The library has been a battleground of competing notions of what books mean to us, from the clay-tablet collections of ancient Mesopotamia to the legendary libraries of Alexandria, from the burned scrolls of the Qing Dynasty to the book-pyres of the Hitler Youth, from the Dewey Decimal System to the Internet. Battles explores how the library has served two contradictory impulses: to exalt canons of literature, to secure and celebrate the best writing; and the desire to contain all forms of human knowledge - to keep all the books. In its custody of books and the words they contain, the library has confronted and tamed technology, the forces of change and the power of princes time and again.
Why does writing exist? What does it mean to those who write? Born from the interplay of natural and cultural history, the seemingly magical act of writing has continually expanded our consciousness. Portrayed in mythology as either a gift from heroes or a curse from the gods, it has been used as both an instrument of power and a channel of the divine; a means of social bonding and of individual self-definition. Now, as the revolution once wrought by the printed word gives way to the digital age, many fear that the art of writing, and the nuanced thinking nurtured by writing, are under threat. But writing itself, despite striving for permanence, is always in the midst of growth and transfiguration.
Celebrating the impulse to record, invent, and make one's mark, Matthew Battles reenchants the written word for all those susceptible to the power and beauty of writing in all of its forms.