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THE LIBRARY

A FRAGILE HISTORY

A lively, authoritative cultural history.

A comprehensive history of the invention and reinvention of libraries.

Historians Pettegree and der Weduwen have created a capacious, deeply researched examination of collections of the written word. They begin with clay tablets in the Assyrian Empire of Mesopotamia and move to the digitized material probed by Google’s Alexa (named after the ancient library at Alexandria) to answer 500 million questions per day from customers around the world. The history of the library, the authors assert, “is not a story of relentless progress” or even of shared meaning about what a library should be, what it should contain, and whom it should serve. From ancient Greece to contemporary urban spaces, the authors offer a panoramic view of collections ranging from illuminated manuscripts in medieval monasteries to popular novels circulated in bookmobiles, from Oxford’s privately funded Bodleian Library to Andrew Carnegie’s extensive public library system. Collections often served as symbols of status and power; access to the San Marco library in 15th-century Florence, for example, “was restricted to literate male citizens of the city with scholarly interests.” Once the printing press made books affordable—9 million books were printed by 1500—appetite for ownership burgeoned, “fueled by universities and schools, movements of popular lay devotion and the steady growth of cities.” Still, before the 17th century, most libraries were privately held, occupying “spaces which were not originally constructed as rooms for books.” In a narrative packed with fascinating facts for bibliophiles, the authors recount the vulnerability of books to war, oppression, censorship, fire, and confiscation. Even collectors used to rid themselves of duplicates by recycling them “as wallpaper, bookbinding supports, wrapping paper or toilet paper.” Not until the advent of antiquarian booksellers was there an eruption of “bibliomania, frantic competitive bidding for the best and rarest copies of early printed books.” Faced with increasing digitization, libraries are more than merely public gathering spaces. “The health of the library,” write the authors, “will remain connected to the health of the book.”

A lively, authoritative cultural history.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5416-0077-5

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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