Library: An Unquiet History Hardcover – 6 Jun 2003
Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed
Enter your mobile number below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
"Fascinating... Eloquently written and genuinely enlightening, Battles's book is a telling testimony to the way libraries can transform lives" (Sunday Herald)
"Performs a valuable service by blowing the dust off our stodgy, conventional conception of the library to reveal the living heart of cultures that beats beneath its stone facade" (Los Angeles Times)
"An erudite, companionable, joyful book... Thrilling" (Spectator)
"Matthew Battles touches on almost all the important subjects, through fascinating stories... The book is full of all sorts of treasures" (Times Literary Supplement) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
A history of the library that speaks volumes. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?
Top Customer Reviews
An excellent study which will delight all those who appreciate books. And the next time we enter a library, we should keep in mind that "readers read books; librarians read readers"!
A Harvard rare books librarian himself, Battles reveals the ancient drive to posess and catalogue books, the excesses and eccentricties of bibliophiles and the dramas betwen the stacks. The library is a stage on which great men (sadly, few women, although the great Harvard library was itself endowed by one) from Constantine to Dean Swift, from Gibbon to Hitler all play their part. Here is a history of greed, venality violence, obsession and love. It is a book I should love to have written.
For a book about collecting it is also a delightfully presented volume. Read it and your shelf life will never be the same.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There is more to libraries than their destructions, of course, and more to Battles's book. It is full of well-written and surprising paragraphs, brimming with erudition, and part of its attractiveness is that he has not stuck to any structural plan. This is not an attempt at a comprehensive history of libraries, but it does take into account a lot of history. "By bringing books together in one place, cultures and kings inevitably make of them a sacrifice to time." Though the destructions of libraries by Shi Huangdi (who started the Great Wall of China), through the Nazis and into Sarajevo are necessary subjects here, the grimness is lightened by portraits of eminent librarians. For instance, cataloging by means of the famous Dewey Decimal System was invented by Melville Dewey, born in 1851; he was a spelling reformer and changed his name to Melvil. The seventeen-year-old Dewey inhaled a great deal of smoke as he rescued books from the flames when his school caught fire, and the subsequent cough led doctors to predict his death within two years. This taught him he had no time to lose, and though he lived to be eighty, he was always a genius for efficiency. He did not invent the card catalogue; it is a surprise to find that Edward Gibbon did so, putting his library's inventory onto playing cards. But Dewey standardized the catalog, as he did much other library furniture and gadgets such as date stamps. He also pioneered the systematic education of librarians and helped found the American Library Association.
Battles traces the constant conflict about what libraries should contain; some say they must include everything, others say they should include only the best of everything. The arguments on the issue have been spirited, especially when joined by Jonathan Swift, frequently cited here, who insisted not only on the best contents for libraries, but concentration on just the classics. He would have been dismayed by our popularization of libraries. Surely, however, he would have found the modern library a wonderful place to pick out the odd fact, or to wonder at the oddities (lovable or not) of humanity; readers will find _Library_ quite good for this, too.
One of the more disquieting themes concerns the library as a target, both in wartime and in peace. The enemy, too often, has not been the Nazis or other enemies of thought; many times it has been someone who at first glance, would be assumed to be a friend of intellectual freedom, but in reality was seeking to contain and control it. It was disheartening to read of the destruction of truly irreplacable collections through the ages; yet the ultimate message, despite continuing challenges, seems to be one of the ultimate triumph of the book as a vessel for ideas and the library as a sanctuary for them.
Battles works at the rare book library at Harvard, and his passion for books and the life of the mind is evident throughout this well-written volume. A most worthwhile and stimulating read!
Battles views the librarian as a modern Prometheus who is overwrought with pity and whose boon `ultimately inspires another emotion, hubris, in the hears of human beings', to him, the flaws of the Titan are mirrored in the librarian who harbours `pity for the low station of the reader, and hubris for the possibilities the library offers for the reformation of culture and society' (pg 120). Lofty ideals, but the stories of Thomas Bentley William Temple, Johnathan Swift, Melvil Dewey and countless others whose passion for books and their distribution have helped shape how we think of literature and libraries today.
An easy and entertaining read, and for the uninitiated, library and book-specific terminology is inserted inconspicuously into the body of the text. Highly recommended for those interested in the subject matter.
One complaint is that the first chapter does not belong to the book. It is an incoherent collage of trivia. One should read it at the end. It is unfortunate that the beginning chapter of the book induces such distaste that I almost gave up on the book. Surprisingly, from chapter two on, it picks up and becomes an excellent read.