This is one of those books that I could only read a chapter, sometimes two, at a time. It was really interesting, with lots of GORGEOUS pictures of libraries, but it’s still a history and sometimes boring. It was very in-depth, though, starting with “The Ancient Libraries” and moving through the middle ages, to the Renaissance, to the early modern period, to the 21st century. Murray talked about all the books lost to religions, primarily Christianity, suppressing other religions’ ideas and burning their books and records, and also mentioned in many places the casualties of war – bombed, burned-out libraries, priceless ancient books being lost to fire and looters. The latter was preferable, as that usually meant the book would resurface somewhere!
I was a little disappointed that he didn’t talk more about the development of cataloguing systems, and barely mentioned the Dewey Decimal System at all. I thought that was really odd, considering it’s the most-used cataloguing system today! He talked about the difficulty of maintaining a catalogue, but didn’t discuss a lot about how that changed in the modern age.
If you’re interested in libraries, I would definitely recommend this book. As histories go, it wasn’t nearly as dry as some I’ve read, and the pictures were fabulous. I’d definitely like to own this book someday, but for now it will have to go back to the library.
From the inner cover of The Library: An Illustrated History:
“The first libraries appeared five thousand years ago in Southwest Asia’s ‘Fertile Crescent’…the birthplace of writing, some time before 3000 BCE,” writes Stuart A. P. Murray, introducing his fascinating exploration into the history of the library. With the dawning of advanced civilization, the written word flourished and the need for libraries became paramount in many societies.
Throughout the history of the world, libraries have been constructed, burned, discovered, raided, and cherished – while the treasures they housed evolved from early stone tablets, to beautifully illumined vellum, and to the mass-produced, bound paper books and the digital formats of our present day. The Library opens doors to the libraries of ancient Greece, early China, Renaissance England, and modern-day America. This volume speaks to the book lover in all of us while offering a panoramic view of the history of libraries across the centuries.