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Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781529378757

Price: £20

ON SALE: 3rd September 2020

Genre: Humanities / History

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‘Burning the Books is fascinating, thought-provoking and very timely. No one should keep quiet about this library history’ IAN HISLOP

Opening with the notorious bonfires of ‘un-German’ and Jewish literature in 1933 that offered such a clear signal of Nazi intentions, Burning the Books takes us on a 3000-year journey through the destruction of knowledge and the fight against all the odds to preserve it.

Richard Ovenden, director of the world-famous Bodleian Library, explains how attacks on libraries and archives have been a feature of history since ancient times but have increased in frequency and intensity during the modern era. Libraries are far more than stores of literature, through preserving the legal documents such as Magna Carta and records of citizenship, they also support the rule of law and the rights of citizens. Today, the knowledge they hold on behalf of society is under attack as never before. In this fascinating book, he explores everything from what really happened to the Great Library of Alexandria to the Windrush papers, from Donald Trump’s deleting embarrassing tweets to John Murray’s burning of Byron’s memoirs in the name of censorship.

At once a powerful history of civilisation and a manifesto for the vital importance of physical libraries in our increasingly digital age, Burning the Books is also a very human story animated by an unlikely cast of adventurers, self-taught archaeologists, poets, freedom-fighters — and, of course, librarians and the heroic lengths they will go to preserve and rescue knowledge, ensuring that civilisation survives. From the rediscovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the desert, hidden from the Romans and lost for almost 2000 years to the medieval manuscript that inspired William Morris, the knowledge of the past still has so many valuable lessons to teach us and we ignore it at our peril.

What's Inside

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A galvanising manifesto for the importance of physical libraries in our increasingly digital age
The Bookseller
A magnificent book - timely, vital and full of the most incredible tales, a manifesto for our humanity and its archives
'Dangerous souvenirs' is what Richard Ovenden calls the books salvaged by ex-monks under the nose of Henry VIII. Now as then, books need friends. This fascinating book will help to find them.
Both timely and authoritative...The subject of archives and libraries is one of permanent importance in the understanding a nation has of itself, and touches not only high politics but also life-and-death drama. I can think of no-one better qualified to write about it than Richard Ovenden. I enjoyed Burning the Books immensely.
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.
Like an epic film-maker, Richard Ovenden unfolds vivid scenes from three millennia of turbulent history, to mount passionate arguments for the need to preserve the records of the past - and of the present. This urgent, lucid book calls out to us all to recognise and defend one of our most precious public goods - libraries and archives.
BURNING THE BOOKS is fascinating, thought-provoking and very timely. No one should keep quiet about this library history.
If there's anyone you might want to read your love letters after your death, it's Richard Ovenden; as Burning the Books reveals on every page, not only is he careful, diligent and wise, he also knows what to leave out and what to keep in and it's this quality that, above all, makes his book so remarkable. Francis Bacon described the creation of the Bodleian in the 1590s as 'an ark to save learning from the deluge' -- the deluge in question being the Reformation. Ovenden's ark, also written at a time of huge political and economic strife, attempts to save the concept of the library itself...something it achieves not through polemic but by telling stories. Rich, meticulous and impressive... Its sweep is quite astonishing.
Rachel Cooke, OBSERVER
Passionate and illuminating... this splendid book reveals how, in today's world of fake news and alternative facts, libraries stand defiant as guardians of truth.
Gerard deGroot, THE TIMES
Christopher Hart, SUNDAY TIMES
As director of the Bodleian Library Ovenden is well-placed to deliver this devastating take on the erosion of knowledge and the importance of libraries as a physical space
75 of the best books for autumn, Independent
Ovenden moves effortlessly through the centuries and around the world . . . it is hard not to see him and his fellow librarians as warriors and freedom fighters, the unsung heroes of the high streets
Frances Wilson, Standpoint
This book should stir us to thinking and to action - against censorship, against careless loss, and for the preservation of the memory of where we came from and of our right to be where we are
Michael Skapinker, Financial Times
Fascinating and rewarding . . . Ovenden's finest achievement in Burning the Books is to demonstrate the importance and enduring power of preserved knowledge . . . [his] professional expertise and personal passion are evident on every page
Timothy W Ryback, Literary Review
[Ovenden] brings us on an erudite, frightening and often exhilarating journey . . . a fascinating, often entertaining and surprising, incredibly well-researched and beautifully written book. It is an important book, now more than ever
Irish Times
Engaging and timely . . . Ovenden stays true to his calling, reminding us that libraries and librarians are the keepers of humankind's memories: without them, we don't know who we are
Jonathan Freedland, Guardian
A passionate defence of the sanctity of knowledge . . . the author's passion and authority come across on every page . . . Reading Burning the Books is, by turns, a distressing and illuminating experience. It is distressing because Ovenden shows humanity at its philistine worst throughout history . . . But it is also illuminating because of his partisan celebration of those figures like Bodley who have prized the written word and its preservation as being a civilised end in itself
The Critic
Excellent . . . both gripping and horrifying in equal measure
The Field
Lucidly and engagingly written . . . powerful
Rhodri Lewis, Prospect Magazine
Richard Ovenden, the Bodleian Librarian, is admirably obsessed with that destruction: the stuff lost for ever . . . This book might easily have turned into a cumbersome diatribe. It is instead a compendium of intriguing stories that collectively deliver a stark warning: "The truth itself is under attack."
The Times (Saturday Review), Philosophy and Ideas Book of the Year 2020
You expect librarians to have plenty of good stories, but perhaps not to be burning with passion. This erudite, urgent book is full of both
Sunday Times (Culture)
Thought-provoking and relentlessly engaging
Methodist Recorder
Wide-ranging and informative . . . calling out to the better angels of our nature to fight for the preservation of what makes us who we are
New Statesman
This fascinating and moving book should be read at schools and translated into languages all around the world . . . a glorious celebration of physical libraries and nuanced knowledge
ELIF SHAFAK, New Statesman