The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel | Book Review

“At night, here in the library, the ghosts have voices. (…) But at night, when the library lamps are lit, the outside world disappears and nothing but the space of books remains in existence. ”

– The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel is one of the greatest ‘bookish’ books I have ever read.

The Library at Night is a meditation on the meaning of libraries and the process of reading; it constitutes a homage to libraries of any kind and to the freedom of thought.

Alberto Manguel takes us on a fascinating voyage through the libraries across the centuries and civilizations ranging from the ancient China, Rome, Egypt, Greece, the Aztecs, private libraries of Jorge Luis Borges, Dickens, Aby Warburg, the library of Alexandria, the British Library and many more.

The Library at Night is divided into fifteen chapters, with each one being an essay on a particular meaning of the library as understood by Manguel, ranging from the library seen as myth, oblivion, home, imagination, power, survival, identity

Each essay contains plethora of quotes, anecdotes, wealth of knowledge, magical stories, and yet each chapter overflows with warmth and charm. These comprehensive, meticulously researched essays allow the reader to learn a lot about libraries, its locations, cataloguing systems, including Dewey Decimal System.

Furthermore, The Library at Night offers many reflections on the nature of literature itself and what it means to be a reader.

“In the dark, with the windows lit and the rows of books glittering, the library is a closed space, a universe of self-serving rules that pretend to replace or translate those of the shapeless universe beyond. ”

– The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Among many things, you will learn that we actually don’t know how the Library of Alexandria looked like – there are no comprehensive drawings or descriptions of probably the most famous library. You will learn how the author of The Prince, Machiavelli found solace in reading at night; you will learn about the 15th century Cairo under the Mameluke Sultanate where the readers of lesser means were encouraged to visit public libraries where books were made available to them so that they could study at leisure. 

You will find out what books were included in the Library of Auschwitz which contained a total of eight books including H.G. Wells’s A Short History of the World which was actually banned by the Nazis. You will learn why the Chilean dictator, Pinochet, banned the greatest novel in Spanish language, Cervantes’s Don Quixote. You will also learn about Aby Warburg’s library which often was described as close to the poetic composition. You will learn about the librarian, Mr Borzykowski who risked his own life to rescue as many books as possible from the Sholem Aleichem Library in Biala Podlaska, Poland during the Nazi occupation. You will learn about the destruction of the National Library of Baghdad in 2003. You will find out more about Antonio Panizzi and his importance for the British Library; Panizzi was an Italian immigrant who was crucial for the development of the British Library in the way we perceive it now. You will also find many references to Latin America and pre-Columbian times. 

I enjoyed this book immensely and I would highly recommend it to any lover of books. Reading The Library at Night feels like having a literary feast – it is a truly magical book, and it is a great gift idea for all the bibliophiles out there.

“In my fool hardy youth, when my friends were dreaming of heroic deeds in the realms of engineering and law, finance and national politics, I dreamt of becoming a librarian. “

– The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

Related Posts


    1. It is a wonderful book and reading your beautiful articles I think you might enjoy Manguel’s writing a lot. He actually lives in France … or at least he lived there for a long time. He wrote another book Reader on Reading which is also great and so beautifully written. There are a few great talks / interviews with him available on YouTube which are worth listening to – and he speaks English, French and Spanish so fluently.

Leave a Reply