who ranges comfortably along the thousandsrnof years that make up the historyrnof literacy to spin a narrative that runsrnfrom cave paintings to CD-ROM, fromrnancient Chinese “bone-shell scripts”rncarved on turtle carapaces to technologiesrnnot yet in place. His History of Readingrnspans vast territories of the mind,rndropping names and tantalizing arcana,rnpausing to ponder, in the space of a fewrnparagraphs, the multiple layers of meaningrnof a medieval illuminated Bible, therndouble entendres of an advertisement forrnvodka, and the iconography of Eleanor ofrnAquitaine’s tomb (completed in 1204)rnwhich, fittingly enough, depicts her recliningrnin bed to read a book propped onrnher stomach.rnManguel’s cosmic history of readingrnas social fact is also a personal one, anrnaffecting memoir of a lifetime surroundedrnby books, the typical retreat of thernlonely child. Less solitary in adulthood,rnManguel has had the good fortune ofrnenjoying bookish companions, notablyrnthe fellow Argentine writer and consummaternreader Jorge Luis Borges, to whomrnManguel read after Borges became blindrnin old age. The infirmity did not,rnManguel writes, slow Borges down in thernleast; “the listener… became the masterrnof the text,” pausing for reflection, repeatingrnwords and phrases, and callingrnfor other books to illuminate the first.rnDemocratically minded, Manguelrnjoins this story to a portrait of Cubanrncigar rollers who appoint one of theirrnnumber to read them a story as theyrnwork, a long-standing favorite beingrnAlexandre Dumas’s Count of MonternCristo whose name honors a cigar ofrnexceptional quality. Presumably thesernworkers are happier and better adjustedrnthan are their Muzak-fed counterparts,rnfor elsewhere Manguel examines favorablyrnpsychologist James Hillman’s notionrnthat readers of stories, especiallyrnthose used to reading early in life, havernbetter psychic armor and a betterdevelopedrnsense of the world than thosernwho are introduced to stories late or notrnat all.rnS’^’t-V'”; fi^hrnft’yi^: ;:<Â¥VrnIf you havernfriends or relatives who may enjoy Chronicles,rnplease send us theirrnnames and addresses.rnWe would be pleasedrnto send them arncomplimentary issue!rn• I , ‘rni.’iWrn1 ^rn• -a’ra,.rn; ^i^StSi- * ^ – , . ‘ ^ – 1 . 1 . ” k”.rnManguel darts about from century torncentury and topic to topic, from the contentsrnof Lady Murasaki’s pillow box to famousrnforgers of the Napoleonic era. Butrnhe returns often to several themes, foremostrnthe idea that knowledge—bookishrnknowledge—is a form of power. Recallingrnhis homeland, Manguel notes that itrnis for this very reason that most governmentsrndo not go out of their way to educaterntheir citizens to be close, criticalrnreaders. “Demotic regimes demand thatrnwe forget,” he writes, “and therefore theyrnbrand books as superfluous luxuries; totalitarianrnregimes demand that we notrnthink, and therefore they encourage thernconsumption of pap.” One has only tornconsider the current best-seller lists tornrecognize that Manguel’s point appliesrnto the United States, as well as tornArgentina.rnPolitical power is ever present inrnManguel’s discussion: he notes that ancientrnAlexandria owed its great library tornthe requirement that the ships passingrnthrough its port surrender any books onrnboard, to be copied; considers the laws ofrnancient Rome—and of the antebellumrnAmerican South—forbidding slaves tornread or be taught to read; and notes thatrnthe Pinochet government, years after itrncame to power, banned Don Quixoternfrom Chile in 1981 for the reason thatrnthis most bookish of novels sets the goodrnof individuals over that of the state.rnSometimes Manguel’s examples are captivating,rnas with an anecdote about thernGrand Vizier of Persia, Abdel Kassem Ismael,rnwho ordered that his library ofrn117,000 volumes accompany him whilerntraveling, borne by a caravan of 400rncamels, arranged in alphabetical order.rnOthers are horrifying, like his account ofrnthe life of the martyr William Tyndale, arnprinter who at the order of Henry VIII inrn1536 was strangled and burned at thernstake (ostensibly for the heresy of printingrna new translation of the Bible, but inrnfact for having criticized the king for divorcingrnCatherine of Aragon).rn”Reading, almost as much as breathing,rnis our essential function,” Manguelrnventures. Dispelling the claim that readingrnis a dying art in a time when the massrnproduction of books continues to rise, hisrnown rich book honors the magic of literacy.rnEvery bibliophile will find much ofrnworth in its pages.rnGregory McNamee’s most recent book isrnA Desert Bestiary, published by JohnsonrnBooks in Boulder, Colorado.rn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn