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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
This, according to the author (Travel in the Ancient World; etc.), "is the first full-scale study of libraries in the ancient world." This alone will make the book very attractive to a readership well beyond those with professional interests in the ancient world. And yet the book's title sells its contents short since it is really about a great deal more than the curatorship of the written word through its very specialized beginnings in the Near East c. 3000 B. C. until the collapse of cities in the Western Roman world. Casson's book is not limited to where and when important libraries existed; it offers a social history transcending the idea of a library as we know it. Casson discusses literacy in the ancient world; the techniques of production and the materials from which books were made (clay tablets in the oldest repositories in the Near East; papyrus and parchment in the West); trade in books; the centrality of libraries as the predecessors of modern universities and research institutions; the organization of Greco-Roman libraries, which continues, necessarily modified, in today's libraries; the differences and intersections among royal, private and public libraries; the kinds of books favored by libraries and even observations on the concept of the rare book in antiquity. Detailed consideration of the architectural elements of ancient libraries (what did these libraries look like? Where and how were books stored? How were reading rooms arranged?) makes the book as appealing to the archeologist as the bibliophile.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Editorial Reviews
I have only read the first few chapters because I was only interested in the very very early times. Well written and easy to read.Published 2 months ago by Liz
A very enjoyable little book. Casson is scholarly but not pedantic, and his grasp of the scope of the references to libraries and books (or scrolls) in antiquity is impressive. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Joe Cicero
it is a very well researched book dealing with a subject about which it is difficult to find source material in view of the destruction of so many records from that period.Published 6 months ago by william callan
The book was written from the point of view of a librarian and historian. Very good information on a topic that is seldom discussed in any detail. Read morePublished 16 months ago by O. Allen
It's a very difficult thing to treat an academic subject in a congenial style without sacrificing information, but Casson does it here -- and does it well. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Larry N. Stout
In this delightful little book, Professor Lionel Casson traces the history of libraries from the archives of ancient Mesopotamia, through the extensive libraries of classical... Read morePublished on July 19, 2013 by Kurt A. Johnson
The book details what is known from historical references. It is not made for light reading and flows more as the reference it is.Published on June 9, 2013 by Dr_PhysBabe
No DJ, but shown with one in ad. no mention that book did not include DJ...but came with pieces that were cut up of the dust jacket..very tacky!Published on February 21, 2013 by Pamela Fitzgerald
I'm a dilettante when it comes to study - I'll research one aspect of history deeply and them move on to skim through other entertaining bits, dropping that subject forever. Read morePublished on May 12, 2012 by A. Trotter