Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack (Paperback)Richard Ovenden (author)
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From the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria to the Windrush papers, Burning the Books charts the extraordinary history of hostility towards knowledge, and of those who have fought to preserve it.
Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2021
A BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week
Opening with the notorious bonfires of 'un-German' and Jewish literature in 1933 that offered such a clear signal of Nazi intentions, Burning the Books takes us on a 3000-year journey through the destruction of knowledge and the fight against all the odds to preserve it.
Richard Ovenden, director of the world-famous Bodleian Library, explains how attacks on libraries and archives have been a feature of history since ancient times but have increased in frequency and intensity during the modern era. Libraries are far more than stores of literature, through preserving the legal documents such as Magna Carta and records of citizenship, they also support the rule of law and the rights of citizens. Today, the knowledge they hold on behalf of society is under attack as never before. In this fascinating book, he explores everything from what really happened to the Great Library of Alexandria to the Windrush papers, from Donald Trump's deleting embarrassing tweets to John Murray's burning of Byron's memoirs in the name of censorship.
At once a powerful history of civilisation and a manifesto for the vital importance of physical libraries in our increasingly digital age, Burning the Books is also a very human story animated by an unlikely cast of adventurers, self-taught archaeologists, poets, freedom-fighters -- and, of course, librarians and the heroic lengths they will go to preserve and rescue knowledge, ensuring that civilisation survives. From the rediscovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the desert, hidden from the Romans and lost for almost 2000 years to the medieval manuscript that inspired William Morris, the knowledge of the past still has so many valuable lessons to teach us and we ignore it at our peril.
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Number of pages: 320
Weight: 260 g
Dimensions: 198 x 128 x 26 mm
'A magnificent book - timely, vital and full of the most incredible tales, a manifesto for our humanity and its archives' - Philippe Sands
'A galvanising manifesto for the importance of physical libraries in our increasingly digital age' - The Bookseller
'Passionate and illuminating... this splendid book reveals how, in today's world of fake news and alternative facts, libraries stand defiant as guardians of truth.' - Gerard deGroot, The Times
'"Dangerous souvenirs" is what Richard Ovenden calls the books salvaged by ex-monks under the nose of Henry VIII. Now as then, books need friends. This fascinating book will help to find them.' - Alan Bennett
'If there's anyone you might want to read your love letters after your death, it's Richard Ovenden; as Burning the Books reveals on every page, not only is he careful, diligent and wise, he also knows what to leave out and what to keep in and it's this quality that, above all, makes his book so remarkable. Francis Bacon described the creation of the Bodleian in the 1590s as 'an ark to save learning from the deluge' -- the deluge in question being the Reformation. Ovenden's ark, also written at a time of huge political and economic strife, attempts to save the concept of the library itself...something it achieves not through polemic but by telling stories. Rich, meticulous and impressive... Its sweep is quite astonishing.' - Rachel Cooke, The Observer
'Intriguing...Unforgettable' - Christopher Hart, The Sunday Times
'Both timely and authoritative...The subject of archives and libraries is one of permanent importance in the understanding a nation has of itself, and touches not only high politics but also life-and-death drama. I can think of no-one better qualified to write about it than Richard Ovenden. I enjoyed Burning the Books immensely.' - Philip Pullman
'Burning the Books is fascinating, thought-provoking and very timely. No one should keep quiet about this library history.' - Ian Hislop
'A stark and important warning about the value of knowledge and the dangers that come from the destruction of books. Vital reading for this day and age.' - Peter Frankopan
'Like an epic film-maker, Richard Ovenden unfolds vivid scenes from three millennia of turbulent history, to mount passionate arguments for the need to preserve the records of the past - and of the present. This urgent, lucid book calls out to us all to recognise and defend one of our most precious public goods - libraries and archives.' - Marina Warner
'Engaging and timely ... Ovenden stays true to his calling, reminding us that libraries and librarians are the keepers of humankind's memories: without them, we don't know who we are' - Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian
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As an avid library user, I realised that I had taken the existence of books and libraries for granted. This book covers a vast expanse of history from the clay tablets at Nimrod to the digital landscape of the... More
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