Synopses & Reviews
Examines the pitfalls, perils, and promises offered by the digitization of books
• Reveals the danger digitized books pose to the very idea of “free” reading
• Poses the questions society should be asking itself before heedlessly embracing this brave new world
The digitization of books is an immense blessing for the exchange and diffusion of knowledge, enabling access in even the most remote locations. Yet this new technology has awakened perils as dangerous as those that reduced libraries to ashes in ancient Alexandria and modern Nazi Germany. The very force that makes it possible for books to reach a global audience also has the power to hold them hostage and even destroy their integrity in a manner that is unprecedented.
Books on Fire author Lucien Polastron points out that the dematerialization of knowledge raises new legal challenges about the quality and authenticity of information. Attempts to create a virtual library are changing the very nature of reading, which has been marked by the act of physically holding and moving forward through an author’s work rather than viewing a series of sound bite length snippets. The transfer of the traditional paper book into a searchable entity on the computer represents a revolution even more dramatic than the one triggered by Gutenberg’s printing press. This revolution is akin to the replacement of the scroll by the codex, which likewise changed the way humans could receive information and structure their thoughts. Yet despite its broad easy access, the profiteers of this new commercial domain may render the very idea of “free” reading obsolete. Polastron poses questions others are ignoring in a headlong rush to embrace what is still a very ambiguous future.
The Great Digitization and the Quest to Know Everything examines the pitfalls and promises offered by the digitization of books. Author Lucien Polastron reveals the danger digitized books pose to the very idea of "free" reading, as digitization creates virtual rather than real libraries.
About the Author
Lucien X. Polastron is a historian specializing in Chinese and Arab studies and has written several books on calligraphy as well as a monumental study of paper, Le Papier: 2000 ans d’histoire [Paper: 2000 Years of History]. The destruction of the National Library in Sarajevo in 1992 was the catalyst for his systematic research into the destruction of libraries, a subject he had encountered many times over while working on his previous book about paper. The culmination of his extensive research, Livres en feu [Books on Fire] received the 2004 Société des Gens de Lettres Prize for Nonfiction/History. His most recent book is La Grand numérisation: Y a-t-il une pensée après le papier? [The Great Digitization: Is There Thought after Paper?]. He lives and works in Paris.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Finding Information or Funding a National Library?
1 BnF versus BNF
2 For Wells Is Not the Plural of Orwell
3 Geneva: World Capital
4 Quick, Quick
6 A Digital Coronary
7 When the Book Is Too Highly Concentrated, the Purpose It Serves Is Easily Forgotten
8 The Pixel Coming to Paper’s Aid
9 Is This Already the Post-Google Era?
10 But Why the Devil Do We Need Libraries?
11 Concordant and Discordant Clues
12 The Big Picture
13 First Trials
14 Burning Stakes
15 Advent Eve
16 Muta Solitudo
17 An All-Horizons Inventory
18 The Future at the Portal
19 Tomorrow’s Readers
20 Last Books! Last Books! Closing Time!
21 Paper Leaves by the Door and Comes Back through the Window
22 Library, Arise!
23 Striped Uniforms
25 Purse Strings and Police Cordons
27 Against the Grain
Appendix 1. Libraries and Digitization
Appendix 2. Is the Library at a Turning Point?