Thursday, August 03, 2006


Destruction of Books

From an article in the Brunswick, Maine Times Record by Bob Kalish on Terry Donald's trash-hauling business:
For him the bottom line on recycling is money.

"Sure, it's a good thing to do, it just makes sense," he says while unloading the brush onto the brushpile. "But for each item to be recycled that's less I have to pay to dump it. So it becomes an economic asset."

Donald tells the story of one of his jobs when he emptied an attic of books. Cartons of them.

"I had thousands I'll bet," he recalls. "Mostly hardcover. Now hardcover books can't be recycled like other papers. So what I did, I tore the covers off each book and recycled the coverless books as paper. The covers were cardboard."
See also the horrible story about the recent destruction of 400,000 Russian books from Kamkin Books in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter X, Part IV:
Another circumstance is related of these invasions, which might deserve our notice, were it not justly to be suspected as the fanciful conceit of a recent sophist. We are told, that in the sack of Athens the Goths had collected all the libraries, and were on the point of setting fire to this funeral pile of Grecian learning, had not one of their chiefs, of more refined policy than his brethren, dissuaded them from the design; by the profound observation, that as long as the Greeks were addicted to the study of books, they would never apply themselves to the exercise of arms. The sagacious counsellor (should the truth of the fact be admitted) reasoned like an ignorant barbarian. In the most polite and powerful nations, genius of every kind has displayed itself about the same period; and the age of science has generally been the age of military virtue and success.
A footnote says "Zonaras, l. xii, p. 635. Such an anecdote was perfectly suited to the taste of Montaigne. He makes use of it in his agreeable Essay on Pedantry, l. i, c. 24." I can't find Zonaras online, but here is Montaigne (tr. Donald Frame):
When the Goths ravaged Greece, what saved all the libraries from being set afire was that one of the invaders spread the opinion that this item might well be left intact to the enemy, to divert them from military exercises and keep them busy in sedentary and idle occupations.
Whatever the motivations of the barbarian Goths, they showed themselves more civilized than the destroyers of books anno Domini 2006.

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