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Libraries in the Ancient World


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About the Author

Lionel Casson is Professor Emeritus of Classics, New York University, and the author of Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World as well as many other books on ancient maritime history and ancient travel.


This, according to the author (Travel in the Ancient World; etc.), "is the first full-scale study of libraries in the ancient world." This alone will make the book very attractive to a readership well beyond those with professional interests in the ancient world. And yet the book's title sells its contents short since it is really about a great deal more than the curatorship of the written word through its very specialized beginnings in the Near East c. 3000 B. C. until the collapse of cities in the Western Roman world. Casson's book is not limited to where and when important libraries existed; it offers a social history transcending the idea of a library as we know it. Casson discusses literacy in the ancient world; the techniques of production and the materials from which books were made (clay tablets in the oldest repositories in the Near East; papyrus and parchment in the West); trade in books; the centrality of libraries as the predecessors of modern universities and research institutions; the organization of Greco-Roman libraries, which continues, necessarily modified, in today's libraries; the differences and intersections among royal, private and public libraries; the kinds of books favored by libraries and even observations on the concept of the rare book in antiquity. Detailed consideration of the architectural elements of ancient libraries (what did these libraries look like? Where and how were books stored? How were reading rooms arranged?) makes the book as appealing to the archeologist as the bibliophile. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

To find an English-language work comparable to this one in content, size, and scope, one has to go all the way back to James Westfall Thompson's 1940 Ancient Libraries (Univ. of California. o.p.). Casson, a professor emeritus of classics at New York University and author of numerous books on ancient history, provides an overview of the development of libraries (and, to some extent, of writing, literacy, bookselling, and archives), starting with Egypt and Mesopotamia in the third millennium B.C.E. and continuing through the periods of the political and cultural predominance of Greece and then Rome, ending around the fifth century C.E. Among the libraries featured are those of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, Alexandria, Pergamum, and the Forum of Trajan in Rome. Numerous other specific royal, temple, private, and public libraries are also mentioned. Drawing upon the scholarship of the last several decades, Casson describes, wherever possible, the acquisition, format, cataloging, arrangement, subjects, and use of the library materials and the staffing, architecture, and size of the libraries. He makes clear when the archaeological or literary evidence is scant or lacking. General readers will find this book informative and engaging. Scholars will also be interested in the 18 pages of notes at the end. Libraries in the Ancient World now supersedes Ancient Libraries and should be in library science and ancient history collections in public and academic libraries.DThomas F. O'Connor, Manhattan Coll. Libs., Bronx, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"Which came first, the book or the library? This monograph by the classicist Lionel Casson provides a detailed answer that will appeal not just to bibliophiles but to anyone who enjoys picking up odd bits of intriguing historical information."-Amanda Heller, Boston Sunday Globe
"[I]nformative. . . . [A] succinct account of the development of reading, writing and book collecting in Mesopotamia, Greece, and the Roman Empire. . . . The reader can only wish . . . that he follows this short but engaging book with a sequel."-Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"[A] charming and brief narrative history of the birth (and deaths) of libraries in the ancient world."-Robert Messenger, New York Times Book Review
"[A] book that many readers will enjoy immensely. Yale has produced a handsome volume, well designed by Mary Valencia (off-white paper stock, inviting layout, abundant illustrations), neither too long nor too short, and written in limpid, understated prose by an expert on ancient civilization. For a quick overview of 3,000 years of book making, selling, care and preservation-from roughly 2,500 B.C. to 600 A.D.-this is the roll, or rather codex, to start with. . . . [D]iverting and instructive."-Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World
"A wonderful book for those who love libraries and the books within."-History Magazine
"Casson's book is not limited to where and when important libraries existed, it offers a social history transcending the idea of a library as we know it. . . . As appealing to the archaeologist as the bibliophile."-Publishers Weekly
"A wonderful book on a wonderful subject. Casson knows what is interesting and tells us in spellbinding style."-G.W. Bowersock, Institute for Advanced Study

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