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the Complete Review
the complete review - books

     

The Library at Night

by
Alberto Manguel


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Library at Night



Title: The Library at Night
Author: Alberto Manguel
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2006
Length: 325 pages
Availability: The Library at Night - US
The Library at Night - UK
The Library at Night - Canada
The Library at Night - India
La Bibliothèque, la nuit - France
Die Bibliothek bei Nacht - Deutschland
La biblioteca di notte - Italia
La biblioteca de noche - España

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  • With 76 illustrations

Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable variations on a theme

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2008 Brian Sholis
FAZ . 13/2/2008 Friedmar Apel
The LA Times . 25/3/2008 Nicholas A. Basbanes
NZZ . 8/12/2007 Andreas Breitenstein
New Statesman . 15/5/2008 David Jays
The NY Sun . 19/3/2008 Eric Ormsby
The Observer . 27/4/2008 Peter Conrad
Sunday Times . 18/5/2008 James McConnachie
The Telegraph . 24/5/2008 Philip Hensher
The Times . 8/5/2008 Peter Ackroyd
The Washington Post . 6/4/2008 Michael Dirda
Die Welt . 16/2/2008 Hendrik Werner


  Review Consensus:

  Enjoyed it

  From the Reviews:
  • "Attempting to find a narrative line through the text, however, proves frustrating. This is perhaps inevitable given the capaciousness of Manguel’s topic and his reasonable desire to avoid monolithic generalizations." - Brian Sholis, Bookforum

  • "Der belesene Autor schwärmt mit sympathischer Begeisterung durch das Bücheruniversum, und er hält auch allerlei Nützliches und Anregendes für die Anlage einer Bibliothek bereit bis hin zur Wahl der Regalbretter. Sein assoziatives und anekdotisches Erzählverfahren lässt freilich nicht selten kulturhistorische Staubwölkchen aufsteigen" - Friedmar Apel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The Library at Night is more concerned with the various ways that people have gone about gathering and storing books over the centuries than with their actual consumption, using his experience as a platform for his far-ranging ruminations. Each necessary step in the process, be it allocating space, selecting fixtures, configuring shelves or establishing categories becomes a gateway into a wider discussion. (...) There is, needless to say, a decidedly nomadic texture to this kind of narrative structure, a peripatetic, associative, conversational approach that takes Manguel from one inviting subject to another. You can almost hear him moving about in the darkness, shuffling from one shelf to the next, picking volumes at random, allowing ideas to mix and mingle and stimulate thought." - Nicholas A. Basbanes, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Er erzählt geistreich und nachdenklich, formuliert klar und brillant -- und doch wirkt das Philosophem des Lesens als Lebenshaltung mitunter etwas betulich, gemessen am Unheil, das in der Welt grassiert." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Endearingly discursive, The Library at Night celebrates the quixotic aspect of library love. (...) If there's a gap in this impassioned survey, it's about public libraries and their potential for illumination. (...) His heart is with libraries that nourish a sensual profusion." - David Jays, New Statesman

  • "There seems to be nothing Mr. Manguel has not read; he even quotes from little-known medieval Arab authors, for whom the book was a sacred thing. If at times he seems indiscriminate, darting from such giants as Montaigne or Rabelais to forgotten rhymesters and even minor Canadian novelists, that is a function of his enormous enthusiasm. For all his love of books, and the libraries which contain them, Mr. Manguel is never narrowly bookish. Books lead him continually back into life." - Eric Ormsby, The New York Sun

  • "The Library at Night, fortunately, is more than a tour of the microcosm contained in Manguel's converted barn. Its fondness for leathery bindings and its fussy annoyance about the 'evil white scabs' of price-stickers slimily glued to book jackets soon give way to a crusading defence of the library as a mental sanctuary, a repository of memory, the only kind of home that has any emotional value for Manguel the deracinated cosmopolitan." - Peter Conrad, The Observer

  • "The book itself is unusually handsome (as a volume on this subject really has to be), with rich, creamy paper and elegant typefaces. It is also brilliantly and copiously illustrated." - James McConnachie , Sunday Times

  • "In this wonderful and gripping book, Manguel makes libraries seem as full of gusto and energy as life, and not, as people sometimes think, dusty alternatives to it." - Philip Hensher, The Telegraph

  • "In the wake of Jorge Luis Borges, perhaps, Alberto Manguel celebrates the power of the library over the creative imagination. (...) The reader is dipped into the swelling tide of language and is borne away. Yet there may be disadvantages to this experience. The reading of too many books may induce lassitude, wistfulness and fatalism. (...) Out of the darkness of one man's library shines a beacon." - Peter Ackroyd, The Times

  • "The Library at Night -- a series of essays on what one might call the Platonic Idea of a library -- reveals some of its author's intellectual range and magpie learning. (...) The Library at Night is an elegant volume, in both its design and its text, though some of Manguel's quoted anecdotes and insights (especially those pertaining to the Internet, that source of speedy answers rather than considered wisdom) will probably be familiar to admirers of Nicholas Basbanes (...), Sven Birkerts (...) and certain other bookish essayists. There are a few trivial mistakes, as well" - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

  • "Sein zum Standardwerk taugendes Lese-Buch ist gewitzt, klug und mitreißend. Borges wäre stolz ihn gewesen." - Hendrik Werner, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Library at Night is a book of variations on the theme of libraries. The title of each of the fifteen chapters promises to reveal: 'The Library as ...'; the as then being everything from 'Myth' to 'Shape' to 'Survival' to 'Identity'.
       The very bookish Manguel anchors The Library at Night in his own experience -- and his own library, which he built in France around the remnants of a fifteenth-century barn and began to fill with his (tens of thousands of) books in the summer of 2003. From the design of the structure to the placement and order of the books, as well as what kind of books they are, Manguel repeatedly finds points to start his ruminations in (and eventually return them to) his own library and experiences, but his great book-knowledge leads him far afield, too. So The Library at Night is a pleasant journey across times and places, Manguel exploring the history of book-collections and repositories and the people behind them, and the books in them.
       It's not always a happy journey: Manguel mentions many of the lost libraries and books -- from the familiar (the Library of Alexandria, the many lost texts by well-known ancient Greek authors) to the less widely known (the horrible destruction of the works found in the Americas and destroyed by the Spanish as part of their conquest). He considers libraries across the world -- ancient and (relatively) modern, private and public, even fictional and imaginary ones.
       Manguel describes some of the better-known comprehensive literary temples, such as the British Library, as well as efforts such as the Carnegie-libraries, but also mentions the Colombian 'Biblioburro'-effort to bring books to "the farthest corners of the country" (for which: "large green carrier bags with capacious pockets, that could easily be folded into convenient packages, were devised to transport books on donkeys' backs up into the jungle and the sierra").
       Anecdote-filled, smoothly making any number of connexions, Manguel's library-focussed tour leads to any variety of unexpected places. Indeed, one of his themes is this possibility for the unexpected that libraries can hold -- and it's why, for example, he concerns himself at some length with things such as just how to order the books in a library (and what the consequences of any particular system might be). Among the libraries he lingers over is, unsurprisingly, that of Aby Warburg:

In a sense, his library was an attempt to disclose, in all their rawness, the bare nerves of his thought, and to allow room for his ideas to migrate and mutate and mate. If most libraries of his time resembled an entomologist's display case of pinned and labelled specimens, Warburg's revealed itself to the visitor as a child's glass-fronted ant farm.
       Richly illustrated, and with many, many entertaining examples from the literary world -- and with Manguel moving constantly and quickly from one idea to the next --, The Library at Night is an enjoyable, easy ride. Manguel might have anchored it even more firmly around his own library (and certainly there should at least be more pictures of it), but really that complaint -- insofar it is one -- applies to nearly everything in the book: there is a great deal of information (and a reasonable amount of speculation) here, but much does feel like a litany of anecdotes. Interesting and entertaining enough, certainly, but there's so much here that one wishes were explained and discussed at much greater length.
       Still, as a general but also very personal library-tour-book it is certainly worthwhile, and offers sufficient rewards for anyone who is bookishly inclined.

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Links:

The Library at Night: Reviews: Alberto Manguel: Other books by Alberto Manguel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Alberto Manguel was born in Argentina and now lives in France. He is a translator and critic.

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© 2008-2012 the complete review

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