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Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age
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Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  135 ratings  ·  20 reviews
The flood of information brought to us by advancing technology is often accompanied by a distressing sense of “information overload,” yet this experience is not unique to modern times. In fact, says Ann M. Blair in this intriguing book, the invention of the printing press and the ensuing abundance of books provoked sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European scholars to re ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published November 30th 2010 by Yale University Press (first published November 2nd 2010)
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Bryan Alexander
Dec 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a delightful and very useful book, but only for certain groups of people. You have to either be a bibliophile, or a specialist in early modern history, or a historian of the book to read this with as much utility and pleasure as did I. I, for one, chuckled and annotated frequently, especially sitting next to my overstuffed bookshelves.

Too Much To Know is about certain ways people in the early modern period coped with information overload, which seems at first glance to be a strange asser
Ellana Thornton-Wheybrew
A truly fascinating book, covering from the ancients to recent times.
Feb 16, 2019 rated it liked it
The last 100ish pages or so of this book is the bibliography (an incredibly thorough one, might I add) and an index, so I am officially finished with the second book for my core class in grad school. Woo!
Margaret Heller
Dec 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
The problems of an overabundance of information is a perennial complaint, but how scholars have dealt with this has evolved over time. Early modern scholars worked in a transitional period where one medium--the manuscript--was being superseded by a new medium--the printed book. This book focuses on the methods of information gathering and retrieval by scholars during the 14th-17th centuries.

There were several things I found particularly striking about this book. First, there was a great concern
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memory
Information overload anxiety is not unique to the 21st century. Scholars in the library at Alexandria struggled to make material contained in some 500,000 scrolls useful and accessible. The methods they developed in antiquity to select, store, sort and summarize material continued largely unchanged into the early Middle Ages. From the 13th century onward, dictionaries, concordances, and florilegia (collections of sentences organized by alphabetized headings) evolved and expanded. By the 16th cen ...more
Yes, it really took me two years to finish this book. I hesitate to be critical because the author is one of my mentors. But while the topic of the book is interesting and the arguments strong, it gets so bogged down in one detail or case after another that it makes for very difficult reading. I have an issue (as a librarian) with an attitude among those administering special collections (which in this country pretty much means early modern European stuff) of being overly fixated on minor detail ...more
Ed G
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really fascinating look at how knowledge was handled during the era of "information overload" that was the 16th and 17th C. Blair does a really nice job of communicating, it is a pleasure to read. ...more
Naked Fish
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Nov 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
Nice idea; too academic in tone.
Feb 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I don't think I'll look at the vast amount of knowledge available to us and the work that has gone into producing books and references the same way again. I now have a greater appreciation of the index and table of contents, the library book catalog in categorizing books to aid research as well as elements that go into making a printed work not only pleasingly legible but researchable too.

Ann M. Blair explores the evidence that information overload was not unique to our age of the Internet and
May 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Scholars in almost every age seem to feel overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge available to them, and seek ways to extract the most valuable material to have at hand. This is a history of Renaissance Latin reference works, concentrating on how far their makers drew on classical and medieval references for organization and means of composing, how they compare with 19th and 20th century references, and how the purposes behind them changed or remained stable. She gives very brief overviews of t ...more
Oct 28, 2013 rated it liked it
While reading this book for class, I was surprised to find that I was quite interested in the management of information and the organization of reference books in medieval and early modern periods. I think some of my neurotic impulses are soothed by thinking through organizational systems, and on that level this was a satisfying read/skim. That said, it's occasionally dry (it's hard to get excited about a chapter titled "Note-taking"), and I'm not sure what I could do with this information, es ...more
Mar 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Information Management Practices: Sort, Store, Select, Summarize. Info glut was not a new problem characteristic to the internet "information age."

Interesting comparative work: islamic, byzantine, chinese.

While most of the material Blair looks at is early modern european (in an age which sees the rise of urban, quasi-secular print culture), there's some great background about medieval information practices too, particularly on the production and consumption of florilegia, where bible bits and o
Dec 31, 2014 rated it liked it
An interesting and detailed look at the creation and use of the earliest reference works. Very interesting to see that many of the practices, issues, and concerns that we encounter today are not at all new. Take note that this book is far more academic than the title suggests: an important piece of scholarly work in our field. If your interests tend toward the modern, the Epilogue, while short, provides a good entry point to the text and should give you a good sense of whether you want to commit ...more
Janice Liedl
May 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic, history
If you want to understand how people coped with the avalanche of information which printing and other early modern technologies piled onto their lives, this is the book for you. A useful corrective to the common belief that only the 21st century has ever really seen "information overload". This study ably blends cultural, technological, print and educational history into the examination of what we understand as information and how new avenues of providing it challenged the status quo. Probably a ...more
Bill Sleeman

This book gets a DNF from me – it is filled with detail and reads like the scholarly text that it is. I really enjoyed the way the author pulled together those 'bits of books' that we appreciate but seldom think about how they came to be. Sadly, I feel like I have too many other things going on right now to give this book the fair and full reading it deserves. Perhaps I will come back to it….perhaps not...
Mar 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-society
skimmed this...but is really interesting history of reference books and compiling information for scholarly use.
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Took a long time, and I didn't read through ALL of this book, but I think it was interesting and a worthwhile read.
Brett Mckay
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