• The Good: Full of fascinating facts about the history of libraries
  • The Bad: Dense and unorganized
  • The Literary: A book about books!

Libraries aren’t just rooms filled with books. They serve as places of beauty and wonder and fascination. They’ve transformed over the centuries just as books have. They’re both public and private, spaces to share and spaces to hide away books in the dark.

This book about books is a cornucopia of all things books. You’ll learn library trivia such as the evolution of writing and printing, from clay tablets and scrolls to the printing press. Then there’s library architecture, stained glass windows, and bookshelf arrangement. I love books for the pleasure of reading, but here you’ll learn about the collectors of books, i.e. obsessive hoarders who often aren’t so much readers as eccentric thieves.

Some of my favorite anecdotes include:

  • Samuel Pepys, an English Naval Administrator who chronicled the Great Fire of London and the Great Plague of London in his personal diary, could not stand deviation. He had small wooden blocks covered in leather commissioned for his bookshelves so that the tops of his books would be even.
  • The first bibles to be printed in English are knows as He bibles, She bibles, Breeches bibles, and Wicked bibles, mostly because of their typographical errors. For example, the 1631 Wicked bible rendered the 7th commandment as, “Thou shalt commit adultery.”
  • War and fire has destroyed a number of historical books and libraries. After the fall of the Bastille, millions of books were confiscated and stored in eight warehouses. Decades later, authorities arranged to sell them all, and it’s estimated every book in France changed hands during this time.
  • The American Henry Folger obsessively collected multiple First Folios of Shakespeare, which has allowed modern scholars to discern five distinct compositors, each with their own style and character. I now must visit the Folger library in Washington DC, which was almost never built as the plans were completed in 1929 on the eve of the Wall Street Crash.

This book about libraries, the books they hold, and the people who create them is almost too dense. It’s a collection of interesting tidbits and stories, almost like a reference book, but it’s organized in a way that makes it impossible to find anything in particular a second time. There’s no index, no citations, no narrative, and no chronology. Chapters are organized by subject, like “Renaissance Rediscoveries”, “Tricks and Treasures in Library Design”, and “Book Looters and Thieves”.

Recommended for fans of history, architecture, and idiosyncratic wierdos who’ve given us the libraries we know and love today.