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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)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.