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The Great Digitization and the Quest to Know Everything

The Great Digitization and the Quest to Know Everything

Examines the pitfalls, perils, and promises offered by the digitization of books

• Reveals the danger digitized books pose to the very idea of “free” reading

• Poses the questions society should be asking itself before heedlessly embracing this brave new world

The digitization of books is an immense blessing for the exchange and diffusion of knowledge, enabling access in even the most remote locations. Yet this new technology has awakened perils as dangerous as those that reduced libraries to ashes in ancient Alexandria and modern Nazi Germany. The very force that makes it possible for books to reach a global audience also has the power to hold them hostage and even destroy their integrity in a manner that is unprecedented.

Books on Fire author Lucien Polastron points out that the dematerialization of knowledge raises new legal challenges about the quality and authenticity of information. Attempts to create a virtual library are changing the very nature of reading, which has been marked by the act of physically holding and moving forward through an author’s work rather than viewing a series of sound bite length snippets. The transfer of the traditional paper book into a searchable entity on the computer represents a revolution even more dramatic than the one triggered by Gutenberg’s printing press. This revolution is akin to the replacement of the scroll by the codex, which likewise changed the way humans could receive information and structure their thoughts. Yet despite its broad easy access, the profiteers of this new commercial domain may render the very idea of “free” reading obsolete. Polastron poses questions others are ignoring in a headlong rush to embrace what is still a very ambiguous future.
Choose a format:
  • Inner Traditions | 
  • 192 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781594772436 | 
  • March 2009
List Price $16.95
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 2
For Wells Is Not the Plural of Orwell


Seventy years ago, the Martian ambassador, greatly alarmed by the state of planet Earth and with an eye to helping humanity escape its own “growing powers of waste and destruction,” became convinced that nothing could be more effective than a general and permanent distribution of universal knowledge: encyclopedism. In the footprints of Comenius, “Everyone should learn everything,” and Diderot, “If we want philosophers to move forward, we need to bring the people to where the philosophers are now,” the ambassador suddenly put all his time and energy... see more

About the Author

Lucien X. Polastron

Lucien X. Polastron is a historian specializing in Chinese and Arab studies and has written several books on calligraphy as well as a monumental study of paper, Le Papier: 2000 ans d’histoire [Paper: 2000 Years of History]. The destruction of the National Library in Sarajevo in 1992 was the catalyst for his systematic research into the destruction of libraries, a subject he had encountered many times over while working on his previous book about paper. The culmination of his extensive research, Livres en feu [Books on Fire] received the 2004 Société des Gens de Lettres Prize for Nonfiction/History. His most recent book is La Grand numérisation: Y a-t-il une pensée après le papier? [The Great Digitization: Is There Thought after Paper?]. He lives and works in Paris.

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