Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack

Richard Ovenden writes with erudition and flair of archives and destruction of evidence

Scene from Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film Fahrenheit 451, based on Ray Bradbury’s book: Literature and its ideas are targeted by special forces and burned.

Scene from Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film Fahrenheit 451, based on Ray Bradbury’s book: Literature and its ideas are targeted by special forces and burned.

Since humanity began writing down information (usually, at the beginning, for taxation or religious purposes) on clay tablets, that information has been in constant danger of attack, for reasons to do with conflict, religion, imperialism, stupidity and tragic accident.

Book burning has been, and continues to be, a highly symbolic ritual, signifying rejection of certain versions of humanity’s experience and the elevation of the one true version favoured by the arsonists. The Nazis excelled at it, as do Islamic State today, but they had plenty of precursors.

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