teensy errors/typos crept in, and of course anybody writing this book would have focused in different places, &c., but overall, not bad at all. ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Jan 23, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
"Library: An Unquiet History" explores the creation of libraries, beginning with the clay-tablets of ancient Mesopotamia, and proceeds to the destruction of libraries, culminating in the wars of the 20th century that shamelessly wiped out entire collections. Battles examines the two competing notions of the library's mission: the library as temple for the best and most beautiful works, and the library as a place where all knowledge is brought together under one roof. He looks at the library in Islam, in the Roman Empire, and in the Middle Ages, across centuries and cultures.
 
In this sweeping view of library history, Harvard librarian Matthew Battles provides a beautifully written story of the often-tumultuous saga of books and book-places in the world. Written first as an essay published in Harper's; this study grew into a book-length treatment, an admirable overview of the large issues facing libraries over the past couple of thousand years.
 
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Epigraph
"The impious maintain that nonsense is normal in the Library and that the reasonable (or even humble and pure coherence) is a miraculous exception." -Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel"
Dedication
For my family and for Ken Carpenter Keeper of Books
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When I first went to work in Harvard's Widener Library, I immediately made my first mistake: I tried to read the books.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"From the clay-tablet collections of ancient Mesopotamia to the storied Alexandria libraries in Egypt, from the burned scrolls of China's Qing Dynasty to the book pyres of the Hitler Youth, from the great medieval library in Baghdad to the priceless volumes destroyed in the multi-cultural Bosnian National Library in Sarajevo, the library has been a battleground of competing notions of what books mean to us. Battles explores how, throughout its many changes, the library has served two contradictory impulses: on the one hand, the urge to exalt canons of literature, to secure and worship the best and most beautiful words; on the other, the desire to contain and control all forms of human knowledge."--BOOK JACKET.

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