Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century

Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century

Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century

Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century

Synopsis

"This book identities the regime-sponsored, ideologically driven, and systemic destruction of books and libraries in the twentieth century that often served as a prelude or accompaniment to the massive human tragedies that have characterized a most violent century. Using case studies of libricide committed by Nazis, Serbs in Bosnia, Iraqis in Kuwait, Maoists during the Cultural Revolution in China, and Chinese Communists in Tibet, Knuth argues that the destruction of books and libraries by authoritarian regimes was sparked by the same impulses toward negation that provoked acts of genocide or ethnocide." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

"Questions are the engines of intellect.… There can be no
thinking without questioning, no purposeful study of the past,
nor any serious planning for the future."

(Fischer 1970, 3).

Books and libraries occasionally fall victim to disaster. They are, after all, fragile material objects. In 1966 floods in Florence damaged two million books, many of them rare and precious manuscripts. In 1988, a devastating fire claimed 3.6 million books in Leningrad's Academy of Sciences Library. While we are saddened by such catastrophes and feel a sense of loss, we respond differently to the destruction of books in "natural" disasters than to the deliberate violation of books. In natural disasters, human agency is, at most, a secondary force at play, and damage to cultural materials does not raise questions about the basic order of society. The case is entirely different when books and libraries are systematically looted, bombed, and burned, for then a deliberate and calculated attack on the culture of a group is launched, and the world responds from a sense that the whole of human culture has come under attack. In the pages to come, I will argue that this is, in fact, the case, and for this reason a look back at the twentieth century's plague of book destruction is critical if we are to understand such behavior and, subsequently, take active steps to protect the common cultural heritage of the world.

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