Centre for the History of the Book

Burning Books and Leveling Libraries

The Centre for the History of the Book is very pleased to be associated with this important title. Professor Knuth is Chair of the Library and Information Science Program at The University of Hawaii, and undertook much of the research on the Burning Books and Leveling Libraries while she was a Visiting Fellow at the CHB.

Leveling libraries: Extremist violence and cultural destruction

In her previous book, Libricide, Rebecca Knuth focused on book destruction by authoritarian regimes: Nazis, Serbs in Bosnia , Iraqis in Kuwait , Maoists during the Cultural Revolution in China , and the Chinese Communists in Tibet. But authoritarian governments are not the only perpetrators. Extremists of all stripes--through terrorism, war, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and other forms of mass violence--are also responsible for widespread cultural destruction, as she demonstrates in this new book. Burning Books and Leveling Libraries is structured in three parts.

  • Part I is devoted to struggles by extremists over voice and power at the local level, where destruction of books and libraries is employed as a tactic of political or ethnic protest.
  • Part II discusses the aftermath of power struggles in Germany , Afghanistan , and Cambodia , where the winners were utopians who purged libraries in efforts to purify their societies and maintain power.
  • Part III examines the fate of libraries when there is war and a resulting power vacuum.

The book concludes with a discussion of the events in Iraq in 2003, and the responsibility of American war strategists for the widespread pillaging that ensued after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Table of Contents:


  • Understanding Modern Biblioclasm
  • Tracing the Path of Extremism From Robespierre to Milosevic

Grappling for Voice and Power

  • Political Protestors and Amsterdam 's South African Institute, 1984
  • Ethnic Biblioclasm, 1980-2005

Absolute Power and the Drive to Purify Society

  • National Socialism and the Destruction of Berlin 's Institute for Sexual Knowledge, 1933
  • Secular Fanaticism and the Auto-Genocide of Cambodia , 1975-1979
  • Fundamentalism and the Destruction of Afghanistan 's Cultural Heritage, 1994-2001

War, Power Vacuum, and Anarchy

  • Dueling Ideologies and Total War, 1939-1945
  • Anarchy and Acquisitive Vandalism, 1967-2003
  • Errors of Omission and Cultural Destruction in Iraq , 2003