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Battles, a rare book librarian at Harvard, takes the reader on a world tour of the library from ancient times to the present digital age, making stops in Nineveh and Alexandria, Athens and Baghdad. He considers the book culture and important collections of medieval Europe, which were assembled and maintained by popes and monks, and the founding of the first "public" library--by Cosimo de' Medici in 1444. Among the other "librarians" who capture his interest are classicist Richard Bentley, who in 1694 was appointed Keeper of the Royal Library; Antonio Panizzi, who produced the first catalog of the British Library (the first volume, covering the letter A, took seven years to complete); Melville Dewey, creator of the decimal classification system and founder of the American Library Association; and Herman Kruk, head of the Vilna ghetto library. The book is less a formal history than an exploration of the concept of library and how it evolved. Battles writes in an engaging way, and his book will be appreciated by librarians and book lovers. Mary Ellen Quinn


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

A history of everyone's favorite topic from rare books specialist Battles, who works at Harvard's Houghton Library. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Battles, a rare books librarian at Harvard University's Houghton Library, has contributed essays and reviews to the Boston Book Review, London Review of Books, and Harper's Magazine. His elegantly written, ruminative history (parts of which appeared in Harper's as a January 2000 article "Lost in the Stacks: The Decline and Fall of the Universal Library") traces the fate of scrolls, tablets, books, and libraries from antiquity to the present day. "What I am looking for," he writes, "are points of transformation, those moments where readers, authors, and librarians question the meaning of the library itself." Battles shows how throughout history libraries have been places of controversy and change. Much like today, libraries of the past had to deal with access issues, cataloging, weeding, and censorship (fortunately for modern librarians, we don't have to be concerned with being buried or burned with our "questionable" collections!). Preservation librarians may feel a bit anxious as they read Battles's vivid accounts of how fires, wars, and other acts of destruction have shaped the library's current face. This is a great read, flowing over many time periods and geographic regions, from the great library at Alexandria to the war-ravaged libraries of Bosnia. For those librarians who long for the library of the past, this book is a must read. Strongly recommended for library history collections and many personal collections as well. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/03.]-Tim Daniels, Library & Information Ctr., Georgia Inst. of Technology, Atlanta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
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Battles, a contributor to Harper's and a Harvard librarian, offers a distinguished portrait of the library, its endurance and destruction throughout history, and traces how the library's meaning was questioned or altered according to the climate of the time. In accessible prose, Battles recounts the building and burning that have marked the library's long history. The Vatican Library built by Pope Nicholas V set the standard during the Renaissance, and the one built by the Jews in the Vilna ghetto during WWII showed the importance of books to a community under siege. Meanwhile, the mythic third-century B.C. book burnings by Chinese emperor Shi Huangdi were an effort to erase history, as was the catastrophic destruction of millions of books by the Nazis in the spring of 1933. Dynamic characters lend this history a novelistic tone: Julius Caesar began the library movement in Rome; Antonio Panizzi, an Italian revolutionary and exile, turned the library of the British Museum into one of the world's greatest in the 19th century; more recently, Nikola Koljevic, a scholar turned Serb nationalist, directed the siege of Sarajevo that led to a book burning at the Bosnian National and University Library. Battles also enlightens readers regarding the evolution of bookmaking, the card catalogue and the role of the librarian, including the most famous of all, Melvil Dewey, whose decimal system was only a small part of his influence. This always compelling history illustrates Battles's theme: despite the rule of barbarians or megalomaniacal kings, angry mobs and natural disasters, people's hunger for books has ensured the library's survival. 11 illus. Agent, Susan Barry. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved