The Library

A World History

James W P Campbell , Will Pryce


The definitive worldwide architectural history of the library, with spectacular original photography by one of the finest architectural photographers at work today

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Ambitious and wide-ranging, this is the first single volume to tell the story of the library as a distinct building type, all around the world and from the beginnings of writing to the present day.

Book collections have always served to display their owners’ culture and learning and the word ‘library’ has come to mean not only the books themselves, but also the buildings that house them. Each age and culture has moulded them to reflect its own priorities and preoccupations – mirroring the history of civilization itself.

In its highest form the library became a total work of art, combining painting, sculpture, furniture and architecture. From their designs for the libraries of ancient Rome to those of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, architects have sought to outdo each other by producing ever more spectacular settings.

The author and photographer have travelled the globe, documenting some eighty libraries. Architectural historian James Campbell contributes an authoritative and highly readable account. Will Pryce is one of the world’s leading photographers of interiors and architecture. Arresting and technically flawless, his photographs are both lucid and deeply atmospheric.

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'A fascinating read for anyone who appreciates books and the beautiful buildings they’re housed in'
Elle Decoration

'A glorious study'
Sunday Telegraph

'In a lavish tribute to the architecture of libraries, the culture of learning and our ever-changing relationship with the written word from ancient to medieval modern, this great book is itself a rich library'
Saga Magazine

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Further Details


Format: Hardback

Size: 30.8 x 24.0 cm

Extent: 328 pp

Illustrations: 292

Publication date: 14 October 2013

ISBN: 9780500342886

Contents List

Preface; Introduction • 1. Lost Beginnings – Libraries in the Ancient World • 2. Cloisters, Codices and Chests – Libraries in the Middle Ages• 3. Cupboards, Chains and Stalls – Libraries in the Sixteenth Century • 4. Walls, Domes and Alcoves – Libraries in the Seventeenth Century • 5. Angels, Frescoes and Secret Doors – Libraries in the Eighteenth Century • 6. Iron Stacks, Gas Lights and Card Catalogues – Libraries in the Nineteenth Century • 7. Electricity, Concrete and Steel – Libraries in the Twentieth Century • 8. The Future of Libraries in the Electronic Age

About the Author

James W. P. Campbell, Fellow in Architecture and History of Art, Queens’ College, Cambridge, is the author of Building St Paul’s and Brick: A World History, also with Will Pryce.

Will Pryce, a trained architect and award-winning photographer, is the author of six books, all published by Thames & Hudson.