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Bookshelf of Authority

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"Did you really read all these books or are they just for show?"
Bill Corbett, RiffTrax, Superargo and the Faceless Giants.

Bookshelf of Authority is posing an interviewee or character in front of a bookshelf to show that they're smart.

Extra points if the interviewee or character wrote some or all of the books.

This Appeal to Authority is common in documentaries, mockumentaries, and sometimes when a scientist or academic character is shown being interviewed or just speaking in a drama or comedy.

Giving instant (sometimes undeserved) credibility, the Bookshelf of Authority implies that the person speaking is an expert because they own books.

If the subject is a lawyer, they're law books. Fun fact: some law firms have fake law books on shelves just for appearances. Lawyers look up everything online now with services like Westlaw and Lexis Nexis.

The digital version of this trope is the subject speaking in front of multiple computer screens (with different things on each screen). Another variation is posing in front of shelves of vinyl albums, videogames or other physical media if the person has something to do with what they're standing in front of.

The smart person in question may also be a Bookworm, have read from the Genius Book Club, have something to prove, and/or be faking intelligence.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Chainsaw Man, the Cosmos Devil's Mental World is that of a seemingly endless library. She shows herself reading some books in front of an indeterminably large bookshelf before revealing that she is actually the bearer of all the universe's knowledge, which is contained within said books this library holds.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Good Will Hunting the scenes in the office of Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), he's flanked on one side by a bookshelf, and on the other side with a desk covered with books and stacks of papers.
  • Documentary Hubert Selby Jr: It/ll Be Better Tomorrow, Interview with "Bookworm" radio host Michael Silverblatt. Silverblatt is sitting in front of a huge bookshelf.
  • In The Man Who Knew Infinity, respected mathematician G. H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) first meets Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) at a desk with bookshelves behind Hardy. Later, Srinivasa is sitting in front of the same bookshelf as he begins to have Surpassed the Teacher.
  • The Theory of Everything, when Stephen Hawking is first called into Professor Sciama's office, there is a large bookshelf behind Sciama. Also, Hawking is in front of a bookshelf while explaining his theories about black holes to a board of three academic examiners.
  • Parodied in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Ron brags about how he owns "many leather-bound books", but it is obvious that he is a pompous idiot.

  • A man with a legal problem goes to see a lawyer. The man describes the problem, and the lawyer sits and thinks for a few moments. Then he takes a volume from his Bookshelf Of Authority, thumbs through it briefly until he finds the right page, and writes something down which he hands to the client. "That should solve your problem," he says, "that will be £5000". "Five thousand pounds!" exclaims the client, outraged, "for looking up something in a book? I think I'd like an itemised bill, please!" "Certainly," the lawyer replies, and takes another piece of paper. "Itemised bill for services," he writes. "Looking something up in a book: £5. Knowing which book to look in: £4995."

  • In This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It, Dr. Tennet is shown in front of a bookshelf of books he has written, foreshadowing a later revelation that the shadow people (bad guys) are using him for their own purposes.
  • In the Codex Alera, the First Lord's study is full of books, all of which he has undoubtedly read and considered. One character who particularly dislikes him compares it disparagingly to a hunting lodge full of trophies.
  • In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Rodrick Photoshops himself to make it look like he's sitting in front of a bookshelf reading an encyclopedia, in hopes that he'll come off as smart.
  • Discworld: Making Money. The 351-year-old zombie lawyer Mr. Slant cows his opposition with a milky Death Glare that makes them horribly aware that he himself wrote half of the large leather volumes they all keep in their offices to impress clients.
  • Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby fills his library with books he doesn't read, both to appear cultured and to show he can afford them. The Owl-Eyed Man says that lots of rich people do this, and Gatsby is a cut above the rest because he uses real books rather than fakes with blank pages. There's proof that he doesn't read: the pages aren't cut note .
  • One turns out to be the Chekhov's Gun in The Grownup for multiple characters. The narrator is proud of herself for knowing all of the books in Susan's very authoritative library of ghost stories, and often daydreams that this is proof she and Susan could become friends. She doesn't figure out until it's too late that she read these exact books thanks to her client Mike...who is Susan's husband.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 8, episode 3, "Palestinian Chicken." When Larry visits Rabbi Stein to ask her a favor, she has a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf covering two walls behind her.
  • Discussed in an episode of Frontline; during a hostage situation, the only "expert" the news station can get to discuss the situation with them is a psychology student. The producer tells the camera crew to interview the student in front of a bookshelf to make him look more authoritative.
    Kate Preston: Brian, we're still struggling to find a psychologist specializing in siege-related traumas.
    Brian: Well, we need someone.
    Kate: Well, we have got a psychology, uh, student...
    Brian: Nah.
    Kate: Well, he's mature age. He's got a beard.
    Brian: Alright. We'll slap him up in front of a bookcase.
  • Law & Order: Season 5, Episode 6 "Competence", district attorney Adam Schiff being the voice of reason to the ADA attorneys under him. 7:29.
  • Parodied in New Girl when Nick and Jess find Russell's home office. Appropriately for a wealthy businessman, Russell's office is very polished, complete with a leather chair and a hardwood desk in front of a distinguished bookshelf. Nick has a blast playing around with the setup and pretending to be accomplished.
  • Mocked in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode The Leech Woman, where the main character's attorney is standing in front of a massive and imposing set of books (it was 1960, after all — he might genuinely have needed them). Crow jokes, "He was part of the Stephen King Book Club for a month."
  • Mr. Show has a sketch of a man in a suit who appears in front of a dignified bookcase and initially appears to be filming a commercial as an attorney, but he clarifies that he's not a lawyer and is actually just advertising his services to be your friend.

    Print Media 

    Web Videos 
  • Brows Held High: Kyle Kallgren's set usually consists of him sitting in front of a bookcase full of books, befitting his show as a reviewer of "arthouse" media. He notes this in his review of Yeelen, remarking on how it reflects European-descended cultures in viewing literacy as a show of knowledge.
  • LegalEagle: YouTube channel where lawyers deconstructs popular media from a legal standpoint. Almost every episode starts with the attorney host talking in front of a shelf of what look like law books.
  • Matt Parker of Stand Up Maths takes a jab at a video with a professor in front of a bookshelf with a copy of his own book face out... then proceeds to add more copies of his own book Humble Pi prominently on his own bookshelf in between each shot.
  • Predictably enough, the entirety of BookTube / AuthorTube (i.e. the collection of YouTube channels about reading or writing books) relies on this for credibility. AuthorTube creators will prominently feature their released and upcoming books on the shelf.
  • Bennett the Sage does most of his reviews with his collection of Anime DVDs behind him. He discusses this trope in his review of Memories, noting the visual effect especially draws attention to his face.

    Western Animation 
  • Rugrats: In "Tooth or Dare", Susie introduces Tommy and Angelica to her brother Edwin, who's quite a brainiac and sits behind a desk with a large bookcase behind him.

    Real Life