"WARNING: It has been determined that this book is dangerous to your leisure." It is a hard book to pick up, all six pounds of it, but it is even harder to put down.
Treasures of the Library of Congress looks deceptively like a coffee-table book: oversize format, heavy glossy paper, 439 plates including 156 in full color, $45. Don't be fooled. This is a book to read as well as to look at. Anyone who reads the first 37 pages (foreward, chapter one, 46 captioned plates) will be hooked and in danger of doing nothing else until reaching the end of the text on page 301. It is not a book to keep on the table, but to keep in your head and in your heart.
The 11 chapters do much more than just survey, in words and pictures, the library's chief treasures of its 76 million objects: illuminated manuscripts: manuscripts and printed books in literature, history, science, orientalia and music; maps; prints; photographs and films; fine bindings; posters and programs; musical instruments. The specially taken photographs are handsome, but the book's chief glory is its text.
Every chapter is a stirring voyage of discovery, even for those familiar with libraries and their holdings. In easy and luminous prose, without gushing adjectives or inflated enthusiasm, Charles A. Goodrum explains the noble purposes of this great library and the history and significance of some of its contents. He writes with humor, a sure feel for the little-known and the unexpected, and a sense of the ticking of history's clock. No one who cares about our present as the child of its past and the parent of its future can read this book without being freshly instructed and deeply moved.
One example of the virtues of this volume is its brief, but lucid and exciting, account of the transmission of knowledge, first in manuscripts and then in printed books. The tale has been told often but seldom better. The invention of printing, permitting the production of identical texts in multiple copies, is among the most significant events in the history of human culture. So long as texts could only be made by slowly copying manuscripts, there could be no large libraries. But within the 50 years ending in 1500 (a single lifetime) large libraries had already been assembled, thanks to printing. On printing depended the intellectual dominance of the northern hemisphere. The indigenous records of the southern hemisphere were largely oral rather than written. More than 500 years of printing have made possible the achievement of sophisticated cultures; its lack has kept men in mental slavery of primitive societies. Americans should rejoice to have a library of 18 million volumes, the largest in the world.
Here is a brief sample of the wonderful things in librarian goodrum's book. The chapter on science includes a spirited and convincing statement of the case for Copernicus as the chief man of the Renaissance. The section on maps relates the absorbing stories of man's increasinly successful efforts to chart his planet, and of the library's 4 million maps that preserve those efforts. The chapter on photography covers the 140-year history of that process with a portfolio of admirable examples. And a delightful chapter on the musical Oklahoma! , representing the range of the Library's resources (it has everything from musical manuscripts to publicity stills), tells the tale of the show's origins and triumphs in diverting detail.
No work of multiplicity is wholly free from error; inadvertence will always surprise vigilance. The Gutenberg Bible is not "the first book printed with movable metal type"; such type was used in Korea in A.D. 1160. That does not diminish Gutenberg's achievement any more than the Vikings diminish Columbus. Leading to great results counts infinitely more than just being first. The map collection is said in one place to contain 3.5 million items, in another 4 million. Even at the Library of Congress half a million maps (elsewhere a large collection) is a mensurable difference. But these are cavils at a book of great nicety.
I do not know any illustration clearer than this book of the reasons why the survival of learning depends on large libraries. Solzhenitsyn well said,"A people which no longer remembers has lost its history and its soul." That is what the Library of Congress is all about. That is what this book is all about. It will make you proud to be a citizen of our country.