Reviews

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

This book begins and ends with a description of the looting of books, manuscripts and artworks in Iraq's National Library in 2003, a destruction abetted, says Baez, by the inaction of American leaders. This episode poses an "enigma" for the author: "Why should this murder of memory have occurred in the place where the book was born?" Beginning with ancient Mesopotamia, Venezuelan historian Baez (The History of the Ancient Library of Alexandria) considers the wide-ranging reasons why books are destroyed: the desire of conquerors to eradicate their predecessors or foreign cultures, religious intolerance, fire and other natural or man-made disasters. Other books were lost because they were no longer considered important, and we know of them only through references in other works. Baez includes a fascinating chapter on fictional bibliocasts (book destroyers), from Don Quixote to Fahrenheit 451. He sometimes overwhelms the reader with authors, titles and statistics. Still, this marvelously informative, sometimes depressing, occasionally entertaining work should appeal to bibliophiles. (Aug. 18) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Choice
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

This deceptively compact book works on the premise that human history can be measured by what people destroy as well as by what they preserve. The author, the director of the Venezuela National Library, exhibits his erudition and is a bibliophile of the first order. As such, his history functions as a global history as much as a record of books, manuscripts, and other written materials often lost through natural occurrences such as fire, as well as through human agency. The latter, which Baez terms a "bibliocaust," is covered extensively. He makes clear that writing is a central tenet of human civilization as a "tool for social organization and reaffirmation" and, particularly, is a "symbol of human thought and memory." By this token, the opposite act of destruction is symbolic of the human tendency to divide the world into the familiar and its threatening opposite. The book is divided chronologically: up to the 4th century CE, 4th through 19th centuries, and the 20th century onward. The final chapter on book destruction in Iraq may need future revision, as its extent is still being disputed. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. N. C. Rothman University of Maryland University College


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Each destroyed book is a passport to hell. In the outcry of a poet witnessing the firebombing of Sarajevo's National Library, Báez finds a leitmotif for this compelling investigation of book-burning. Though he acknowledges as a predecessor William Blades (author of Enemies of Books, 1888), Báez has given the world its first truly comprehensive history of biblioclasty. And now, thanks to a capable translator, English-speaking readers can share in an impressive scholarship that catalogs depredations against books through the centuries. Readers see, for instance, how the pharaoh Akhenaton burned offensive religious texts in ancient Egypt and how Stalin consigned reactionary works by Kant and Descartes to the flames in modern Russia; how Almanzor purged the medieval libraries of Islamic Spain of books not sacred to pious Moslems and how Spanish missionaries torched pagan Aztec codices in sixteenth-century Mexico. In this remarkably wide-ranging survey of assaults against books, a unifying pattern emerges, defying the stereotype of book-burners as ignorant rubes. Báez convincingly characterizes the typical book-burner not as a hick, but as a zealot: the book-burner hopes to realize some vision for a luminous future by reducing to ashes the printed reminders of a shadowed past. Librarians and readers alike will cherish this cautionary chronicle.--Christensen, Bryce Copyright 2008 Booklist