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The Shores of Wisdom: The Story of the Ancient Library of Alexandria Paperback – December 1, 1999
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"Much of Flower's book consists of brief biographies of the brilliant men attracted to Alexandria by the library..." -- Monacle, UK, Russell Chamberlin, June 1999,
Derek Flower tells the tale in rollicking style, with many entertaining anecdotes -- Literary Review, U.K. Michael Borrie, June 1999
Flower gives a delightful story of the rise and fall of the ancient library...indeed an enjoyable piece to read. -- Prof. Ahmed H. Zewail, 1998 Nobel Prize for Chemistry-Egypt. January 2001 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From the Author
As I was brought up in Alexandria when I learnt that a new library, the Bibliotheca Alexandria, was to be built virtually on the site of the famous ancient Library of Alexandria, I decided it could interest the general public to know about the people who had made the worlds first great centre of culture tick during the 700 years of its existence. The more I researched, the more I became fascinated by those academics of Antiquity, those scientists, philosophers, poets, mathematicians, surgeons and rulers who, apart from their brains, also had their human sides and this is what I set out to depict in this book. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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33 chapters, foreword, and a preface by Mohsen Zahran, project manager for Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
Alexandria's library, founded early in the 3rd century B.C. by Ptolemy II, was almost as famous as its lighthouse (one of the Seven Wonders of the World), but its appearance, size, and even location are unknown. This book, inspired by the current project to create a huge modern library in Alexandria, traces what little is known of the ancient library, and follows with about 30 short chapters describing the careers of various ancient scholars associated in one way or another with it. It reads as a kind of who's who of the late hellenistic and early Christian world.
Flower has a breezy, offhand style--reminiscent of James Burke in his "Connections" column for Scientific American (but without the connections). This can obscure the quality of his research, which seems to be, over all, quite good, if at times cut short as he speeds through the material. I say "seems" because it's not easy to be sure of Flower's authority, for, although there are many footnotes, they are generally used to make parenthetical comments rather than to note sources. There are certainly some errors. For example, in Caesar's Alexandrian war, Flower describes the eunuch Pothinus as "the Egyptian Prime Minister Ponthius".
For the short, light work it is, there is a lot of information, and some good nuggets. For example, despite a lifelong study of astrology, I didn't know that it was a geometer named Hypsicle and his book "On Ascensions" that provided the means for calculating time and degree of a zodiacal sign's rise on the ecliptic. There are quite a few of these tidbits strewn through the text.
This book provides some choice bits of information in a loose, cataloglike structure whose authority is not clear--rather like, say, a tourist brochure. I wouldn't want to rely on it as a source. However, if you're really interested in the library of Alexandria, then you should probably read it--there aren't a lot of other sources out there.
The book appears to be published through Xlibris, a self-publication "strategic partner" of Random House.
The 196 pages are divided up into 33 chapters. Each chapter covers 2 or 3 celebrities of Alexandrian history. That allows the author only about a page per luminary, so it has to move pretty quickly. The first hundred years (330 to 230 BC) get 90 pages. The next 200 get only 40 (230 BC to 30 AD). After that, there is little on the library itself, only the Alexandrian fin-de-siecle told as soap opera.
Of course, Flower's 'decline' story (30 to 642 AD) is the subject of some debate. Flower's write that the Caliph Umar used the following logic to justify burning the library's books: "If what is written in them agrees with the Book of God, they are not required; if it disagrees, they are not desired. Destroy them therefore,". The modern 'Bibliotheca Alexandrina' website asserts the Christians destroyed the library 200 years before the Muslims got there.
For a deeper look, see
The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World, Canfora
Pappus of Alexandria and the Mathematics of Late Antiquity, Cuomo
The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World, Macleod
Some parts of this book seem to be a thinly veiled advertisement for the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which is of questionable merit: several decades and hundreds of millions of dollars for a grandiose building housing a mediocre library. This book leaves out those details, presenting an obviously biased view that calls into question the author's motivation as well as the remaining content.
With apologies to the author, I cannot recommend this book.