Tom butler-bowdon

"The highest purpose of the library is to serve as the armory of the truth, to defend it against lies that serve the powerful."

Thank you John Overholt, curator of early modern books & manuscripts at Harvard's Houghton Library.

It is easy to dismiss books and libraries as divorced from the "real" world. So and so is living in an "ivory tower", we say. But this is only a fair comment until the point where the real world starts to become unreal. Then, the library is suddenly appreciated as a bastion of reason and truth, a container of civilization.

Tap any person who is clearly anti-civilization and anti-human (cue recent events in London and Manchester), and you will find that at some point they closed their minds to new ideas. It was no longer possible or necessary to hold contradictory or opposing thoughts, because now you had a single truth.

What books and libraries do, via random discoveries or focused research, is push you beyond what you thought you know. Yet when fixed ideas fall by the wayside, it is never a loss, only an expansion.

Have sometimes thought what would happen if madmen tried to take over the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where I sometimes work. The only thing us readers could do in defense is grab the nearest heavy hardback or three and hurl it at the attackers. That a crazed ideologue could be felled by a copy of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, Darwin's Origin of the Species or Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women is a lovely thought.

Treasure amid the trash

Every book is a kind of mental edifice erected by the author, and we enter the house that they have built. This is why reading is such an intimate experience. You can be reading someone who died five-hundred or a thousand years ago, but it is like a friend is right there with you in the moment, having a deep conversation that means everything.

So books are mental and alive, but they also very much physical objects, created in a certain time and place, having a life of their own as things in a physical universe.

A reader in South America sent me this story of an amazing man in Bogota, a garbage collector who on his rounds 20 years ago found a copy of Anna Karenina amid the rubbish. It was the start of La Fuerza de las Palabras ("The Strength of Words"), a community library of found and donated books that are given or lent to schools and organizations where they are most needed and appreciated. For the founder, books and education are the pathway out of poverty and ignorance.

Jose Alberto Guiterrez is now writing his own book woven around the twenty works, many found discarded on people's doorsteps in the richer parts of Bogota, that transformed his life. What would be your top 20?


A magic evening

The pics above and below are from a recent book launch for the new edition of 50 Psychology Classics (and the new 50 Economics Classics) at the lovely Freud Museum in Hampstead, North London.

It was a great night and I'm grateful to all who came. As the bulk of my readers are outside the UK, and outside London, it was fantastic to have a physical event where I get to meet people and discuss ideas.


After drinks in the reception rooms we ascended upstairs and had the speaking bit. I talked about the new books and the links between psychology and economics.


I then interviewed three invited guests, philosopher Jules Evans, author of a great new book, The Art of Losing Control, motivational author Joe Barnes (Escape The System), and commercial aviator Julian Price, to discuss all things psychology, philosophy and success.

At the end were some interesting questions about the 50 Classics series, book signing in the museum's bookshop, and a trip to a nearby pub to continue the conversation. My objective with the event had been to create a community, and judging by people's response I think that was achieved.



The release of 50 Economics Classics led to an interview (above) with the venerable Oxford Times, which has been around since 1862.

Usually, media for my books is focused on the latest release, so I enjoyed
getting a chance to tell the story behind the 50 Classics series. If you don't know anything about what I did before becoming a writer, what led to my first book, or the thinking all my writing, this is a good encapsulation.


'In all good bookshops'

A heads up that the four titles in the pic above are now on sale in many places, including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa and Hong Kong. If they are not in your local bookstore you can order online.

The pic is from a Newslink store in Sydney. Love the 'shelf talkers', the little cardboard shelf cards that say something about the series.

I laughed out loud seeing books about dogs, moaning, and the future of humanity (Yuval Noah Hariri) all together in a single display!

50EconB NBoston

U.S. Promotion

American readers: for the rest of June you can get the Kindle and Nook editions of my newer books for a bargain price: $2.99, which is $8 off the normal price. If you have not read all of them, or are keen to read the new one, here is your chance.

Click on the links below to expand your mind.

Amazon - Kindle

50 Economics Classics
50 Psychology Classics, new edition
50 Philosophy Classics
50 Politics Classics

Barnes & Noble - Nook

50 Economics Classics
50 Psychology Classics, new edition
50 Philosophy Classics
50 Politics Classics

The promotion ends June 26, so be quick.

The pic was taken by a friend who spotted 50 Economics Classics on display at a Barnes & Noble at Boston University. Love the banner, 'Books To Make You Think'.

Well, I would hope all books do that.

Towering knowledge

I started with libraries so will end with them. A couple of days ago stumbled on this new book, published by Cambridge University Press, which is a scholarly rethink of the place and role of libraries in the ancient world. Don't have to time to read all of it, but wherever I looked it was fascinating.

"Many of the traditional stories told about ancient libraries are challenged," the blurb says, "Few were really enormous, none were designed as research centres, and occasional conflagrations do not explain the loss of most ancient texts. But the central place of libraries in Greco-Roman culture emerges more clearly than ever."

A lot of the time, libraries in Greece and Rome were not so much earnest bastions of learning, but handy repositories for great quotes that could be used by orators, politicians, and the chattering classes to make themselves seem smart at dinner parties. This, it struck me, is exactly what the Internet is for today. Rather than taking the time to read a whole book, we do quick searches for quotes and scraps of knowledge to back up our arguments.

Libraries come and go (the book's cover is the facade of the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, built in the second century AD), but the wish to seem intelligent is an enduring part of human nature. Still, it is nice that we want to be learned and intelligent. After all, the seeking of knowledge and wisdom are as much a part of a fulfilled life as meaningful work, social contribution and love.

“Harry — I think I've just understood something! I've got to go to the library!”
And she sprinted away, up the stairs.
What does she understand?” said Harry distractedly, still looking around, trying to tell where the voice had come from.
“Loads more than I do,” said Ron, shaking his head.
“But why’s she got to go to the library?”
“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”

JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Kind regards,

Tom Butler-Bowdon

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