It’s almost unnecessary to go about burning books you don’t like.  They disappear perfectly well on their own.  Aeschylus is said to have written about 90 plays: we have 8 only. Same with Euripides, but of his we have 18. An Augustinian priory in York had 646 books in 1536 — only eight survive. Duke Humphrey gave Oxford University 300 books — only two made it through. Kafka left instructions that his manuscripts were to be burned — obviously disregarded. Before the modern era many people regarded the paper in books as more valuable than what was written on it. Parchment was routinely scraped clean and written over. In The Old Curiosity Shop we find Dick Swiveller using his pen-knife to erase an error. Sometimes a little of the original text can be recovered but usually what’s gone is long gone. About all we know about the contents of the Library at Alexandria is that it had a really large collection of books (or more accurately works, since “the book” hadn’t yet been invented) which were lost when it burned down. Wikipedia has an entry listing a surprisingly long list of works known to have been lost. There was a man who used to scurry about Cambridge with a bunch of papers under his arm.  He was rumored to have lost the manuscript of his life’s work on the Liverpool Street train, and to have spent the rest of his days despairingly trying to put it together again.

We are never short of sanctimonious people who believe that they know what’s bad for others. Burning the offending book makes them feel that they are driving the point home, and helping to save their misguided fellows. Book burning is a right wing rite — I don’t know; maybe there are instances of socialists banding together to burn fascist and capitalist tomes, but it always seems to be in the other direction. The same sort of impulse leads to censoring of school library collections, with which Middle America continues to provide amusement to the East Coast Liberal Establishment. Terry Jones’ 2011 burning of a Quran which he found guilty of crimes against humanity in a trial he held at his Florida church is hardly different from medieval burning of books at the stake.

Farenheit 451 for books*: I suspect a much lower temperature would take care of a Kindle or iPad.

*Apparently it’s actually 450˚ Centigrade at which paper will auto-combust.