An extraordinary book … all about books, and how precious and sometimes fragile books can be in providing links to our past. Books are our memories as a species. And yet the attack on books through neglect, obsolesence, or cultural “cleansing” has continued even into current times. Even the great electronic revolution in the last few decades has not provided all the solutions to the impermanence of the written word, and there is a danger that our recorded memories are less secure in this digital age than they were in the age of cuneiform and parchment. Basbanes’ book A Splendor of Letters elegantly follows the story of the preservation of the delicate thread of the written word from ancient times to modern times.
Books may survive for aeons, and be copied and preserved and revered, until a sudden temperamental flash in society blots out their fragile existence. The list of tragedies from Basbanes’ book sets the scene for current debates on the value of the original textual artifact and the migration of content through ephemeral electronic media.
– the burning and looting of the National Library in Baghdad (not as bad as the Mongol seige in 1258)
– the bombing of the National Library in Sarajevo
– the attack of the Khmer Rouge on Cambodia’s libraries and librarians
– the destruction of libraries in Tibet
– the book burnings of the Nazis
– the burning of Mayan books by the Franciscan friar Diego de Landa
– the neglect and destruction of the library in Alexandria
– the destruction of Carthage by the Romans