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Libraries are filled with magic. From the Bodleian, the Folger and the Smithsonian to the fabled libraries of middle earth, Umberto Eco’s mediaeval library labyrinth and libraries dreamed up by John Donne, Jorge Luis Borges and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Stuart Kells explores the bookish places, real and fictitious, that continue to capture our imaginations. The Library: A Catalogu Libraries are filled with magic. From the Bodleian, the Folger and the Smithsonian to the fabled libraries of middle earth, Umberto Eco’s mediaeval library labyrinth and libraries dreamed up by John Donne, Jorge Luis Borges and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Stuart Kells explores the bookish places, real and fictitious, that continue to capture our imaginations. The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders is a fascinating and engaging exploration of libraries as places of beauty and wonder. It’s a celebration of books as objects and an account of the deeply personal nature of these hallowed spaces by one of Australia’s leading bibliophiles.


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Libraries are filled with magic. From the Bodleian, the Folger and the Smithsonian to the fabled libraries of middle earth, Umberto Eco’s mediaeval library labyrinth and libraries dreamed up by John Donne, Jorge Luis Borges and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Stuart Kells explores the bookish places, real and fictitious, that continue to capture our imaginations. The Library: A Catalogu Libraries are filled with magic. From the Bodleian, the Folger and the Smithsonian to the fabled libraries of middle earth, Umberto Eco’s mediaeval library labyrinth and libraries dreamed up by John Donne, Jorge Luis Borges and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Stuart Kells explores the bookish places, real and fictitious, that continue to capture our imaginations. The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders is a fascinating and engaging exploration of libraries as places of beauty and wonder. It’s a celebration of books as objects and an account of the deeply personal nature of these hallowed spaces by one of Australia’s leading bibliophiles.

30 review for The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    I always thought I was a bibliophile but this book tells me that I am not since I am not familiar, nor particularly interested, with the contents of stone tablets or any BCE and early CE writings on vellum. parchment, et al. So much of the book is dedicated to those eras that it became a real slog for me to get through it. The author also jumps around all over recorded time and does not take the story of the creation of libraries in a chronological order. The libraries he does discuss (I have bee I always thought I was a bibliophile but this book tells me that I am not since I am not familiar, nor particularly interested, with the contents of stone tablets or any BCE and early CE writings on vellum. parchment, et al. So much of the book is dedicated to those eras that it became a real slog for me to get through it. The author also jumps around all over recorded time and does not take the story of the creation of libraries in a chronological order. The libraries he does discuss (I have been to a few of them in the UK/US) are certainly amazing places and can almost be a religious experience. But there was not enough of this type of information to hold my interest. The book was very fragmented and didn't have much flow. I am enamored with libraries but not with this book. Apologies to the author.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    Imagine going into a library you've never been to before to find something to read. Some of the books are shelved in order of publication; except when they're not. Others shelves share a common subject; except when don't. There's no card catalog or database to help you find what you want in this mess and the librarians won't tell you where the books have come from. That's what this book is. It has no index, no cited sources, no narrative focus, and no mention of libraries outside of Europe and Ameri Imagine going into a library you've never been to before to find something to read. Some of the books are shelved in order of publication; except when they're not. Others shelves share a common subject; except when don't. There's no card catalog or database to help you find what you want in this mess and the librarians won't tell you where the books have come from. That's what this book is. It has no index, no cited sources, no narrative focus, and no mention of libraries outside of Europe and America (Although Egypt and Russia rate a few passing comments). Kells writing consists of monotonous lists of names and dates, in language so overwritten that even the most interesting facts become snobby white noise. The entire thing was a joyless slog and, coming from an actual librarian, that should tell you something.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sue Gerhardt Griffiths

    I’m sure I have never come across a non-fiction book covering such an extensive amount of research on the history of libraries. Amazing! Oh, I do love my books but I can’t say I’m addicted or obsessed in buying or collecting books as some of these collectors were centuries ago. The mind boggles at the extent some collectors went to to acquire books but they also gave me a good laugh. This book will appeal to anyone who is an obsessive collector and hoarder of books and anyone wanting knowledge ab I’m sure I have never come across a non-fiction book covering such an extensive amount of research on the history of libraries. Amazing! Oh, I do love my books but I can’t say I’m addicted or obsessed in buying or collecting books as some of these collectors were centuries ago. The mind boggles at the extent some collectors went to to acquire books but they also gave me a good laugh. This book will appeal to anyone who is an obsessive collector and hoarder of books and anyone wanting knowledge about the incredible history of libraries, of scholars and collectors, dating back to the 1400s and preceding. Recommended Many thanks to Text Publishing and Goodreads Giveaways for this review copy.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    Good book and good information here but its mostly anecdotal and about famous people that happened to like libraries through history. Great for a light read and for some historical facts related to libraries , not for a in depth study of the state of libraries as such.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Text Publishing

    ‘The Library abounds in fascinating tales of lost codices and found manuscripts, and the sometimes unscrupulous schemes by which people have conspired to obtain or amass valuable volumes.’ New York Times ‘I had been half expecting some sort of slide show, featuring gorgeous libraries of the world, but it’s not that kind of book. It’s more about the human drama of libraries, with gossip alongside anecdotes about the history of libraries.’ ANZ Lit Lovers ‘On a vivid tour of the world’s great librarie ‘The Library abounds in fascinating tales of lost codices and found manuscripts, and the sometimes unscrupulous schemes by which people have conspired to obtain or amass valuable volumes.’ New York Times ‘I had been half expecting some sort of slide show, featuring gorgeous libraries of the world, but it’s not that kind of book. It’s more about the human drama of libraries, with gossip alongside anecdotes about the history of libraries.’ ANZ Lit Lovers ‘On a vivid tour of the world’s great libraries, both real and imagined, Kells is a magnificent guide to the abundant treasures he sets out.’ Mathilda Imlah, Australian Book Review, 2017 Publisher Picks ‘If you think you know what a library is, this marvellously idiosyncratic book will make you think again. After visiting hundreds of libraries around the world and in the realm of imagination, bibliophile and rare-book collector Stuart Kells has compiled an enchanting compendium of well-told tales and musings both on the physical and metaphysical dimensions of these multi-storied places.’ Age ‘Almost like poetry, a rich ode to all things books and everything we love about them. The enjoyment and engagement is so palpable you can almost taste it and Kells proves to be the perfect guide through the subject matter and history.’ AU Review ‘The Library charts the transition between formats such as papyrus scrolls, parchment codices, moveable type and ebooks. There are many whimsical detours along the way, and Kells even devotes a chapter to fantasy libraries…Kells translates his stunning depth of research into breezy digestibility.’ Big Issue ‘The Library is a treasure trove and reaching the last page simply prompts an impassioned cry for more of the same.’ Otago Daily Times ‘Rich with gossipy tales of the inspired, crazy, brilliant and terrible people who have founded or encountered libraries through history…Kells’s reflections are wonderfully romantic, wryly funny…There’s no doubt we can all learn a lot from the magnificently obsessive and eloquent Kells.’ Australian ‘With The Library, Stuart Kells has written a deft and involving book that manages to balance the erudite with the accessible…There is, in any given chapter, a dozen odd details or compelling stories a reader can only hope to memorise, with an eye towards future use (perfectly timed and skilfully deployed, naturally).’ Monthly ‘There is so much to learn and enjoy in this book, with the impressive amount of research never weighing down the accessible writing…Kells makes an elegant plea for the future library—one that will resonate with most book lovers.’ Good Reading ‘A sprightly cabinet of bookish curiosities.’ Jane Sullivan, Sydney Morning Herald ‘Kells proves a generous guide, taking us on a whirlwind tour through several thousand years of book history.’ Australian Book Review

  6. 5 out of 5

    David Eppenstein

    I have a thing for books. Not just the reading of them but the physical existence of them; the possession of them; the sight of them; the smell, the weight, the texture. I really like my books. So when I came across this little gem there was no question as to its purchase. I added it to my "Books About Books" shelf to be read another day. That day recently arrived and I'd like to tell you what I discovered. I can't really say what I expected from this thin little volume of 264 pages of text. I su I have a thing for books. Not just the reading of them but the physical existence of them; the possession of them; the sight of them; the smell, the weight, the texture. I really like my books. So when I came across this little gem there was no question as to its purchase. I added it to my "Books About Books" shelf to be read another day. That day recently arrived and I'd like to tell you what I discovered. I can't really say what I expected from this thin little volume of 264 pages of text. I suppose I thought it would be a history of libraries but with so few pages that would have been an unreasonable expectation or a really bad history. Fortunately, it is not really a history though there are histories that are offered. What this book really is is a cornucopia of all things books and book related. The library history that is offered is more about specific libraries at specific times and not about the beginnings and evolution of libraries through the ages. This book is a collection of book and library trivia. It covers libraries in various forms and at various times and much to my personal delight a great deal of attention is devoted to library architecture. The author covers the evolution of writing and printing materials from clay tablets to paper and the merits of all. He covers the development of books from tablets to scrolls to the form we presently employ. He also covers the people that are affected by books, the readers, collectors, sellers, abusers, destroyers and the thieves. The book is full of anecdotes of the lives of people that fit these various descriptions. For somebody that feels about books the way I do this little book is a delightful little treasure. For those that do not share my love for the physical book then this book will probably be rather dull. I give three stars because it is worth its purchase price though it is not particularly noteworthy. It is informative and, at times, humorous work that is a quick read for the everyday bibliophile if that isn't an oxymoron.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    I went to a talk by this author at my local library and enjoyed this so bought signed copies of this book for a friend, my boss and myself. For that reason I was hoping this book would be good. I did enjoy most of it but with some reservations. Some of it was a little highbrow for my taste and read like lists of authors, scholars and libraries. When the author introduced anecdotal stories of libraries, authors and book collectors etc.. I liked it a whole lot more. Overall though a subject I am p I went to a talk by this author at my local library and enjoyed this so bought signed copies of this book for a friend, my boss and myself. For that reason I was hoping this book would be good. I did enjoy most of it but with some reservations. Some of it was a little highbrow for my taste and read like lists of authors, scholars and libraries. When the author introduced anecdotal stories of libraries, authors and book collectors etc.. I liked it a whole lot more. Overall though a subject I am passionate about so glad to have read this Aussie book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It was a gift from a friend, from halfway around the world. It's signed by the author. It's about libraries! What's not to like? Unfortunately, the book was rather dry and erudite for my tastes. Interesting or amusing anecdotes scattered throughout the book kept me reading, but it felt really disjointed overall, like the author was listing examples without expounding on them. The book would've benefited from either editing down or expanding to a I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It was a gift from a friend, from halfway around the world. It's signed by the author. It's about libraries! What's not to like? Unfortunately, the book was rather dry and erudite for my tastes. Interesting or amusing anecdotes scattered throughout the book kept me reading, but it felt really disjointed overall, like the author was listing examples without expounding on them. The book would've benefited from either editing down or expanding to a longer book. This endless bouncing from subject to subject then made the 12 straight pages on Tolkien's Middle-Earth libraries and books look really out of place. If nothing else, I will take away the inscription above the bookshelves at the Great Library of Alexandria: "The place for the cure of the souls." I had the pleasure of visiting two amazingly beautiful libraries in 2017 and, along with bookstores and chocolate shops, I will be adding searches for local libraries whenever I travel from here on out.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tundra

    3 1/2 stars. Thanks to Goodreads and Text Publishing for my copy. What I liked best about this book were the quirky anecdotes about libraries and the bibliophiles who created them and what I struggled with was the vast amount of detail and dates and the rapidity in which they were delivered. I understand it’s a vast topic but I just can’t absorb that amount of detail. Most of all though I wanted pictures (maybe it’s just the visual learner in me)! As I was reading I had to Google images of the l 3 1/2 stars. Thanks to Goodreads and Text Publishing for my copy. What I liked best about this book were the quirky anecdotes about libraries and the bibliophiles who created them and what I struggled with was the vast amount of detail and dates and the rapidity in which they were delivered. I understand it’s a vast topic but I just can’t absorb that amount of detail. Most of all though I wanted pictures (maybe it’s just the visual learner in me)! As I was reading I had to Google images of the libraries that were being mentioned in order to comprehend the appearance, vastness and sheer volume of books in them. For me, this is a book best dipped in and out of. It is well researched and provides a fascinating insight into the reality and fakery of books. Now what I would really like to do is visit some of these libraries, they are truely spectacular.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bethany Kok

    A totally unstructured amble through the history of books and libraries, full of name-dropping and unexplained references. I should have stopped when I realized there were no citations or footnotes. The author barely touches on non-Western libraries but devotes more than a chapter to Tolkien's treatment of books and libraries in Middle Earth. Paragraphs are awkwardly linked and feature segues only a hair less clumsy and lurching than "speaking of ..." There must be a better book about the histor A totally unstructured amble through the history of books and libraries, full of name-dropping and unexplained references. I should have stopped when I realized there were no citations or footnotes. The author barely touches on non-Western libraries but devotes more than a chapter to Tolkien's treatment of books and libraries in Middle Earth. Paragraphs are awkwardly linked and feature segues only a hair less clumsy and lurching than "speaking of ..." There must be a better book about the history of libraries out there.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Diane Challenor

    I enjoyed every word in this book. It’s a treasure!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Angelique Simonsen

    an unexpected delight though dry at times. I learnt the best fact ever though....that the Bodelian library and I were born on the same day 381 years apart! Must be fate that I am a librarian lol

  13. 5 out of 5

    Todd

    I approached Stuart Kells’ “The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders” warily. A book about books and book collecting? As much as I love books, I had little desire to lose myself in 250-odd pages about ancients, eccentrics and the vagaries of printing if the narrator came off as too pleased with himself, as bibliophiles sometimes do. (Listen, I resemble that remark.) Even the publishing business could be made dull, as I found with Robert Gottlieb’s tedious “Avid Reader.” I needn’t have worried. Kells’ I approached Stuart Kells’ “The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders” warily. A book about books and book collecting? As much as I love books, I had little desire to lose myself in 250-odd pages about ancients, eccentrics and the vagaries of printing if the narrator came off as too pleased with himself, as bibliophiles sometimes do. (Listen, I resemble that remark.) Even the publishing business could be made dull, as I found with Robert Gottlieb’s tedious “Avid Reader.” I needn’t have worried. Kells’ book is generally engaging and breezy, and at its best when the author is digging into his prodigious knowledge of the literary trade – doing so without being too high-flown about it. “The Library” starts out slowly, as it must – since libraries are a relatively recent invention, dependent as they are on a written language and portability. (It’s not like they could house a parade of griots and bards. Who would feed them?) So early libraries – those of the Egyptians and Mesopotamians – contained clay tablets (often kept on trays) and rolls of papyrus. All were handwritten, of course; Gutenberg doesn’t enter the picture until the 15th century, which makes the achievements of the scribes and monks of the millennia previous all the more amazing. Also amazing, in a sad way, is how much literature has been lost. Though there weren’t thousands of copies of the same work, copies were made and held in famed libraries such as the one at Alexandria, as well as in private homes. But fires, looting and natural disaster took their tolls. It’s astonishing, frankly, we have as much as we do; some books were saved purely by chance, found in garbage pits or smuggled by explorers. Still, it’s in the post-Gutenberg age that Kells, an Australian-born book-trade historian who’s written a history of Penguin Books, really comes into his own, because it’s here when the “The Library” becomes as much about people as it does about books. And people who are fond of books are certainly an odd lot. Take diarist Samuel Pepys. He “could not tolerate even the slightest deviation from straightness,” Kells writes. “Pepys had even less patience for the ragged line that occurs when books of different heights are shelved together. He commissioned tailor-made blocks – little wooden plinths disguised with leather – and placed them under his books so that the tops would be exactly even.” Related are bibliophiles who purchase books that are precisely the width of the space on their shelves. I can’t help but be reminded of the rock star played by Daniel Stern in “Hannah and Her Sisters” who wants to buy a painting from Max von Sydow’s artist not because of his talent, but because his giant works will fill Stern’s walls and match his décor. “You don’t buy paintings to blend in with the sofa!” thunders von Sydow. Despite – or perhaps because of – these folks, libraries flourish. Thomas Bodley wanted to establish a library at Oxford; thus was born the Bodleian, which tripled its collection just three years after it opened in the early 17th century. The Vatican has a renowned library that’s actually not as mysterious as reputation would have it, though its mystery hasn’t hurt its collection. There are libraries devoted to Shakespeare (Washington, D.C.’s, Folger, established by a Standard Oil executive) and libraries that disdained Shakespeare (Tolstoy was apparently not a fan). They’re also beautiful buildings in their own right. Kells devotes several pages to J.P. Morgan’s marble pile in Manhattan; when Morgan died in 1913, half his fortune was tied up in the library’s collection of books and art. (Morgan’s library also benefited from a great librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, a colorful character who seems worthy of a book in her own right.) Still, what is to become of libraries in this digital age? Kells addresses that topic, too, though not as energetically as he does the library overseen by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins and other characters in Middle-earth. (I’m not a “Lord of the Rings” fan, so the Tolkien excursion went on for a few pages too long.) He makes passing mention of Nicholson Baker’s “Double Fold,” a book about book and newspaper destruction, and notes that digital conversion of books is no answer to retaining knowledge, since there’s no guarantee discs or computer memory will last as long as well-preserved paper – or be as readable, books such as the Voynich manuscript to the contrary. Still, he leaves the question hanging. Let someone else write a book about new uses for libraries; for Kells, they’re places to hold written volumes. Near the beginning of “The Library,” Kells tells the story of Jorge Luis Borges, who turned an unhappy interlude working at a Buenos Aires library into “The Library of Babel,” his famed short story about a library that contains an infinite number of books, where the sheer yawning expanse of the collection provokes religious arguments and even suicide. Later, Borges became the head of the city’s National Library, where he was much happier. It wasn’t the books Borges loathed; it was the people and tedium at his old job. Fortunately, Kells’ “Library” offers more of the joy of books than the dreariness. I wonder what he’d think of Robert Gottlieb.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (JC-S)

    ‘Every library has an atmosphere, even a spirit.’ My own love affair with libraries started well over half a century ago. The libraries of my youth were places of magic, of possibilities to be explored. They were also places of refuge. But what are libraries, and how have they evolved over the centuries? In this book, Stuart Kells writes about libraries (both fictitious and real) and their influence on individuals, on literature and on culture more generally. ‘If a library can be something as simp ‘Every library has an atmosphere, even a spirit.’ My own love affair with libraries started well over half a century ago. The libraries of my youth were places of magic, of possibilities to be explored. They were also places of refuge. But what are libraries, and how have they evolved over the centuries? In this book, Stuart Kells writes about libraries (both fictitious and real) and their influence on individuals, on literature and on culture more generally. ‘If a library can be something as simple as an organised collection of texts, then libraries massively pre-date books in the history of culture. Every country has a tradition of legends, parables, riddles, myths and chants that existed long before they were written down.’ I remember the folk tales of my childhood. Many of them appeared in print, but some of them were part of the storytelling that is part of my Gaelic-speaking ancestry. I remember, too, reading ‘The Name of the Rose’ by Umberto Eco, and wondering exactly which books were in it. Or in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This book is full of interesting anecdotes. One of my favourites was this : ‘Sir Robert Cotton was at his tailor’s shop when he saw by chance an ancient document that the tailor was about to cut up and use as a tape measure. On examination, the sheepskin parchment turned out to be an original Magna Carta—one of as few as four that King John had signed in 1215—still with ‘all its appendages of seals and signatures’ attached.’ I was marginally disappointed to read, a few pages later that: ‘Some of these stories of book discovery are surely apocryphal. There is considerable doubt, for example, as to whether Cotton really did find an original Magna Carta at his tailor’s shop.’ But the point isn’t really whether an original Magna Carta was treated in this way, the point is that it’s possible. Sometimes the margins between fact and fiction can be blurred in a most satisfying way. Aside from the anecdotes, there’s information about the many libraries Stuart Kells has visited. There’s information about the history of recording information and its storage, including the use of tablets, papyrus and animal skins. And, eventually, mass scale printing. Like many other readers, I read both print and electronic material. I prefer print, but electronic material is often easier to access and requires less physical storage. But does the digital age pose a threat to traditional physical books, or is it simply an additional delivery mode? In the library I now use, there’s a mixture of physical and digital material. And the library has plenty of patrons. I liked this quote: ‘Reading a book on screen or in microfilm was an unsatisfactory experience, like kissing a girl through a windowpane.’ While I don’t know about kissing through a windowpane, I do know that books that I love are books that I want to hold. That, for me and for many others, reading is a tactile experience as well as a visual one. There’s something about the smell of books (old or new), something about the heft of a physical volume that digital copies just don’t have. I loved this book. Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  15. 4 out of 5

    Natalie S

    A leading Australian bibliophile goes on a tour of thousands of libraries. The result isn’t a punchline but in fact a book called The Library by Stuart Kells. This volume is a fascinating text that draws together Kells’ scholarly essays on a range of different topics related to the storage of books, reading in general and different methods of communication through history. It’s an intriguing trip skipping through the history books and hearing about places that are so much more than a mere storer A leading Australian bibliophile goes on a tour of thousands of libraries. The result isn’t a punchline but in fact a book called The Library by Stuart Kells. This volume is a fascinating text that draws together Kells’ scholarly essays on a range of different topics related to the storage of books, reading in general and different methods of communication through history. It’s an intriguing trip skipping through the history books and hearing about places that are so much more than a mere storeroom. For many people libraries possess a heart and soul and are a delightful sanctuary, a solace and comfort. Kells begins by tracing the oral traditions of native tribes and how their members shared their stories and handed these down through the generations. From here, there were original methods to record and write things down. This was done on materials like tablets, the paper-like papyrus and codices made of animal skins. Fast forward through history and we would eventually get books as we know them- printed on a mass scale, made from paper and featuring illustrations. We would also get ones that were ultimately bound with covers to enable the book to be easily located. This volume is meticulously researched and is full of interesting anecdotes and snapshots from history. Kells is obviously very passionate about books (no one will question his bibliophile status after reading this) and his joy and love is apparent to the reader. Kells’ enthusiasm is also something that can be shared by the reader as they come to learn so much and gain a new understanding of the value of books and literature. This is particularly important in this digital age when kindles, e-books and the internet pose a big threat to physical books and libraries. This volume is also a celebration of different cultures. It cites examples of how libraries have influenced different people and how they have been used as the settings in films and novels. It includes delightful anecdotes like the story of writer, Jeanette Winterson hiding books under her mattress and on her person in order to read these on the loo because she was forbidden to read non-religious texts by her strict, Pentecostal step-mother. The Library even describes the lengths that some bibliophiles will go to in order to curate and create their own perfect library and to source that elusive or rare book. Heck, Kells even describes some threats to books like fire and water damage and insects like silverfish, bedbugs and book worms. Who would have thought? The Library is ultimately an engaging and well-written volume by a knowledgeable expert and passionate fan of the subject matter. The result is almost like poetry, a rich ode to all things books and everything we love about them. The enjoyment and engagement is so palpable you can almost taste it and Kells proves to be the perfect guide through the subject matter and history, which ironically could have been lost were it not recorded in this faithful tome. You could consider The Library the good book, except that that one was already taken…

  16. 5 out of 5

    Luc Brien

    I first heard of this book while listening to an interview with Stuart Kells on Radio National, and I was so excited to see a copy in my local library. When I got it home and started to read it, however, I soon realised that this book was not for me. It's not so much a "catalogue of wonders" as it is a list of things that happened, some of which took place in libraries. While there are definitely some interesting library facts in here (the re-evolution of libraries through the ages, for example), I first heard of this book while listening to an interview with Stuart Kells on Radio National, and I was so excited to see a copy in my local library. When I got it home and started to read it, however, I soon realised that this book was not for me. It's not so much a "catalogue of wonders" as it is a list of things that happened, some of which took place in libraries. While there are definitely some interesting library facts in here (the re-evolution of libraries through the ages, for example), it's primarily a book about bibliophiles (who like libraries), written by a bibliophile (who likes libraries), for other bibliophiles (who like libraries), and I was bored for most of it. I have three major complaints (right now) about this book: 1. Kells references very few sources for his historical claims, and there is no reference list or bibliography. Kells seems to assume that we will just take what he's saying about various people and places unquestioningly at face value. Sorry, no. 2. There is an air of smug superiority throughout the text. Kells drops names and places and bits of Latin and French, and assumes (again) that we're all as well-read as he is, that we all get these references and quiet asides. Some people, I have no doubt, will enjoy these immensely, but for the rest of us ignoramuses, the text is elitist and inaccessible. 3. In the opening chapter, Kells marvels at the intangible libraries inherent to the oral histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditions (sometimes called songlines). Yet in the final chapter, entitled 'A love letter: libraries for the future' he puts his grumpy old man pants on and bemoans the digitisation of the book. Ironically, while this chapter is dedicated to the future of libraries, most of it is spent in the past, pulling out a few examples of where digitisation has failed, or hasn't worked very well. Among his list of 'why computers are bad for books', Kells includes many complaints I've heard before: you can't feel or smell a digital book; you can't appreciate the workmanship in the cover or the fore-edge or the binding; you can't browse in the same way and you lose the thrill of discovery. These are not complaints about digital books; they're complaints about non-physical books, and the same complaints could be levelled at oral traditions from all over the world, from songlines to European folktales to urban legends. Kells' veneration of oral traditions and opposition to digital books looks hypocritical to me. I wanted to love this book, to be convinced to buy a copy for my reference shelf. Instead, I'll be gratefully placing in the external return chute at Preston Library next week, looking forward to never seeing it again.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Anne Fenn

    A fascinating read. Packed so full of interesting facts and figures about libraries, my head couldn't take them all in. Stuart Kells is an Australian booklover, and I often noted a little thread to Australia pop up in places all over the world. I liked that. He begins with Australian Indigenous peoples' form of library, then moves historically through many of the world's libraries, right up to modern times. There's a big emphasis on collectors of early manuscripts and books in all forms. Wealth A fascinating read. Packed so full of interesting facts and figures about libraries, my head couldn't take them all in. Stuart Kells is an Australian booklover, and I often noted a little thread to Australia pop up in places all over the world. I liked that. He begins with Australian Indigenous peoples' form of library, then moves historically through many of the world's libraries, right up to modern times. There's a big emphasis on collectors of early manuscripts and books in all forms. Wealth and power were main motivators, it seems knowledge came second. Every possible aspect of the subject is explored as he shares his deep knowledge. I loved reading this book, it made me think about my own humble form of library with greater appreciation for what it is. No collectors items there, just dearly loved books.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    A history of libraries! How could one resist? Parts of this were a trifle dull (like chronological lists of bequests to the Vatican Library), but other parts were highly interesting. I was kept busy looking up images of famous libraries he mentioned and they are fabulous palaces. I liked his recognition of the sensory impact that books have: their feel and smell (there was one series of young people books in my childhood that smelled like formaldehyde, and to this day, the smell takes me back). A history of libraries! How could one resist? Parts of this were a trifle dull (like chronological lists of bequests to the Vatican Library), but other parts were highly interesting. I was kept busy looking up images of famous libraries he mentioned and they are fabulous palaces. I liked his recognition of the sensory impact that books have: their feel and smell (there was one series of young people books in my childhood that smelled like formaldehyde, and to this day, the smell takes me back). He talks about the total obsessions of famous bibliophiles, crimes against books, and the flora and fauna that take up residence in libraries. The chapter that described the destruction of various libraries by fire and war was totally depressing. When he was discussing "book architecture" in libraries, I was pleased to see that this British author referenced Kansas City's central library and its exterior facade of famous titles. Towards the end, he addressed fictional libraries (delighted to see Umberto Eco's library from The Name of the Rose described, but then he spent too much time on the libraries of Middle Earth). Many people might find this book boring, but true book lovers will enjoy it. ( He also mentioned an oil by Giuseppe Arcimboldo called The Librarian. I looked it up and I seriously want a reproduction for my living room wall).

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jasmine

    I received a copy of this book by way of a Goodreads Giveaway and was initially interested in it due to the Australian link and, also, because I too love libraries. I didn't, however, find it to be the 'catalogue of wonders' it promised to be. The author is clearly a highly educated, scholarly person with a deep understanding of both libraries and books. While I was impressed at his wealth of knowledge on the subject of libraries, I personally found the book to be too highbrow and not as interes I received a copy of this book by way of a Goodreads Giveaway and was initially interested in it due to the Australian link and, also, because I too love libraries. I didn't, however, find it to be the 'catalogue of wonders' it promised to be. The author is clearly a highly educated, scholarly person with a deep understanding of both libraries and books. While I was impressed at his wealth of knowledge on the subject of libraries, I personally found the book to be too highbrow and not as interesting as I had hoped it would be. The chapter headings sound intriguing, but I wasn't willing to wade through all the academic padding in order to enjoy what (might have) lain within. That being said I read mostly for pleasure and relaxation, not so much for education. For those who are the other way inclined, and who would like nothing more than to know virtually everything there is to know about the history of libraries, then I am sure this book would rate most highly.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kester Grant

    I read a lot of non-fiction work as research for my books, and so very often it ends up being super dry and boring and hard to get through. Stuck on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean during Covid outbreak i'm limited to what e-books I can get online, and this one was expensive! I hesitated and downloaded the sample and my goodness how this book pulled me in! Its one of the most readable non-fiction books i've read, its delicious and tasty and more-ish and just amazing. WORTH EVERY PENNY. Telling I read a lot of non-fiction work as research for my books, and so very often it ends up being super dry and boring and hard to get through. Stuck on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean during Covid outbreak i'm limited to what e-books I can get online, and this one was expensive! I hesitated and downloaded the sample and my goodness how this book pulled me in! Its one of the most readable non-fiction books i've read, its delicious and tasty and more-ish and just amazing. WORTH EVERY PENNY. Telling all about the history of libraries, books and librarians throughout the ages. I've done quite a bit of online research before coming to this, and yet it managed not only fresh information and perspectives, but shed new light and new ideas on areas i'd already thought to have understood and assimilated. An absolute must read for anyone who even vaguely likes books and libraries.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Natalie Romano

    4.5/5. This book provides a delightful survey of library history. Kells is a masterful storyteller, weaving together bookish anecdotes and fascinating data about libraries spanning from the Villa of the Papyri to J.P. Morgan's extensive illuminated manuscript collection. Serious scholars and recreational library users alike will appreciate Kells's thoughtful treatment of libraries - conceptual, physical, and fantastic - as institutions of social, intellectual, and anthropological importance thro 4.5/5. This book provides a delightful survey of library history. Kells is a masterful storyteller, weaving together bookish anecdotes and fascinating data about libraries spanning from the Villa of the Papyri to J.P. Morgan's extensive illuminated manuscript collection. Serious scholars and recreational library users alike will appreciate Kells's thoughtful treatment of libraries - conceptual, physical, and fantastic - as institutions of social, intellectual, and anthropological importance throughout the ages. Little known facts about some of the world's greatest libraries are revealed, as well as the secrets of the people who helped form their expansive and unique collections. Each chapter provides a whimsical deep-dive into libraries as they exist in their specific historical and cultural context and their cumulative impact on collective knowledge and heritage.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarah - All The Book Blog Names Are Taken

    Loved it! But, big surprise, I loved a book about books and the houses they live in. Full review to come! +++++++++++++++++ My full review can be found at: https://allthebookblognamesaretaken.b... Loved it! But, big surprise, I loved a book about books and the houses they live in. Full review to come! +++++++++++++++++ My full review can be found at: https://allthebookblognamesaretaken.b...

  23. 5 out of 5

    victor harris

    Not many " Wonders" in this. Some interesting and entertaining anecdotes but reads more like a list of books and how they were destroyed or stolen. No consistent story line, more pieced together segments. Not many " Wonders" in this. Some interesting and entertaining anecdotes but reads more like a list of books and how they were destroyed or stolen. No consistent story line, more pieced together segments.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Warren Wulff

    This is less a book about libraries than a book about the book trade and how book collectors collect books and upon the end of their lives endow them into libraries. I think if the author had taken this angle from the start and then focused on showing this back and forth flow of books within a structured narrative as they collect into libraries and are dispersed again and recollect at the hands and organizational intent of different people then we would have something to hang our hat on and it w This is less a book about libraries than a book about the book trade and how book collectors collect books and upon the end of their lives endow them into libraries. I think if the author had taken this angle from the start and then focused on showing this back and forth flow of books within a structured narrative as they collect into libraries and are dispersed again and recollect at the hands and organizational intent of different people then we would have something to hang our hat on and it would be quite an unique history as it is an important aspect of book culture and history. Instead I felt as if I had to conjure that thesis myself. I did learn a lot, although it sometimes became quite jumbled and turned into a series of stories with only loose connections to each other. I have noticed that a number of bibliomania books have this fault. Every paragraph I cried out, “There is a whole book to be told in just this section!” But alas, we moved on to another topic. The final five pages were the best. The author’s full-throated defence of real libraries with real books was exhilarating and I wish it had come at the beginning and had acted as a way of structuring what was to follow and setting the tone. This would be an okay start for anyone interested in book culture and libraries but I would quickly direct people onwards to Alberto Manguel and Nicholas Basbanes.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Phoebe

    Anecdotal rather than comprehensive, this book is for readers who like serendipity. Kells includes wonderful bits of library lore (and from all kinds of libraries, private, public, Medieval, fantasy) and book collecting trivia. The segments on the evolution of the Folger Library and Tolkien's concept of the library as a symbol of civilization were particularly intriguing. Don't pick this up expecting a linear history of libraries. Kells' devotion to and knowledge of the book world is evident fro Anecdotal rather than comprehensive, this book is for readers who like serendipity. Kells includes wonderful bits of library lore (and from all kinds of libraries, private, public, Medieval, fantasy) and book collecting trivia. The segments on the evolution of the Folger Library and Tolkien's concept of the library as a symbol of civilization were particularly intriguing. Don't pick this up expecting a linear history of libraries. Kells' devotion to and knowledge of the book world is evident from page 1. An index and a bibliography would have been a useful addition, since readers will want to delve further into the many references he makes. This was a regrettable omission.

  26. 5 out of 5

    JW

    If you like libraries and books this may satisfy an itch. The last half of the book was more interesting to me than the first. Oddly there's a long section on Tolkein's writing and publishing of The Hobbit and LOTR that seems out of place but interesting nonetheless. If you like libraries and books this may satisfy an itch. The last half of the book was more interesting to me than the first. Oddly there's a long section on Tolkein's writing and publishing of The Hobbit and LOTR that seems out of place but interesting nonetheless.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    This book promised much but was disappointing because of lengthy lists of books and authors and a lack of coherence. Some anecdotes were amusing but the author too often wandered off on tangents leaving me lost and frustrated.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    Many interesting facts and anecdotes, although I found it dull in places. The addition of color photos for some of the wonders described would have helped.

  29. 5 out of 5

    RF

    Waiting for the illustrated edition

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Evans

    Wonderful information, terrible organization and structure.

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