Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book Review: "The Book"

Nicole Howard's The Book: The Life Story of a Technology was first published in 2005 as part of Greenwood Press' Technographies series, and has been re-published this fall in paperback by Johns Hopkins University Press. Defining technology as a "manmade artifact that serves a practical function," Howard points out that "no other technology has had the impact of this invention. Indeed the book is the one technology that has made all the others possible, by recording and storing information and ideas indefinitely in a convenient and readily accessible place" (p. vii-viii). She argues that "by examining the book as a technology, we get the best example of how profoundly information and media technology affect culture and history, and how vital the technology of the book has been to cultural and intellectual change (p. ix).

This book traces the web of technologies involved in the creation and culture of books (illustration, ink, parchment, paper, type, printing, &c., &c.), as well as those involved on the human side (printer, publisher, author, typesetter, librarian, bookseller, &c., &c.), creating a very succinct history of the book that will be quite useful, I suspect, in introductory book history courses as a survey text (or by any bibliophile who wants to know more). At just 150 pages, it's a quick but useful synopsis of the subject. The references could be more frequent (although since in-text citation is used, more frequent references might be rather bothersome) and the reproduction quality of some images used here is not the best (almost comically ironic in a couple of cases, including a very fuzzy image of what is an extremely detailed Dürer woodcut).

Extremely minor quibbles aside, this is a good overview of the book from the days of papyrus scrolls to the 21st century, when books will go through another series of changes, she argues, but will remain in some form "the world's most critical technology" (p. 158).

The bibliography can certainly be put to good use by those who find themselves interested in one aspect or another of what Howard discusses in the text; there's much fodder there for the curious.

1 comment:

James said...

I've found that the best books have great bibliographies. Your review suggests this is a good book, not without flaws, but the addition of the bibliography surely piques my interest.