Wednesday, December 30, 2009


The Anti-Library

Thanks to Dave Lull for introducing me to the concept of the anti-library and for passing along the following explanations of the concept.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (New York: Random House, 2007), p. 1:
The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with 'Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?' and others—a very small minority—who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call the collection of unread books an antilibrary.
Bjørn Stærk, Lessons from the anti-library:
Taleb introduces the Hayekian and almost taoistic metaphor of the anti-library: A library of the books you haven't read, of the things you don't know. A massive collection of unknowledge, the anti-library contains all the books that may still change your life. Most of your favourite books are there, hidden and forgotten. It has facts you need to know, authors you'd worship. Only people who read very little can think the anti-library doesn't matter. To book-lovers, and especially generalists like me, who jump all over the place without focus, the stacks of the anti-library loom higher and darker for every book we read. Every book that changes me reminds me of the ones that still might.
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