Cover Image: The Library

The Library

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Member Reviews

I love a book about books! This is a wonderful history of libraries and their various forms. It's great for any book- or library-lover.
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Very thoroughly-researched and well laid out! Libraries are a topic that interest me hugely because I'm currently in library school. However, I think 'The Library' is engaging enough for someone who is not in the field and is just looking to learn about the history of libraries and the science of information. A great, meaty read for bibliophiles!
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Wonderful book for anyone interested in libraries. It's a thorough history of libraries and their evolution through the ages. Great read for anyone who loves books, libraries, and/or history
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Very thorough history of libraries - starting with Ancient Rome and going forward through the challenges libraries face today.  Lots of interesting information - and new information, even though I've read books about libraries before.  Here is one of my favorites - 

Greeting/warning to users of the Amsterdam library in the 18th century:
You learned sir, who enter among books,
don't slam the door with your tumultuous hand;
nor let your rowdy foot create a bang,
a nuisance to the Muse.  Then, if you see someone
seated within, greet him by bowing,
and with a silent nod: nor waffle gossip: 
here it's the dead who speak to them who work.
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Oh. My. 

What an astonishing book. 

Honestly I've had such a good year for book-related histories: The Gilded Page (Mary Wellesley), and The Bookseller of Florence (Ross King), and now this. Interestingly, this book contains parts of those two, because understanding how libraries function requires some knowledge of books themselves function, and how the book trade functions. It's been like a mini-course in the whole book production history of Europe. 

The authors begin with a discussion of the fabled Library of Alexandria, which is appropriate given its mythical place in the history of libraries... and ALSO that there's some attempt to do something similar in the Alexandria of today, which is, let's say, not the Alexandria of yesteryear. 

What utterly intrigued me was the way that exactly what a library is FOR has changed over the centuries. I am a huge fan of the public library, and absolutely uphold its place as a community resource. I do know that in medieval Europe, libraries were the province of monasteries and nobles - not least because that reflects the literacy of the age, and also the aspirations of such people. 

It was the use of libraries as exhibitions of wealth that was one aspect explored beautifully here - collecting the 'right' books, and beautiful versions. And then how do you have architecture that reflects that? If you're worried about scholars nicking off with your precious tomes, and you only have a few books, then you chain the books up (literally) and your building reflects that. But when books starting getting more accessible and you are HAPPY for them to be accessed (unlike Oxford libraries not allowing students in and having opening hours for about three hours a week), then what the rooms look like needs to change. 

I deeply appreciated the exploration of libraries as both weapons within colonialism and imperialism, and victims of it too. Colonial outposts in NZ and India being sent books; translations into the languages of the colonised; and libraries being looted, or outright destroyed, across the globe - these are things that need to be remembered and dealt with as people keep thinking about the use and abuse of knowledge as power. It would have been so easy to not include those things, and to stick with somehow seeing libraries as just repositories of books - ignoring books as power - but I'm so glad the authors wanted to give a rich and full exploration of libraries as institutions. 

Look, I just loved this book. It's beautifully written and has lovely images. It covers predominantly European examples of libraries. It does so across just over two millennia, from monastery to castle to private home to public institution. And the modern arguments about what a library is for! Clearly these authors are defenders of the existence of libraries, but they're not just stuck in mid-20th century versions. They are, if anything, ambitious for what place libraries can and should have in communities. 

I love books and I love libraries and this was a wonderful history of them both.
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A stunning, eloquent and immersive ode to the stories that bind us and the institution that sews them and holds them close. 

The perfect booklover gift  and a must have for every bibliophile's shelf
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A bibliophiles dream bound in a single edition! And while undoubtedly scholarly and historical this is the sort of book that can also be perused in small doses by any lover of books and libraries, whether they are regularly in pursuit of knowledge or entertaining escapism in their choice of reading material. **Thank you so much to both NegGalley and Basic Books/Hachette for an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review! I loved it so much I bought a hardcover copy the day it came out.**

This comprehensive tome covers the history of the library from the great mythos of the Library of Alexandria to the Bodleian to the Library of Congress; from parchments and scrolls, to illuminated manuscripts to the advent of the printing press and production of the dime paperback; from collectors and the first auctions and specialist booksellers; from private collections to Universities, from lending libraries to public libraries, from the first bookmobiles to the Appalachian pack horse libraries - this book covers the growth, decline, .and regrowth over and over again all across our globe. 

One of the most interesting parts to me in the history of the printed page (and covered here) is the eventual popularity of fiction (vs non-fiction "learned reading") and the eschewing of that form of print in the larger collecting of books in libraries. How lending/circulating libraries (primarily sources of fiction) were "fretted over what might fall into the hands of their wives and daughters, apprentices and servants or impressionable youths." They were "denounced as purveyors of pornography and books of brain-rotting triviality" in the 18th & 19th century. Ironically much similar is still said in the modern era, especially with the advent of the popular paperback novel. and that oh so poo-pooed upon "romance" novel, which got its bad reputation as far back as 1773 as being written "solely for the use of circulating libraries, and very proper to debauch all young women who are still undebauched." I'm pretty sure there are still people saying the same thing today.  

There are modern era anecdotes that will both shock, appall and entertain - from the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake which led to the revamping of the Library and the sudden disappearance of some where between 200,000-500,000 books into a landfill - a debacle that is still kept relatively hushed up - to the discovery of a librarians 10,000 plus purloined hoard found in his house in 1982. 

The book also covers the oft prophesized decline of books and libraries (yes its supposed decline was stated long before the advent of the modern technological era), with some very up to date information all the way up to our global epidemic and its effects on both reading and libraries. This advance of the tech age is possibly the most thought provoking portion of the book as it effects us as readers today, and this book provides plenty of insight. "More fundamentally, are books just too slow for the modern world, where our mindscape is dominated by a smart phone?" "The internet, it is true, is the perfect tool for an impatient age, we love the convenience of same day delivery, but we complain more and more of the stress of the relentless pace of life. Libraries and books encourage reflective thought. We cannot delegate the whole burden of returning balance to our lives to classes and therapeutic groups. A book creates a mindfulness class of one."
          "Most of all , by empowering the digital revolution, librarians have given up the one unique selling point which they defended so tenaciously for almost as long as we have had libraries: the right to apply their knowledge, taste and discrimination to assisting the choice of their patrons. This has been the key to understanding so much in this book: the idea that in an age of plenty there will always be helpmates to assist readers in making the right choice of book. Can the internet, in all its enormous variety, ever replace this reflective process of deliberation, the slow choosing the eager anticipation, the slow unfolding of plot?" (and while impressive algorithms have made it easy to find "more of the same" - "What if we want something different, rather than more of the same? What if we do not know that we want something different, but a chance encounter sparks our interests?")

So lots of thought provoking questions here as well as history and bibliphilism (and as a true book lover and collector I also loved the portions about private collectors and the building of their collections). 

This is a must have book for booklovers and bibliophiles the world over!
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Thank you, NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Complex and meticulously researched, Andrew Pettegrew and Arthur der Weduwen’s The Library: A Fragile History leads the reader on a tumultuous journey filled with accounts of destruction, loss, power struggles, survival, and above all resilience.  From the famed, ancient Library of Alexandria, to the modern media center, and all iterations in between, this well-executed historical exploration provides an account perfect for anyone with an affinity toward libraries.  Though the writing is, at times, a bit dry, the book succeeds in its lofty goal to chronicle the sometimes tragic and sometimes sordid story behind the contemporary library system.
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I have always been fascinated by the idea of the library and the history of how knowledge has been preserved over time. Pettegree and Weduwen definitely helped me satisfy this curiosity with this wonderful book.
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I love books about books.  I have spent most of my life in libraries. In fact, I have spent most of my life with my face buried in books. When I retired as a university literature professor, I promptly volunteered as a librarian.  NetGalley is the perfect app for me.  NetGalley is rather like being let loose in a candy shop.  I seem to request every book that I see that has bookseller, bookbinder, book writer, or library in the title. 

When I requested "The Library," I had no idea about the content of the book. Fortunately, the history provided by authors, Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen, in their non-fiction book, "The Library," turned out to be just as interesting as I had expected.  When we travel, I seek out libraries throughout Europe. I recognized some of those libraries in "The Library." I have been in libraries in monasteries and in the Vatican, in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, in the old British Library in London, and in the Folger Library in Washington DC.  And so, of course I found "The Library" captivating.  Every one of the libraries that I have visited left me nearly speechless and in awe. It was a thrill to recognize so many of the descriptions in Pettegree and der Weduwen's book. The role of money and religion in establishing libraries and the collecting of books was not a surprise.  The same holds true today.  Libraries continue to need money.  While libraries no longer buy books by the yard, the need to fill shelves remains important.  The history that Pettegree and der Weduwen provide is fascinating, and while much of it was not surprising to me, there were other sections that made me smile, such as an acknowledgement of the power that libraries hold. The destruction of libraries, whether in Alexandria or World War II are sad beyond words.

The photos and illustrations in "The Library" were terrific. I could only wish there were more of them. Anyone who loves libraries, the history of libraries, the history of books, and all the various permutations of books will love this book. I appreciate the publisher and NetGalley giving me access to this ARC of The Library.
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This book is very informative but at the same time it is very dry, I think it would be better enjoyed as a pick up and put down every now then type of book rather than reading constantly from cover to cover. I also felt it was just a tiny bit too long.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Perseus Books and the authors for the copy of this book. All views are my own.*
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I received this book from the publisher through Netgalley for review and all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Release Date: November 9, 2021.
From the time I signed my first library card; giving me access to thousands of titles; I was fascinated with the library. In this book, a historical perspective on the library, the reader enters the halls of art, writing, collecting, and conquest. From antiquity to the modern library, the reader of this fine book will learn about how historical and cultural changes to the library which altered thought and learning. Well written in an easy style, this book was enjoyable and an excellent reference for future reading as well. I admit to needing to review this in a timely fashion and will be curling up to read a second time out of pure enjoyment.
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Wow - what a book.  It's incredibly well researched and written.

This is one of the first books I've ever read completely dedicated to the history of libraries, and inextricably, books.  I work in a library and visit my public library at least once a week.  I found this history/social commentary on the role and place of libraries in society to be a really interesting piece of work.

I did find the book very long and a bit dry in parts, that said, it was very well-written, full of very-well researched text and the chosen illustrations complemented the text well.  The scope of the work wasn't entirely clear, the authors jumping from a European-focused first 2/3 of the book to a US-focused last third with hints of Russia, Australia and then back to England and the continent.  As a Canadian reader I was disappointed to find Canada left out almost entirely of the book.  The rating is for content and quality, not necessarily enjoyability - but in this case I think that's okay..
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Imagine the sheer amount of effort required to acquire your personal library from scratch in ancient times!  One religious text may require up to 50 animals and a very patient scribe or two.  To have a library of any kind would have been rare.  Literacy rates were low, few could afford luxuries.  It is unimaginable for most of us to comprehend the lack of access to life-enriching reading materials throughout history.  

This meticulously-researched book is chock full to the brim with everything you want to know about libraries including materials used for recording (papyrus, parchment, vellum...), plundering collections after wars, lives of scribes, moving collections from country to country, private collections, storage, maintenance, literacy, public displays, role of monasteries and religion, printing presses driving down prices, booksellers, medical collections, chained books, deliberate book burning (and loss in accidental fires), library labels, subscription libraries, library acts, the effects of radio and internet and censorship.

So much to love about this meaty book.  I really like the inclusion of quantities of books owned by various people hundreds and thousands of years ago and would love to meet some of them!  Several literally lived for books and thankfully placed great importance upon them.  As society and politics change, libraries adapt.  I am filled with gratitude for our library system which is a life saver especially during long, cold and snowy winters.  As long as there are readers, there will be libraries of some kind, preferably physical.  My library is my pride and joy!

Those who adore books about books ought to read this.  Yes, it is rather long and academic but gripping, educational and  includes fascinating photographs.  

My sincere thank you to Perseus Books, Basic Books and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this stellar book!
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A library lover's dream! Full of history, from the beginning of the beginning, and a careful tour through the libraries that have shaped our written record of humanity. An encyclopedic read, wrapping a reader roundabout with all those hours of research, the many crooks and crannies investigated and historical detective-diving obvious in every chapter.

Don't be shy, bookworms. This is the one to read.

A Sincere Thanks to Andrew Pettegree; Arthur der Weduwen, Perseus Books and NetGalley for an ARC to read and review.
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The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree; Arthur der Weduwen is currently scheduled for release on November 7 2021. Famed across the known world, jealously guarded by private collectors, built up over centuries, destroyed in a single day, ornamented with gold leaf and frescoes, or filled with bean bags and children’s drawings—the history of the library is rich, varied, and stuffed full of incident. Historians Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen introduce readers to the antiquarians and philanthropists who shaped the world’s great collections, trace the rise and fall of literary tastes, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors committed in pursuit of rare manuscripts. In doing so, they reveal that while collections themselves are fragile, often falling into ruin within a few decades, the idea of the library has been remarkably resilient as each generation makes—and remakes—the institution anew.

The Library: A Fragile History is a well written and thoroughly researched book. It gives an overview of the history of libraries, highlighting some notable libraries and collectors along the way. I think the information is very well organized, and I appreciated the inclusion of some women that have had an impact, which is often left out or written about in a condescending way. I appreciate the amount of research and work that went into the book, and found the subject matter fascinating. However, I think those most interested would do better to tackle this book one section at a time rather than trying to read it straight through. The information is great, it is meticulously researched and cited, but the text reads a bot dry and dense. The passion the authors, and most readers that pick up this book, feel is not conveyed through the text making it a less engaging read. I am still very glad I read it and learned so much, and I think those interested in the title and subject matter will be as well. It is just a slightly more dense non fiction read than I normally enjoy. As one would hope, and expect, from a book about libraries the lists of citations and the bibliography was complete and though. This made me happier as a reader because I could further explore the sources used in researching this book. 

The Library: A Fragile History is a book that will appeal to anyone that has ever fallen in love with reading, books, libraries, or the trappings of any related topics.
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The Library
Andrew Pettegree; Arthur der Weduwen
Release date: 09 Nov 2021

"Perfect for book lovers, this is a fascinating exploration of the history of libraries and the people who built them, from the ancient world to the digital age.
Famed across the known world, jealously guarded by private collectors, built up over centuries, destroyed in a single day, ornamented with gold leaf and frescoes, or filled with bean bags and children’s drawings—the history of the library is rich, varied, and stuffed full of incident. In The Library, historians Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen introduce us to the antiquarians and philanthropists who shaped the world’s great collections, trace the rise and fall of literary tastes, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors committed in pursuit of rare manuscripts. In doing so, they reveal that while collections themselves are fragile, often falling into ruin within a few decades, the idea of the library has been remarkably resilient as each generation makes—and remakes - the institution anew.
Beautifully written and deeply researched, The Library is essential reading for booklovers, collectors, and anyone who has ever gotten blissfully lost in the stacks." 

The history of the world (the last 2000 years) as seen through the eyes of a book!

Highly recommend for all bibliophiles! Extremely well-written and superbly researched.

Libraries have been around for a very long time, but they've never had an easy go of it. Wars, religious controversies, natural disasters, politics and plunder have all had a catastrophic effect on libraries. But, did you know "the most destructive epoch in the history of the library" was World War II?

So many other interesting facts & quotes:

"The thirty copies of the Gutenberg Bible printed on parchment required the skins of at least 5,000 calves."

Fernando Colon, son of Christopher Columbus, was the first to attempt the creation of a universal library during the early 1500s.

"If there is one lesson from the centuries-long story of the library, it is that libraries only last as long as people find them useful." In order to survive, libraries need to adapt.
I will be purchasing this book when it becomes available!

I was gifted this advance copy by NetGalley and was under no obligation to provide a review.
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Pettegree and derWeduwen have done a thorough job of presenting the history of libraries and books from the early beginnings through the challenges facing libraries today. Based upon the extensive notes and bibliography at the end, it is abundantly clear that the authors did a great deal of research. The book's historical examination focuses on the impact of books and libraries throughout the world. 

Though some might think the topic would be a tad dry, this book manages to hold readers’ interest through stories of people critical to the survival of books and libraries. As this historical account advances, readers are treated to the growing role of libraries and books during the Middle Ages through World Wars and up to the present. The current bastions of knowledge have evolved from personal, religious, and college collections into cornerstones of our public institutions. Throughout history, libraries have faced challenges to their existence and the current situation is no exception.

This is a delightful, informative book that examines one of our most cherished institutions and shows us how book lovers and librarians have helped libraries survive threats throughout time. For all who love history and especially those who love books and libraries, this is a fascinating read.
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I was quite happy to see this book as I knew it would be interesting to a library geek like me.
I am yet to finish it but wanted to share my thoughts so far because I am taking it slowly.
Firstly, I love the content. It is quite interesting but it is also slow reading for me. Not because the book isn't fantastic, because it is and I know other library geeks are going to love it too.
It's rich in history and has just about everything you want to know about libraries' past. 
The images throughout are a real treat and they are balanced throughout with a good mix of text.
I recommend all those that are curious about libraries' past and how they have shaped how they are now.
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This offered me some insight into the history of libraries and how over the years people collected and shared and stored books, however, it was not as truly captivating as I had hoped it would be and took me a while to read and enjoy, mainly because of the detailed information/research.
Thanks Netgalley for the eARC.
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