The History of the Book in 100 Books: The Complete Story, From Egypt to e-book

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9781770854062: The History of the Book in 100 Books: The Complete Story, From Egypt to e-book

A study of books through history is a study of human history.

In The History of the Book in 100 Books, the author explores 100 books that have played a critical role in the creation and expansion of books and all that they bring -- literacy, numeracy, expansion of knowledge, religion, political theory, oppression, liberation, and much more. The book is ordered chronologically and divided thematically. Each of the 100 sections focuses on one book that represents a particular development in the evolution of books and in turn, world history and society. Abundant photographs inform and embellish.

Here are some of the themes discussed:

  • In the Beginning -- first human scratches on cave walls, cuneiform tablets, papyrus books, the oldest table of prime numbers
  • Eastern Approaches -- 1,000 years before Europe, the Far East "publishes" books using paper and other writing surfaces in multiple -- in one case 11,000 -- volumes
  • The Great Classics -- the emergence of Aesop's Fables over 2,000 years ago; the first cookbook, by Apicius, reveals the excesses of the Roman empire
  • Medieval Worlds and the Book -- the illuminated Book of Kells survives Viking raids; Ptolemy puts the world on a map; the miraculous beauty of the Prayer Books and Books of Hours
  • Light From the East -- the oldest printed book of all: Diamond Sutra; the first novel, Tale of Genji (written by a woman no less); the first book of astronomy and the first book of anatomy
  • Wheels of Change -- a period of firsts: Gutenberg invents moveable type; the first blockbuster; the first joke book; the first printing in Africa; printing in Arabic; first printed music
  • Print and Steam -- technology puts photography in books; newspapers publish fiction in installments; enter Baedecker, the archetypical travel guide; celebrity cooking hits the page
  • The Book in the Turbulent 20th Century -- public libraries spark an information explosion; the advent of mechanized copying; revolutionary book design; no topic is off limits; the publishing industry
  • Digitization and the Future of the Book -- e-book publishing intersects with a return to handcrafted books; manga, redefining the book.

This book takes a singular approach that will appeal to astute readers. It will have a wide and diverse readership.

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About the Author:

Roderick Cave is a print historian and librarian who has worked with rare book collections and developed information science courses in libraries and universities around the world. He is the author of Impressions of Nature: A History of Nature Printing.

Sara Ayad has spent a lifetime with books, and all her working life 'in the business': as reader, library assistant, bookseller, editor and latterly picture researcher, integrating her keen interest in both the literary and visual arts.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


In a time when talk about the death of the book is now trite, there are good reasons to look backwards at what books have been in the past, as well as at the many speculations about the future of written communication. Some journalists and librarians as well as computer enthusiasts believe that the coming of the e-book marks a total and complete revolution. They anticipate an imminent future of publishing that will be entirely electronic. Despite the continuing failure of the paperless office (so confidently predicted 20 years ago) to appear, they expect no paper, no printing; all information being accessed from images on a screen.

Perhaps the popularity of e-books is rising; perhaps the printed-paper book will disappear (just as the clay tablets of Babylon and the papyrus scrolls of ancient Egypt have long since dropped out of use). We are by no means persuaded that the future form of the book will be entirely electronic; what is certain is that, over the past 10,000 plus years of humankind's history, we have developed ways of preserving and transmitting information which are deeply embedded in our subconsciousness.

Our emotional connection to physical books will be clear from our selection. We have decided, reluctantly, not to include bookbinding or any consideration of newspapers and magazine publications in this book, important though they are. If we took a chronological approach, it would allow only one picture for every century, so we have had to be very selective in our choice of the books to illustrate. One or two books to represent drama? One for invention? How many for banned books? Choosing our 100 took a lot of thought and debate with people advising us.

We have not attempted to produce a collection of the 100 best books (however best may be defined). Nor the 100 earliest in this or that way. Nor the most famous, the most beautiful, the most influential or the most valuable; though these all have had an effect on our selection. Nor the most obvious, though it was hard to avoid selecting the earliest examples of printing in Asia and in Europe, and some other books.

Our principal in selecting books has been to range widely, with books from every continent except Antarctica. Books that illustrate the huge range of formats and styles, with books of string (khipu), or written on bone, bark or palm leaves as well as the better known clay tablets, papyrus scrolls and vellum or paper more familiar in Europe or North America. We have tried to select books that are characteristic of particular genres, but not necessarily the most obvious choice.

As the pictures in this volume show, we have passed over some books so well known that they needed no further publicity (no King James Bible, no Shakespeare). Instead, we are illustrating several other books equally important or influential in their milieu. Instead of the King James Bible, we include the Gustav Vasa Bible (so important for the spread of Lutheranism in the North, the formation of the modern Swedish language, and the spread of Germanic typography) to stand for all national Bibles.

It has been said that if you want to understand a particular area or period, you should not look only at the Great and the Good: you will learn much more from looking at the less great and the not very good. This volume has a mix of these, which are intended to stimulate readers' interest enough for them to go further.

In a period when more "real" printed books are being published, and it is becoming steadily easier to selfpublish, is the day of the printed book over? Our answer has to be found!

What is certain is that there will be more new developments, sometimes very different from (and better than) the e-books to be published. But even in the 21st century, as our illustrations show, some people are creating new forms of the written or printed book, using methods that may seem deliberately backward-looking and wayward, and ignoring digitization altogether. The traditional book will still be produced for a very long time yet.

Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad

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