A deeply informative, stimulating volume.



A profusely illustrated, handsomely produced intellectual history.

Raven, a history professor and director of the Cambridge Project for the Book Trust, has drawn together scholarly essays offering a sweeping, erudite, and thoroughly engaging narrative focused on “how the book has been remodelled and reformed over time and in different parts of the world.” Beginning with evidence of the earliest writing in 3500 B.C.E. and ending with Google’s project to create a global, digitized library, the contributors consider the technologies and economics involved in textual production, distribution, and reception; varied uses of written material; censorship and piracy; and the ways that books reflect and shape the societies from which they emerge. “What do books do?” asks Eleanor Robson, a scholar of ancient Middle Eastern history, a question that underlies many essays, as does a more basic question: What is a book? Raven suggests that books “offer a durable, portable, or mobile, replicable and legible (that is, readable and communicable) means of recording and disseminating information and knowledge,” although he readily admits that evolving technologies may require a revision of even so capacious a definition. Legal, scholarly, religious, and literary texts survive from ancient times as parchment, scrolls, and steles, and, Robson notes, every literate society “supported a class of professional scribes who were not obviously economically productive.” The spread of basic literacy incited a desire for books. As cultural historian Ann Blair reveals in an essay about information management, readers looked for aids in finding content both within books and among them. The index and table of contents proved to be welcome new innovations, and with a huge proliferation of books resulting from printing, library catalogs became indispensable. Other contributors range across time and place, focusing on the Renaissance and Reformation, the Islamic world, and modern China, Japan, and Korea. In addition to the striking illustrations, Raven also includes a helpful 14-page timeline.

A deeply informative, stimulating volume.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-19-870298-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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