Posted by: Nyxks | October 7, 2007

Books on Fire

Books on Fire
by Lucien X. Polastron © 2007
Inner Traditions
ISBN 1-59477-167-7
384 pages includes appendices
Hardcover
$24.95 (U.S.) $32.50 (Canada)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

Okay, I freely admit that this book has no overt relevance to paganism and Witchcraft. After all, we write our own (ritual) books and most of us can’t afford to maintain anything grand enough to be dignified by the word “library” in its modern sense. Still, most of us (apparently) are avid readers, so the destruction of libraries affects us.

Contrary to what many of us may believe, the destruction of the Alexandrian library in the 4th Century C.E. was not the last major occurrence of library destruction. It continues to the very day, hard as that may be to believe (and even harder to countenance). And it isn’t all about religious intolerance, either. Nowadays cultural intolerance is more likely to be a factor. I’m not sure that the replacing of ignorance with intolerance is any kind of an advance. Ignorance of writing may have been a viable excuse in ancient times, but by the dawn of the 21st Century it is no longer acceptable.

It is sometimes hard for me to remember that literacy on a wide scale is a relatively recent phenomenon (and yet, even today, 38% of American 4th-graders cannot read at a basic level – figures like that do not bode well for the continued existence of libraries). Certainly the Internet has made access to information much easier, but questions of accuracy have arisen. Then there exist the questions about the manuscripts, incunabula, and other works which have never been printed.

This book raises disturbing questions about the function of public libraries in the world of the future based on what has occurred and what continues to occur. The concepts put forward for some of the most “progressive” new libraries – the new library in Alexandria, and the National Library of France – as well as some more venerable institutions (the British Museum) would make physical access to actual books less likely.

What will happen when the printed book has gone the way of the dinosaur? Will we permit this to happen? Can we prevent it? How many titles have disappeared forever from our stocks of reading materials?

What can we do about this disturbing trend? Several things, in my opinion. First, let your political leaders, on all levels, know that you support free and open access to libraries; help to make sure that funding is available for adding new books to the collections; encourage people to get their information not only from the Internet.

Okay, enough from my soapbox. Now back to the book itself. The author relates the loss of libraries from natural disasters, warfare, and attempts to control what people can have access to. He relates a number of libraries which have been destroyed during the recent past.

If you are lover of the printed word, this book will open your eyes, and most likely shock you. Do you NEED this book? No, probably not. But it is well worth reading and having around for those times when we all get a little too complacent about how “civilized” we have become, and how we would NEVER behave like the barbarians form the past.

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