The Evolution of the Book

October 30, 2020
The Evolution of the Book

Distinguished scholar and library systems innovator FrederickKilgour tells a five-thousand-year story in this exciting work, atale beginning with the invention of writing and concluding withthe emerging electronic book. Calling on a lifetime of interest inthe growth of information technology, Kilgour brings a freshapproach to the history of the book, emphasizing in rich,authoritative detail the successive technological advances thatallowed the book to keep pace with ever-increasing needs forinformation. Borrowing a concept from evolutionary theory—thenotion of punctuated equilibria—to structure his account, Kilgourinvestigates the book's three discrete historical forms—the claytablet, papyrus roll, and codex—before turning to a fourth, stillevolving form, the cyber book, a version promising swift electronicdelivery of information in text, sound, and motion to anyone at anytime. The clay tablet, initially employed as a content descriptorfor sacks of grain, proved inadequate to the growing need forcommercial and administrative records. Its successor the papyrusroll was itself succeeded by the codex, a format whose superiorutility and information capacity led to sweeping changes in themanagement of accumulated knowledge, the pursuit of learning, andthe promulgation of religion. Kilgour throughout considers closelyboth technological change and the role this change played incultural transformation. His fascinating account of the modernbook, from Gutenberg's invention of cast-type printing five hundredyears ago to the arrival of books displayed on a computer screen,spotlights the inventors, engineers, and entrepreneurs who increating the machinery of production and dissemination enabled thebook to maintain its unique cultural power over time. Deft,provocative, and accessibly written, The Evolution of theBook will captivate book lovers as well as those interested inbibliographic history, the history of writing, and the history oftechnology.