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A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq

4.0 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1934633014
ISBN-10: 1934633011
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Editorial Reviews

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Atlas & Co. (September 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934633011
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934633014
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,378,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeannie Mancini VINE VOICE on January 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Although there are many interesting tidbits of information that most bibliophiles and book lovers will find fascinating and enjoyable to learn about, I can't really rave about this book. The author's style of writing is very dry and factual in it's short listings of statistics. There are some sections where the author gives the reader more information on a particular instance of a book destruction incident, but other chapters are nothing more than a short line or two making me wonder if it would have been better to just give us a list in chronological order of what books were destroyed where, when and why. The first half of the book that details a lot of ancient history was more intriguing and eye-opening and I felt I learned a lot about the astonishing methods of book making and of the ancient scholars who collected in B.C. times. One doesn't really realize just how far back writing, language and books go until you read these first interesting chapters. The second half of the book that details more modern events from World War I on to the present, were more factual, uninteresting and so filled with statistics and boring listings that you couldn't remember them later if you wanted do. I have to say I found the majority of this book quite boring and doubt I'd recommend it to anyone other than readers highly interested in ancient history, or the history of manuscripts, scrolls or codices. Librarians as well would learn quite a lot of interesting information of the history of both public and private libraries that were created and destroyed, but I can't see the general populace or even a collector of rare books really finding this trivial information enjoyable.
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Format: Hardcover
"A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq" by Fernando Baez.
Translated by Alfred MacAdam. Atlas & Co., New York 2008.

For some reason, this book is small, only 5 ½ inches wide by 7 ¼ inches high, by about one inch thick. The book is like a hard-bound paper back, making it easy to carry onto an airplane. Despite the book's small physical size, the book is packed with much information on the libraries of the worlds, ancient and modern. The author's book, "A Universal History Of The Destruction Of Books", is actually a concise, comprehensive history of the wars and raids waged by mankind over the many centuries of written history.

The author is from Venezuela, so Fernando Baez wrote in Spanish and Alfred MacAdam translated the work into good English. If you query the WEB on Fernando Baez, you will find that he does not like the Iraq war and the occupation of Iraq. The author deals with libraries as collections of books, whether the books were in the form of cuneiform indentations on clay tablets, or papyrus or parchment or vellum, rolled up as scrolls or the more familiar (to moderns) rectangular collections of paper bound between two covers.

The author's work is comprehensive, covering so many libraries that I, personally, did not even know existed, and ranging from continent to continent. Therefore, his book is a good reference work on the history of libraries, in particular, and mankind, in general. Size limitations, however, means that he scrimped a little here and there. For example, on page 103, he writes about the library at Lindisfarne, Northumberland, and states that Lindisfarne was "...founded by a monk from Iona around 635." The monk was St.
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Format: Hardcover
This Venezuelan librarian answers what a history student, at Baghdad's university in 2003, wonders after the library's been looted of every volume: why does man destroy so many books? The book begins and ends in Iraq, where the earliest texts we have survive, only because of the flames that consumed and preserved their clay tablets. Twelve years of research results in the first "single history of their destruction" (7). Intriguingly, the author has "concluded that the more cultured a nation or a person is, the more willing each is to eliminate books under the pressure of apocalyptic myths" (18) Bibliophiles often can be biblioclasts. We all, he insists, in dividing up "us" vs. "them" negate each other, and play into censorship, exclusion, and eradication as we cannot tolerate criticism or opposition.

Translated in pithy style by Alfred MacAdam, it's a fluid and direct overview. Uruk, where the first surviving books can be found in Sumer, represents the creation simultaneous with the destruction of texts. Tablets were baked in the fires of battle, between 4100 and 3300 BCE. Little survives from so many ancient eras: 75% of Greek manuscripts lost; 80% of Egyptian texts vanished. This grim catalogue continues, as we find patterns repeated from the start of civilization, as invaders and barbarians plunder and eliminate no less than the kings and the clerics.

It's a study perhaps better sampled, as Báez suggests, rather than taken start to finish. The nature of the topic makes an uneven, incomplete, and enigmatic treatment-- appropriately if frustratingly-- for the material. The tone's not always scholarly; there's moments of verve that ease the flow of often disheartening lists of the losses that have been incurred by fire, insects, weather, and ideology.
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