This is a book written by a bibliophile for other bibliophiles. Rather than a straightforward history of libraries in Western culture it is rather a series of essays looking at the meanings associated with books, libraries and the pursuit of knowledge. The essays tend to have one or two major historical people or events that are discussed in relation to his ideas. Some of these examples fit better than others and towards the second half these seem to be a bit haphazard. But I learned a lot from these examples, from the destruction of the Aztec's books by the Spanish, to the life of Abi Warburg, (who I learnt spent 4 years in an insane asylum after his library was opened to scholars). In addition to the standard early history of libraries, library classification and architecture he also looks at censorship, book burning and the destruction of libraries and cultures.
The book is full of interesting and useful information but there were a couple of times where it was felt that he was missing the point. He came across as very critical of digitisation and the use of the Internet and digital libraries. He seemed to misunderstand their purpose a bit. When talking about his personal library he talked about how it was great that books could be related to each other and how reading a part of one would give him an idea to follow in another. Clearly this type of idea is one of the main reasons behind digitisation and the use of hypertext and the Internet, where it is much easier to relate ideas to each other than in the printed page. He also mentioned the Dunhuang manuscripts, but failed to appreciate their significance, he thought of them as a haphazard collection, collected by Stein, "change brought them together" rather than looking at the contents of the library as a whole, which were very specifically selected and sealed up together. A very specific library in a specific time and place that can teach us a great deal about not only the social history of the time, but also the intellectual and economic history. It is not "the stammering chronicle of a lost civilisation" (174).
The book is also full of gorgeous illustrations of libraries and books. My personal favourite though was the Biblioburo, because it was such a funny image.
In all it was an interesting and insightful read. It had its flaws, and I have to say it was a little overtly personal at times, going on about his own library a bit too much, but even those times just gave the impression that it was written by someone who was clearly obsessed with books and knowledge. Something which I can very much appreciate....Continua
The starting point is a question. Outside theology and fantastic literature, few can doubt that the main features of our universe are its dearth of meaning and lack of discernible purpose. And yet, with bewildering optimism, we continue to assemble whatever scraps of information we can gather in scrolls and books and computer chips, on shelf after library shelf, whether material, virtual or otherwise, pathetically intent on lending the world a semblance of sense and order, while knowing perfectly well that, however much we’d like to believe the contrary, our pursuits are sadly doomed to failure.
Why then do we do it? Though I knew from the start that the question would most likely remain unanswered, the quest seemed worthwhile for its own sake. This book is the story of that quest....Continua