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← The evolution of the book - Julie Dreyfuss

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Showing Revision 2 created 06/14/2016 by Jessica Ruby.

  1. What makes a book a book?

  2. Is it just anything that stores
    and communicates information?
  3. Or does it have to do with paper,
  4. binding,
  5. font,
  6. ink,
  7. its weight in your hands,
  8. the smell of the pages?
  9. Is this a book?
  10. Probably not.
  11. But is this?
  12. To answer these questions,
  13. we need to go back to the start
    of the book as we know it
  14. and understand how these elements
    came together to make something
  15. more than the sum of their parts.
  16. The earliest object that we think of
    as a book is the codex,
  17. a stack of pages bound along one edge.
  18. But the real turning point in book history
  19. was Johannes Gutenberg's
    printing press in the mid-15th century.
  20. The concept of moveable type had been
    invented much earlier in Eastern culture,
  21. but the introduction of Gutenberg's
    press had a profound effect.
  22. Suddenly, an elite class of monks
    and the ruling class
  23. no longer controlled
    the production of texts.
  24. Messages could spread more easily,
  25. and copies could constantly be produced,
  26. so printing houses popped up
    all over Europe.
  27. The product of this bibliographic boom
    is familiar to us in some respects,
  28. but markedly different in others.
  29. The skeleton of the book is paper,
    type, and cover.
  30. More than 2000 years ago,
    China invented paper as a writing surface,
  31. which was itself predated
    by Egyptian papyrus.
  32. However, until the 16th century,
  33. Europeans mainly wrote
    on thin sheets of wood
  34. and durable parchment
    made of stretched animal skins.
  35. Eventually, the popularity of paper
    spread throughout Europe,
  36. replacing parchment for most printings
    because it was less expensive in bulk.
  37. Inks had been made by combining
    organic plant and animal dyes
  38. with water or wine,
  39. but since water doesn't stick
    to metal type,
  40. use of the printing press required
    a change to oil-based ink.
  41. Printers used black ink made of
    a mixture of lamp soot,
  42. turpentine,
  43. and walnut oil.
  44. And what about font size and type?
  45. The earliest movable type pieces
    consisted of reversed letters
  46. cast in relief on the ends of
    lead alloy stocks.
  47. They were handmade and expensive,
  48. and the designs were as different
    as the people who carved their molds.
  49. Standardization was not really possible
    until mass manufacturing
  50. and the creation of an accessible
    word processing system.
  51. As for style, we can thank Nicolas Jenson
    for developing two types of Roman font
  52. that led to thousands of others,
  53. including the familiar Times Roman.
  54. Something had to hold all this together,
  55. and until the late 15th century,
  56. covers consisted of either wood,
  57. or sheets of paper pasted together.
  58. These would eventually be replaced
    by rope fiber millboard,
  59. originally intended for high quality
    bindings in the late 17th century,
  60. but later as a less expensive option.
  61. And while today's mass produced
    cover illustrations are marketing tools,
  62. the cover designs of early books
    were made to order.
  63. Even spines have a history.
  64. Initially, they were not considered
    aesthetically important,
  65. and the earliest ones were flat,
    rather than rounded.
  66. The flat form made the books
    easier to read
  67. by allowing the book to rest easily
    on a table.
  68. But those spines were damaged
    easily from the stresses of normal use.
  69. A rounded form solved that issue,
  70. although new problems arose,
  71. like having the book close in
    on itself.
  72. But flexibility was more important,
  73. especially for the on-the-go reader.
  74. As the book evolves
    and we replace bound texts
  75. with flat screens and electronic ink,
  76. are these objects and files really books?
  77. Does the feel of the cover
  78. or the smell of the paper add something
    crucial to the experience?
  79. Or does the magic live only within
    the words,
  80. no matter what their presentation?