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In his acclaimed Double Fold (2001), Nicholson Baker expressed outrage over newspapers and books turned into landfill by librarians who chose microfilm over paper. French historian Polastron picks up where Baker left off, writing with equal passion yet punctuating his pages with wit. A specialist in Chinese and Arab studies, Polastron surveys the annihilation of libraries from ancient Mesopotamia and China to potential problems looming with the cyber contents of today's "virtual books."Although Polastron learned of lost libraries while writing a history of paper, it was the 1992 destruction of the National Library in Sarajevo that triggered his desire to explore "all nooks and crannies of history in the attic of every civilization."Over the millennia, libraries crumbled to rubble during wars and bombings; theft and storage problems account for more losses. As countless books went up in smoke, others sank to a watery grave during shipwrecks and floods. Lamenting the loss of the ancient Alexandria library, the author covers books that perished during the Inquisition, the French Revolution and in Nazi Germany. Polastron's exhaustive research and vast scope make this detailed, authoritative study a revelatory read. (Oct. 26) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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The backbone of this somewhat scattered book is the question, Why have people repeatedly destroyed libraries? It's not always been disagreement with what the books said. Sometimes, the mere presence of books is enough. The Khmer Rouge thought books a sign of moral degeneracy. Mao's wife wrote, "Better to have uneducated workers than learned exploiters." All too frequently, religion is the inciter: Is "monotheism without intolerance" thinkable? Polastron considers how the ravages of time-and humanity-can affect books and manuscripts. The result is a serious rant, furious and bitter, against our continued attempts to control memory and knowledge from ancient times to today (e.g., Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot). Destroy a people's history, collected in their books or manuscripts, and you destroy their sense of themselves-thus, Christians burned Moorish books, Nazis destroyed Jewish and Polish books, and Serbs burned Bosnian libraries. The author's indignation burns white hot but does not obscure his comprehensive survey of book destruction worldwide-Asia and Africa as much as the Western world. While some chapters are not well conceived or well written-just the venting of spleen-as a whole this is a sobering catalog of the annals of destruction. Recommended for academic collections and larger public libraries.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Whoever owns the books owns the world, observes French historian Polastron, and consequently, the books of my enemy are my enemies. Libraries have been pillaged and burned ever since the first collection of clay tablets was assembled in the earliest house of wisdom. Polastron performs marvelous feats of synthesis and revelation as he describes the lost libraries of antiquity; portrays such library makers as the Sumerian Ashurbanipal, the caliph al-Hakam (circa 970), and Liu Bang, founder of the Han dynasty; chronicles dramatic assaults against libraries; and offers discerning analysis, backed by rarely aired facts, about the crucial role books play as both vehicles of knowledge and freedom and instruments of tyranny. The story begins in Mesopotamia, moves through the looting and bombing of world libraries throughout the bloody twentieth century, and ends up back in Baghdad in 2003, when the National Library was torched under obfuscated circumstances. Finally, Polastron sees new threats to libraries, knowledge, and open access to books in the digitalization of texts. Everyone who cherishes books and libraries will appreciate Polastron's timely and thought-provoking continuum.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2007 Booklist