Saturday, December 8, 2018

The History of the Book

The History of THE BOOK in 100 Books
The Complete Story, From Egypt to E-book
by Roderick Cave & Sara Ayad

Below are excerpts form a wonderful book that creatively shares the history of books:

From The Foreword by Sidney E. Berger & Michele V. Cloonan
“His knowledge of the book in all its manifestations, along with its place in history, is practically unparalleled…

“There are, of course, the standard entries in a volume of this sort:  texts written on cave walls and animal bones, clay tablets and palm leaves, bamboo-strip books, the Iliad, Beowulf, medieval illuminated manuscripts (naturally including the Book of Kells), the Gutenberg Bible, the Nuremberg Chronicle and so forth.  But we also get an Andean khipu from Peru (predating the Incas), papyrus scrolls, the Tripitaka Koreana and the Ethiopian Bible – better known as the Garima Gospels – to name just four examples….

“Clearly this is a special compilation, containing an extraordinary list of important – though often overlooked – books in a huge range of areas of scholarly and popular interests.”

“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 history, humankind has developed ways of preserving and transmitting information which are deeply embedded in our sub consciousness.”

One Word, Many Surfaces
“For writing surfaces, mankind used stone, clay tablets, bark, leaves, papyrus, bones, animal skins and paper, and many other media.”

One Need, Many Solutions
“Almost unconsciously, we recognize the interplay between the medium and the message it carries. The history of the book is not a single development from a single source. Many societies developed their own writing systems.  The availability of clay in Mesopotamia, papyrus in Egypt and lontar palms in India and Indonesia – plus the variety of writing surfaces that were available in China and Southeast Asia – enabled all these areas to develop their own systems of writing and bookmaking.

“These developments occurred in different places and at different times, partly because of the continuing inventiveness and ingenuity of humankind.”

The Biggest Books Ever Written
“Perhaps because of its long tradition of both literacy and centralized government, China has frequently produced massive collections of books of importance, more like complete collections of the information content of libraries than the summaries usual in Western encyclopedias.  Soon after Emperor Yongle came to the throne, in 1403, he commissioned a large compilation on the whole range of knowledge, from religion, science, technology, astronomy, medicine and agriculture, through to drama, art, history and literature.  Over 2,000 scholars were put to work analyzing and editing over 8,000 texts, completing their task in five years.

“To write out the text, completed in 1408, the scribes used more than 370 million characters, filling over 11,000 volumes….Over the next 400 years, fire, war and looting reduced the holding of the three manuscripts to a mere 400 volumes, scattered in libraries and museums around the world…

“Learning from the past, the emperor Qianlong had seven manuscript copies made, and the scribes’ work, completed in 1782, filled nearly 37,000 volumes, using 800 million characters.  The devastation of wars has reduced them to four surviving sets, held in China and Taiwan.”

Monumental Korean Undertaking
Korea was the first country outside China to adopt printing and was a leader in developing printing from type.  Its most famous book is the Buddhist Eighty Thousand Tripitaka (the three main canons of Buddhist scriptures) of the 13th century CE.”

The Coming of Information Science
“The overabundance of books and other publications was becoming clear in Europe, as in America.  One of the most significant developments came from Belgium, where two lawyers established the International Institute of Bibliography (IIB) in 1895, transformed in 1937 into the International Federation for Information and Documentation (FID); it was responsible for elaborating Dewey’s classification into the Universal Decimal Classification.  The IIB had grand plans for a universal bibliography, and by 1914 it had collected over 11 million entries for its Universal Bibliographic Repertory, kept on cards.  As its name change suggests, the FID was much more interested in individual items of information than in books; their ways of trying to improve information service (including the use of microforms) were vital for the later development of computer-based systems.

“The influence of the FID was marked and was behind many of the changes in what was coming to be called “Information Science.”

The Bible
“Described as “the single most important scholarly publication of the Spanish Renaissance,” the Complutensian Polyglot Bible is famed for its editing, the success of its Greek typeface, which has been influential on type designers since the late 19th century.

“The classic verse epics of the Iliad and Odyssey, Petronius’ Satyricon or Apuleius’ The Golden Ass – or even the medieval Beowulf – are often described as the ancestors of the novel.  But the first prose book, often regarded as the earliest psychological novel, is The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (in English, Lady Murasaki), born in 978 CE and died c. 1014 or 1025.”

The Oldest Printed Book of All
“The Diamond Sutra is one of the key religious books of the sayings of the Buddha. It was first translated from Sanskrit to Chinese in 401 CE. The sutra’s name came from an Indian term, a symbolic ritual object that symbolizes the indestructibility of a diamond and the force of a thunderbolt.  Believers though they gained merit by copying the text; and this copy was made by Wang Jie on May 11, 868 CE.  It is the oldest surviving dated book, printed nearly 600 years before Gutenberg started printing in Europe.”

Cuneiform Tablets
“Cuneiform writing on clay tablets had a very long life.  Many of the earliest books including medical, legal, mathematical and others were in cuneiform and the oldest epic of all is the tale of Gilgamesh and the Flood.”

The Book Trade Develops
Chinese government was highly centralized, and its emperors (or their officials) planned on a grand scale.  As with many Western rulers, there was often a wish to bring books under control, through both censorship and patronage.  Attempts at all-comprehensive collections of religious, literary and scientific texts were made, the most famous being the Yongle Dadian (The Great Canon of the Yongle Emperor) of 1403-1408 CE, probably the biggest work ever produced (see pp 36-37).”

Origins of a Childrens’ Classic
Some of Aesop’s fables were rewritten as Aisopeia by Demetrius Phalereus (c. 350-280 BCE), famous for his part in the founding of the Alexandrian Library under Ptolemy I Soter.  But Demetrius’ version of the fables perished; today, we rely instead on a text by Valerious Babrius, who lived some time before 200 CE.  The earliest fragments of Greek papyrus manuscripts of the fables were rapidly followed by other manuscripts, in Latin and many other languages.  Editions of Aesop’s fables have been printed frequently, from the earliest days after Gutenberg’s printing press to today.”

A Timeless Epic
“If asked to name the most important literary work of all time, many people would name Homer’s Iliad.  Or possibly the Odyssey, also attributed to Homer: although the survival rate of Egyptian papyrus fragments of them (454 bits of the Iliad preserved against about 140 of the Odyssey) suggests that the Iliad’s Iron Age reminiscence of Bronze Age combat was always favored.

“Homer’s epic was believed to have been composed between 750-650 BCE, though some authorities date it much earlier to the 12th century BCE; but it is accepted that the texts of the Iliad and the Odyssey were standardized in processes that have continued ever since.”

The Foundation of Pharmacology
“With the Hippocratic Oath, the history of medicine is conventionally held to start with Hippocrates of Cos (c. 460-370 BCE).  Medical practice depended largely on preparations made from plants, and knowing which plants could cure (or kill) was vital.  In prehistory, such knowledge was passed orally, but Pedanus Diascorides systematized this information in his book known as De Materia Medica, written about 30-50 CE.  An army surgeon attached to Roman forces in Nero’s time; Dioscorides traveled widely in the Middle East.  He indentified the pharamacological properties and remedial effects of over 100 plants previously unknown to Roman and Greek physicians, and he also discussed over 500 other plants that were probably used earlier during Alexander the Great’s conquests.

“De Materia Medica became a standard text used by herb gatherers and pharmacists for over 1,500 years, spawning many manuscripts (and later printed versions) created all over the Western world – and in Arab lands even more than in Europe.”

The Father of Mapping
“Born in Alexandria, Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus c. 90-168 CE) was one of the most important Greek scientists, whose work on astronomy was to control European thought for over 1,500 years.  Ptolemy’s work in astronomy and geography deeply influenced Arabic scholarship in the work of the geographer al-Masudi (d. 956 CE) and others.  It was largely because of their work that Ptolemy’s manuscripts survived.

“The Geographia was in several parts, the first dealing with the problems of mapping our spherical globe on a flat surface.  Ptolemy invented the concepts of latitude and longitude, and his careful and detailed records of 8,000 places allowed later cartographers to plot these no their own maps.  His collection of place names and their coordinates reveals the geographic knowledge of the Roman Empire in the second century.  Apparently, a large-scale Ptolemean map was displayed in Autun (France) in the fourth century.”

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource."

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