Too Much to Know

Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age

Ann Blair

View Inside Price: $32.00


September 13, 2011
416 pages, 6 1/8 x 91/4
ISBN: 9780300165395
Paper

Also Available in:
Cloth

Listen here to Ann Blair's interview on NPR's "Talk of the Nation."

The flood of information brought to us by advancing technology is often accompanied by a distressing sense of “information overload,” yet this experience is not unique to modern times. In fact, says Ann M. Blair in this intriguing book, the invention of the printing press and the ensuing abundance of books provoked sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European scholars to register complaints very similar to our own. Blair examines methods of information management in ancient and medieval Europe as well as the Islamic world and China, then focuses particular attention on the organization, composition, and reception of Latin reference books in print in early modern Europe. She explores in detail the sophisticated and sometimes idiosyncratic techniques that scholars and readers developed in an era of new technology and exploding information.

Ann M. Blair is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, MA.

"Fascinating. . . . If you like to know things, even in a world in which there is already too much to know, Blair's book is a mini-library in itself."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"There has always been 'too much to know.' In this lively and learned book, Ann Blair shows us how early modern Europeans managed to survive—and even to surf—what they saw as tidal waves of information. Her insightful comparisons, careful attention to the survival of traditional methods, and clear vision of the new culture of passionate curiosity that took place in the Renaissance give her work extraordinary range and depth."—Anthony Grafton, Princeton University

"Staggering in its scope and impressive in its erudition, Too Much to Know offers the first general account of both the causes and cures of  'information overload' in Western culture, felt with surprising force for many centuries even before the advent of mass media or the internet. Blair's book is a history of reference books and a reference book in its own right. It is a guide to the working methods of past scholars that will greatly enhance the research of present and future ones.”—William Sherman, The University of York

"Blair's book is the combination of much original research with a new point of view that brings together aspects of the history of learning hitherto considered separately. An excellent and wide-ranging study."—Nancy Siraisi, Hunter College and the Graduate School, City University of New York

"Too Much to Know is a fascinating account of the traditions, ideals, and practices of early 'information management,' in particular 'the collection and arrangement of textual experts' in the centuries before our own computer age."—Michael Dirda, Book World

"[a] timely book…Too Much to Know is our pre-history: a saga of human search engines before the digital age….With extensive learning, Blair explains how current concerns over information overload are far from new."—James Delbourgo, Times Higher Education Supplement

“Erudite and excellent…I am inclined to bestow a crown of laurels on Blair…for undertaking such a herculean task.”—Paula Findlen, The Nation

"A major work of scholarship. . . . Blair clearly indicates the path that future scholars will need to follow, and she has blazed the first trails very well indeed. . . . Though her epilogue is brief, it raises several questions that all scholars would do well to consider."—Alan Jacobs, Books & Culture: A Christian Review

“[A] landmark study.”—Choice

“Elegantly conceived…[Blair] expresses confidence in the progress of the long struggle to master information overload.”—Jacob Soll, The New Republic

“Too Much To Know is a book that, by the solidity of its prose and the accurate richness of its scholarship, quietly reveals the industry and ambition that has gone into making it.”—Richard Serjeantson, Times Literary Supplement

"With a sure hand, Ann Blair has imposed system on an unusually large mass of data. . . . Blair’s approach is original, consistently leading to an innovative synthesis whose strong points are the breadth and concreteness of her presentation."—Angela Nuovo, Renaissance Quarterly

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011 in the History, Geography and Area Studies category.