Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Review of Houston, Inside Roman Libraries

A Book about Books and a Collection on Collections – By Drew Longacre.
Drew Longacre on George W. Houston’s Inside Roman Libraries
In his 2014 book Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity, George W. Houston sets out to understand ancient Roman scholars in their own historical and material contexts. Like Cicero, Houston has put in a lot of effort, but he has accomplished something truly significant — a comprehensive survey of the evidence for ancient Roman book collections. With a broad three-pronged assault, he synthesizes documentary, literary, and archaeological evidence to pry open the secrets of Roman libraries from the first century BCE to the fourth century CE, and in so doing produces a handy reference work and provides a great service to contemporary readers. Houston’s aim throughout is to inform our imaginations not with an idealized or typical Roman library, but a range of possibilities indicated by the sources. Well-written in understandable prose, the book prepares readers to imagine themselves walking in the shoes of ancient scholars and using a wide variety of different types of Roman book collections. Houston is to be commended for bringing ancient Roman libraries alive in all their diversity to modern readers, and all those who study ancient literature will be much enriched with a greater appreciation of the realia of ancient book culture.
Earlier reviews of the book have been noted here and here.