From Cave Walls to Mass Market Paperbacks: A Short History of Books
Books are without a doubt one of the greatest inventions in the history of human culture. Although today books seem to be declining in favor of e-readers or other electronic media, the bestseller lists you dream of cracking should tell that physical books are still very much alive.
Ancient History and Antiquity
At some point before recorded history began, cave paintings illustrated scenes from every day life, whether it was hunting, foraging, or just surviving. Around 4000 BCE, pictographs start being replaced by cuneiform, one of the earliest forms of writing in human history. Clay tablets are used as the medium for the cuneiform.
Many centuries pass. Around 420 BCE Socrates makes the argument that literacy is a bad thing, as it gets in the way of living life. More centuries pass, and around 230 CE the Library of Alexandria is destroyed – while it contained no actual books, it did hold scrolls and translations that were the forerunners of what we think of as books.
The Medieval Era
Around the year 800, monks in either Ireland or Scotland create the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript. Then about 200 years later, the world’s first novel appears. This book is called the Tale of Genji, written by Lady Murasaki.
Towards the Present Day
Another huge milestone in the development of books arrived in 1455 with Gutenberg’s printing press. However, the Chinese were the first culture to innovate movable type. This technology allows multiple copies of the same text to be created relatively easily.
20th Century and Beyond
Gutenberg’s name becomes the namesake for a project involving 20th-century technology. In this case, it is called Project Gutenberg, which began in 1971. Project Gutenberg’s goal is to take public domain books and make them easily accessible through the process of downloading. In 1995, Amazon started selling books through the Internet; in 2003 they start the “search inside” feature where users can look through hundreds of thousands of books. In 2007, Amazon launched the Kindle, the first e-reader of its kind. Five years later in 2012, ebooks would join the New York Times bestseller lists.
What will the future hold? Only time and writers (self-published or not) will tell.
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