Ebla to E-Books: The Preservation and Annihilation of Memory.

Fra. Girolamo Savonarola’s image is the logo for this Substack. In 1495 his bonfire of the vanities included books, paintings, and musical instruments.1

The city of Ebla was set on fire by Akkadian invaders in 2300 BC, razing its royal palace and burning thousands of texts in the kingdom’s library. This seems to be the oldest library destruction of which we know.2

The preservation and annihilation of books, ideas, and free expression is the topic of this Substack.

Key sources:

Aguirre, Carlos, and Javier Villa-Flores. From the ashes of history: loss and recovery of archives and libraries in modern Latin America. 2015.

Báez, Fernando. A universal history of the destruction of books: from ancient Sumer to modern-day Iraq. New York: Atlas, 2010.

Battles, Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History. New York, NY W.W. Norton & Co. 2015.

Bevan, Robert . 2006. The Destruction of Memory : Architecture at War. London: Reaktion Books.

Bibliography of the Damned. - Robert M. Sarwark. An analysis of the phenomenon of book censorship in both the institutional and ideological context of the Catholic Church; and to provide a survey of some of the most notable titles that were included on the Index of Forbidden Books during its existence.

The Book Collector. The only journal in the world that deals with all aspects of the book, covering subjects ranging from typography to national heritage policy, from medieval libraries to modern first editions.

Buringh, Eltjo. On Medieval Manuscript Production in the Latin West: Explorations with a Global Database. Leiden: Brill, 2011. ( detailed information on tbook production per century and uses of medieval manuscripts in eleven areas of the Latin West. The numbers of manuscripts surviving from the period 500 - 1500 have been assessed statistically. Other data have been used to quantify the loss rates of such books in the Latin West). 

Carefoote, Pearce J. Forbidden Fruit: Banned, Censored, and Challenged Books from Dante to Harry Potter. Toronto, Ont: Lester, Mason & Begg, 2007.

Censorship and Information Control. University of Chicago, Special Collections Research Center. 2018.

Clendinnen, Inga. Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570, 2nd. ed. Cambridge: University Press, 1987.

Darnton, Robert. Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature. New York : W.W. Norton 2014.

Fine Books Blog.

Goldstein, Robert Justin. 2000. The war for the public mind political censorship in nineteenth-century Europe. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

Girst, Thomas, and Marc Spiegler. Lost Libraries: Abigail Reynolds' Art Journey. 2017.

Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. 2006. “On Book Burnings and Book Burners: Reflections on the Power (and Powerlessness) of Ideas.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74 (3): 593–614.

Index of Prohibited Books. Roman Catholic Church. 1564-1966.

Knuth, Rebecca. Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction. Praeger, 2006.

Knuth, Rebecca. Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century. Westport, Conn: Praeger Publishers, 2008.

Legacy Libraries, Library Thing.

The Library History Buff.

Moore, Nicole. The Censor's Library: [Uncovering the Lost History of Australia's Banned Books]. St Lucia, Qld: Univ. of Queensland Press, 2012.

Nix, Larry T. The Library History Buff.

Ovenden, Richard [VNV]. Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack. 2020.

Peignot, Gabriel. Essai Historique Sur La Liberté D'écrire Chez Les Anciens Et Au Moyen Âge, Sur La Liberté De La Presse Depuis Le 15. Siècle Et Sur Les Moyens De Répression Dont Ces Libertés Ont Été L'objet Dans Tous Les Temps. Genève: Slatkine Reprints, 1970.

Petersen, Jens Østergård (1995), "Which books did the First Emperor of Ch'in burn? – on the meaning of Pai chia in early Chinese sources", Monumenta Serica43: 1–52

Polastron, Lucien X., and Jon Graham. Books on Fire The Destruction of Libraries Throughout History. 2007.

Raven, James. Lost Libraries: The Destruction of Great Book Collections Since Antiquity. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Riedlmayer, András J. “Crimes of War, Crimes of Peace: Destruction of Libraries During and after the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.” Library Trends 56, no. 1 (2007): 107–32.

Rosenblum, Joseph. Practice to Deceive: The Amazing Stories of Literary Forgery's Most Notorious Practitioners. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 2000.

Sarwark, Robert M. Bibliographer of the Damned. Bibliography of the Damned.

Scales, Pat R. Books Under Fire: A Hit List of Banned and Challenged Children's Books. Chicago: ALA EDITIONS, 2021.

Siebert, Frederick S. Freedom of the Press in England 1476-1776: The Rise and Decline of Government Control. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1952.

Special Collections + Social Media.

Van Straten, Giorgio, Simon Carnell, and Erica Segre. In search of lost books: the forgotten stories of eight mythical volumes. 2018.

Zittrain, Jonathan (June 30, 2021). “The Internet Is Rotting: Too much has been lost already. The glue that holds humanity’s knowledge together is coming undone.” The Atlantic.

Edited by Kathleen de la Peña McCook, School of Information, University of South Florida.


Martines, L (2006). Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence. Oxford University Press. [Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), born in Ferrara. Inspired by an aversion for worldly things, and the highest religious ideals, he condemned first the corrupt way of life of Florence then the church hierarchy in Rome. Ignoring numerous reprimands and contemptuous of danger, he was condemned to death: together with his fellow friars, Domenico da Pescia and Silvestro Maruffi, he was hanged and burnt in Piazza Signoria on 23 May 1498.]


Wellisch, Hans H. (1981). "Ebla: The World's Oldest Library". The Journal of Library History. University of Texas Press. 16 (3)