He has been called “the poet laureate of technology” and a writer who is “erudite, witty, thoughtful, and accessible.” Now Henry Petroski turns to the subject of books and bookshelves, and wonders whether it was inevitable that books would come to be arranged vertically as they are today on horizontal shelves. As we learn how the ancient scroll became the codex became the volume we are used to, we explore the ways in which the housing of books evolved. Petroski takes us into the pre-Gutenberg world, where books were so scarce they were chained to lecterns for security. He explains how the printing press not only changes the way books were made and shelved, but also increased their availability and transformed book readers into book owners and collectors. He shows us that for a time books were shelved with their spines in, and it was not until after the arrival of the modern bookcase that she spines faced out.
In delightful digressions, Petroski lets Seneca have his say on “the evils of book collecting"; examines the famed collection of Samuel Pepys (only three thousand titles: old discarded to make room for new); and discusses bookselling, book buying, and book collecting through the centuries. This is the ultimate book on the book: how it came to be and how we have come to keep it.
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“For anyone interested in the craft of reading, [this book] is a compulsive necessity.”
New York Times Book Review