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Burning the Books: RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK

On sale

27th May 2021

Price: £10.99

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Selected: Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781529378771

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An unforgettable 3,000-year-old journey – from Mesopotamian clay tablets trying to predict the future, to Tudor book-hunters and Nazi bonfires, and on into the dangers of our increasingly digital existence, Burning the Books shows how the preservation of knowledge is vital for the survival of civilization itself.

‘A wonderful book, full of good stories and burning with passion’ SUNDAY TIMES, BOOKS OF THE YEAR

‘Compelling, fascinating and rewarding’ LITERARY REVIEW

‘When books burn, it is more than just words under attack . . . this extraordinary book should stir us to thinking and to action’ FINANCIAL TIMES

‘A tale of ingenuity and deep courage’ GUARDIAN

‘A stark warning – the truth itself is under attack’ THE TIMES, BOOKS OF THE YEAR


BURNING THE BOOKS is fascinating, thought-provoking and very timely. No one should keep quiet about this library history.
The Bookseller
A galvanising manifesto for the importance of physical libraries in our increasingly digital age
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.
Rachel Cooke, OBSERVER
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.
Gerard deGroot, THE TIMES
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.
Christopher Hart, SUNDAY TIMES
75 of the best books for autumn, Independent
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
Frances Wilson, Standpoint
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
Michael Skapinker, Financial Times
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
Timothy W Ryback, Literary Review
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
Irish Times
[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
Jonathan Freedland, Guardian
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
The Critic
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 Field
Excellent . . . both gripping and horrifying in equal measure
Rhodri Lewis, Prospect Magazine
Lucidly and engagingly written . . . powerful
The Times (Saturday Review), Philosophy and Ideas Book of the Year 2020
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."
Sunday Times (Culture)
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
Methodist Recorder
Thought-provoking and relentlessly engaging
New Statesman
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
ELIF SHAFAK, 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