A lively, authoritative cultural history.

THE LIBRARY

A FRAGILE HISTORY

A comprehensive history of the invention and reinvention of libraries.

Historians Pettegree and der Weduwen have created a capacious, deeply researched examination of collections of the written word. They begin with clay tablets in the Assyrian Empire of Mesopotamia and move to the digitized material probed by Google’s Alexa (named after the ancient library at Alexandria) to answer 500 million questions per day from customers around the world. The history of the library, the authors assert, “is not a story of relentless progress” or even of shared meaning about what a library should be, what it should contain, and whom it should serve. From ancient Greece to contemporary urban spaces, the authors offer a panoramic view of collections ranging from illuminated manuscripts in medieval monasteries to popular novels circulated in bookmobiles, from Oxford’s privately funded Bodleian Library to Andrew Carnegie’s extensive public library system. Collections often served as symbols of status and power; access to the San Marco library in 15th-century Florence, for example, “was restricted to literate male citizens of the city with scholarly interests.” Once the printing press made books affordable—9 million books were printed by 1500—appetite for ownership burgeoned, “fueled by universities and schools, movements of popular lay devotion and the steady growth of cities.” Still, before the 17th century, most libraries were privately held, occupying “spaces which were not originally constructed as rooms for books.” In a narrative packed with fascinating facts for bibliophiles, the authors recount the vulnerability of books to war, oppression, censorship, fire, and confiscation. Even collectors used to rid themselves of duplicates by recycling them “as wallpaper, bookbinding supports, wrapping paper or toilet paper.” Not until the advent of antiquarian booksellers was there an eruption of “bibliomania, frantic competitive bidding for the best and rarest copies of early printed books.” Faced with increasing digitization, libraries are more than merely public gathering spaces. “The health of the library,” write the authors, “will remain connected to the health of the book.”

A lively, authoritative cultural history.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5416-0077-5

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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