Library: An Unquiet History, by Matthew Battles
W. W. Norton, 039325644, 245 pp. (incl. notes on sources and index), 2003
Unquiet indeed! This little book touches upon everything from the fires of Alexandria to the book burnings of the Nazis, bargains with devils to the ghosts of literature, the purpose of libraries of the past, the present and what they may be in the future. However, as Battles states from the start, a comprehensive history of libraries throughout the ages could fill countless volumes; instead he offers a fascinating and varied history. From ancient scrolls to the Dewey decimal system Battles flits through the history of books and libraries with ease and grace.
Battles views the librarian as a modern Prometheus who is overwrought with pity and whose boon ‘ultimately inspires another emotion, hubris, in the hears of human beings’, to him, the flaws of the Titan are mirrored in the librarian who harbours ‘pity for the low station of the reader, and hubris for the possibilities the library offers for the reformation of culture and society’.1 Lofty ideals, but the stories of Thomas Bentley William Temple, Johnathan Swift, Melvil Dewey and countless others whose passion for books and their distribution have helped shape how we think of literature and libraries today.
An easy and entertaining read, and for the uninitiated, library and book-specific terminology is inserted inconspicuously into the body of the text. Highly recommended for those interested in the subject matter.Footnotes:
- pg 120 [↩]