Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Lost Library

A fun, enjoyable quick-read. Entertaining yet by no means very realistic. One woman out to save the world ..... not a problem at all. But, how someone who just had the base of her head bashed in 'conveniently' know how and able to unlock a handcuff with a hairpin ..... and how an upload of such vast amount of information (being collected from ancient time till present) can be completed in less than 2 hours ..... Well,  the network must be exceptionally fast.

Put that aside,  I got to admit the storyline is compelling.

It starts with the murder of a university professor in the US and the bombing of a church in Oxford, England.  Our Narrator, Emily Wess – a professor at the same university as the murder victim – is about to take a few days break with her boyfriend over Thanksgiving when her plans are abruptly changed by a letter from the dead man and a plane ticket to the UK. This complex thriller involves a political plot in the US and the ancient library at Alexandria which may or may not have been destroyed in ancient times. Knowledge is power and Emily finds herself taking part in a race against time to stop it falling into the wrong hands and putting the whole world at risk.

The strongest point of the book is the great accuracy of the historical facts, especially the details about the ancient Royal Library of Alexandria,  that were very vivid and fascinating.

Founded at the behest of Ptolemy II Philadelphus some time in the early third century BC, its endowment and rapid expansion appear to have been part of the new regime's intention to create a glory and legacy for Egypt that even the earlier Pharaohs had not managed.  Linking ancient religion, philosophy, science and the arts, the Library became a storehouse for wisdom the world over - and the charter, perhaps dating to the reign of Ptolemy III, for its librarians to confiscate the written works of all visitors to the city so that they could be copied and entered into the collection, is a genuine part of the Library's remarkable history. The Royal Library became the ancient world's great centre of learning, with its librarians including men whose names continue to inspire historians and scholars (e.g. Apollonius of Rhodes, Eratosthenes, Aristophanes of Byzantium).  No one really knows how large the Library eventually became.

The various theories discussed in the book regarding the destruction and disappearance of the Library are all genuine hypotheses entertained by scholars today.  The once-popular belief that the Library burned during the attack by Caeser in 48 BC is impossible, given that ancient documents give evidence of its on-going existence much later.  The two possibilities explored - namely, the sack of the city by Amr ibn al'Aas around AD 642, and the destruction of Pagan centres of learning in Alexandria by Patriarch Theophilus in the fourth century AD - are the most popular hypotheses amongst scholars today; but the disappearance of the once-great Library does, indeed, remain one of the great mysteries of antiquity.  All that can be known for certain is that by the sixth century, it is simply a non-entity in the historical record.

If interested, here are some links pertaining to the fate of the library :
- The Mysterious Fate of the Great Library of Alexandria
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- The Foundation and Loss of the Royal and Serapeum Libraries of Alexandria
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The new Bibliotheca Alexandrina in modern-day Egypt
The bibliotheca Alexandrina, or Aktabat al-Iskandar yah, is a gem in the modern Alexandrian cultural heritage. Officially opened in 2002, this $220-million structure is the intellectual centre not just to Egypt, but of the whole Mediterranean. The brainchild of Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta, whom UNESCO appointed to create the new monument to Egyptian history and culture, its 160-metre diameter granite disk of a roof is meant to represent the rising Sun, and its facade contains text in 120 of the world's languages and scripts.  Designed at an angle and sloping into a pool of water meant to symbolise the sea, its main reading room alone contains 70,000 square metres of floor space.  The library is also home to the only complete copy of the Internet Archive (though since 2002 the Archive also now has other main hubs).  The library was donated a databank of over 200 computers with more than 100 TB of storage, valued then at over $5milion USD, containing a complete 'snapshot' of every page on the internet from 1996-2001, taken every two months.  Since then, the Internet Archive project continues to create a running archive of the whole internet, and to make this publicly available to posterity.  It remains one of its principal data centres.

After reading it, just make me wanna visit the library.

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