Book Review: The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

Most beautiful libraries in the worldThe Most Beautiful Libraries in the World by Jacques Bosser, photographs by Guillaume  Booser, foreword by James Billington,  translated by Laurel Hirsch  (New York:  Harry N. Abrams, 2003) ISBN:0810946343

Available from Amazon for $37.08

The book covers 23 libraries.  Twenty are in Europe and  three are in the United States.  The introduction is an ode to  libraries, books, and readers. It traces the history of libraries back to the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Greeks. “As long as a library is both useful and used, it will grow.  When it no longer answers to its calling, in time it will lose its importance and, at best, its rich collections will only be consulted by historians.”

The libraries included in the book are:
National Library of Austria – Vienna, Austria
The Benedectine Abbey Library of Admont – Admont, Austria
The Monastic library at Wiblingen – Ulm, Germany
The Benedictine Abbey Library of Metten – Metten, Germany
The Herzogin Anna Amalia Library – Weimar, Germany
The Vatican Library – Rome, Italy
Riccardiana Library – Florence, Italy
The Mazarine Library – Paris, France
The Institute Library – Paris, France
The Senate Library – Paris, France
The Cabinet Des Livres of the Duc D’Aumale – Chantilly, France
The Abbey Library of St. Gall – Saint Gall, Switzerland
Bodleaian Library – Oxford, England
Wren Library, Trinity College – Cambridge, England
The John Rylands Library – Manchester, England
Trinity College Library – Dublin, Ireland
The National Library – Prague, The Czech Republic
The Library of the Royal Monastery of El Escorial – San Lorenzo del Escorial, Spain
The National Palace Library in Mafra – Mafra, Portugal
Boston Athaenaeum – Boston, USA
The Library of Congress – Washington, DC, USA
The New York Public Library – NY, USA
The National Library of Russia – St. Petersburg, Russia

Each library featured includes both the history and how it reflects the culture and its focus at the time of creation. For example,  the Benedictine Abbey Library of Admont in Admont, Austria offers a technical description of the library as  a “late baroque hall that, on a smaller scale, is somewhat reminiscent of the court library in Vienna… Its 230 ft (70 m) length extends down a central area under a cupola 41 ft 8 in (12.7 m) high  of which open two lateral, rectangular halls, each surmounted by three domes, 37 ft (11.3 m) in height.”   In the next paragraph, it switches from details and description to explanation. “This technical description, however,  conveys nothing of the spirit in which this masterpiece glorifying the Creator was conceived–a lavish Gesamtkunstwerk or global work of art, where each element plays a role.”

Benedictine Library of Admont

Trinity College LibraryThe description includes the focus of the collection of each library, how it is organized, and the art work that enhances the look and feel of the library.   For example, Trinity College Library in Dublin “(b)eginning in 1728, marble busts were place at the entry of each alcove on both the ground floor and the gallery.  Executed by sculptors such as Roubilliac, Van Nost, and Scheemaker, all famous during their lifetime, the busts are of philosophers, poets, historians, and ever increasingly benefactors and professors of the university.”

NYPL LionsEven the modern day New York Public Library “is, in fact an authentically democratic tool of knowledge reflecting the American conviction that education is one of the surest ways to climb the social ladder.”  Patience and Fortitude, the two pink Tennessee marble lions sculpted by Edward Clark Porter, are “today two of New Yorkers’ preferred beasts.”

The book does an excellent job showing the unique features and history of these famous libraries and includes a brief bibliography.  All of the libraries are either European or American.  Although it looks like there is another 2010 edition of the book, it is a reprint of the 2003 book, with a different cover.  If there is another edition, maybe it will include libraries from other parts of the world.

Do you like libraries, or do you think it is all online and free?  Join in the conversation and share what your favorite library is and why.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World”

  1. As a teen, I remember spending hours in the main reading room of the Boston Public Library, which was the most impressive library I had seen at the time. I haven’t been back in years, so I imagine it still as it was in the early 1960s. I have since been in academic libraries all over the US and in several places in Europe. Each has its charm. I studied for hours and hours in the Harvard libraries and then in libraries across the midwest for several decades, enjoying how each fits its local culture. It’s hard to pick a favorite among them. If there’s one that I would love to just sit in for the atmosphere, though, it’s the library at Biltmore, in Asheville NC. It’s not a working library at all and, sadly, one that you can’t even just sit in without annoying the staff, but I truly enjoy visiting each time I get a chance, just to see what one man’s vision of a private library looks like.
    By the way, Google can help you find quite a few web sites with “top ten” (or more) great library suggestions, many with enticing photos. There’s even a little display in the Community Virtual Library in Second Life, just behind the main desk.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t think this had been posted yet. I’m surprised you have seen it. Guess I need to finish the review. Love that there are displays of great libraries in CVL. I forgot about that. My college friend from Asheville was just here. I will need to share your comment about the Biltmore Library. Never been to the Boston Public Library, but I am not surprised to hear it has a wonderful library.


  3. Glad you were able to visit. I am ashamed to say it is still on my to do list. I have visited both the Bodleian and the British Libraries. I have visited the Library of Congress several times. Once I was at an evening function and got to see the full moon against the Capital Dome from a window at LC.


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