Customer Review

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Second Installment Of A Classic, 7 Nov. 2002
This review is from: Patience and Fortitude (Hardcover)
As he did with the first volume, "A Gentle Madness", Nicholas Basbanes has written a book for a very wide audience. "Patience And Fortitude", goes well beyond any confines that would limit the work to readers interested only in the smallest of details that would be of importance to only the most addicted of bibliophiles. This is a history book, a political science book, a work that discusses education, and a book that addresses the importance of libraries, whether it is the matter in which they are constructed or how political groups attempt to influence History. It is also about the future of books and in some cases the wholesale destruction of publicly owned library inventory and their contents.

There is also good news, for the moment The United States still has more libraries than we do McDonalds. Such may not always be the case if some of those responsible for the care of our written history are not carefully watched. The most notorious example of destruction came about in San Francisco during the transition from the old library to the new. There is no question that a library may choose to have a limited number of copies of a given book, but having the department of sanitation collect and then dump tens of thousands of volumes in to the city landfill should be criminal. There is never a shortage of interest in books. When the disposal of books became known, books that had been marked for destruction were offered to the public gratis. One woman came home with over 1200 books.

The construction of The National Libraries of England, France, and an attempt to create a new Alexandria library are also covered in great detail. England's new facility may not be a visual treat but as a repository for books, there care and distribution it works. The National Library of France would be funny were it not also ridiculous. Vertical libraries don't work very well and the new French facility has not one but four towers. Dozens of steps must be climbed to reach a common area for the towers, but if you wish to enter you must travel back down another set of stairs to gain access. The towers are made of glass. If there is anything that will guaranty the destruction of books it is sunlight. The French facility was a political project that just happened to involve books. Built as yet another architectural monument to a former president it fails from the selection of the location right through to its layout and high tech book management system that has even locked employees out of the building. A recent novel by W. G. Sebald, "Austerlitz", took the time to harpoon this facility in great detail.

The story of a new library in Alexandria, which is scheduled to open soon, is quite sad. Once the site of one of if not the greatest library in history, the new facility is wonderful but it lacks a key ingredient, books. This may sound like sarcasm but the massive core catalogue that any good library needs much less a great library can no longer be assembled. There are very finite numbers of classical rare books, and other facilities are not about to give them up.

Libraries are also critical to the success of any college or university. The author spends a good deal of time discussing the top collegiate libraries in the nation, the difficulties they face with their expanding stock, and how they deal with it. Mr. Basbanes also highlights an insidious political practice as well. UCLA was offered a 1 million dollar grant from the Turkish Government to establish a chair in Ottoman Studies, but it came with the following prohibition, no scholars would be given access to any material, "that might document the Armenian Massacres of 1915". After having taken a quarter of a million dollars from the Turkish Government UCLA was bombarded with protests and the money was returned. In Turkey education and History may be artificially and selectively constructed and taught, but in this instance at least a library in The United States took the correct path. That it had to be pushed by protests is unfortunate but not as unfortunate as the US Congress that dropped a resolution in the fall of 2000 at the request of a lame-duck president not to pass a resolution condemning Turkey for Genocide in 1915. This is not the only example of gifts with strings attached, but when compared to a string that requests a library be named after the donor of funds, it certainly is the most repugnant.

This book will take you around the world to libraries that have functioned for hundreds of years. You will visit monasteries whose collections are one of a kind and are literally irreplaceable. Mr. Basbanes also continues to introduce collectors of books as well as the creators of books from small presses staffed by true artisans. One of the book's highlights is the section dealing with the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible recently produced by the gifted Barry Moser. This work is the first completely illustrated Bible that has been produced for hundreds of years, and the story of its creation is remarkable.
Two volumes complete and one more yet to come. Mr. Basbanes has and continues to create a body of work that will become a standard not only for those who love books, but those who enjoy the history they represent and record.
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