Male. Education: University of Chicago, A.B., 1992; Boston University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 1996.
Widener Library, selector of the HD Push Project; Houghton Library, librarian; Harvard Library Bulletin at Houghton Library, coordinating editor.
Library: An Unquiet History, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to Harper's Magazine, Boston Book Review, London Review of Books and other publications.
Matthew Battles received his A.B. from the University of Chicago in 1992, and graduated from Boston University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1996. He worked as a selector of the HD Push Project at Widener Library and currently works as the coordinating editor for the Harvard Library Bulletin at Houghton Library, the rare books library at Harvard University. He is a contributor to Harper's Magazine, Boston Book Review, London Review of Books and other publications. He is the author of one book, Library: An Unquiet History, published in 2003, and is currently working on two others, one on the history of Widener Library and the other on the history of writing.
Battles first addressed the topic of libraries and their history in an article he wrote for Harper's Magazine in January 2000 titled "Lost in the Stacks: The Decline and Fall of the Universal Library." Battles was planning to expand the work into a book when contacted by a literary agent interested in the project; he completed the work in two years. In Library Battles looks at the early roles of libraries and how they have changed and evolved over time. He illustrates how libraries have either strove to exalt knowledge as in the Vatican Library by the Renaissance popes and the French Bibliothèque Nationale during the Age of Enlightenment, or strove to control it as in the destructions of books that took place during China's Quing Dynasty and in Hitler's Germany. He also looks at the progress made by libraries, from Julius Caesar's creation of the public library, to Antonio Panizzi's work in transforming the British Library catalog, to Melvil Dewey's creation of the Dewey Decimal system. He also discusses libraries today as they deal with space problems and implementing new technology. Alberto Manguel of Spectator called the book "an erudite, companionable, joyful book ideally suited for these gloomy times." Mary Ellen Quinn of Booklist commended Battles's effort, "The book is less a formal history than an exploration of the concept of library and how it evolved. Battles writes in an engaging way, and his book will be appreciated by librarians and book lovers." Tim Daniels of Library Journal wrote, "This is a great read, flowing over many time periods and geographic regions, from the great library at Alexandria to the war-ravaged libraries of Bosnia." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly stated that Battles "offers a distinguished portrait of the library, its endurance and destruction throughout history."
Battles told CA: "It was reading that first got me interested in writing. My most significant influence as a writer is the probably the 1957 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, which my parents kept in the glass bookcase behind the yellow armchair. My writing process is entirely a flight from secular responsibilities.
"The most surprising thing I've learned as a writer is that I want to keep doing it. I've only written one book so far, so my favorite, I'd have to say, is the next one. I hope my book[s] will compel and abet readers to an intoxicated curiosity."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Libraries, August, 2003, review of Library: An Unquiet History, p. 97.
Booklist, May 15, 2003, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of Library, p. 1620.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of Library, p. 580.
Library Journal, May 1, 2003, Tim Daniels, "A Tumultous History," p. 161.
New York Times, August 24, 2003, Sherie Posesorski, review of Library.
Publishers Weekly, April 28, 2003, review of Library, p. 58.
Spectator, December 13, 2003, Alberto Manguel, "The Precious Core of Civilization," p. 68.
Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza,http://www.bhny.com/ (October 22, 2003), synopsis of Library and short biography.
Bostonia,http://www.bu.edu/ (February 25, 2004), "Alumni Books."
Harvard University Gazette,http://www.news.harvard.edu/ (October 22, 2003), Paula Carter, "Writer Battles' Unusual Muse in a Library."
Hermenaut,http://www.hermenaut.com/ (February 15, 2004), short biography.
Houghton Library Web site,http://hcl.harvard.edu/ (October 22, 2003), contact information for Mathew Battles and Houghton Library.