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The Library: A Fragile History

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Famed across the known world, jealously guarded by private collectors, built up over centuries, destroyed in a single day, ornamented with gold leaf and frescoes or filled with bean bags and children's drawings - the history of the library is rich, varied and stuffed full of incident. In this, the first major history of its kind, Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen expl Famed across the known world, jealously guarded by private collectors, built up over centuries, destroyed in a single day, ornamented with gold leaf and frescoes or filled with bean bags and children's drawings - the history of the library is rich, varied and stuffed full of incident. In this, the first major history of its kind, Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen explore the contested and dramatic history of the library, from the famous collections of the ancient world to the embattled public resources we cherish today. Along the way, they introduce us to the antiquarians and philanthropists who shaped the world's great collections, trace the rise and fall of fashions and tastes, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanours committed in pursuit of rare and valuable manuscripts.


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Famed across the known world, jealously guarded by private collectors, built up over centuries, destroyed in a single day, ornamented with gold leaf and frescoes or filled with bean bags and children's drawings - the history of the library is rich, varied and stuffed full of incident. In this, the first major history of its kind, Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen expl Famed across the known world, jealously guarded by private collectors, built up over centuries, destroyed in a single day, ornamented with gold leaf and frescoes or filled with bean bags and children's drawings - the history of the library is rich, varied and stuffed full of incident. In this, the first major history of its kind, Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen explore the contested and dramatic history of the library, from the famous collections of the ancient world to the embattled public resources we cherish today. Along the way, they introduce us to the antiquarians and philanthropists who shaped the world's great collections, trace the rise and fall of fashions and tastes, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanours committed in pursuit of rare and valuable manuscripts.

30 review for The Library: A Fragile History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    An exhaustive study of the “library” in all of its various forms in history, The Library: A Fragile History begins with a modern recreation of the library of Alexandria which tries to recapture some of the glory of that ancient site mentioned by early writers but completely lost to us. From there the book’s journey moves to early forms of texts on tablets, papyrus, leather, through history to the development of paper and printing. For libraries are inseparable from the written objects saved. Init An exhaustive study of the “library” in all of its various forms in history, The Library: A Fragile History begins with a modern recreation of the library of Alexandria which tries to recapture some of the glory of that ancient site mentioned by early writers but completely lost to us. From there the book’s journey moves to early forms of texts on tablets, papyrus, leather, through history to the development of paper and printing. For libraries are inseparable from the written objects saved. Initially, owning or perhaps even aspiring to having books was the world of rulers, of kings or princes, the very wealthy, perhaps traders. Others could not read and reading materials were beyond their knowledge. In fact, some of the wealthy wanted these early manuscripts or books as status markers for they couldn’t read either. Libraries were initially personal collections, often religious, in Western Europe written in Latin for centuries. This is not a cursory glance or an overview. It is a caring, in depth exploration into the history of collecting words on whatever material was used by human kind. And then how these collections of materials containing words were organized or managed, be it in a box, a trunk or, eventually a shelf or shelves or a room or a building. This book is a different approach to history. One caveat to consider whether this book is for you. The Library is intended for the reader who is interested in the minutiae of books and their history of collections, a reader who would enjoy learning of the details of collecting over the millennia and the people, collections and libraries involved. Much of the material is Euro-centric but does address early eastern Mediterranean cultures and history. And in more recent centuries, it discusses the vast outreach of European nations through colonialism. The book moves up to the advent of the 21st century and the new digital world. The book is fully footnoted, with a bibliography. A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gerhard

    'Anyone who wishes may join the community of book readers at any point in their lives, and they may equally leave or suspend their membership (a characteristic libraries share with organised religion).' Review to follow. 'Anyone who wishes may join the community of book readers at any point in their lives, and they may equally leave or suspend their membership (a characteristic libraries share with organised religion).' Review to follow.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Libraries will continue to exist as long as people use their resources. A thriving library is managed effectively by people who work to understand the needs of their community and develop their collections to meet those current needs and anticipate future needs. They are forward thinking. "In other words, libraries need to adapt to survive, as they have always adapted to survive, a feat very successfully accomplished in recent years in France, with its network of Médiathèques, albeit with a huge Libraries will continue to exist as long as people use their resources. A thriving library is managed effectively by people who work to understand the needs of their community and develop their collections to meet those current needs and anticipate future needs. They are forward thinking. "In other words, libraries need to adapt to survive, as they have always adapted to survive, a feat very successfully accomplished in recent years in France, with its network of Médiathèques, albeit with a huge commitment of public funds. University libraries, responding to student demand, are now social hubs as much as places of work, the cathedral silence that once characterized the library a thing of the past." Libraries are social spaces and offer community events that encourage people to engage with one another such as book and movie discussion groups, craft events, or experiences such as chick hatching. Some libraries have expanded services to include passport application processing, voter registration, and license plate renewal. In addition to loaning books, music and movies, some libraries have a library of things, which enable people to borrow items such as sewing machines or specialty tools, which they wouldn't ordinarily have access to. Talking of access, libraries offer free access to WiFi to everyone without having to make a purchase and they may have WiFi hotspots to checkout also. Some libraries even have recording studios, maker spaces, and community craft projects available to the public. There truly is something for everyone. The Library: A Fragile History is a comprehensive, yet accessible look at how libraries have evolved and adapted over time to become what they are today. "Why have libraries survived? Libraries are slow-thinking spaces away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sheree | Keeping Up With The Penguins

    Pettegree and der Weduwen’s focus is more on the ancient, medieval, and Renaissance history of the library, when it largely existed as personal collections of the wealthy and powerful. I’ll admit I skimmed some of those chapters, but if those eras of history make your heart sing, you’re in luck. The final chapters, with more recent history of the politics and progress of the library as a public institution, were of most interest to me. My full review of The Library is up now on Keeping Up With Th Pettegree and der Weduwen’s focus is more on the ancient, medieval, and Renaissance history of the library, when it largely existed as personal collections of the wealthy and powerful. I’ll admit I skimmed some of those chapters, but if those eras of history make your heart sing, you’re in luck. The final chapters, with more recent history of the politics and progress of the library as a public institution, were of most interest to me. My full review of The Library is up now on Keeping Up With The Penguins.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley In case you missed it, this week (the week of Sept 6, 2021) a man tweeted about how people virtue signal with large libraries and that you really shouldn’t own more than x number of books (or have x number of shelf space) and that he didn’t believe people read more than two books a week. Needless to say the vast amount of book lovers called him out - and then he accused them of bragging about the number of books they read and virtue signaling. Then accused them of n Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley In case you missed it, this week (the week of Sept 6, 2021) a man tweeted about how people virtue signal with large libraries and that you really shouldn’t own more than x number of books (or have x number of shelf space) and that he didn’t believe people read more than two books a week. Needless to say the vast amount of book lovers called him out - and then he accused them of bragging about the number of books they read and virtue signaling. Then accused them of not going to the library. Which is strange because most readers buy a lot of books and borrow from the library. Not to mention, in some areas, local libraries are either very small or very far away. Anyway, he doesn’t get libraries of any type really or readers for that matter. Lucky, we have books like this one by Pettegree and de Weduwen that not only get libraries, but also get readers and those who love libraries, be they personal or public. Pettegree and de Weduwen chronicle the raise of the personal if elitist library and then move to the advent of the public library. The bulk of the history on the library in the Western World, therefore mostly Europe and America (why is Canada always overlooked, I mean really, unless it is hockey or maple syrup). That said, the book is a pretty good overview. The coverage of the Medieval Period is well done, and includes women who developed personal libraries as well as men. They focus on the Dutch who owned personal libraries in the periods of the Renaissance and Reformation, and move into the modern era where they discuss not only the development of the public library, especially in regards to the Carnegie libraries. There is a particularly good section that discusses the rise in women readers as well as the popularity of romance novels. Considering how little respect the romance genre and romance readers do seem to get from various histories and commenters on books, it was a nice nod to see two authors highlight the positivity of the genre. The subtitle comes because the focus is on the tragedies of losing libraries. The loss of Alexandria is covered, of course; but the authors include other, less well known losses. The modern era could use a bit more development in terms of the section about the attempts of book challenges and bans that occur, not just in the US. It should be noted that bans and challenges are covered as are librarcides. The book is readable and engrossing. It is a quick and excellent history. Well worth the read, and the owning of, if you like books.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    A library lover's dream! Full of history, from the beginning of the beginning, and a careful tour through the libraries that have shaped our written record of humanity. An encyclopedic read, wrapping a reader roundabout with all those hours of research, the many crooks and crannies investigated and historical detective-diving obvious in every chapter. Don't be shy, bookworms. This is the one to read. A Sincere Thanks to Andrew Pettegree; Arthur der Weduwen, Perseus Books and NetGalley for an ARC t A library lover's dream! Full of history, from the beginning of the beginning, and a careful tour through the libraries that have shaped our written record of humanity. An encyclopedic read, wrapping a reader roundabout with all those hours of research, the many crooks and crannies investigated and historical detective-diving obvious in every chapter. Don't be shy, bookworms. This is the one to read. A Sincere Thanks to Andrew Pettegree; Arthur der Weduwen, Perseus Books and NetGalley for an ARC to read and review.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Randal White

    An extremely thorough look into the history of libraries. Very comprehensive. A tad too much for me, but I can see where someone who is a real bibliophile would really enjoy it. Would serve as a good reference book. Thanks to NetGalley for the advance reading copy.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michael Mullady

    I read this as part of NetGalley This was such an amazing and thorough recounting of the make up and scope of libraries from ancient times until now. I was impressed with the amount of detail and research that went into this and the writing was far from dry as it wove through time and scope. If anything, it shows with extreme clarity how much we’ve lost over time and how many works no longer exists that most likely should be celebrated. Time, decay, wars, religion, revolutions, and censorship fro I read this as part of NetGalley This was such an amazing and thorough recounting of the make up and scope of libraries from ancient times until now. I was impressed with the amount of detail and research that went into this and the writing was far from dry as it wove through time and scope. If anything, it shows with extreme clarity how much we’ve lost over time and how many works no longer exists that most likely should be celebrated. Time, decay, wars, religion, revolutions, and censorship from the Roman times until present day have robbed us of more books than we’ll ever know. The only wish I had for this book is that they spent more time in Asia and talking through books there and how, even if very different, libraries existed and manifested. There is only passing references through the books outside of India and almost no color on Africa and Southeast Asia. The library, in all its manifestations over the centuries is still a common good and will continue to be for centuries to come.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This is a history of libraries, from Sumer to the present, concentrating primarily on the UK, USA and Western Europe. Rather dry, it ends with some passion with praise of the book and an argued prediction of its perdurance.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Taylor - Muse Ignited Reads

    A bibliophiles dream bound in a single edition! And while undoubtedly scholarly and historical this is the sort of book that can also be perused in small doses by any lover of books and libraries, whether they are regularly in pursuit of knowledge or entertaining escapism in their choice of reading material. **Thank you so much to both NegGalley and Basic Books/Hachette for an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review! I loved it so much I bought a hardcover copy the day it came out.** T A bibliophiles dream bound in a single edition! And while undoubtedly scholarly and historical this is the sort of book that can also be perused in small doses by any lover of books and libraries, whether they are regularly in pursuit of knowledge or entertaining escapism in their choice of reading material. **Thank you so much to both NegGalley and Basic Books/Hachette for an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review! I loved it so much I bought a hardcover copy the day it came out.** This comprehensive tome covers the history of the library from the great mythos of the Library of Alexandria to the Bodleian to the Library of Congress; from parchments and scrolls, to illuminated manuscripts to the advent of the printing press and production of the dime paperback; from collectors and the first auctions and specialist booksellers; from private collections to Universities, from lending libraries to public libraries, from the first bookmobiles to the Appalachian pack horse libraries - this book covers the growth, decline, .and regrowth over and over again all across our globe. One of the most interesting parts to me in the history of the printed page (and covered here) is the eventual popularity of fiction (vs non-fiction "learned reading") and the eschewing of that form of print in the larger collecting of books in libraries. How lending/circulating libraries (primarily sources of fiction) were "fretted over what might fall into the hands of their wives and daughters, apprentices and servants or impressionable youths." They were "denounced as purveyors of pornography and books of brain-rotting triviality" in the 18th & 19th century. Ironically much similar is still said in the modern era, especially with the advent of the popular paperback novel. and that oh so poo-pooed upon "romance" novel, which got its bad reputation as far back as 1773 as being written "solely for the use of circulating libraries, and very proper to debauch all young women who are still undebauched." I'm pretty sure there are still people saying the same thing today. There are modern era anecdotes that will both shock, appall and entertain - from the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake which led to the revamping of the Library and the sudden disappearance of some where between 200,000-500,000 books into a landfill - a debacle that is still kept relatively hushed up - to the discovery of a librarians 10,000 plus purloined hoard found in his house in 1982. The book also covers the oft prophesized decline of books and libraries (yes its supposed decline was stated long before the advent of the modern technological era), with some very up to date information all the way up to our global epidemic and its effects on both reading and libraries. This advance of the tech age is possibly the most thought provoking portion of the book as it effects us as readers today, and this book provides plenty of insight. "More fundamentally, are books just too slow for the modern world, where our mindscape is dominated by a smart phone?" "The internet, it is true, is the perfect tool for an impatient age, we love the convenience of same day delivery, but we complain more and more of the stress of the relentless pace of life. Libraries and books encourage reflective thought. We cannot delegate the whole burden of returning balance to our lives to classes and therapeutic groups. A book creates a mindfulness class of one." "Most of all , by empowering the digital revolution, librarians have given up the one unique selling point which they defended so tenaciously for almost as long as we have had libraries: the right to apply their knowledge, taste and discrimination to assisting the choice of their patrons. This has been the key to understanding so much in this book: the idea that in an age of plenty there will always be helpmates to assist readers in making the right choice of book. Can the internet, in all its enormous variety, ever replace this reflective process of deliberation, the slow choosing the eager anticipation, the slow unfolding of plot?" (and while impressive algorithms have made it easy to find "more of the same" - "What if we want something different, rather than more of the same? What if we do not know that we want something different, but a chance encounter sparks our interests?") So lots of thought provoking questions here as well as history and bibliphilism (and as a true book lover and collector I also loved the portions about private collectors and the building of their collections). This is a must have book for booklovers and bibliophiles the world over!

  11. 5 out of 5

    WS_BOOKCLUB

    Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Library: A Fragile History will be available for purchase on November ninth. I was so excited to read The Library: A Fragile History! A book dedicated simply and wholly to the subject of libraries? Yes, please! This is an exhaustive, detailed dive into a subject that is dear to most book lovers: namely the history of libraries and the roles they have played over the years. I fully expected this to become Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Library: A Fragile History will be available for purchase on November ninth. I was so excited to read The Library: A Fragile History! A book dedicated simply and wholly to the subject of libraries? Yes, please! This is an exhaustive, detailed dive into a subject that is dear to most book lovers: namely the history of libraries and the roles they have played over the years. I fully expected this to become a new favorite. Unfortunately, that was not my final takeaway. This is the sort of book that does not benefit from a straight cover-to-cover read. It would be better taken in pieces over a longer period of time. There is simply so much information to take in. It is apparent that the authors took great care in doing their research and they spared no detail. And I mean no detail. Therein lies my difficulty. As much as the subject appeals to me, and as much as I’ve enjoyed other books about similar subjects, this book bored me. It wasn’t for lack of knowledge on the authors’ parts. It wasn’t that the book was poorly organized. Rather, it was very well put together. There was just no excitement shown in the pages. I felt like the authors weren’t really all that invested in what they were writing. And that sort of rubbed off on me a little bit. This would make a great study guide, but as a book that is read for enjoyment, it just didn’t quite do it for me. I will admit that I might have enjoyed it more if I had read it in bits and bursts, instead of straight through. There was so much information to take in, after all. If you don’t mind books that are a little dry, the information in this book might appeal to you. After all, if you’re taking the time to read a book blog, chances are high that you love books and libraries. I really wanted to love The Library: A Fragile History, but this book just wasn’t for me.

  12. 5 out of 5

    icey ❀

    A very thorough book about the history of libraries, how they started out in societies, how they changed throughout the years and how they changed us. A heavy but very worth read that should definitely be of interest to the ones who would love to have a book about the history of books. [Thank you NetGalley and the authors for allowing me to read the e-ARC version of the book]

  13. 5 out of 5

    Shari Suarez

    A very thorough history of libraries from the vaunted Library of Alexandria to today's current public libraries this is a very readable history. It covers the personalities involved in libraries like Thomas Bodley and Andrew Carnegie and covers the way libraries are thought of throughout the world. The only area that wasn't fully represented was Latin America but that's a small quibble. Overall, a must read for those who love books, reading & libraries. A very thorough history of libraries from the vaunted Library of Alexandria to today's current public libraries this is a very readable history. It covers the personalities involved in libraries like Thomas Bodley and Andrew Carnegie and covers the way libraries are thought of throughout the world. The only area that wasn't fully represented was Latin America but that's a small quibble. Overall, a must read for those who love books, reading & libraries.

  14. 4 out of 5

    els

    The library is a fascinating account the history of libraries and books through the ages. The chapters span from the ancient library of Alexandria to libraries in this day and age. The writing of the library is pretty accessible but it is clearly a scholarly read. The amount of research the authors put in write this book is evident throughout book and manifests itself in an impressive number of references (many of which seem worthy to read on their own). The library is not the type of book you r The library is a fascinating account the history of libraries and books through the ages. The chapters span from the ancient library of Alexandria to libraries in this day and age. The writing of the library is pretty accessible but it is clearly a scholarly read. The amount of research the authors put in write this book is evident throughout book and manifests itself in an impressive number of references (many of which seem worthy to read on their own). The library is not the type of book you read trough on a rainy afternoon. There is much knowledge to be gain here and worthy to take your time with. I read this as an eARC and will definitely seek to add a physical copy of this book to my own collection when it gets published later this year.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Heller

    Read for Library Journal. The historical critique of ALA was exactly what I needed to know that my instincts were correct about what I need to make ALA do to be better.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Russell

    In "The Library: A Fragile History", Pettegree and der Weduwen address the growth of libraries over the centuries, while necessarily pulling in the very notion of reading and the nature of books themselves. In very ancient times, libraries were collections of baked clay tablets which stored royal archives and laws; later, the Greek and Roman upper class wrote histories, poetry, essays, and scientific books on papyrus or parchment scrolls. Ancient libraries revolved around individual collections, In "The Library: A Fragile History", Pettegree and der Weduwen address the growth of libraries over the centuries, while necessarily pulling in the very notion of reading and the nature of books themselves. In very ancient times, libraries were collections of baked clay tablets which stored royal archives and laws; later, the Greek and Roman upper class wrote histories, poetry, essays, and scientific books on papyrus or parchment scrolls. Ancient libraries revolved around individual collections, which continued well into the 1800's, though universities and monasteries amassed increasingly large libraries, often in the thousands of volumes. With the invention of moveable type presses, libraries mushroomed in size, with many upper middle class collectors owning 10,000 books. Besides tracking the growth of libraries in size, the authors also trace the changing ways society viewed libraries, and sometimes used libraries as weapons for propaganda, or destruction of opposing opinions. The style of writing enlivens what could have been a somewhat dry topic, making it immensely pleasurable to read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    I read this courtesy of NetGalley. Oh. My. What an astonishing book. Honestly I've had such a good year for book-related histories: The Gilded Page (Mary Wellesley), and The Bookseller of Florence (Ross King), and now this. Interestingly, this book contains parts of those two, because understanding how libraries function requires some knowledge of books themselves function, and how the book trade functions. It's been like a mini-course in the whole book production history of Europe. The authors I read this courtesy of NetGalley. Oh. My. What an astonishing book. Honestly I've had such a good year for book-related histories: The Gilded Page (Mary Wellesley), and The Bookseller of Florence (Ross King), and now this. Interestingly, this book contains parts of those two, because understanding how libraries function requires some knowledge of books themselves function, and how the book trade functions. It's been like a mini-course in the whole book production history of Europe. The authors begin with a discussion of the fabled Library of Alexandria, which is appropriate given its mythical place in the history of libraries... and ALSO that there's some attempt to do something similar in the Alexandria of today, which is, let's say, not the Alexandria of yesteryear. What utterly intrigued me was the way that exactly what a library is FOR has changed over the centuries. I am a huge fan of the public library, and absolutely uphold its place as a community resource. I do know that in medieval Europe, libraries were the province of monasteries and nobles - not least because that reflects the literacy of the age, and also the aspirations of such people. It was the use of libraries as exhibitions of wealth that was one aspect explored beautifully here - collecting the 'right' books, and beautiful versions. And then how do you have architecture that reflects that? If you're worried about scholars nicking off with your precious tomes, and you only have a few books, then you chain the books up (literally) and your building reflects that. But when books starting getting more accessible and you are HAPPY for them to be accessed (unlike Oxford libraries not allowing students in and having opening hours for about three hours a week), then what the rooms look like needs to change. I deeply appreciated the exploration of libraries as both weapons within colonialism and imperialism, and victims of it too. Colonial outposts in NZ and India being sent books; translations into the languages of the colonised; and libraries being looted, or outright destroyed, across the globe - these are things that need to be remembered and dealt with as people keep thinking about the use and abuse of knowledge as power. It would have been so easy to not include those things, and to stick with somehow seeing libraries as just repositories of books - ignoring books as power - but I'm so glad the authors wanted to give a rich and full exploration of libraries as institutions. Look, I just loved this book. It's beautifully written and has lovely images. It covers predominantly European examples of libraries. It does so across just over two millennia, from monastery to castle to private home to public institution. And the modern arguments about what a library is for! Clearly these authors are defenders of the existence of libraries, but they're not just stuck in mid-20th century versions. They are, if anything, ambitious for what place libraries can and should have in communities. I love books and I love libraries and this was a wonderful history of them both.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sheri Metzger Karmiol

    I love books about books. I have spent most of my life in libraries. In fact, I have spent most of my life with my face buried in books. When I retired as a university literature professor, I promptly volunteered as a librarian. NetGalley is the perfect app for me. NetGalley is rather like being let loose in a candy shop. I seem to request every book that I see that has bookseller, bookbinder, book writer, or library in the title. When I requested "The Library," I had no idea about the content o I love books about books. I have spent most of my life in libraries. In fact, I have spent most of my life with my face buried in books. When I retired as a university literature professor, I promptly volunteered as a librarian. NetGalley is the perfect app for me. NetGalley is rather like being let loose in a candy shop. I seem to request every book that I see that has bookseller, bookbinder, book writer, or library in the title. When I requested "The Library," I had no idea about the content of the book. Fortunately, the history provided by authors, Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen, in their non-fiction book, "The Library," turned out to be just as interesting as I had expected. When we travel, I seek out libraries throughout Europe. I recognized some of those libraries in "The Library." I have been in libraries in monasteries and in the Vatican, in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, in the old British Library in London, and in the Folger Library in Washington DC. And so, of course I found "The Library" captivating. Every one of the libraries that I have visited left me nearly speechless and in awe. It was a thrill to recognize so many of the descriptions in Pettegree and der Weduwen's book. The role of money and religion in establishing libraries and the collecting of books was not a surprise. The same holds true today. Libraries continue to need money. While libraries no longer buy books by the yard, the need to fill shelves remains important. The history that Pettegree and der Weduwen provide is fascinating, and while much of it was not surprising to me, there were other sections that made me smile, such as an acknowledgement of the power that libraries hold. The destruction of libraries, whether in Alexandria or World War II are sad beyond words. The photos and illustrations in "The Library" were terrific. I could only wish there were more of them. Anyone who loves libraries, the history of libraries, the history of books, and all the various permutations of books will love this book. I appreciate the publisher and NetGalley giving me access to this ARC of The Library.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Comprehensive History. This is a fairly dense (yet readable) comprehensive history of humanity's efforts to store its written words. We begin all the way back in ancient Mesopotamia with some discussion of even their clay tablets, and we come all the way through the digital and eReader era (which the authors are a bit more pessimistic about than this reader, who is admittedly a technologist). While other areas such as China, Africa, India, (modern) Australia, and Columbian era Middle America are Comprehensive History. This is a fairly dense (yet readable) comprehensive history of humanity's efforts to store its written words. We begin all the way back in ancient Mesopotamia with some discussion of even their clay tablets, and we come all the way through the digital and eReader era (which the authors are a bit more pessimistic about than this reader, who is admittedly a technologist). While other areas such as China, Africa, India, (modern) Australia, and Columbian era Middle America are mentioned at times, the vast majority of the focus of the discussion here is Euro-centric, with detailed discussions of American library systems once the discussion advances to the relevant time periods. Indeed, as it turns out, the "modern public library" as Americans know it today? Did not exist prior to WWII in any real form at all, though through the efforts of business titans such as Andrew Carnegie (discussed in much depth here in the text), the earlier forms of it were beginning by the late 19th century. Truly a fascinating book, but also truly a very long one. Anyone remotely interested in books and reading should probably at least consider reading this, as it really is a remarkable history of the book, its uses, and its storage. Very much recommended.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Cleaves

    From the legendary libraries of Aristotle, Alexandria, and Timbuktu to collectors, bored or disinterested librarians, wartime destruction of libraries, back to Carnegie and Bodley, subscription and circulating libraries, limited access versus public access, to the move from manuscripts to print to multimedia, stopping along the way for bookmobiles, the book delivers a broad overview of what it promised, a wide ranging exploration of libraries, public and private, through history. It’s as footnot From the legendary libraries of Aristotle, Alexandria, and Timbuktu to collectors, bored or disinterested librarians, wartime destruction of libraries, back to Carnegie and Bodley, subscription and circulating libraries, limited access versus public access, to the move from manuscripts to print to multimedia, stopping along the way for bookmobiles, the book delivers a broad overview of what it promised, a wide ranging exploration of libraries, public and private, through history. It’s as footnoted as a doctoral thesis but a lot more readable and fascinating for bibliophiles.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tove R.

    Extremely informative, and even intense book about libraries and the history of libraries. I enjoyed the book because I am a fan of libraries, and interested in the history of this institution. It is a bit on the heavier side though, because it gives the reader a lot of specific information. I am sure I will use this book as a reference book for future needs. I think this book might be too in-depth for a casual reader, but for someone looking for more knowledge and content this is an excellent c Extremely informative, and even intense book about libraries and the history of libraries. I enjoyed the book because I am a fan of libraries, and interested in the history of this institution. It is a bit on the heavier side though, because it gives the reader a lot of specific information. I am sure I will use this book as a reference book for future needs. I think this book might be too in-depth for a casual reader, but for someone looking for more knowledge and content this is an excellent choice!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kristi Hovington

    First, let me just state: as a lover of books themselves, the end papers of this book are just swoon worthy. This gets a half star just for that. And as a librarian, the almost 100 page bibliography and note section is outstanding. 5 stars for academic rigor and extensive, highly credentialed citations. This book is a meticulously researched, highly readable account of libraries and their role in societies from ancient times to now. It sweeps through the history of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Europea First, let me just state: as a lover of books themselves, the end papers of this book are just swoon worthy. This gets a half star just for that. And as a librarian, the almost 100 page bibliography and note section is outstanding. 5 stars for academic rigor and extensive, highly credentialed citations. This book is a meticulously researched, highly readable account of libraries and their role in societies from ancient times to now. It sweeps through the history of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, European, Asian, and american (south and north) cultures and how the popularity and access of libraries have waxed and waned. Particular focus is on European library history (German, French, British, and Italian in particular) along with American, and what I really appreciated is the authors’ focus on major historical events and people and how they relate to libraries and book culture. I read several books like this for my graduate studies but none with this depth, and none with this scope. This is best in class for a book about the history of books and libraries. This is not as compulsive a read (to me, at least) as Orlean’s “Library Book,” but that is due to Orlean’s focus on the stories of the people who inhabit libraries, rather than the libraries and books themselves. Regardless, as a lover of all things books and libraries, I was engaged in reading this well into the late night hours. My one critique is that the final chapter on the future of libraries, the one I was most looking forward to reading, is a bit anemic. There are no quotes here from the great librarians of today (I’m particularly thinking of Anthony Marx, president of NYPL and several others) who have written and lectured passionately about how libraries can thrive in the Information Age. This is a pretty significant oversight, but even so, a wonderful read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    3.5 stars for a solid and thorough history of libraries of the western world. This book is largely focused on library history as opposed to library politics, which is why I liked it better than Susan Orlean’s The Library, which was well-crafted but almost exclusively devoted to the politics rather than the history of the library. The Library takes us through the titular subject’s entire history as it relates to the western world, from the ancients to the modern library. Some sections are more det 3.5 stars for a solid and thorough history of libraries of the western world. This book is largely focused on library history as opposed to library politics, which is why I liked it better than Susan Orlean’s The Library, which was well-crafted but almost exclusively devoted to the politics rather than the history of the library. The Library takes us through the titular subject’s entire history as it relates to the western world, from the ancients to the modern library. Some sections are more detail-driven than others, and I found that those that were from a more micro perspective were the ones that I enjoyed most. The postwar section of this book was my least favorite, as it’s largely driven by library politics, though it was certainly as well-researched and presented as the rest of the material. *I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

  24. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    Delightful, inspiring, and heartbreaking. This is packed with a huge amount of detail about the history of libraries public and private. A book that every bibliophile must own.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Josh Hedgepeth

    Thanks to NetGalley for an e-arc of this in exchange for an honest review. Apologies to NetGalley and to the publisher, as this book was DNFed at 55%. I had such high hopes for this book. I love history and I love books, so a history book about books would seem like the epitome of perfection. And yet, this failed to encapsulate me. My dislike of the book relates to two main points. First, it is very academic. I don't consider that a negative trait, especially given all the well written academic wo Thanks to NetGalley for an e-arc of this in exchange for an honest review. Apologies to NetGalley and to the publisher, as this book was DNFed at 55%. I had such high hopes for this book. I love history and I love books, so a history book about books would seem like the epitome of perfection. And yet, this failed to encapsulate me. My dislike of the book relates to two main points. First, it is very academic. I don't consider that a negative trait, especially given all the well written academic works that I have read. Unfortunately, this is one of those academic works that strives more to be academic than accessible. A history book, or any book honestly, needs a story, an arc to take the readers on. The introduction to this book hinted that there was such an arc within this work, but it turned out not to really be the case. This is less a story about books and more of a point by point laydown of historical events relating to books. It is extremely dull. The worse part about it is that this type of structure is so hard to follow or become engrossed in. When someone just states fact after fact, they all start to blend together, and I'm left with very little to actually take away. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of history here to learn. I just think it could have been told much more eloquently. My second main point of issue with this book was its European fixed perspective. The book tells the history of libraries almost exclusively in Europe. Obviously, it starts with a discussion the Library of Alexandria in chapter one, and it alludes to other countries as well. However, the overarching narrative is focused heavily on Europe. If I didn't know better, I'd think Europe was the only continent to ever construct a book or a library. I did wonder if perhaps my difficulty to follow caused me to overlook discussions of other parts of the world or if they do it later in the book, so I did a search of the ebook. There are less than ten mentions of Africa or Asia outside the bibliography. I searched Europe, and it is mentioned hundreds of times. I am not saying history of libraries in Europe isn't interesting or a story not worth telling. However, this is a book advertised as a history of libraries from the ancient to today. "In this, the first major history of its kind, Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen explore the contested and dramatic history of the library, from the famous collections of the ancient world to the embattled public resources we cherish today." That is not what we get, and it is misleading to suggest otherwise. At the end of the day, this book feels esoteric and poorly written. It, like other history books I have read, advertises it as something more marketable despite it actually being more niche. What's worse is that niche topic isn't even told well. This just isn't for me. 2/5 stars

  26. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    Imagine the sheer amount of effort required to acquire your personal library from scratch in ancient times! One religious text may require up to 50 animals and a very patient scribe or two. To have a library of any kind would have been rare. Literacy rates were low, few could afford luxuries. It is unimaginable for most of us to comprehend the lack of access to life-enriching reading materials throughout history. This meticulously-researched book is chock full to the brim with everything you wan Imagine the sheer amount of effort required to acquire your personal library from scratch in ancient times! One religious text may require up to 50 animals and a very patient scribe or two. To have a library of any kind would have been rare. Literacy rates were low, few could afford luxuries. It is unimaginable for most of us to comprehend the lack of access to life-enriching reading materials throughout history. This meticulously-researched book is chock full to the brim with everything you want to know about libraries including materials used for recording (papyrus, parchment, vellum...), plundering collections after wars, lives of scribes, moving collections from country to country, private collections, storage, maintenance, literacy, public displays, role of monasteries and religion, printing presses driving down prices, booksellers, medical collections, chained books, deliberate book burning (and loss in accidental fires), library labels, subscription libraries, library acts, the effects of radio and internet and censorship. So much to love about this meaty book. I really like the inclusion of quantities of books owned by various people hundreds and thousands of years ago and would love to meet some of them! Several literally lived for books and thankfully placed great importance upon them. As society and politics change, libraries adapt. I am filled with gratitude for our library system which is a life saver especially during long, cold and snowy winters. As long as there are readers, there will be libraries of some kind, preferably physical. My library is my pride and joy! Those who adore books about books ought to read this. Yes, it is rather long and academic but gripping, educational and includes fascinating photographs. My sincere thank you to Perseus Books, Basic Books and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this stellar book!

  27. 4 out of 5

    N.S. Ford

    This review first appeared on my blog - https://nsfordwriter.com - on 11th December 2021. As a former librarian and student of library studies, this book needed to work hard to impress me. Unfortunately, it failed. I’m not doubting the scholarship and structure of the text, but I had some major issues. This book is about the history of libraries, mostly in the western world, from ancient times until the current era. The authors, I have found, specialise in the history of early printed books, Refor This review first appeared on my blog - https://nsfordwriter.com - on 11th December 2021. As a former librarian and student of library studies, this book needed to work hard to impress me. Unfortunately, it failed. I’m not doubting the scholarship and structure of the text, but I had some major issues. This book is about the history of libraries, mostly in the western world, from ancient times until the current era. The authors, I have found, specialise in the history of early printed books, Reformation Europe and the book trade. It seems to me that they have written a book focusing on these topics while presenting it as a broader history of libraries. Only the last part (of 6) was about the 20th century, which after the devastating impact of the Second World War on libraries, saw the biggest technological revolutions since the invention of moveable type and printing presses – that is, the provision of computers for library users, electronic library management systems, barcodes, radio-frequency identification, the internet, ebooks – and which gets so little attention. It really bugged me how the authors mention ebooks (or ereaders, they don’t differentiate between the two) perhaps once or twice and seem to dismiss them as a passing fad which will soon be obsolete, like CD-ROMs. They don’t think that ebooks count as proper books, clearly. Libraries are, in their opinion, defined as buildings or rooms containing physical printed books. No mention of audiobooks, e-journals which are a vital part of university library provision, the changing roles of modern librarians (teachers, community links, promoters of information literacy), how libraries now accommodate users with disabilities or even the differences between libraries and archives. Dewey Decimal Classification is incorrectly described as a cataloguing system. Classification is barely looked at, anyhow. The book is preoccupied with books as objects and with reeling off lists of how many works various libraries lost in fires. The writing style is dry and academic, suitable for students of book history but for the casual reader it’s about as exciting as the lint on a librarian’s cardigan.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    Fascinating trip through history by way of libraries.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kristy

    The Library is a complex and detailed account of the history of not only libraries but books. If you think you're going to devour it from cover to cover, you'll find yourself worn out in all the variety and details. But if you think of it more as multi-volume compendium of knowledge and stories, you can really appreciate the individual narratives of particular time periods, libraries, collecting practices, and notable people. The authors discuss everything from scrolls to codex, from scribes to The Library is a complex and detailed account of the history of not only libraries but books. If you think you're going to devour it from cover to cover, you'll find yourself worn out in all the variety and details. But if you think of it more as multi-volume compendium of knowledge and stories, you can really appreciate the individual narratives of particular time periods, libraries, collecting practices, and notable people. The authors discuss everything from scrolls to codex, from scribes to printing, from parchment to vellum. I found a few story lines particularly interesting--the loss of books (damage, theft, age, war, the dissolution of the monasteries), and Sir Thomas Bodley rebuilding Oxford's libraries. The book goes all the way into the perils facing modern libraries and book-reading. It's all very interesting stuff, there's just a lot of it, so pace yourself.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Etta

    An exhaustive (and exhausting) history of libraries beginning with the invention of writing tools and ending with predictions for the future of the printed page. While there were many interesting stories about the role of libraries and librarians in the cultural and political aspects of global communities, there were also mind-numbing counts of books owned, published, and destroyed over years. Examples of how libraries have succeeded (and failed) to adjust to changing times were particularly int An exhaustive (and exhausting) history of libraries beginning with the invention of writing tools and ending with predictions for the future of the printed page. While there were many interesting stories about the role of libraries and librarians in the cultural and political aspects of global communities, there were also mind-numbing counts of books owned, published, and destroyed over years. Examples of how libraries have succeeded (and failed) to adjust to changing times were particularly interesting.

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