Tuesday, October 26, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

I love libraries. My favorites are large academic libraries with their stacks filled with obscure treasures. My local public library is next. In addition to the great selection in the citywide system, the librarians seem to be able to obtain just about anything I’m looking for. I even love the goofy libraries at vacation spots, more likely provided for show than because anyone is expected to read the odd old assortments. And then there are private libraries… I’ve always wanted a room with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a sliding ladder. I’ve settled for books all over my house.

When I saw The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen available on Netgalley, I knew I had to read it.

This new release is a comprehensive history of the library, from idea to execution, with all the myriad cycles of building and destruction (or fading away). It covers the “public” libraries of antiquity, the massive personal libraries of royalty and wealthy men, institutional libraries, subscription libraries, modern-day public libraries, pretty much every form of book collecting for personal use or for sharing. It covers the rise and fall of great libraries alongside the rise and fall of civilizations. It addresses the question of the future of the library. (Have faith! People have been predicting the end of “the book” for as long as there have been books. Libraries, too, will survive in one form or another.)

The Library is an impressive undertaking. It’s comprehensive (a bit lengthy) and detailed (so a bit dry), but my interest never flagged. The resiliency of the library as a concept and as a concrete public service is inspiring. Book lovers, readers and collectors, and all library nerds will find this an interesting and reassuring study of the topic. 

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