Burning the Books

A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge

Hardcover, 320 pages

English language

Published Dec. 6, 2020 by Harvard University Press.


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The director of the famed Bodleian Libraries at Oxford narrates the global history of the willful destruction -- and surprising survival -- of recorded knowledge over the past three millennia. Libraries and archives have been attacked since ancient times but have been especially threatened in the modern era. Today the knowledge they safeguard faces purposeful destruction and willful neglect; deprived of funding, libraries are fighting for their very existence. Burning the Books recounts the history that brought us to this point. Richard Ovenden describes the deliberate destruction of knowledge held in libraries and archives from ancient Alexandria to contemporary Sarajevo, from smashed Assyrian tablets in Iraq to the destroyed immigration documents of the United Kingdom's Windrush generation. He examines both the motivations for these acts -- political, religious, and cultural -- and the broader themes that shape this history. He also looks at attempts to prevent and mitigate attacks on …

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