Richard Ovenden

Dec 18, 2020

Burning the Books

A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge

Harvard University Press 2020

Living in an age awash with information can sometimes obscure its extraordinary fragility. Indeed, as Richard Ovenden demonstrates in Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge (Harvard University Press, 2020), the burning of books and the looting of archives has long been a tool for controlling access to information and the power that it offers. Many rulers throughout history have deliberately targeted libraries and archives for plundering and destruction, knowing that doing so limits the ability of their victims to benefit from the knowledge therein. Ordinary individuals have often engaged in similar actions on a smaller scale in an attempt to control public perceptions of themselves and how they will be remembered. Ovenden shows how these efforts highlight the role that libraries and archives have long served in society, both as repositories of information and as institutions that work to ensure that knowledge and the power that comes from it is available to everyone and not just the few who seek to limit it for their own benefit.

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