I finished reading The Book: The Life Story of a Technology by Nicole Howard on the train ride home today. I had no idea I was so close to the end which resulted in me having to stare vaguely around for most of the ride. Public transit is a fascinating cross-section of humanity but you don’t want to look too hard at it because you might make the mistake of looking at the wrong person.
Anyway, I could go on and on about this book because it really is good for its slim size and whirlwind tour through book history and there is a marvy bibliography at the back. Without going into too much detail, I learned about type designers whose names you will certainly recognize in your Word font list (like Garamond). I learned about the way books were constructed and about how printer’s marks came into being. Publishers, who are oftentimes printers too these days, still use printer’s marks but I just tend to think of them as logos. Turns out the logos have a long history.
I also learned about copperplate engraving, intaglio, relief etching (invented by William Blake–and did you know that he and his wife hand-colored each image?), stereotyping, lithography, photography, rotogravure, how xerox machines work and how e-ink works.
In the history of books, it is the newspaper business that really sent book production onto the technological fast track. The need to print very fast everyday along with the invention of the steam engine created the technology that increased book production dramatically and sharply reduced prices to make book more affordable to more people.
The Reformation was helped along by books and pamphlets, allowing for a wider dissemination of Luther’s ideas than they ever would have gotten pre-Gutenberg. Luther was able to print copies of the New Testament in German instead of the usual Latin. The first print run was over 3,000 and sold out in two months.
Science was helped along in 1543 when Copernicus, at the urging of friends, printed On the Revolution of Heavenly Spheres. That same year Andreas Vesalius published On the Fabric of the Human Body. In the not so long ago age of manuscripts, neither of these books would have made much of an impact.
Already in the late 1500s book fairs became popular places for printers and booksellers to gather and exchange stock. The Frankfurt book fair was already going strong in 1569.
More recently in history, Allen Lane’s Penguin paperback success would not have occurred if it weren’t for libraries. Between 1886 and 1919 in the United States alone, Andrew Carnegie built 1,670 libraries. The library allowed people who could not afford many books to become avid readers. Lane’s idea for cheap paperback books capitalized on the growing number of library readers who wanted a chance to own their favorite books.
Okay, that’s enough. If you want to know more, you’ll have to go to the library or the bookstore and get a copy of your own.