Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Review: Libricide and Biblioclasm

April was historical nonfiction month for book club. It was hard to think of a topic to read about, but somehow I stumbled upon library burnings. I'm a librarian, so I ran with it.

Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century
By Rebecca Knut
296 pages

Generally I like nonfiction books, but I missed the marked slightly with this one - it was just too academic. The first few chapters explained the concept of libricide, comparing it to genocide, by defining it as the systematic destruction of books and other cultural artifacts as part of a plan by a psychotic regime or ruler to eliminate a particular culture or group of people. So libricide is thus not destruction as a casualty of war like in bombings, but a strategic and calculated destruction in order to maximize the elimination of a culture. Not overly uplifting. It's an interesting concept, but I just didn't want to read about it as a concept for 100 pages. I wanted to read about incidences of library burnings, but the cases chosen for this booked were patterned as such: entire chapter on background to and actual event plus analysis, with a couple paragraphs detailing what libraries were burned and how many books were lost. Cases included were: Nazi Germany, Serbia, Iraq and Kuwait, China and Tibet. The cases were interesting and I learned a lot about the Yugoslavia war and the situation in Tibet in particular, but the library part was too minimal to keep up my motivation to slog through the academic verbiage.

Did you know: Mao worked as an assistant in the library at Peking University in 1918. That's where he discovered Marxism. And later on he destroyed the country.

Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction
By Rebecca Knuth
248 pages

This is Knuth's follow up tome, and I meant to read it too, but ran out of time. It presents shorter summaries and analysis of library burnings due to biblioclasm, which is the destruction or vandalism of books due to extremist violence like terrorism, war etc. This differs from the first book because that was based on elimination of cultures by governments and rulers in power, whereas this book spreads a wider net. Cases include: Cambodia, Afghanistan, as well as particular library burnings in Amsterdam, Berlin, and more general chapters on war and vandalism. I'm sure it would be an interesting read, but I just don't have the time or the desire to plod through the high academic language.

So a bit of a fail this month. Interesting topic, some interesting case studies, but overall the academic language didn't keep me enthralled in the content. I would recommend these books to anyone who wants to learn not only about library destruction, but also delve deeper into the reasons, meanings, and repercussions of the occurrences.

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