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Ian McNeely and Lisa Wolverton

Reinventing knowledge

Reinventing knowledge: from Alexandria to the Internet by Ian McNeely and Lisa Wolverton looks at the various methods societies have used to preserve knowledge, from the ancient Greeks to the present.

The library in Greek and Roman times was a magnet for scholars and hence a source of prestige for rulers who built them. With the fall of the Roman empire the task of preserving knowledge in Western Europe passed to monasteries, although these were frequently more concerned with spiritual texts than with knowledge in general. The gathering of scholars in cities prompted the formation of universities. However, these tended to become competitive and inward looking, and it required the 'Republic of Letters' to allow knowledge to progress. As knowledge became more specialised it became organised into specific disciplines, and in more recent times the laboratory has become the centre of knowledge creation.

The authors took on a difficult task of describing the progress of knowledge over thousands of years, and I felt that they didn't fully succeed. The book sometimes seems to lack the central thread it needs to compress a lot of information into a small space, digressing into topics such as the calculation of the date of Easter. It's interesting enough, but it didn't live up to what I'd hoped.