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Burning the Books

A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge

Richard Ovenden

ISBN 9780674271104

Publication date: 05/03/2022

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A Wolfson History Prize Finalist
A New Statesman Book of the Year
A Sunday Times Book of the Year

“Timely and authoritative…I enjoyed it immensely.”
—Philip Pullman

“If you care about books, and if you believe we must all stand up to the destruction of knowledge and cultural heritage, this is a brilliant read—both powerful and prescient.”
—Elif Shafak

Libraries have been attacked since ancient times but they have been especially threatened in the modern era, through war as well as willful neglect. Burning the Books describes the deliberate destruction of the knowledge safeguarded in libraries from Alexandria to Sarajevo, from smashed Assyrian tablets to the torching of the Library of Congress. The director of the world-famous Bodleian Libraries, Richard Ovenden, captures the political, religious, and cultural motivations behind these acts. He also shines a light on the librarians and archivists preserving history and memory, often risking their lives in the process.

More than simply repositories for knowledge, libraries support the rule of law and inspire and inform citizens. Ovenden reminds us of their social and political importance, challenging us to protect and support these essential institutions.

“Wonderful…full of good stories and burning with passion.”
Sunday Times

“The sound of a warning vibrates through this book.”
The Guardian

“Essential reading for anyone concerned with libraries and what Ovenden outlines as their role in ‘the support of democracy, the rule of law and open society.’”
Wall Street Journal

“Ovenden emphasizes that attacks on books, archives, and recorded information are the usual practice of authoritarian regimes.”
—Michael Dirda, Washington Post

Praise

  • A stark and important warning about the value of knowledge and the dangers that come from the destruction of books. Vital reading for this day and age.

    —Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads

Author

  • Richard Ovenden is Director of the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Balliol College. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2019, is a member of the American Philosophical Society, and serves as Treasurer of the Consortium of European Research Libraries and President of the Digital Preservation Coalition.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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