Through the ages, libraries have not only accumulated and preserved, but shaped, inspired and obliterated knowledge. Matthew Battles takes us on a fascinating journey from Boston to Baghdad, from classical scriptoria to medieval monasteries, from the Vatican to the British Library. The library has been a battleground of competing notions of what books mean to us, from the clay-tablet collections of ancient Mesopotamia to the legendary libraries of Alexandria, from the burned scrolls of the Qing Dynasty to the book-pyres of the Hitler Youth, from the Dewey Decimal System to the Internet. Battles explores how the library has served two contradictory impulses: to exalt canons of literature, to secure and celebrate the best writing; and the desire to contain all forms of human knowledge - to keep all the books. In its custody of books and the words they contain, the library has confronted and tamed technology, the forces of change and the power of princes time and again.
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Matthew Battles works at the Houghton Library, the rare books library at Harvard University, and is a contributor to Harper's. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.From Publishers Weekly:
Battles, a contributor to Harper's and a Harvard librarian, offers a distinguished portrait of the library, its endurance and destruction throughout history, and traces how the library's meaning was questioned or altered according to the climate of the time. In accessible prose, Battles recounts the building and burning that have marked the library's long history. The Vatican Library built by Pope Nicholas V set the standard during the Renaissance, and the one built by the Jews in the Vilna ghetto during WWII showed the importance of books to a community under siege. Meanwhile, the mythic third-century B.C. book burnings by Chinese emperor Shi Huangdi were an effort to erase history, as was the catastrophic destruction of millions of books by the Nazis in the spring of 1933. Dynamic characters lend this history a novelistic tone: Julius Caesar began the library movement in Rome; Antonio Panizzi, an Italian revolutionary and exile, turned the library of the British Museum into one of the world's greatest in the 19th century; more recently, Nikola Koljevic, a scholar turned Serb nationalist, directed the siege of Sarajevo that led to a book burning at the Bosnian National and University Library. Battles also enlightens readers regarding the evolution of bookmaking, the card catalogue and the role of the librarian, including the most famous of all, Melvil Dewey, whose decimal system was only a small part of his influence. This always compelling history illustrates Battles's theme: despite the rule of barbarians or megalomaniacal kings, angry mobs and natural disasters, people's hunger for books has ensured the library's survival. 11 illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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