Polastron, Lucien X. 1944-

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Polastron, Lucien X. 1944-


Born 1944.


Home—Paris, France. E-mail—[email protected].


Historian and writer. Maisons d'Hier et d'Aujourd'hui (monthly magazine), deputy chief editor, beginning 1966; Far East cultural reporter, 1976—. Producer for literary television program Le Rivage des Livres for France 3, 1980; worked at France Culture radio service, 1980-90; worked for modern art and architecture press.


Société des Gens de Lettres Prize for Nonfiction/History, 2004, for Livres en feu: Histoire de la destruction sans fin des bibliothéques.


Calligraphie chinoise: Initiation, Fleurus (Paris, France), 1995.

Le Papier: 2000 ans d'histoire et de savoir-faire, Imprimerie Nationale Editions (Paris, France), 1999.

Découverte des calligraphies de l'arabe, Dessain & Tolra (Paris, France), 2003.

Découverte de l'enluminure médiévale, Dessain & Tolra (Paris, France), 2003.

Calligraphie chinoise en trois styles, Dessain & Tolra (Paris, France), 2004.

Calligraphie japonaise, Dessain & Tolra (Paris, France), 2004.

Livres en feu: Histoire de la destruction sans fin des bibliothèques, Denoël (Paris, France), 2004, translation by Jon E. Graham published as Books on Fire: The Destruction of Libraries throughout History, Inner Traditions (Rochester, VT), 2007.

La grande numérisation: Y a-t-il une pensée aprés le papier?, Denoël (Paris, France), 2006, translation by Jon E. Graham published as The Great Digitization and the Future of Knowledge, Inner Traditions (Rochester, VT), 2009.


Lucien X. Polastron is a historian whose area of expertise is in the realms of Chinese and Arab studies. He started researching and writing about Chinese cultural history after making his first trip to China in 1976. He also became interested in Chinese calligraphy and paper workmanship in Asia. His interest in paper eventually led to the publication in 1999 of Le Papier: 2000 ans d'histoire et de savoir-faire. The 1992 destruction of the National Library in Sarajevo, the capital city and largest urban center of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was the catalyst for Polastron's research into the destruction of libraries, a subject he had come across numerous times while working on Le papier. His research efforts eventually lead to the publication of the 2004 book Livres en feu: Histoire de la destruction sans fin des bibliothèques, which received the Société des Gens de Lettres Prize for Nonfiction/History. He has also written several books on calligraphy over the years, including Calligraphie chinoise: Initiation, Calligraphie chinoise en trois styles, Découverte des calligraphies de l'arabe, Calligraphie japonaise, and Découverte de l'enluminure médiévale. Towards the later half of the 1990s, Polastron started taking trips to the Middle East, mainly to Egypt, and began studying Arabic.

In 2007, Livres en feu was translated into English by Jon E. Graham and published as Books on Fire: The Destruction of Libraries throughout History. In this book, the reader discovers that over the centuries and across the globe libraries have met their demise for a multitude of reasons, including wars and bombings, theft and storage problems, fires, shipwrecks, and floods, to name a few. The book proceeds in chronological order and begins centuries before the birth of Christ and works its way up to the present. Books on Fire explores such literary tragedies as the burning of the great library of Alexandria on three separate occasions and the demolition of libraries during Nazi occupation, the Inquisition, and the French Revolution. Library ransacking during the 2003 invasion of Iraq is also among the many incidents discussed. In addition, the book explores what the author considers a new potential threat to the paper book—the digital book. With books becoming increasingly accessible online for free, he believes that libraries could one day become a thing of the past.

Several critics were impressed with the end result of Polastron's well-executed research. An Internet Bookwatch reviewer called the book "a ‘must-have’ history for public libraries and the shelf of any book lover," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer also had high praise: "Polastron's exhaustive research and vast scope make this detailed, authoritative study a revelatory read." "Everyone who cherishes books and libraries will appreciate Polastron's timely and thought-provoking continuum," asserted Donna Seaman in her review for Booklist. A reviewer for the Economist noted, however, that the book "lacks consistency of tone: sometimes it reads gravely, at others it indulges in a kind of facetious and slapdash humour." The reviewer also felt that the translation of Polastron's book was not well executed. "And yet, for all its shortcomings, the story it tells—of the continuing reign of folly, ineptitude and unreason—is a troubling and profoundly important one," concluded the critic for the Economist. David Keymer, in his review in Library Journal, seemed to echo some of the sentiments of the Economist reviewer: "While some chapters are not well conceived or well written … as a whole this is a sobering catalog of the annals of destruction."

Polastron told CA he became interested in writing because he wanted to become "like all those authors read in my childhood: a sort of magician." Polastron also explained that what influences him is "the mystery of book itself: how a small object made of paper can change your life.

"Ideas come by themselves as a start and books procreate books. For instance, the idea of Books on Fire came when I was gathering material for Le Papier: so many libraries lost! Then in 1992 there was the Sarajevo Library bombing. I suddenly knew what had to be done."

The most surprising thing Polastron has learned as a writer is that "all the usual everyday limits of life are illusion."

Polastron cites his book Le Papier as his favorite "because it links three things: the importance of nature, the history of transmitting knowledge, the relation between physical objects and ideas."

Ultimately Polastron hopes his books have the same effect on readers that the books he read as a child had on him.



Booklist, October 15, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of Books on Fire: The Destruction of Libraries throughout History, p. 6.

Economist, October 27, 2007, "Nasty, Dangerous Things; Libraries," review of Books on Fire, p. 98.

Internet Bookwatch, October 1, 2007, review of Books on Fire; December 1, 2007, review of Books on Fire.

Library Journal, October 1, 2007, David Keymer, review of Books on Fire, p. 85.

Publishers Weekly, July 16, 2007, review of Books on Fire, p. 153.

Reference & Research Book News, February 1, 2008, review of Books on Fire.

Times Higher Education Supplement, January 4, 2008, "A Flaming Injustice That Destroys Our Records," p. 24.


Inner Traditions Web site,http://www.innertraditions.com/ (August 12, 2008), author profile.

Lucien X. Polastron Home page,http://www.polastron.com (August 12, 2008).