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Libraries in the Ancient World

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  422 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
This work tells the story of Ancient libraries from their very beginnings, when books were clay tablets and writing was a new phenomenon. Classicist Lionel Casson takes us on a tour from the royal libraries of the Ancient Near East, through the private and public libraries of Greece and Rome, down to the first Christian monastic libraries. He explains what books were ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published August 11th 2002 by Yale University Press (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

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Ann Keller
Nov 09, 2015 Ann Keller rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reference, history
Excellent book. I learned a lot. One of the reasons why the great library of Alexandria was so extensive was that the Ptolemies very nicely helped themselves to any original manuscript which came into port. The original was placed in the great library and the ship owner received a copy.

Greek libraries were mainly stacks for books, whereas the Romans indulged in learning in the big way. They often made a library a part of their bath complex, incorporating many facets of relaxation under one big r
Shay E
Jan 04, 2016 Shay E rated it liked it
A very enjoyable read, and (surprisingly) hardly dry at all. But it is always disappointing when books purporting to be about "the ancient world" turn out to just be about Ancient Greece and Rome.
Aug 18, 2013 Jenny rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book about the beginning of libraries. I work at a library and have always loved to read, so I enjoyed the descriptions of the first books, early bookstores, and the origins of libraries. Casson's voice is engaging and friendly, never boring or pedantic. My favorite parts were the anecdotes about ancient writers and library holders, such as the story of Cato's runaway slave who stole his books and about the man nicknamed Bronze Guts because he wrote so much (basically a ...more
Faith Justice
Dec 21, 2011 Faith Justice rated it really liked it
This was a fun short read (145 pages) about the evolution of libraries from the era of Sumerian clay tablets to the parchment codex of early Christian monasteries. Casson is an excellent researcher and writes in a lively style. He covers the funding and architecture of the buildings, the training and activities of library staff, acquisitions and production of books, and much more. Fascinating. Recommended for anyone who loves libraries.
Dec 13, 2010 Kafkasfriend rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rarely able to say this of a research work but the study of libraries in the ancient world is barely touched on. Literacy is a thing not discussed and the importance of public reading and writing and who can and can't read (compared to modern standards and failings) needs to be understood by anyone interested in any history.
Mar 14, 2008 Paulius rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sarah Sammis
May 28, 2010 Sarah Sammis rated it liked it
In the fall I'm going back to school for an MLIS. Since I'm unemployed I've also been trying to transition into a career that will use my web production experience with the sorts of jobs I'll be able to apply for after I complete my degree in 2 years. Some of the jobs require a basic skills test. What better place to get review materials for the test than the library? Along with the test materials, I also picked up Libraries in the Ancient World by Lionel Casson.

The copy I picked up happens to b
Jul 29, 2011 Anita rated it liked it
This book was an excellent overview of how libraries began and developed. I found it to the point and rather fast paced, which made it surprisingly easy to read. In fact, at the end I was disappointed that so little information was given in the Chapter on Monastic libraries. (Although I assume the author didn't categorize them as "ancient" and only wanted to show what the ancient libraries evolved into).

One of the highlights of the book for me was all the information on Mesopotamian libraries.
Alex Telander
Jan 28, 2011 Alex Telander rated it liked it
Before Patience and Fortitude, those familiar lions, gazed from New York’s Public Library, what was there? And what was there before the printing press and the wonderfully doctored paper each of us use every day?

Questions that no doubt many people have asked, and have not been able to find the answers to. Libraries in the Ancient World answers all these questions and more, from a professor’s perspective, ergo in immense detail that is unrivaled.

Crossing a long spectrum, from the early days of Ba
Jan 26, 2012 Ann rated it liked it
Shelves: language-books
This is a short and fun read for anyone who loves books, anyone who's ever wondered how libraries functioned in the ancient world. I learned many new tidbits from this book, e.g. the fact that in the Roman world, libraries were often doubled : one for Latin, one for Greek. Or how the intellectuals relied on an elaborate network of private libraries and scribes to obtain access to the rarer volumes. Or how the codex slowly supplanted the roll. Or the prominent role that slaves and freedmen played ...more
Jan 06, 2011 Molly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even thought I gave it 4-stars, I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone. If you are either a follower of ancient literary habits, or a HUGE fan of libraries/books or the ancient world, then, sure, check this one out. The author purports this is all the known information about libraries in the ancient world and I'll take his word for it (145 pages seems to be just enough length to the topic justice and keep the reader interested). The writing was interesting enough to keep me engaged while (at ...more
James F
Feb 04, 2015 James F rated it really liked it
A fascinating survey of book production, bookselling, and libraries from the earliest known collections in Mesopotamia through the end of the Roman Empire. Of course I was already aware of the great libraries at Alexandria (over half a million rolls) and Pergamum, which were basically academic libraries for scholars, but I wasn't aware that there were public libraries for the general public -- 29 in Rome alone by the early fourth century AD. Such a small percentage of the books survived the ...more
A competent and well-researched introduction to a fascinating topic, albeit somewhat dry and perfunctory (especially due to its short length). Lacking adequate space to really sink into the (admittedly scant) historical record, Casson's Libraries in the Ancient World often feels like a parade of Greek and Latin names who lack the personality and vigor of good historical figures. But there aren't many books on the topic, and Casson's is worth it for the notes and bibliography alone.
In this delightful and short book, Professor Lionel Casson traces the history of libraries from the archives of ancient Mesopotamia, through the extensive libraries of classical Greece, the Hellenistic kingdoms, and on to those of Rome, from its beginning to its final fall. Accompanying this, the author gives the history of literacy, and the evolution of writing technology--from the clay tablets of Sumer, through papyrus scrolls, to parchment codices.
Mar 14, 2014 Hank rated it did not like it
The complete history of boredom in one (thankfully) short volume. I love world history, but a book devoted to the development of ancient libraries is about as exciting as it sounds. I could not discern a narrative, and the author didn't do a great job of tying the yawn-inducing story of librarians into any of the major historical events of the time. I'm sorry I read this book, I'm sorry that you are considering reading this book. I need a nap or an espresso.
Jun 14, 2011 Melanie rated it liked it
It was interesting but not fascinating. Turns out there is little known about libraries in the ancient world (and by ancient world, he means the ancient western world, completely disregarding anything that happened outside of Europe and Northern Africa). Possibly there is not enough known about these libraries to fill a book.
Sep 08, 2009 Terry rated it it was amazing
This is a very readable nonfiction book about libraries in the ancient world, starting with the middle east several thousand years ago and ending with the beginning of monastic life. Occasional pictures and illustrations highlight the author's writing. This book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes ancient history, libraries, books, or the spread of literacy.
Feb 12, 2009 Ned rated it really liked it
One for the ages.
Always enjoy Casson's crystal clear modern English.
This and his 'Travel In The Ancient World' are one of a kind surveys in English that details the retained/discovered knowledge of these ancient methods of book making and keeping and travel.
Oct 02, 2010 Nick rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Nice little book. Should cover China/Asia too, but does a great job at succinctly outlining the development and makeup of libraries in the ancient world. The author includes a bit of back-story-history, some humour, and technical details where available. Grand.
Sep 26, 2010 William rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010
A must read for those interested in the history of libraries. Very enjoyable -- but the text in this very short book could still use some spark (either in the writing style of the author or more imaginative layout to help break up the dense text).
James Eckman
Feb 07, 2016 James Eckman rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Covers ancient western and near-eastern libraries only, nothing about China, so nice but incomplete with a slightly misleading title. Fun little read.
Jan 17, 2008 Sally rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, classical
Good coverage of ancient libraries, their materials, organization, subject matter, and patrons. Also, how they were destroyed so rapidly once Christianity became dominant.
Jan 12, 2013 Justin rated it really liked it
A very easy read and quite interesting. Infinitely better than Yun Lee Too's 'The Idea of the Library in the Ancient World'. Confuse the two at your own peril!
Oct 21, 2014 Ian rated it really liked it
A short and concise, yet insightful for its simplicity, book on the origins and early development of the library in the West.
Mar 07, 2012 Maya rated it liked it
A brief look at ancient Western libraries. Well written and with enough details to be interesting, but sorely lacking in other areas. Still, it's a good start to broach this topic.
Jack Phoenix
Mar 30, 2015 Jack Phoenix rated it liked it
An enlightening tour of an ancient institution, Casson's knowledgeable journey is targeted mostly for the scholar. But there is plenty here to teach a casual reader, as well.
Martin Shone
Dec 31, 2014 Martin Shone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, books
A wonderful book which delves amongst the dusty shelves of long ago to bring back to life those lost libraries of ancient times.
Joanna Winfield
Joanna Winfield rated it really liked it
Nov 17, 2015
Van Parkman
Van Parkman rated it really liked it
Mar 03, 2012
Zachary rated it it was amazing
Apr 08, 2016
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Lionel Casson was a classicist, professor emeritus at New York University, and a specialist in maritime history.
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