Burning The Books by Richard Ovenden

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

A few months ago the author, Jeanette Winterson made quite an impact when she burned a number of copies of her books because as she said: Absolutely hated the cosy little domestic blurbs on my new covers. Turned me into wimmins fiction of the worst kind! Whether it was a genuine protest against what the publisher had done to her books or a publicity stunt it had quite an effect.

The act of burning books and destruction of libraries has always been seen as an act of violence or oppression against a particular sector of people. The act is not recent though as it has been going on over the past 3000 years. In a lot of the cases, the aim has been of the victors to eradicate the histories of the people that they have just conquered.

Sadly this is not an ancient phenomenon. And there have been many instances of this happening even in the past century. Probably the best known is the horrors that the Nazi’s inflicted on the Jewish populations. The books burnings and eradication of their common European histories began in their own country and would be similar to the places that they invaded.

In this book, Richard Ovenden takes us through several notable historical events from the war in Bosnia, the way that the Jewish communities went about saving as much of their literature as they could from those that wanted to eradicate them as well as authors such as Kafta and Byron who specifically asked for their works to be destroyed and what those responsible did to them. It is bang up to date too, considering what we have to do as a global society to keep records of the vast quantities of websites that are created all the time.

It is the duty of the present to convey the voices of the past to the ears of the future. – A Norwegian saying

I thought this was an interesting book about the way that countries and nations have sought to dominate and write history from their own perspective. Ovenden’s prose is occasionally a bit dry and academic but there are parts of this that are very readable. It is also a warning that we discard our collective histories at our peril, that these hold the key to our future.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    I really enjoyed this; I didn’t personally find it too dry but then I’m an ex-librarian myself …

    • Paul

      It was only a tiny flaw, to be fair

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