The other day, I was having a conversation in the comments section regarding ancient Chinese philosophers with my learned friend Lexington Green, when I had cause to quote Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from his most recent book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable:
The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. he is the owner of a large personal library ( containing thirty thousand books), and separates vistors into two categories: those who react with ‘Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?’ and others – a very small minority- who get the point that a private library is not an ego boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real estate market allow you to put there. You wil accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growig number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call the collection of unread books an antilibrary.
A passage that immediately made me feel better about having resigned myself to falling further and further behind in reading the books that I keep purchasing ( I’m now also periodically finding myself going to IKEA to buy shelf extensions. I’ve resigned myself to that too).
The obscurely named Munzenberg of Soob, also enjoyed Taleb’s take on the proper function of a book collection and has begun a viral post What is in your Antilibrary?:
I’d like to pose a question to those who read this blog entry: What are three to five books on your shelf that lay unread and what knowledge do you hope to retrieve from them? [ ed.- see Munzenberg’s antilibrary here]
….I suppose I may have to tag people to get a widespread antilibrary booklist going. Feel free if you are reading this blog entry to start your own entry (the more books the better right?). I’ll link to you here if I catch it. I shall tag:
As Munzenberg has graciously “tagged” me, here is a fraction of my current antilibrary (the antilibrary appears to be a dynamic state with a definite phase transition to library status) I decided to avoid those recently acquired books at the top of my pile and use some finely-aged examples:
On the Origins of War: And the Preservation of Peace by Donald Kagan
Bought it after I enjoyed reading his revisionist The Peloponnesian War with the intent of getting into Kagan’s head on strategy and military history in general. I was reading a flood other military books at the time and it was lost in the shuffle
HO CHI MINH: A LIFE by William J. Duiker
This is a critically acclaimed biography by a highly respected scholar which I intended to read in tandem with recent biographies of Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao ZeDong, in order to get a feel for the interlocking social networks these leaders shared (Zhou Enlai was a hub for each man for a time). I finished those books but have not begun this one yet.
The Growth of the Mind: And the Endangered Origins of Intelligence by Stanley Greenspan, MD
I actually started this one but it was thrown into a packing box during a year I was building a house, selling another and moving several times. It then spent several years in storage before making it back on to a shelf. The purpose was to learn more about cognitive development in children.
Pillar of Fire : America in the King Years 1963-65 (America in the King Years) by Taylor Branch
Refresher on social, African-American and political history. Like the Kagan book, it was crowded out of the must-read bookpile by the deluge of military history and strategy books that I was reading at the time
The House of Rothschild: Volume 2: The World’s Banker: 1849-1999 by Niall Ferguson
As I am one of those freaks who actually enjoys economic history, I read Ferguson’s first volume years ago and thought it was lucidly written. This book too, fell victim to the packing box
It’s a rare opportunity to be on the ground floor of one of these viral posts and to be able to watch how far afield it travels, so I am selecting my “tags” with great care:
Younghusband opines on The Traveller’s Library