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The librarians who saved books from destruction

Libraries are essential reference points for ideas, facts and truth

By Rhodri Lewis   December 2020

Duke Humfrey Library, Bodleian Library, Oxford © David Iliff/Flickr

Richard Ovenden argues for the value of libraries as preservers of knowledge. He does so by retelling the stories of libraries under attack. He begins with the destruction of the royal library at Nineveh, jumps to the demise (through neglect, not fire) of the library of Alexandria, and then nods to the role of monasteries in preserving those parts of the classical heritage they did not see fit to obliterate.

These opening chapters—like the rest of the book—are lucidly and engagingly written, but Burning the Books comes into its own with the Reformation. Modern libraries like the Bodleian,…

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