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The Library at Night [Hardcover]

Alberto Manguel
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 April 2008
Inspired by the process of creating a library for his fifteenth-century home near the Loire in France, Alberto Manguel, the acclaimed writer on books and reading, has taken up the subject of libraries. 'Libraries', he says, 'have always seemed to me pleasantly mad places, and for as long as I can remember I've been seduced by their labyrinthine logic'. In this personal, deliberately unsystematic, and wide-ranging book, he offers a captivating meditation on the meaning of libraries. Manguel, a guide of irrepressible enthusiasm, conducts a unique library tour that extends from his childhood bookshelves to the 'complete' libraries of the Internet, from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Arab world, from China and Rome to Google. He ponders the doomed library of Alexandria as well as the personal libraries of Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. He recounts stories of people who have struggled against tyranny to preserve freedom of thought - the Polish librarian who smuggled books to safety as the Nazis began their destruction of Jewish libraries; the Afghani bookseller who kept his store open through decades of unrest. Oral 'memory libraries' kept alive by prisoners, libraries of banned books, the imaginary library of Count Dracula, the library of books never written - Manguel illuminates the mysteries of libraries as no other writer could. With scores of wonderful images throughout, The Library at Night is a fascinating voyage through Manguel's mind, memory, and vast knowledge of books and civilizations.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (15 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300139144
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300139143
  • Product Dimensions: 2.9 x 15.2 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 314,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"I dream of Manguel's library...he includes lists of lost canons and books never written... Dreamy." -- Vera Rule, Guardian, 16th May 2009

"At once learned and delightful ... The Library at Night is my book of year and will remain an all-time favourite."
-- Isabel Quigly, Tablet, December 6, 2008

"The Library at Night is a beautifully written set of musings on libraries, a book to savour." -- Philip Spinks, Guardian, December 27, 2008

'... a celebration of, or warning concerning, the plenitude and power of books. That is the achievement of the Library at Night.' -- Peter Ackroyd, The Times, May 10, 2008

'Books jump out of their jackets when Manguel opens them... [He is] a master of bibliographical revels.'
-- The Observer, 27th April 2008

'Hauntingly beautiful... a total joy."
-- Richard Edmonds, The Birmingham Post, June 7, 2008

'Manguel writes as a true bibliophile... His own book is ruminative and absorbing - a pleasure to read.' -- Andrew Mead, Architects Journal, May 22, 2008

'Manguel's book is a confession of his love of books, from encyclopaedias to Dracula... He confides a lovely hope.' -- Steven Poole, The Guardian, June 14 2008

'Manguel... reminds the reader of what a library can mean ... [this is] a book of curious, fascinating nooks and crannies.' -- Hugh MacDonald, The Herald, April 26, 2008

'[A] rich and delightful book.'
-- Allan Massie, Literary Review, May 2008


"...research of the architecture of libraries sits easily alongside his personal love...and his mesmeric prose does his subject justice." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every possible thought about libraries 15 Jun 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Library At Night is perfect reading for those who enjoy "books about books", or books about the pleasure of reading. After his excellent A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel has now presented us with what is effectively a history of libraries in The Library At Night and the effect is equally as satisfying.

Perhaps "history" is not quite the right word, for in his 15 chapters, Manguel writes of not only the history of libraries, but also the impact and meaning of libraries through the centuries.

Everything is covered here, from the history of the great library of Alexandria to the development of the most modern libraries such as the British Library or the library of the Freie Universität Berlin. The book considers location, cataloguing systems, themes, and great librarians (Gottfreid Leibnitz of Hanover, Andrew Carnegie who created over 2500 libraries, Aby Warburg of Hamburg and many others). But the book is far more than history, containing many digressions on the nature of literature itself, and the process of reading.

At times the book has an almost magical or mystical feel to it. Manguel has created a library of his own in the Loire Valley, and indeed the title of the book, The Library at Night is derived from his feeling that,

". . .at night the atmosphere changes. Sounds become muffled, thoughts become louder . . . time seems closer to that moment halfway between wakefulness and sleep . . . the books become the real presence and it is I, their reader, who, through cabbalistic rituals of half-glimpsed letters, am summoned up and lured to a certain volume and a certain page".
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bibliophile's delight. 29 Dec 2009
If you really love books and are buried in books (like I am here at home) this book will make you envious at the author's superbly housed library. He takes you on a labyrinthine tour of some wonderful and obscure tomes that he has collected and cherished over the years. His enthusiasm for reading is infectious and it's good to hear someone give voice to the pure sensuousness that can be got from a decent book. Yes, we probably are a dying breed. You can stuff your Kindles. Whoops, sorry Amazon!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful book about books ... 4 Jan 2010
By David
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Manguel has written a book whose writing and 'bookness' reflect the baroque sophistication and maturity of the medium. If writing style is one example of Heideggerian 'being in the world', Manguel models what it is to be fully alive both in history and in the present, firing on all synapses and infatuated with the physicality of 'the book'. As the web takes over the ethereality of 'content', the materiality of 'the book' (the smell of the ink, the crisp dryness of the paper, its resistance to our fingers as we turn the page, the abstraction of the shapes of the typographer's choice of type) becomes more exciting and primal. Manguel understands this and revels in it. The breadth of his cultural references could hardly be wider but is never pretentious. He carries his erudition and self-consciousness lightly so we don't feel intimidated or belittled by him. His position on the world wide web is one of the most best I have ever read: 'If the Library of Alexandria was the emblem of our ambition of omniscience, the Web is the emblem of our ambition of omnipresence; the library that contained everything has become the library that contains anything. Alexandria modestly saw itself as the centre of a circle bound by the knowable world; the Web, like the definition of God first imagined in the twelfth century, sees itself as a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere' (p. 322). Manguel (like anyone who buys their books through it, or writes/reads book reviews on it!) is not 'against' the Web - he simply has reservations about it (in comparison with physical books or 'codexes') and suggests that it is helping create a way of thinking and social organization that is perhaps (by comparison) not as good. Clearly this view or this book is not for the many, but he is not a snob or an elitist. Let those from any culture - the breadth of his examples is dazzling - simply buy, read and enjoy this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Homage to the Library. 1 Sep 2009
Simply brilliant in so many ways, not only is this book an introduction to the world of quiet calm, but it also brings the reader into the "private reading space" that is often looked for, and found in libraries.
This is obviously a subject close to the author's heart, and hence meticulously researched. There are many surprises found on these pages, to be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in, or just plain love of books. For example it may not be common knowledge that "the oldest known printed book in the world" is the Diamond Sutra, bought from a Daoist monk, and now in the British Museum.
Or, one might enjoy reading about Melvil Dewey, who began the decimal system now commonly used in the categorising of library books.
A personal favourite of all of the snippets in this book, might have to be that of the new Library of Alexandria in Egypt, "whose first stone was laid in 1988"...."the completed building inaugurated in 2003."
There are too many points of interest to mention here, but suffice it to say, this book is stuffed with gems.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond the national library of any nation lies a library greater than...
The Library at Night is a book by one of my favourite readers, a man who has made a career writing about us and our obsession, in the process creating a series of books that... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Lush book on a dry topic
A tad over-written for my taste, this - the rather too pleased-with-itself title should perhaps have alerted me. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Simon Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book To Share WIth Readers
Avid readers love books. Of course they do! And if they love books, there is something about going into a room full of books that evokes feelings of being surrounded by so much... Read more
Published on 13 Aug 2010 by Sir Furboy
5.0 out of 5 stars If you love books you must buy this!
This book, like the libraries Alberto describes, is enchanting, inspiring and heartbreaking. Alberto writes superb prose and provides a stunning defence for the power of the... Read more
Published on 1 May 2010 by Simon
5.0 out of 5 stars The pleasure of learning
There are books designed for learning and there are books designed to give you a pleasant reading experience. Read more
Published on 4 April 2009 by Carlos A. Augusto
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull and Lacking in Charm
Having been spellbound by A History of Reading, his fascinating and wide-ranging account of how reading has been part of life through the ages, I was pleased to find another work... Read more
Published on 15 Aug 2008 by bluecougar25
4.0 out of 5 stars The scream of a dying star
Alberto Manguel's The Library At Night is a curious confection: ostensibly a love letter to bookishness, it rejoices in collections of books and their owners through many prisms;... Read more
Published on 1 July 2008 by Olly Buxton
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