The Library: A Fragile History
Perfect for book lovers, this is a fascinating exploration of the history of libraries and the people who built them, from the ancient world to the digital age.
Famed across the known world, jealously guarded by private collectors, built up over centuries, destroyed in a single day, ornamented with gold leaf and frescoes, or filled with bean bags and children’s drawings—the history of the library is rich, varied, and stuffed full of incident. In The Library, historians Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen introduce us to the antiquarians and philanthropists who shaped the world’s great collections, trace the rise and fall of literary tastes, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors committed in pursuit of rare manuscripts. In doing so, they reveal that while collections themselves are fragile, often falling into ruin within a few decades, the idea of the library has been remarkably resilient as each generation makes—and remakes—the institution anew.
Beautifully written and deeply researched, The Library is essential reading for booklovers, collectors, and anyone who has ever gotten blissfully lost in the stacks.
Praise for The Library: A Fragile History
“Enlightening… Pettegree and der Weduwen are fascinating when they discuss great private collectors and monastic libraries, but the most important aspect of their book is its exploration of the practical and theoretical role of the library in the lives of ordinary citizens.”—The New Criterion
“Basic Books deserves all praise for publishing both The Library: A Fragile History, by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen and The Gilded Page: The Secret Lives of Medieval Manuscripts, by Mary Wellesley. These are exactly the sort of engaging, ambitious works of scholarship that serious readers want to know about.”
—The Washington Post
“One of the best things about Pettegree and Weduwen’s long and engrossing survey of the library is that they show how adaptable and creative libraries have been over time. I have no doubt that future histories will continue to tell that story.”—Financial Times
“The Library proves that truth is more intriguing than fiction. This survey of the creation and destruction of libraries since the Library of Alexandria was founded two millennia ago is full of charismatic individuals and astonishing facts.”—The Times
“This sweeping history of libraries is outstanding…. A history of libraries from the ancient world to yesterday, it is fetchingly produced and scrupulously researched — a perfect gift for bibliophiles everywhere.”—Sunday Times
“Where there are books, there will be libraries, of that we can be assured. Pettegree and Weduwen’s handsome book, which is lucidly written, mercifully free of jargon and international in its ambition, ought to be in every one of them.”—The Herald
“A splendid study of the institution of the library from its origins until today.”—Commentary
"Rigorous but riveting history."—The Spectator
“This history of the library, from the Assyrians to the digital age, is itself a wonderful collection of knowledge… This is a book full of fascination and ultimately one of optimism, too.”
“[A] magnificently researched and compendious book.”—The Tablet
“Offers some striking insights into the past and future of university libraries.”—Times Higher Education
“Ranges far and wide, covering the extraordinary story of the library from Alexandria to the age of Google… enthralling.”—Irish Examiner
“A robust, near definitive effort, tracing the evolution of the institution from the clay tablets of the Assyrian Empire to the wired libraries of today.”—Booklist
“Fascinating for all bibliophiles and people who want libraries to survive and improve.”—Library Journal
“[A] fascinating deep dive into the evolution of libraries… Bibliophiles should consider this a must read.”
“A lively, authoritative cultural history…packed with fascinating facts for bibliophiles.”—Kirkus
"What is a ‘library’? Is it a mute display of personal wealth and power, or of a humble devotion to God? A routine community resource, or a waste of taxpayers’ money? In The Library, we are led nimbly through the centuries, seeing how it has been all of these things and more, as the authors place on the shelf a cornucopia of bookish history."
—Judith Flanders, author of A Place for Everything
"A sweeping, absorbing history, deeply researched, of that extraordinary and enduring phenomenon: the library."—Richard Ovenden, University of Oxford
“Comprehensive without being miscellaneous, lively without being anecdotal, this sweeping history of libraries shows how central this institution has been to every aspect of human culture. At a time when libraries and librarians are proving themselves to be more important and more resilient than ever before, this whirlwind tour of the different forms that libraries have taken at different times and places will educate and inspire in equal measure.”—Leah Price, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Books