A Universal History of the Destruction of Books

universal history of the destruction of books book coverFernando Baez, a Venezuelan historian, spent almost 12 years just to assemble the chronicles of this book which would depict a horrific assault on human memory. It all starts in Baghdad in 2003 when US soldiers are just idly standing as mobsters loot everywhere and later on, burn the National Library which causes the loss of a million books in estimate. This act of biblioclasm is not new, according to Baez. Some may have reasons of merely invasion and vandalism while others just do it out of viciousness. In history, more than 80% of Egyptian literature has been gone. Sophocles has 120 plays but only 7 of them survived and millions of ancient scrolls and tablets have been gone.

Baez claims that those who order the destructions of libraries and books are not the ignorant. Instead, they are the powerful ones who highly believe that what they know are the only ones that should be considered. They are the ones who believe that all other truths should perish. Baez’s book roams all around the world and revisits the bibliocausts across continents and centuries. He even gave a bit of fictitious destruction of books, which is that of Don Quixote and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Back then, emerging religions had their works destroyed and upon supplanting the original destroyers, they do the destruction on their own. As Romans destroyed Christian documents, Christians also destroyed roman documents. Meanwhile, Catholics burned Protestant manuscripts. Henry VIII even eradicated England’s monastic libraries. In the New World, records were destroyed by the invading Spaniards. Even Spanish Fascists burned the own history of their country. Natural disasters such as floods, flames, earthquakes, and damages due to acidic paper, worms, and beetles were also tackled.

The work of Baez is indeed well-researched and encyclopedic. Baez is also an advisor to UNESCO with regard to cultural destruction. He has taught in different universities across England, Australia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, France, Spain, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico. These are the places where he used to research on censorship. But above all, his work is most poignant in Iraq. Being the birthplace of the book and human writing, Western soldiers showed no regard for the works of art, manuscripts, and books that were looted. They were only there to protect facilities which are used in producing oil.

Basically, the book reminds us that we, humans, became books’ greatest enemy. All these horrific biblioclasm acts just to destroy the truth of other people. While the books gives an account on human madness, it raises theoretical questions as well about what kind of humans we are. Baez sought to find the deeper underlying motive in biblioclasm. Baez thinks that humans have an impulse to destroy just for consecration and purification. The book never fails to overwhelm, with how informative, depressing, and entertaining it is all in one. There are a lot of information in this book that book lovers and bibliophiles will surely find amazing.

About the Author

Fernando Báez is the author The History of the Ancient Library of Alexandria, The Cultural Destruction of Iraq, and The Cambridge Translator, a novel. He lives in Venezuela.

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