Cover image for The evolution of the book
The evolution of the book
Kilgour, Frederick G.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
180 pages ; 25 cm
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Z4 .K54 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Z4 .K54 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Distinguished scholar and library systems innovator Frederick Kilgour tells a five-thousand-year story in this exciting work, a tale beginning with the invention of writing and concluding with the emerging electronic book. Calling on a lifetime of interest in the growth of informationtechnology, Kilgour brings a fresh approach to the history of the book, emphasizing in rich, authoritative detail the successive technological advances that allowed the book to keep pace with ever-increasing needs for information. Borrowing a concept from evolutionary theory--the notion ofpunctuated equilibria--to structure his account, Kilgour investigates the book's three discrete historical forms--the clay tablet, papyrus roll, and codex--before turning to a fourth, still evolving form, the cyber book, a version promising swift electronic delivery of information in text, sound,and motion to anyone at any time. The clay tablet, initially employed as a content descriptor for sacks of grain, proved inadequate to the growing need for commercial and administrative records. Its successor the papyrus roll was itself succeeded by the codex, a format whose superior utility and information capacity led tosweeping changes in the management of accumulated knowledge, the pursuit of learning, and the promulgation of religion. Kilgour throughout considers closely both technological change and the role this change played in cultural transformation. His fascinating account of the modern book, fromGutenberg's invention of cast-type printing five hundred years ago to the arrival of books displayed on a computer screen, spotlights the inventors, engineers, and entrepreneurs who in creating the machinery of production and dissemination enabled the book to maintain its unique cultural power overtime. Deft, provocative, and accessibly written, The Evolution of the Book will captivate book lovers as well as those interested in bibliographic history, the history of writing, and the history of technology.

Author Notes

Frederick G. Kilgour is at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Kilgour (library science, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) "aims to shed light on the present emergence of the electronic book," analyzing societal needs and technological improvements since the book was first introduced 4,000 years ago. He rightly emphasizes the essential connection between record keeping and the evolution of writing. Beginning with the token system as a precursor of literacy, he traces developments from clay tablets and papyri in antiquity through the codex as used in the European Middle Ages, then details the technological progress of Western printing during the last 500 years. He includes a chapter on Islam but does not treat the book in India or East Asia. In the final chapter, he convincingly speculates on the prospects for the eventual supersession of the codex by the electronic book. Kilgour seems most surefooted in the last half of the book, which treats the era of print. In the first half, a number of statements relating to classical antiquity are questionable, and the author seems unfamiliar with Latin palaeography and the evolution of roman scripts. Proofreading problems sometimes extend beyond typos. The index is adequate; there are footnotes, but no bibliography. For all audiences. J. H. Kaimowitz; Trinity College (CT)