Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Umberto Eco’s anti-library (by way of The Black Swan)

As February draws to a close, and this blog’s ‘to read’ pile of books is increasingly resembling babel, it’s worth taking some consolation – knowing that a too-high percentage of these books will remain, forever, merely glanced at – offered up by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his rightfully acclaimed The Black Swan:

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have ! How many of these books have you read?” and the others – a very small minority – who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menancingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. LEt us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

3 Responses to “Umberto Eco’s anti-library (by way of The Black Swan)”

  1. ShaneB says:

    Nice quote–unusually humble from Mr Taleb. Link?

  2. ShaneB says:

    Just reread your post–quote from the book! D’oh

  3. Thanks for the excerpt! I’m still wrapping my head around the idea. I’m like you: My anti-library is growing, and it *does* invoke a bit of unease – all that work to do! But I look at my purchases from the right (I believe) perspective: They’re an investment, a resource for when the time comes for needing that knowledge. I know I can’t know it all (which is a strength), and these books represent an act of faith – that my future self will need them some day. It’s a kind of preparation for the unknown, I suppose…

    Great stuff!

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