Libraries preserve the knowledge and ideas on which rights depend; no wonder they are so often attacked. Richard Ovenden tells the history of this deliberate destruction of knowledge — from library burnings to digital attacks and contemporary underfunding — and makes a passionate plea for the importance of these threatened institutions.
... eminently readable ... Despite its title, Burning the Books is concerned as much with the building and maintaining of libraries as with their annihilation. It is essential reading for anyone concerned with libraries and what Mr. Ovenden outlines as their role in 'the support of democracy, the rule of law and open society.' He takes care to emphasize the remarkable resiliency with which libraries can be revived after their looting and destruction in times of war or revolution, often with added safeguards and renewed sense of purpose.
... a deeply engaging and timely 'history of knowledge under attack'... detailing specific episodes rather than attempting a comprehensive history, charting the apparently never-ending threat to the recorded past. He dissects the methods and motives of those who have sought to burn, bury or delete the texts through which the story of the human race – its wanderings, discoveries and longings – has been documented. But he is careful to lavish special attention, the admiration of a kindred spirit, on those who stood in the way ... The sound of a warning vibrates through this book. Ovenden sets us straight about the great library of Alexandria: it was not destroyed by fire, but rather neglect. He calls it a 'cautionary tale of the danger of creeping decline, through the underfunding, low prioritisation and general disregard for the institutions that preserve and share knowledge'.
... 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, above all, that makes his book so remarkable. Its sweep is quite astonishing and yet, amazingly, his narrative runs to just 320 pages ... Ovenden’s somewhat more diminutive 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 – though his book comes with a handy, cut-out-and-keep five-point plea for their continued existence – but by telling stories.