Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction

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Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 233 pages
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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 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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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - dono421846 - LibraryThing

The first chapters were, for me the strongest. After a compelling and insightful theoretical overview of the motivations that compel the destruction of libraries, the author moves to a series of ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Hagelstein - LibraryThing

A thorough history of the causes, methods, and results of cultural destruction - specifically library destruction. Wartime Germany, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other instances of destruction are covered. Read full review


Chapter 1 Understanding Modern Biblioclasm
Chapter 2 Tracing the Path of Extremism from Robespierre to Milosevic
Part I Grappling for Voice and Power
Chapter 3 Political Protestors and Amsterdams South African Institute 1984
Chapter 4 Ethnic Biblioclasm 19802005
Part II Absolute Power and the Drive to Purify Society
Chapter 5 National Socialism and the Destruction of Berlins Institute for Sexual Science 1933
Chapter 6 Secular Fanaticism and the AutoGenocide of Cambodia 19751979
Chapter 7 Fundamentalism and the Destruction of Afghanistans Cultural Heritage 19942001
Part III War Power Vacuum and Anarchy
Chapter 8 Dueling Ideologies and Total War 19391945
Chapter 9 Anarchy and Acquisitive Vandalism 19672003
Chapter 10 Errors of Omission and Cultural Destruction in Iraq 2003

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About the author (2006)

REBECCA KNUTH is Chair of the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii, where she is also Associate Professor.

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