Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: "Books: A Living History"

All too often, books like Books: A Living History are bedeviled by bad writing, bad design, bad illustrations, or some combination of the three. I'm extremely pleased to say that this is very much an exception to that trend. Published by the J. Paul Getty Museum in the U.S. (Thames & Hudson in the U.K.), Books: A Living History combines an excellent, lively text by historian of the book Martyn Lyons with spared-no-expense design and illustrations.

Lyons' text is a good, broad overview of book history from the beginning to the present, broken into short chapters and sections for easy browsing. While anyone interested in the topic will want to see more of their particular hobbyhorse (provenance and personal libraries in my case), there's a bit here for all, with essays on the origins of writing and printing, monastic libraries, print in the Islamic world, scientific printing, copyright, romance novels, modern publishing, &c. &c.

The text is greatly enhanced by the presence of a vast number of beautifully-reproduced illustrations, many of which were new to me (these are not, blessedly, the same stock images that have been appearing in every illustrated history of the book for eons). And the designers have done a great job integrating the text and the illustrations into a very nice physical object; I'm sorry, but no e-reader would do this book justice. From the eye-catching jacket design to the accessible prose, this is a book sure to appeal to any bibliophile.

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