The Burning Library

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C0304450-Burning of the Royal Library of Alexandria.jpg

The Burning Library is a popular life extensionist analogy to compare the destruction of wisdom, knowledge and experiences such as the Great Library of Alexandria,[1] to that of the knowledge lost when a human being dies.

Every time a human being dies, a library burns. It's a horrible tragedy. - Anders Sandberg[2]


It was first coined in 1960 by Amadou Hampâté Bâ, a Malian writer and ethnologist:

“En Afrique, quand un vieillard meurt, c’est une bibliothèque qui brûle.” ("In Africa, when an old man dies, it’s a library burning.")

The saying means that African oral history is especially valuable and suffers a great loss with the death of each elder. “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground” is a popular form of the saying that has also been used by American genealogists and historians.[3]