A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq

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A best-seller in Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil: the first-ever world history of the destruction of books.

A product of ten years of research and support from leading American and European universities, A Universal History of the Destruction of Books traces a tragic story: the smashed tablets of ancient Sumer, the widespread looting of libraries in post-war ...
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Overview

A best-seller in Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil: the first-ever world history of the destruction of books.

A product of ten years of research and support from leading American and European universities, A Universal History of the Destruction of Books traces a tragic story: the smashed tablets of ancient Sumer, the widespread looting of libraries in post-war Iraq, the leveling of the Library of Alexandria, book burnings by Crusaders and Nazis, and censorship against authors past and present.

With diligence and grace, Báez mounts a compelling investigation into the motives behind the destruction of books, reading man's violence against writing as a perverse anti-creation. "By destroying," Báez argues, "man ratifies this ritual of permanence, purification and consecration; by destroying, man brings to the surface a behavior originating in the depth of his personality." His findings ultimately attest to the lasting power of books as the great human repository of knowledge and memory, fragile yet vital bulwarks against the intransigence and barbarity of every age.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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 Báez, 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 Báez (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. Báez 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)

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Kirkus Reviews
Venezuelan historian Baez spent what must have been 12 depressing years assembling this horrific chronicle of the centuries-long assault on human memory. Beginning and ending in Baghdad 2003, with a description of U.S. soldiers standing idly by while mobs looted and burned the National Library (perhaps one million books lost), the author's English-language debut moves determinedly from ancient times to the present. Biblioclasm is not a new phenomenon, he demonstrates: For reasons varying from invasion and vandalism to pure viciousness, more than 80 percent of Egyptian literature has been lost, only seven of Sophocles's 120 plays survive and millions of ancient tablets and scrolls have vanished. Contrary to popular conception, Baez notes, it is not often the ignorant who order and execute the destruction of books and libraries. It is instead the powerful, sometimes even the highly educated, who insist that their truth be the only one and all others must perish. His text roams the world, revisiting bibliocausts on all continents in all centuries. (It also covers the fictional destruction of books, with a nod to Don Quixote as the first to deal with this issue and several references to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.) Emerging religions have their works destroyed and then, when they supplant the original destroyers, commence destructions of their own. Romans destroyed Christian documents; Christians destroyed the Romans'; Catholics burned Protestant manuscripts; Henry VIII eradicated monastic libraries in England; and so on. Invading Spaniards destroyed written records in the New World; Spanish Fascists burned their own country's history. Nazis and Communists and American atomic bombs havedone their worst. Baez pauses occasionally to consider such natural disasters as earthquakes, floods and flames, or the damage wrought by beetles, worms and acidic paper. These asides serve merely to remind us that books' greatest enemy stares back at us from history's mirror. A sobering reminder of just how deep-seated is the instinct to destroy other people's truths. Agent: Barbara Graham/Guillermo Schavelzon Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781934633014
  • Publisher: Atlas & Co.
  • Publication date: 8/18/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 7.18 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Fernando Báez is the author of The History of the Ancient Library of Alexandria, The Cultural Destruction of Iraq, and The Cambridge Translator, a novel. He lives in Venezuela. Alfred MacAdam is the translator of Mario Vargas Llosa, Alejo Carpentier, Julio Cortázar, and Carlos Fuentes. He teaches at Barnard College.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Pt. 1 The Ancient World

Ch. 1 The Near East 22

Ch. 2 Egypt 32

Ch. 3 Greece 38

Ch. 4 The Library of Alexandria 43

Ch. 5 Other Ancient Libraries and, Aristotle's Lost Books 55

Ch. 6 China 66

Ch. 7 Rome and Early Christianity 75

Ch. 8 Oblivion and the Fragility of Books 88

Pt. 2 From Byzantium to the Nineteenth Century

Ch. 9 Constantinople 94

Ch. 10 Between Monks and Barbarians 100

Ch. 11 The Islamic World 106

Ch. 12 Misplaced Medieval Fervor 114

Ch. 13 The Destruction of Pre-Hispanic Culture in the Americas 125

Ch. 14 The Renaissance 136

Ch. 15 England 149

Ch. 16 Revolutions in France, Spain, and Latin America 158

Ch. 17 Fires, Wars, Mistakes, find Messiahs 172

Ch. 18 Books Destroyed in Fiction 188

Pt. 3 From the Twentieth Century to the Present

Ch. 19 The Rise of Fascism 200

Ch. 20 Censorship and Self-Censorship in the Modern Age 224

Ch. 21 China and the Soviet Union 233

Ch. 22 Spain, Chile, and Argentina 243

Ch. 23 A Particular Kind of Hatred 251

Ch. 24 On the Natural Enemies of Books 260

Ch. 25 Iraq 267

Notes 283

Bibliography 301

Index of Names 337

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