Burning the Books

A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge

Hardcover, 320 pages

English language

Published Jan. 5, 2020 by Harvard University Press.

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4 stars (3 reviews)

The director of the famed Bodleian Libraries at Oxford narrates the global history of the willful destruction -- and surprising survival -- of recorded knowledge over the past three millennia. Libraries and archives have been attacked since ancient times but have been especially threatened in the modern era. Today the knowledge they safeguard faces purposeful destruction and willful neglect; deprived of funding, libraries are fighting for their very existence. Burning the Books recounts the history that brought us to this point. Richard Ovenden describes the deliberate destruction of knowledge held in libraries and archives from ancient Alexandria to contemporary Sarajevo, from smashed Assyrian tablets in Iraq to the destroyed immigration documents of the United Kingdom's Windrush generation. He examines both the motivations for these acts -- political, religious, and cultural -- and the broader themes that shape this history. He also looks at attempts to prevent and mitigate attacks on …

5 editions

A good dad book about a mammoth issue

3 stars

Which is to say, wow this book is cramming too much into too little space, and wow is it ever a white western perspective on it all. I suspect folks who are not book historians, librarians, or archivists might enjoy this book more than I did or my book club. There are some great parts about the ways in which knowledge gets destroyed (John Leland and the English Reformation!! YIVO and the Holocaust!!). But, see above re a very western perspective on all of this. (Apologies to all the dads out there who deserve a better book on the topic.)

Review of 'Burning the Books' on 'Goodreads'

3 stars

Quick impressions: The book is arranged into 15 chapters. Each chapter is a case study illustrating the deliberate destruction of knowledge and information. However, it is not just destruction. The book also presents stories of librarians, archivists, and other ordinary people working to save knowledge, often at great risk to their lives. Each chapter can stand alone as an essay. The chapters together give a picture from ancient times to the modern day.

(Full review on my blog)

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5 stars