Books: A Living History


I spend a lot of time thinking about books as a form of information technology. Thinking about the present and future of books necessarily means thinking about its past — all 2000 years or so of it — and Martyn Lyons’ book covers a lot of ground.

What do we mean by ‘book’? I prefer a more encompassing sort of definition, similar to this excerpt from Books: A Living History – 

“Defining the book itself is a risky operation. I prefer to be inclusive rather than exclusive, and so I offer a very loose definition. The book, for example, does not simply exist as a bound text of sheets of printed paper — the traditional codex with which we are most familiar today. Such a definition forgets two millennia of books before print, and the various forms that textual communication took before the codex was invented.

A traditional definition based only on the codex would also exclude hypertext and the virtual book, which have done away with the book’s conventional material support. I prefer to embrace all these forms, from cuneiform script to the printed codex to the digitized electronic book, and to trace the history of the book as far back as the invention of writing systems themselves. The term ‘book’, then, is a kind of shorthand that stands for many forms of written textual communication adopted in past societies, using a wide variety of materials”

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Selectism.com (“Martyn Lyons’ “Books – A Living History”“) has some excellent page previews of Books — A Living History.


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