- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Atlas & Co. (September 15, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1934633011
- ISBN-13: 978-1934633014
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 7.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,047,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq
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From Publishers Weekly
This book begins and ends with a description of the looting of books, manuscripts and artworks in Iraq's National Library in 2003, a destruction abetted, says Báez, by the inaction of American leaders. This episode poses an enigma for the author: Why should this murder of memory have occurred in the place where the book was born? Beginning with ancient Mesopotamia, Venezuelan historian Báez (The History of the Ancient Library of Alexandria) considers the wide-ranging reasons why books are destroyed: the desire of conquerors to eradicate their predecessors or foreign cultures, religious intolerance, fire and other natural or man-made disasters. Other books were lost because they were no longer considered important, and we know of them only through references in other works. Báez includes a fascinating chapter on fictional bibliocasts (book destroyers), from Don Quixote to Fahrenheit 451. He sometimes overwhelms the reader with authors, titles and statistics. Still, this marvelously informative, sometimes depressing, occasionally entertaining work should appeal to bibliophiles. (Aug. 18) ""
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."
"A terrifying, masterly book from the erudite pen of Fernando Baez"
"A sobering reminder of just how deep-seated is the instinct to destroy other people's truths"
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Everyone that's interested in history or being aware of what those in power do, at least.
This is a very intriguing reference/history book about the destruction of books, from man's early writings to modern day libraries. It really makes you ponder what knowledge man has lost through the ages and all due to one group or one man wanting their history, their knowledge, their point of view to be the only one those they rule over or have conquered to know. If you don't this can't happen today, think again, there's censorship, there's wars in the Middle East that have destroyed museums and writings from early man.
Of course, a book, no matter how valuable, can never compare to a human life, but still, one can’t help but have a sober pause to consider at the sheer volume of books that are lost, burned, eaten up by pests, and destroyed in other ways. The sweeping coverage of this book is actually quite amazing, even though, of course, it is not always very thorough.
It’s amazing, for instance, to see how little of ancient literature has been preserved, for as the author states, even “the most optimistic estimates calculate that 75 percent of ancient Greek literature, philosophy, and science has been lost”. It’s amazing to see how the ravages of war have wiped out hundreds upon hundred of libraries. It’s amazing to see with what rigor evil and wicked men have censored and destroyed books, attempting to weaken and subjugate people. The combined effect of over 6,000 years of destruction certainly leaves a pronounced impression in ones mind!
Whatever historical quibbles I may have with the book, and I do have a few, I appreciated it a lot. This book, translated from the Spanish text of its Venezuelan author, Fernando Baez, gives an astounding view of the dangerous lives that books live.
It is fitting to end this review with a quote that appears in this book, from Jorge Luis Borges:
“Of all man’s instruments, the most astonishing is, without any doubt, the book. The others are extensions of his body. The microscope, the telescope, are extensions of this eyes; the telephone an extensions of his voice; then we have the plow and the sword, extensions of his arm. But the book is something else: the book is an extension of memory and imagination.”
Along the way, Mr. Báez discusses the major events of book destruction: the disappearance of the Library of Alexandria, the burning of the Library of Congress, the Nazi book bonfires, to name just a few. He also covers countless smaller, but by no means less important, moments of book loss. He talks about the various ways books can be lost--fires, flood, vermin, age, neglect. He castigates authors who have destroyed their own work. He throws in some well-known cases of fictional book destruction--Fahrenheit 451, A Canticle for Leibowitz, and The Name of the Rose being some more famous examples.
If there is a weakness in this book, it is that the stories too often become just lists of numbers and important titles lost, and the numbers of books lost is truly staggering. It can be overwhelming if you try to read it straight through. Still, it is amazing to think about the literally hundreds of millions of books that have been actively destroyed throughout history. Anyone interested in books knows grows aware of titles that have been lost to us, but it boggles the mind to actually see the numbers in front of us.
In years of reading books about books, I have never read anything quite like this. Mr. Báez has done us a great service by putting this volume together. It is well worth reading.
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Translated by Alfred MacAdam. Atlas & Co., New York 2008.Read more