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Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction

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Whether the product of passion or of a cool-headed decision to use ideas to rationalize excess, the decimation of the world's libraries occurred throughout the 20th century, and there is no end in sight. Cultural destruction is, therefore, of increasing concern. In her previous book Libricide, Rebecca Knuth focused on book destruction by authoritarian regimes: Nazis, Serbs Whether the product of passion or of a cool-headed decision to use ideas to rationalize excess, the decimation of the world's libraries occurred throughout the 20th century, and there is no end in sight. Cultural destruction is, therefore, of increasing concern. In her previous book Libricide, Rebecca Knuth focused on book destruction by authoritarian regimes: Nazis, Serbs in Bosnia, Iraqis in Kuwait, Maoists during the Cultural Revolution in China, and the Chinese Communists in Tibet. But authoritarian governments are not the only perpetrators. Extremists of all stripes--through terrorism, war, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and other forms of mass violence--are also responsible for widespread cultural destruction, as she demonstrates in this new book. Burning Books and Leveling Libraries is structured in three parts. Part I is devoted to struggles by extremists over voice and power at the local level, where destruction of books and libraries is employed as a tactic of political or ethnic protest. Part II discusses the aftermath of power struggles in Germany, Afghanistan, and Cambodia, where the winners were utopians who purged libraries in efforts to purify their societies and maintain power. Part III examines the fate of libraries when there is war and a resulting power vacuum. The book concludes with a discussion of the events in Iraq in 2003, and the responsibility of American war strategists for the widespread pillaging that ensued after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. This case poignantly demonstrates the ease with which an oppressed people, given the collapse of civil restraints, may claim freedom as license for anarchy, construing it as the right to prevail, while ignoring its implicit mandate of social responsibility. Using military might to enforce ideals (in this case democracy and freedom) is futile, Knuth argues, if insufficient consideration is given to humanitarian, security, and cultural concerns.


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Whether the product of passion or of a cool-headed decision to use ideas to rationalize excess, the decimation of the world's libraries occurred throughout the 20th century, and there is no end in sight. Cultural destruction is, therefore, of increasing concern. In her previous book Libricide, Rebecca Knuth focused on book destruction by authoritarian regimes: Nazis, Serbs Whether the product of passion or of a cool-headed decision to use ideas to rationalize excess, the decimation of the world's libraries occurred throughout the 20th century, and there is no end in sight. Cultural destruction is, therefore, of increasing concern. In her previous book Libricide, Rebecca Knuth focused on book destruction by authoritarian regimes: Nazis, Serbs in Bosnia, Iraqis in Kuwait, Maoists during the Cultural Revolution in China, and the Chinese Communists in Tibet. But authoritarian governments are not the only perpetrators. Extremists of all stripes--through terrorism, war, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and other forms of mass violence--are also responsible for widespread cultural destruction, as she demonstrates in this new book. Burning Books and Leveling Libraries is structured in three parts. Part I is devoted to struggles by extremists over voice and power at the local level, where destruction of books and libraries is employed as a tactic of political or ethnic protest. Part II discusses the aftermath of power struggles in Germany, Afghanistan, and Cambodia, where the winners were utopians who purged libraries in efforts to purify their societies and maintain power. Part III examines the fate of libraries when there is war and a resulting power vacuum. The book concludes with a discussion of the events in Iraq in 2003, and the responsibility of American war strategists for the widespread pillaging that ensued after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. This case poignantly demonstrates the ease with which an oppressed people, given the collapse of civil restraints, may claim freedom as license for anarchy, construing it as the right to prevail, while ignoring its implicit mandate of social responsibility. Using military might to enforce ideals (in this case democracy and freedom) is futile, Knuth argues, if insufficient consideration is given to humanitarian, security, and cultural concerns.

30 review for Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sam Dye

    A natural book for Goodreaders. I'll never forget seeing the plaque in the square in Frankfurt commorating the burning of the books there by the Nazis. This book brings out some amazing details of historical events that resulted in destruction of libraries. One recent example was the terrible destruction of libraries and cultural heritage in Iraq. We were warned by many organizations to safeguard them but that wasn't part of the plan unfortunately. The story of the destruction of the centuries o A natural book for Goodreaders. I'll never forget seeing the plaque in the square in Frankfurt commorating the burning of the books there by the Nazis. This book brings out some amazing details of historical events that resulted in destruction of libraries. One recent example was the terrible destruction of libraries and cultural heritage in Iraq. We were warned by many organizations to safeguard them but that wasn't part of the plan unfortunately. The story of the destruction of the centuries old library at the university in Louvain, Belgium in 1914 by the Germans was the first modern event and she deftly brings out the progression of library and cultural destruction after that event. The background story of the bombing of Dresden is very interesting. If you love books you will very much appreciate this book I found wandering in the stacks of WNMU library.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maksudur Rahman

    I really enjoy books with liberal values and this book amazed me. Learned a lot of facts and stories from here.

  3. 4 out of 5

    PeaceAll

    Rebecca Knuth's book is incredibly well researched and presented. Every library should make this available to readers as it shows the cultural, educational and societal implication of a library being burned in this so called 'civilized' era... As someone who has friends in both communities in Sri Lanka, I wondered why a government would 'intentionally' burn the library of its citizens? 90,000+ irreplaceable volumes? Many of them original? This book gave me a lot of answers that as it well researc Rebecca Knuth's book is incredibly well researched and presented. Every library should make this available to readers as it shows the cultural, educational and societal implication of a library being burned in this so called 'civilized' era... As someone who has friends in both communities in Sri Lanka, I wondered why a government would 'intentionally' burn the library of its citizens? 90,000+ irreplaceable volumes? Many of them original? This book gave me a lot of answers that as it well researched and presented with facts. Pg 84 of her Knuth's book clearly states: Late on the 31st night, eyewitnesses saw uniformed police and Sinhalese gang members set fire to the Jaffna Public Library (Peris 2001). Two Sinhalese Cabinet members who watched it burn from the verandah of the nearby Jaffna Rest House claimed that it was “an ‘unfortunate incident,’ where a ‘few’ policeman ‘got drunk’ and went on a ‘looting spree,’ all on their own” (“Remembering the Jaffna” 2001). (Editor's note: It was obvious that even 'educated' sinhalese politicians who were not following true Buddhism, suppressed the other Sinhalese, and created an 'imagined threat' of Tamils, just like Nazis imagined the Jews as a threat and burned their library?!)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ashley (Red-Haired Ash Reads)

    DNF p 71 While informative, it was very dense which made it difficult to read. I wasn't enjoyed it either, which is disappointing because I was looking forward to learning about the destruction of books through history. So I decided to DNF for now. DNF p 71 While informative, it was very dense which made it difficult to read. I wasn't enjoyed it either, which is disappointing because I was looking forward to learning about the destruction of books through history. So I decided to DNF for now.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cristy Emmnm

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kristina Giovanni

  9. 4 out of 5

    Edward

  10. 4 out of 5

    Abdunasir Sideeg

  11. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bibliophile

  13. 4 out of 5

    Reggie Martell

  14. 5 out of 5

    Pavle Živković

  15. 4 out of 5

    Denis

  16. 4 out of 5

    Martijn

  17. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

  18. 5 out of 5

    Berta

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rhea

  20. 4 out of 5

    James

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ina Cawl

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn

  24. 4 out of 5

    Peter Cannon

  25. 5 out of 5

    Inge

  26. 5 out of 5

    Krysta

  27. 5 out of 5

    Donna

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rin

  29. 5 out of 5

    Boštjan

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ginny Dawe-Woodings

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