An Unquiet History

Matthew Battles (Author, Berkman Center for Internet and Society)


"Engrossingly saturated with fascinating lore, colorful anecdotes, and deft portraits." —Hilarie M. Sheets, New York Times

Through the ages, libraries have not only accumulated and preserved but also shaped, inspired, and obliterated knowledge. Now they are in crisis. Former rare books librarian and Harvard metaLAB visionary Matthew Battles takes us from Boston to Baghdad, from classical scriptoria to medieval monasteries and on to the Information Age, to explore how libraries are built and how they are destroyed: from the scroll burnings in ancient China to the burning of libraries in Europe and Bosnia to the latest revolutionary upheavals of the digital age. A new afterword elucidates how knowledge is preserved amid the creative destruction of twenty-first-century technology.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • July 2015
  • ISBN 978-0-393-35145-3
  • 5.5 × 8.3 in / 272 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide including Canada, but excluding the British Commonwealth.

Endorsements & Reviews

“Gifted and eloquent, Battles has written a pertinent book, full of insight and humanity.” — Nicholas Basbanes, author of On Paper

“Huge in scope…engaging.” — BookPage

“Blow[s] the dust off our stodgy, conventional conception of the library to reveal the living heart of culture.” — Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Battles’ book is an obvious choice for bibliophiles. But the author’s evident enthusiasm for his subject just might fan into flame any passion for books and libraries that smolders in the heart of the general reader, too.” — Boston Herald

“Elegantly written....A great read, flowing over many time periods and geographic regions.” — Library Journal

“Battles turns an all-seeing telescope on the most spectacular galaxy in our intellectual heavens—that magnificent constellation of books we call a library—and brings into focus the brightest stars and blackest holes in its dynamic history.” — Richard Lederer, author of A Man of My Words

“Splendidly articulate, informative and provoking…sweeping in its inclusiveness, extraordinarily brisk in narrative vigor, and consistently lively—utterly trumping the cliches of the mustiness of libraries and the dreariness of librarians. A book among books, to be savored and gone back to.” — Michael Packenham, Baltimore Sun

“This is an idiosyncratic and brave book…like many other fine works of literature, [it] is not unlike a library.” — Dallas Morning News

“Fascinating…At its heart, the book is above all a celebration of mankind’s ceaseless quest to quench curiosity and organize knowledge—a quest all the more timely, yet more overwhelming, in an era when our collective 'library' has swelled into the world wide web, the largest information system humanity has ever known.” — Maria Popova, author of Figuring

Also by Matthew Battles All

  1. Book CoverPalimpsest: A History of the Written Word


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