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  • Burning the Books

  • A History of Knowledge Under Attack
  • By: Richard Ovenden
  • Narrated by: Simon Slater
  • Length: 9 hrs and 49 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, World
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (23 ratings)

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Summary

Richard Ovenden, director of Oxford's Bodleian Library, reveals the vital importance of libraries to civilisations in this rich and timely history of the destruction of knowledge, and the heroic stories of its rescue and preservation.

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 3,000-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 2,000 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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2020 Richard Ovenden (P)2020 Hodder & Stoughton Limited

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I was really looking forward to this book...

...but it's very dense and a little full of itself. It teeters on the pompous many times and despite - or possibly because - the author is the baliol's librarian it feels as though you're trapped in a conversation with someone very smart but who is also very boring.

the physical book has a very beautiful cover, and I'd picked it up several times and lusted after it's talk of how important books are. But the main theme is less about why books are burned and more about how libraries are the most important thing in all civilisation. Not something I entirely disagree with, but the point is laboured so much it becomes dull.

There are sections that should have fascinated - on the burning of some of the great libraries of the world, and how we might tackle the digital deluge of data - and yet... i fell asleep continually while reading this. It has pretty much a hit list of things I love as topics and still it acted like a sleeping pill.

The narration is very breathy too. I've enjoyed much by Simon Slater before, but it sounds as though he had a slight cold when he recorded this, or his asthma was playing up - as he sounds breathy and laboured in places. Which with the density of the prose was not a great combination.

In sum - perhaps buy the physical book, the cover is gorgeous copper metallics and it might suit the prose better (or at least look pretty on your shelf)

1 person found this helpful