This very readable and lavishly illustrated book is a survey of libraries, from the earliest gatherings of clay tablets in the library at Nineveh to the present grandeur of the Library of Congress. It is full of the characters of library history as well: from King Assurbanipal in 700 BCE, Mansa Musa, the sultan of Mali in Timbuktu in the 1300s, and the Mughal emperors Akbar in the late 1500s, to Thomas Bodley, Melvil Dewey, and Andrew Carnegie. All of themhave anecdotes attached to them which help to illustrate and flesh out the development and evolution of those institutions we call libraries today.
The Library: An Illustrated History tends to focus on Europe and the United States, but spends a chapter discussing Asia and Islam and their influence on the history of the book and libraries, and another, called "People of the Book," discussing the interplay between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the history of library development.
One of the themes running through this book is how the libraries of the victors are enlarged and enriched throughout history by the pillaging of the libraries of the vanquished. The Bibliotheque nationale de France, the Vatican Library, and the British Library have all broadened their substantial collections in this fashion. Another theme mentioned frequently was how war influenced which ideas were given currency in a given culture and time: "It was usually the sword that decided whose teachings would be supreme in any given land."
In this regard, this book compliments the message in Matthew Battles's book Library: An Unquiet History, but that book is only marginally illustrated, and does not bring the reader the wonderful survey of world libraries with which Murray's book ends. Anyone wanting a good overview of library history would find their time well spent reading this book.