The Book

The Book: a Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time, by Keith Houston.  Published by W.W. Norton in 2016.  428 pp.

With wit and a flair for description this historian takes us on a whirlwind tour of the important aspects of the written word throughout human history.  We track paper from papyrus to parchment to paper.  We track the alphabet from cuneiform to hieroglyphics to the Phoenician alphabet.  We watch printing develop from hand-written Bibles to Gutenberg’s movable type to Linotype machines to high speed web presses.  We see illustrations go from hand drawn to woodcuts to engraved copper plates to stone lithography to photo lithography.  We see the form of the book gradually shift from scroll to codex and the resulting development of binding techniques to protect the pages.  We become better acquainted with landmark books such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Gutenberg’s Bible, the Diamond Sutra of China, Audubon’s Birds of America, the St. Cuthbert Gospel, the Nag Hammadi codices, and Ireland’s Book of Kells.  We roam all over the world from China to Egypt to Europe to America to trace all the small developments that kept the book moving forward.  He introduces us to the individuals whose creativity and persistence led to the development of the printed word from a rare treasure of the Church to a nearly ubiquitous supply of information and entertainment for everyone.

Appropriately, the contents of this book are informative and entertaining.  But not only the contents but the book itself is informative and attractive.  The parts of the book are labeled so that you can improve your book vocabulary just by examining the physical book.  And the choices in paper, printing and binding were made so as to make the finished book a high quality object and a tribute to the bookman’s art.  You will never be able to look at any book you read in quite the same way after you have read this book!