This is Not the End of the Book: A Conversation Curated by Jean-Philippe De Tonnac Hardcover – 5 May 2011
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A storming book. The next best thing to sitting in Umberto Eco's living room after dinner; a dream collection of lucid and fascinating discussions (Nick Harkaway)
Hurrah for philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco and playwright and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, who have come together to praise the medium... Fans of Eco and Carrière will be charmed (Time Out)
As the conversation blossoms, the pair wander blissfully off topic into wider philosophical speculation about the nature of culture, for instance or humanity's curious relationship with past, present and future. And along the way there are plenty of pleasant diversions and anecdotes, taking in such diverse subject matter as Italian cinema forgotten French baroque poets, and the place of philosophy in contemporary European education systems. All this, naturally, informed by their love of books (TLS)
The dialogue between these two superbrains is freakishly compelling and covers everything from papyrus scrolls to e-readers... never fails to be enlightening and engaging... hooray for this brilliant book (Dazed & Confused)
This book is a reminder that the satisfaction of working through even a relatively short book comes in part through confronting digressions, dead ends and distractions: the hallmark of conversation between friends, not of Internet speed-reading (Wall Street Journal)
The perfect gift for book lovers: a beautifully designed hardcover in which two of the world's great men have a delightfully rambling conversation about the future of the book in the digital era, and decide it is here to stay.See all Product description
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And now to the review proper which comprise:information about the authors;what the book is primarily not about;what the book is, that is its nature and content;what is the basis for anticipating that the book would be a treat to the bibliophile reader.
Umberto Eco is professor of Semiology, medievalist, theorist, and novelist;Jean-Claude Carriere is a writer, playwright and screenwriter. In the body of the book I learned that he studied history. Intrigued by the fact that he co-authored with Guy Bechtel in the sixties a dictionary of stupidity (Dictionnaire de la betise - since reprinted several times) whom he met in the preparation classes for the Ecole Normale Superieure, I made a Google search and found that he is indeed an alumnus of this prestigious school.
The book is not primarily about a potential threat posed the book by our digitised age because as the authors readily acknowledge the future is unpredictable. The book focuses on the nature of the book itself and as such predominantly on our non digitised past.
To state that every book published to-day is a post-incunabulum is a truism given that 'incunabula' are all the books published between the invention of movable press in mid-fifteenth century and the night of 31st December 1500. The Latin word 'incunabula' refers to the 'cradle' of the history of the printed book. The Gutenberg bible was printed between 1452 and 1455. Umberto Eco possesses about thirty 'incunabula', though they include what are considered the 'essentials'. For instance, the 'Hypnerotomachia Poliphili', the 'Nuremberg Chronicle', Ficino's translation of the 'Corpus Hermeticum', the 'Arbor Vitae Crucifixae Jesu Christi' by Umbertino Da Casale (who became one of the characters in his 'Name of the Rose', and so on. His collection is very focused. It is a 'Bibliotheca Semiologica Curiosa Lunatica Magica et Pneumatica', or 'a collection dedicated to the occult and mistaken sciences'. For instance, he has Ptolemy, who was wrong about the movement of the Earth, but not Galileo, who was right.
The reader can trace in the body of the book the circumstances which prompted Jean-Claude Carriere to write his Dictionary of stupidity. In the ensuing I shall only cite a couple of gems I encountered in the chapter 'In praise of stupidity':We are never far from saying something idiotic - as we can see from this comment by Chateaubriand, of all people, talking about Napoleon, whom he did not much like:'He is a great winner of battles, but apart from that, any old general is more capable' or the truly inimitable:During the Restoration, the ultra-conservative Archbishop de Quelen declared from the pulpit of Notre-Dame to an audience of French aristocrats newly returned from abroad, 'Not only was Jesus Christ the son of God, he was of excellent stock on his mother's side.'
Fire has a special place amongst the worst censors in book history.
The Nazi bonfires were intended to destroy 'degenerate' books;naturally in an age of printing it is not possible to destroy all copies, consequently in such an era this act has the character of symbolism.
The Spanish in the New World were actually worse book-destroyers than the Nazis. They systematically destroyed Amerindian pictographs thus depriving us from a deeper insight into their culture.
Thedosious I decreed in 380 that the Christian religion was the single official state religion and in the process there was a systematic destruction of hieroglyphics. It took fourteen centuries to rediscover the key to that language.
But there are recent examples such as the destruction of the Baghdad Library in 2003.
The crusaders destroyed about three million books during their stay in the Holy Land.
Queen Isabel of Castile's advisor Cardinal Jimenez de Cisnera ordered the burning of all books found in Granada in the fifteenth century;half of the Sufi poems of the era burned at that time.
Both authors approach eighty and reveal on the fate of their huge collection of books after their death.
Umberto Eco owns 50,000 books of which 1,200 are rare titles. His wish is for his collection to be acquired by a single owner such as a University;it might be of interest to mention that his best selling book 'The Name of the Rose' was translated in 45 languages.
Jean-Claude Carriere owns 30,000 - 40,000 books of which 2,000 are ancient. He does not aspire to a single owner after his death and the fate of his library will be decided by his wife and daughter who will inherit it.
The erudition, breadth of vision, sophistication, and wit of the authors rendered the book a joy to read.
In his Preface to this edition, de Tonnac notes that Eco and Carriere did not intend to make "emphatic pronouncements about the effects of the widespread (or otherwise) adoption of the electronic book" but, rather, that they wanted to discuss the nature of the book itself. Both Eco and Carriere are collectors of rare and antiquarian books (owning roughly 50,000 and 30,000 to 40,000 volumes respectively) and it is their thesis that the book represents a sort of "unsurpassable perfection in the realm of the imagination".
In order to flesh out this argument, they consider what exactly is a book (does the invention of the book date from the first codices in the 11th century or from more ancient papyrus scrolls?) and what could potentially be lost and gained during the next evolution in people's reading habits. Eco and Carriere also consider in fascinating detail the kind of mirror that books provide of the societies in which they were written and of the role of taste (or trend or even ideology) in decisions as to which books society deems worthy of preservation. How can it be determined that the books that have survived are a true reflection of what human creativity has produced? This question leads on to the topic of book burning - both intentional and accidental - and so of loss and censorship.
While these `bigger issues' are incredibly insightful and thought-provoking, This is Not the End of the Book is also particularly interesting for the light that it shines on the life of collectors. Eco and Carriere discuss the thrill of the hunt for a rare volume and of the true value of the books they love and would love to own. The scope of their collections is enormous and the subject matter delightfully idiosyncratic: Umberto Eco's collecting passion is for books on human error and fallacies, Jean-Claude Carriere is just as enthusiastic on the topic of stupidity. And then there's the thorny issue of what should happen to their libraries after their deaths (Eco would prefer his collection to remain in a single library while Carriere is happy for his heirs to sell off volume by volume).
This is Not the End of the Book is a real book-lovers' book. Reading it really is like eavesdropping on a delightfully bookish conversation between two great minds. Like any good conversation, this one does ramble a bit and there are perhaps a few questionable pronouncements but it is still a fascinating and largely persuasive read. This is Not the End of the Book is heartening exploration of the nature of the book and it the importance of books to society and posterity. Despite all this, I still hope that I never encounter the word "incunabulum" again: does this make me a simpleton, an idiot or a fool?
Carriere and Eco look at the book today from (almost) every point of view: past (incunabula), present (the book in the age of IT) and future (the survival of parchment before all else). They wear a weight of learning with a wholly agreeable lightness of being. I wanted to join in, actually: 'Signor Dottore Eco, don't we like books better than Kindles because they *smell* better?', on which not-wholly-facetious matter I would expect some amusing reactions. But then, since the authentic book is not 'interactive', my question must remain hanging ... This is ideal for the thinking man or woman's holiday, to read on the terrace, in a hammock, by the pool, early in the evening with (and yes, I hazard the cliche) une bouteille de rose to hand. Grazie mille, merci bien, Umberto et Jean-Claude!