Review: Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge by Richard Ovenden

Title: Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge

Author: Richard Oveden

Genre: Nonfiction

Pages: 238

Read: January 16, 2021

3 stars
3 stars – I liked it

In this book, Richard Ovenden, Director of the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford, describes the deliberate destruction of knowledge held in libraries and archives from ancient Alexandria till now. While I expected this book to only talk about the destruction throughout history, the title is slightly misleading. This book spends more time discussing the preservation and organization of collections and how they can be at risk using the destruction of certain libraries and collections as examples, especially cultural documents to minority groups. 

While the title is misleading, I did learn a lot of interesting facts about the destruction of libraries and collections that, most of which, were new to me. As an archivist myself I am always fascinated by why collections were destroyed and what can be done to prevent that from happening to collections now. This book also spends a lot of time discussing digital archiving and the problems related to it, which while interesting, it felt was unnecessary for this book because this book should have been just about destruction of collections. 

The biggest issue with this book though was the writing style. It was chaotic. Some chapters felt all over the place with information about different collections while trying to get the point of that chapter across. This made it hard at times to understand how it all related together and what the point of some chapters really were. Also I know the author is Director of the Bodleian but it felt like he used any excuse to reference it and its collections throughout this book. 

So while I did learn a lot from this book, it wasn’t exactly a fun read. I don’t regret reading it, I did learn a lot like I said, I just think the title of this book is misleading and people need to be prepared for that. 

Goodreads / Amazon

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