Despite this staggering range, the authors manage never to seem in a rush, or to skimp on incidental detail ... Holding it all together is a keen eye for stories of individual lives that are representative of something larger ... The authors convincingly present this development as part of a trend: even as libraries democratize the luxury of reading, successive generations of social elites fight a rear-guard action to retain control over access to knowledge ... One striking lesson to be learnt here is that many creators of libraries fail to come out of their travails looking terribly virtuous. The collector’s impulse can become an addiction ... Pettegree and der Weduwen’s sweeping history records the lofty highs of human culture, but just as memorable are the grubby lows of human nature.
This is an outstanding book. A history of libraries from the ancient world to yesterday, it is fetchingly produced and scrupulously researched—a perfect gift for bibliophiles everywhere ... its scope is phenomenal.
This fascinating if dense book aims to be a world history, yet the focus is mainly European and American; forays into other regions tend to consider colonial influences above the local practices. Despite this weakness, the book has important criticism of bad practices in libraries and their institutions (e.g., the American Library Association), which provides necessary modern context, as many of the struggles around the role of politics in libraries are ongoing ... This is sure to be a new addition to library and information school curricula and will be fascinating for all bibliophiles and people who want libraries to survive and improve.